August 18, 2014 12:00 PM

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No. 1 Outlander

One of summer’s best new shows, this smart, sexy fantasy introduces a smashing heroine

TV DRAMA

Based on the bestselling books by Diana Gabaldon, the ambitious, swooningly good Outlander combines time travel with historical romance. Even better, it unites these strands in a heroine—British combat nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe)—who has the most elegant neck since Rachel Weisz and a searching intelligence that allows her to quickly grasp her predicament: She’s been inexplicably transported from 1940s Scotland (which was proving a bit drab for her) back to the grubby, dangerous, yet surprisingly sexy 1740s. She’s a great character—resilient, subtle, gorgeous, the Alicia Florrick of fantasy. (STARZ, Aug. 9, 9 p.m.)

No. 2 What If

MOVIE ROMANTIC COMEDY

Can boys and girls ever be “just friends”? Daniel Radcliffe (goodbye, Harry Potter—hello, leading man!) charms as a med-school dropout pining for his best friend (Zoe Kazan). A familiar but touching tale about the fine line between love and friendship. (PG-13)

No. 3 Fences (feat. Macklemore) ‘Arrows’

MUSIC INDIE ROCK

Fences has fans in high places. Discovered on MySpace by Sara Quin of Tegan & Sara, the band has now snagged Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis (“Same Love”) for this summer-friendly single. It evokes the same cool feeling as Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks.”

No. 4 Eric Clapton & Friends

The singer gives an overlooked pal his due on The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale

MUSIC BLUES-ROCK

Though he never fully cracked into the mainstream, JJ Cale’s influence pervades some of the best music, and musicians, of all time. Some of those icons—Willie Nelson and Tom Petty, among others—pay their respect to the singer-songwriter, who passed away last year, on this star-studded LP. Led by Clapton (who won a Grammy with Cale for 2006’s The Road to Escondido and covered Cale’s “Cocaine” to hit-making results), the album is a faithful salute to 16 of Cale’s songs, three of which were never published. The result: a low-key, rambling sound that’s a proper send-off to a low-key legend.

IT’S BACK!

No. 5 SHARK WEEK

TV NATURE

Two distinct migratory patterns are observed each August: Psychiatrists go on vacation, and those ominous fins come swimming in on Discovery’s popular Shark Week. Are these anxiety-inducing phenomena linked? This year’s specials feature a monster hammerhead, catatonic sharks and a 30-ft. great white known as Submarine. Happy chomping! (Discovery, beginning Aug. 10.)

No. 6 The Knick

The doctor will see you now—lucky you!

TV DRAMA

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Behind the Candelabra), this drama about life in a New York City operating room in 1900 has a tone all its own. Deep-shadowed and emotionally spare, it’s as if Boardwalk Empire were in fact filmed under a boardwalk. But Soderbergh is a man of immense style and storytelling skill: Accept his terms and you’ll be drawn in. Knick stars Clive Owen, hair billowing up in a cloud, as Dr. John Thackery, who keeps going with the assist of cocaine injected between his toes. The surgery scenes, which include a patient set ablaze by a cauterizing machine, are brilliant: harshly clinical, matter-of-fact. (Cinemax, Aug. 8, 10 p.m.)

No. 7 Jessie J ‘Bang Bang’

The soulful singer brings two other superstars on board to create an irresistible new single

MUSIC POP

Jessie J’s sound has been described as everything from pop to soul to R&B, so the “Price Tag” singer serves as the ideal anchor for a collaboration with bubbly Ariana Grande (“Problem”) and hard-edged Nicki Minaj (“Super Bass”). With an infectious hook and a horn-energized chorus, this brassy lead single serves as the perfect “bang bang into the room”—that’s the chorus—for Jessie J’s highly anticipated third album, expected later this year.

No. 8 The Hundred-Foot Journey

Helen Mirren stars in a tasty culinary adventure

MOVIE COMEDY

When a family-run Indian restaurant opens up across from a refined, Michelin-starred French establishment, both the cuisines and their respective owners clash. But Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) soon seizes on the natural talent of Hassan, the young Indian cook just steps away: She takes him under her wing, and they create an unbeatable fusion of flavors. Hassan (Manish Dayal, in a performance that could be described as delicious) fills the screen with a catered dream of dishes, each one more mouthwatering than the last. (PG)

No. 9 Extreme Guide to Parenting

TV REALITY

“All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” These are among the wisest words ever said by Bravo executive Andy Cohen—actually, it may have been Tolstoy—and they are borne out in an entertaining but unsettling series about parents tackling child-raising challenges with eccentric approaches. One mother, steeped in mystical talk of auras, describes her struggling son as an “indigo”— a special creature who shouldn’t require medication. You might be inclined to laugh, but the issues here are pretty painful. (Bravo, Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.)

No. 10 Legends

Sean Bean as an agent with a whopping identity crisis

TV DRAMA Sean Bean, so rugged he should have his own brand of paper towels, is Martin Odum, an undercover agent who digs dangerously deep inside his assignments. He is understandably nonplussed, then, to learn his own life may be some kind of brainwashed ruse. A nonplussed Sean Bean is anyone else’s shock and awe. (TNT, Aug. 13, 9 p.m.)

No. 11 The Best New Books

Two transporting novels and an eye-opening inside look at the challenges facing women in the military

Ellen Cooney

The Mountaintop School for Dogs

NOVEL

When troubled young Evie takes a job at a dog rehab center, she’s really hiding out. Yet while she may be as damaged as the colorful cast of canines she’s hired to help (a barkless beagle, a greyhound terrified to run), she shows them—and herself—that it’s possible to bound beyond your past and find your future.

Elizabeth Little

Dear Daughter

MYSTERY

Released on a technicality after spending 10 years in prison for killing her socialite mother, Janie Jenkins is making it her mission to find the real murderer. Problem is, she’s not entirely convinced of her own innocence. Quick-witted and fast-paced, this debut mystery should be a hit with Gone Girl fans.

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Helen Thorpe Soldier Girls

NONFICTION

What’s it like to be a woman in the military? Over 12 years, Thorpe follows grandmother Debbie Helton, single mom Desma Brooks and college student Michelle Fischer, three unlikely friends in the Indiana National Guard. They struggle with the male-dominated culture around them and survive deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, returning to a world that seems trivial in comparison. A raw, intimate look at the impact of combat and the healing power of friendship.

NEW IN AUDIOBOOKS

Lev Grossman

The Magician’s Land

The fantastical adventures of Quentin Coldwater continue in this stirring finale to Time book critic Grossman’s acclaimed trilogy.

Danielle Steel

A Perfect Life

A single mom with a blind daughter finds her world upended in Steel’s perfectly fine latest. What makes it special is the nuanced narration by ace reader Edoardo Ballerini.

Beth Harbison

Driving with the Top Down

No convertible? No problem. Harbison’s light-as-a-feather novel about three women on a road trip is a drive-time pleasure no matter what ride you choose.

SUMMER MOVIE FUN

No. 12 Into the Storm

Everyone’s doing the twister in a mindless but entertaining movie about bad weather

MOVIE ACTION

Shot documentary-style and clocking in at just under 90 minutes, Into the Storm at first seems as innocuous as a dry Gremlin—it’s a scruffy, unassuming little thing. Add a few drops of precipitation, though, and it shows its fangs. This is Twister for the Paranormal Activity crowd. The movie operates off a bare-bones premise: A terrifying storm system is moving in on the town of Silverton—oh, wait, now it seems to be going off track—no, no, here it comes—while the local high school celebrates graduation and storm chasers race around the vicinity, their eyes peeled and searching the roiling skies. The twisters, once they begin touching down, are very well done—the King Kong of the bunch appears to be roughly the size of the state of Delaware—and there’s a superb sequence in which survivors in a storm drain are mercilessly pulled and knocked about by tunneling winds. The humans, maybe not surprisingly, don’t amount to much in all this: Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead) comes off best as the most sensitive and intelligent of the chasers. As the school’s vice principal, Richard Armitage (The Hobbit) is so furiously blank he occasionally suggests Steve Carell in the Anchorman movies. (PG-13)

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