It’s fall! We’re now a full week into September, the film festival season is about to take a post-TIFF breather, and the theatrical release schedule gets quiet for a while. But just in time, the new TV season is getting underway, with a host of returning favorites and strong new contenders hitting the airwaves (or their digital equivalent) in the weeks and months to come, blessedly preventing us from having to leave the house and go and see “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”
It’s been a pretty good summer for TV, with “The Leftovers,” “Halt and Catch Fire” and “You’re The Worst” among the highlights, but with new shows already premiering, we decided to look forward, and pick out twenty-two of the most promising shows of the fall, from returning regulars to plucky newcomers. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments section.
“Boardwalk Empire” Season Five
Start Date/Slot: It has already started and airs 9 PM EST on Sundays.
Where is it heading? Well, it’s the last season, so it’s heading towards the end. And likely a not very happy conclusion considering the tagline, “all empires must fall.”
Why it’s still worth watching: Reason number one has been the reason all along. It’s got a A-list movie-worthy cast with Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, Michael K. Williams, Kelly Macdonald, Gretchen Mol, Jeffrey Wright, Stephen Graham, Shea Whigham and many more. Then there’s the showrunners and writers, including Terence Winter (who wrote “The Wolf Of Wall Street“), Dennis Lehane (“Gone Baby Gone“) and Pulitzer Prize nominee Howard Korder to name a few. The show has been nominated for four Golden Globes (it won Best Series in 2011), over 40 Primetime Emmys and three WGA awards. The last reason to watch? Well, it’s all over in eight episodes. Not only that, but the show has made a bold, ballsy choice (though perhaps dictated by HBO’s decision to end the expensive show). When we last left off, it was 1924. Season five jumps all the way to 1931 where the halcyon days of “roaring ‘20s” prohibition bootlegging are over and the Great Depression is in full swing.
Why it might not be: “Boardwalk Empire” wowed a lot of critics and audiences at first. It was co-created by Martin Scorsese (who is still an executive producer, and he directed the pilot), but it’s been losing audiences ever since season two and the controversial decision to kill off Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt, in one of his finest roles, one that’s kicked off a mini renaissance for the actor). There’s also been not-without-merit accusations that the show is slow, repetitive and takes several episodes to get its main narrative cooking. While this may be true from time to time, when the show cooks, boy does it ever. And when you get so many tete-a-tete acting showdowns, it’s hard to resist. The final season of “Boardwalk Empire” has already started, and yes, it was a little slow, but there’s only seven episodes to go to find out what happens to Atlantic City kingpin Nucky Thompson (Buscemi) and if you’ve stuck it out this far, you owe it to yourself to finish.
“Sons Of Anarchy” Season Seven
Start Date/Slot: Now airing, with new episodes every Tuesday at 10 PM EST.
Where is it heading? Kurt Sutter‘s biker-gang drama reaches its seventh and final season. For the uninitiated, the series revolves around SAMCRO, a Californian motorcycle club that doubles up in gun-running, and the group’s Vice-President (and later, President) Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), who hopes to steer them away from illegal activities, but finds himself sinking ever deeper into the outlaw life. The seventh season will bring the story to a close, picking up on the aftermath of the last, which saw *SPOILER* the deaths of two central characters, Ron Perlman‘s Clay and, in the season finale, Maggie Siff‘s Tara, the latter an act committed by Jax’s mother Gemma (Katey Sagal). Expect bullets and blood to fly.
Why it’s still worth watching: One of cable’s biggest shows, “Sons of Anarchy” already has a substantial fanbase. But if you haven’t watched it yet, and are fans of the likes of “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad” and “Boardwalk Empire,” this might be your next binge-watch. Brutal, bloody and almost Shakespearean in its plotting, it’s an immersive tough-guy world, and thanks to “Shield” writer Sutter, when the punches fly, they land hard. Though Perlman’s off the show now, there’s still a deep bench of actors involved, from Hunnam and Sagal to character actor stalwarts like Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coates and Tommy Flanagan, as well as recurring appearances from the likes of Jimmy Smits, Peter Weller and CCH Pounder (who are all returning for the final run). In terms of sheer quantity of action, and of shocking plot twists, little out there can compete with ‘SOA.’
Why it might not be: We are aware that “Sons of Anarchy” has a large, and very fervent fanbase. We are not among it. It could be that we’ve tended to find Hunnam a blank screen presence, it could be the overwhelming machismo, it could be the sort of comic-book vibe to the whole thing, more 80s action show than prestige cable. But it’s mainly the tone of the show, and the way that it uses violence. There’s something juvenile and crass about the level of blood and gore, looking to shock more than anything else. And the way it has used rape and violence against women in particular leaves a feel that makes us want to shower every time we come into contact with any of it. If any of the above doesn’t sound like a problem for you, go right ahead, but it’s not our particular cup of tea.
Slot/Start Date: Begins on E4 in the U.K. at 10pm on September 15th. No word on a U.S. date yet.
What it’s about: The secrets of six rural British teens are revealed when a friend is found dead.
Why it might be your new favorite show: Jack Thorne is one of the busiest screenwriters around. Right now, he’s penning, among many others, “Mortimer Wintergreen” for Johnny Depp, an adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s “The Ocean Of The End Of The Lane” for Joe Wright and Gaiman’s “Sandman” for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But he first made his name in TV as a writer on “Skins” and “This Is England,” through his excellent own-created shows “Cast-Offs” and, in particular, the BAFTA-winning “The Fades.” Now he’s come back to his old digs with this new show, a murder-mystery set around rural horse stables. But this isn’t some pastoral procedural. “Glue” is aimed at the younger crowd, and looks to be full of sex and drugs, if the show’s stylish trailer is anything to go by. A strong cast has been assembled too. Kerry Fox (“Shallow Grave“), Kierston Wareing (“Fish Tank“) and Steve Oram (“Sightseers“) are the veterans, while Yasmin Paige (“Submarine“), Callum Turner (“Queen & Country“), Charlotte Spencer (“Wild Bill“) Faye Marsay (“Pride“) and Jessie Cave (“Harry Potter“) are among the newer faces. But mainly, we’re excited about this because of Thorne, who’s one of the best writers out there, and who looks to be at his most unfiltered here.
Why it might not be: With the likes of “Broadchurch” (see below) and “Happy Valley,” there’s been a spate of murders-in-the-British-countryside shows recently, and viewers (especially those in the U.S.) may be getting a little tired of that. More crucially, we’re still awaiting news of when the show will surface (legally) stateside. We’re hoping that, as with “The Fall” and “Happy Valley,” Netflix or a similar outlet will step up soon. Of course, the show could end up disappointing, but ahead of time, this is definitely one we’re looking forward to more than most.
“Red Band Society“
Start Date: September 17th
What it’s about: Based on a Catalan television series that aired in 2011, “Red Band Society” is a dark comedy (with dramatic elements, obviously) that focuses on the children who live as patients in the pediatric ward of a hospital. Octavia Spencer plays the head nurse.
Why it might be your new favorite show: It seems to be tapping into that “dying children” thing that is happening in the zeitgeist right now (“The Fault in Our Stars,” “If I Stay,” etc.), but grounding it in a more serious emotional truth, a la “Short Term 12.” Margaret Nagel, who wrote for “Boardwalk Empire,” is overseeing the American adaptation, and it’s being executive produced by some guy you may have heard of named Steven Spielberg, who should at least offer suggestions about how to properly modulate the schmaltz.
Why it might not: The trailers look awfully tear-jerking, and not in an entirely good way, and it seems like they’re going to crowbar those emotions out of you, whether you like it or not. This kind of material requires a fine tonal balance that the original apparently possessed, but earlier attempts at bringing this material stateside, like an effort mounted by ABC and “Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman, didn’t exactly pan out.
“The Good Wife” Season Six
Start Date: Returns to CBS on Sunday September 21st at 9:30 PM EST.
Where it’s heading: This long-running dramatic favorite returns for another go-round. Once, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) was a stay-at-home mom to State’s Attorney husband (Chris Noth), but when he was sent to prison for corruption, she returned to her original calling of the law, and found herself growing as a person. The new run will deal with the continuing aftermath of the death of Alicia’s partner, and one-time lover Will (Josh Charles), Christine Baranski‘s character seemingly jumping ship from the firm she founded to join Florrick Agos, and Alicia mulling an offer to run for State’s Attorney. Matthew Goode continues on the show as a new regular, with David Hyde Pierce among those joining the cast this time around.
Why it’s still worth watching: “The Good Wife” has long been one of the best dramas on TV, but last year felt like a sea change. The fifth season was the best run in its history, gleefully tearing up the status quo, proving increasingly formally experimental (the direction throughout was beautiful), giving its cast members more to do than before and being wildly entertaining at every moment. It was always smart, funny, sexy and exciting, but it just hit its stride in a huge way, and given the high level of consistency, we’re hopeful that the series can keep growing. It feels like the buzz around last year has helped the show’s cult to grow, with Netflix allowing many to catch up, but if you’re a fan of big grown up popular drama, there’s little out there to compete with this.
Why it might not be: The main barrier to many has been that some viewers are frustrated by the procedural nature. CBS lives and dies by case-of-the-week shows, and though “The Good Wife” has become increasingly serialized over time, it does loosely abide by that sort of structure. A generation of younger TV viewers barely watch network shows, and can get bored with the more repetitive format against the more long-form techniques favored by cable. And while “The Good Wife” hasn’t fallen into that trap, always finding ways to keep things fresh, it might be a stumbling block to some. We also wonder how long the showrunners can keep up the consistent quality (every so often they follow a disappointing narrative tangent *COUGH* KALINDA’S HUSBAND), but there’s not much reason to doubt them yet.
Start Date: September 22nd on Fox
What it’s about: It’s set in Gotham City, in the early days of Detective James Gordon (played here by Ben McKenzie of “Southland“/”The O.C.” fame) and a host of familiar heroes and villains, including a very young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz).
Why it might be your new favorite show: From what we understand, the pilot is ridiculously opulent—an over-the-top opera of tragedy and revenge (it was directed, with typical verve, by “Judge Dredd” director Danny Cannon). Plus, the cast is insanely good, with Jada Pinkett Smith turning in a villainous performance as bloodthirsty crime boss Fish Mooney, and, in a stroke of absolute genius, Donal Logue as the corrupt cop Harvey Bullock, who until this point had most memorably been brought to life by the “Batman: The Animated Series.” Plus “Rome” creator Bruno Heller developed the series, and there’s going to be tons of new music by the always-wonderful Graeme Revell.
Why it might not: The series was originally conceived as a stand-alone cop drama which just-so-happened to take place in Gotham City and followed the strong-willed detective Jim Gordon. Then, of course, various elements of the “Batman” mythology started getting folded in, with nearly every major super-villain showing up, and a young Bruce Wayne being added in as one of the main characters. So far the trailers, as stunning as they are, also carry a whiff of “At Midnight I Will Kill George Lucas with a Shovel,” the famous stand-up routine Patton Oswalt does about how George Lucas promises him new “Star Wars” movies, only to deliver installments in which you get to see all of your favorite characters “as a little kid.”
“How to Get Away With Murder“
Start Date: September 25th on ABC
What it’s about: Viola Davis plays a law professor at a university in Philadelphia who teaches a class entitled “How to Get Away with Murder.” Both she and her students become embroiled in a murder mystery.
Why it might be your new favorite show: How is this not your favorite show already? We would probably watch a show called “How to Read the Phone Book” if it starred Viola Davis, but this new series is executive produced by Shonda Rhimes, the master of guilty pleasure television series, most notably “Scandal,” a series that is so bad that it somehow reaches the level of utter brilliance. (Peter Norwalk, a longtime Rhimes confederate, is technically the show’s creator, although you wouldn’t know it by any of the heavy-handed marketing that ABC has been doing.) In a rare move, especially for a female creator, ABC is running an entire night of Rhimes-affiliated programming, with Thursday nights devoted to “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” Amazing.
Why it might not: Rhimes has proven herself to be a David Kelly-style television impresario, but it’s true that she could be stretching herself a little too thin (something that Kelly is frequently accused of, and rightly so). We also worry about the show veering off into territory that is too over the top. This totally works on “Scandal,” which possesses its own rococo internal logic and absolute insanity (keep in mind this was a series that largely masked its lead actor’s very apparent pregnancy by placing a series of increasingly massive handbags in front of her belly). There seems to be some attempt at grounding “How to Get Away with Murder” in the real world of academia, and hopefully they can maintain that while still bringing all the thrills, chills and spills you expect from a Shonda Rhimes joint.
Slot/Start Date: All ten episodes hit Amazon Prime video on September 26th.
What It’s About: “Afternoon Delight” helmer Jill Soloway comes to TV with this semi-autobiographical tale of three siblings (Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass and Gaby Hoffmann) who learn that their father (Jeffrey Tambor) is transitioning to become a woman.
Why it could be your new favorite show: As streaming-service-only TV starts to come of age, many of the best shows out there aren’t airing on the traditional square box. From the excellent pilot, and the incoming buzz, it seems like Amazon Studios now have their killer app, in the form of Jill Soloway’s “Transparent.” The writer/director was already part of one of the key shows of the golden age of cable TV with “Six Feet Under,” before taking best director at Sundance for debut “Afternoon Delight,” which starred Kathryn Hahn and Juno Temple. The show tackles a hot-button issue in a rather sensational, hugely empathetic way, with a performance from Tambor that’s likely to get a lot of awards attention, a strong supporting cast and Soloway’s indie-film cred behind the camera. Playlist team members have been given a sneak the show, and say that it’s really top-notch stuff, so fans of “Orange Is The New Black” looking for something with a similarly compassionate blend of comedy and drama might have found the show to fill the gap.
Why it might not be: “Afternoon Delight” proved a bit divisive around the office water-cooler. Everyone agreed that Hahn’s performance was stellar (she cameos in “Transparent” as a rabbi), and some of us adored the film, but others found it a bit Sundance-by-numbers, with a final act that felt judgmental and sour. If you were in the latter camp, it’s possible that “Transparent” may not click. That said, this writer wasn’t an “Afternoon Delight” fan, and really dug the “Transparent” pilot, so it’s probably worth giving a shot regardless.
Start date/slot: October 2nd on Fox
What’s it about: A child murder rocks a small seaside town, leaving a local constable (Anna Gunn from “Breaking Bad“) to partner with a high-strung big city detective (David Tennant from “Doctor Who“). Everyone is a suspect.
Why it might be your new favorite show: The series is based on a British series called “Broadchurch,” which features the same premise/characters (that show’s writer/creator Chris Chibnall and director James Strong return, and Tennant does a variation of his role on the original series), and, oh yeah, it was brilliant. Usually these kind of American translations don’t work out too well (“The Office” and “House of Cards” aside, and even those had some shaky moments), but this has an unusually stacked cast, including Michael Pena, Nick Nolte and Jacki Weaver as unforgettable characters from the original show, and with such strong involvement from the creative principles of the first series, we can see the new show coming off without a hitch. This should be as haunting and unmissable as the original.
Why it might not: With so many folks from the original series, it does run the risk of being a carbon copy, which would be a shame. Part of the fun of the first show was how unpredictable it was (and how emotional those revelations were). If the new show just sticks to the formula, Xeroxing every beat from the original mystery, then what’s the point?
“Star Wars: Rebels“
Start Date: It premieres on October 3rd on the Disney Channel/Starts in earnest on October 13th on Disney XD/Mondays on Disney XD
What it’s about: Set 14 years after the events of “Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith” and 5 years before “Star Wars: Episode VI—A New Hope,” it follows a band of plucky young Rebels as they clumsily form the seeds of rebellion in an attempt to take down the evil Galactic Empire.
Why it might be your new favorite show: As the first true product following Disney‘s acquisition of Lucasfilm, “Star Wars: Rebels” really feels like the original series of films—it’s got that rollicking sense of adventure combined liberally with wry humor and outrageous characters (we particularly like Steven Blum‘s Zeb, a giant Rebel bruiser with the voice of a soccer hooligan). The new series is overseen by Dave Filoni, an animator who helped turn the last computer-animated Lucasfilm series, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” into an unusually rich and rewarding experience, with a helping hand from Simon Kinberg, the hotshot screenwriter/producer who is helping out with the “Star Wars” spin-offs for Disney. Also, with a visual aesthetic heavily inspired by the incredible, mostly abandoned Ralph McQuarrie illustrations for the original film, it’s a truly gorgeous animated series.
Why it might not: There is a chance that the series could be too juvenile, and that it does an unnecessary amount of connecting-the-dots for things that we really didn’t need connected. This series could wind up being the ultimate case of thumb twiddling until ‘Episode VII‘ finally docks.
“American Horror Story: Freak Show“
Start Date: October 3rd on Fox
Where it’s heading: Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk‘s fucked up, beautiful little horror anthology series returns for a fourth season, with a completely different vibe than last season’s witchy “American Horror Story: Coven.” This time, the show is set in Jupiter, Florida, in 1952, a community known for its population of circus performers. Of course, there is all sorts of murderous shenanigans (courtesy of a killer clown) and conflicts with the local, non-freakish townspeople.
Why it’s still worth watching: If you’ve slept on “American Horror Story” this long, shame on you. But if you’re new to the series, no harm, no foul—every season reboots itself completely. So this season you get to see Jessica Lange (with a German accent) as a freak show manager, Sarah Paulson as a two-headed lady, Kathy Bates as the bearded woman, Angela Bassett with three breasts and Denis O’Hare as a “collector of freaks.” Yum. “American Horror Story” is one of the most fun things on television, but last year’s ‘Coven’ often veered uncomfortably into all-out camp while missing some of the edge (and terror) of the first two seasons. This season has arguably the best cast yet (people we didn’t even mention include Patti LaBelle, Gabourey Sidibe, Evan Peters, Emma Roberts and Matt Bomer) and one of the creepier plot lines (John Carroll Lynch plays Twisty, the murderous clown; we’ve already started having nightmares). This is also supposedly Jessica Lange’s last season, and considering she is critically adored (she just won another Emmy a few weeks ago) and fawned over by fans, Murphy and his crack creative team (including director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and writer/executive producers James Wong and Tim Minear) will undoubtedly cook up a proper send-off for the beloved actress.
Why it might not be: “American Horror Story” is definitely not for everyone (especially those who are pregnant or have a pre-existing heart condition). It’s outrageous, extreme and incredibly violent. And the whole circus/freak show setting, while a good one, doesn’t feel like the most inspired choice. But if there’s one thing you can expect from “American Horror Story,” it’s definitely the unexpected.
“Homeland” Season Four
Start Date: October 5th on Showtime.
Where is it heading? In the aftermath of season three, a CIA intelligence team starts over again, leading a counter-terrorist team in the Middle East.
Why it’s still worth watching: For one, the show is going through a mild reboot of sorts. *Spoilers* from here on in for those that haven’t watched the show. “Homeland” was essentially about two characters, unhinged CIA officer Carrie (Claire Danes) and ex-U.S. Marine-Sergeant-turned-terrorist, Sgt. Brody (Damian Lewis). In many ways, season three was about Brody’s redemption, but the showrunners made the bold decision to kill him off at the end, leaving Carrie (his lover) emotionally and spiritually unmoored. Her former boss Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) was let go by the CIA at the end of the season too, which left her even more adrift. So how will the obsessive and bipolar CIA agent cope with her new assignment as station chief in the Middle East? (did we mention she was pregnant with Brody’s child at the end of last season?). Well, that’s just it, there are plenty of reasons to keep tuning it. It’s a new chapter in Carrie’s life. She’s a mother (presumably her parents have the child while she’s on assignment) and she’ll have no benevolent anchor like Saul. The Brody storyline was reaching it’s tipping point, so it’s probably good that it ended while it did, and there are some promising replacements to fill the void, in the shape of “House Of Cards” and “The Strain” star Corey Stoll, and “Life Of Pi” lead Suraj Sharma.
Why it might not be: Many critics claimed “Homeland” jumped the shark in season three, so that might be a start, but if that’s the case, wiping the slate and storyline clean may make you want to return. And frankly, they’re wrong. “Homeland” certainly tested and bent suspension of disbelief (like a lot of thrillers do), but never broke it. Spiritually the show never betrayed itself, and maybe it was fatigue more than anything else. Sure, the shrill, Carrie’s unreliable/obsessive/irresponsible m.o. could sink the show if they don’t find a new direction for it, but it’s sustained itself through some bumpy times so far and come out alright. What’s more interesting maybe is Saul’s role now that he’s in the private sector and how it impacts Carrie. Frankly, there seem to be lots of reasons to tune in.
Start Date: October 12th on Showtime
What’s It About? A man and a woman, both married, begin an affair that ends in tragedy and is told from each of their perspectives.
Why it could be your new favorite show: Do you remember “In Treatment,” the every-night-a-week psychology drama starring Gabriel Byrne, and featuring killer performances from the likes of Hope Davis, Alison Pill, Irrfan Khan, Dianne Wiest and, in breakout roles, Mia Wasikowska and Dane DeHaan? It was excellent, and much-missed, and “The Affair” comes from some of the people behind it, Hagai Levi and Sarah Treem (the latter of whom also worked on “House Of Cards.”) At a time where the majority of shows are tinged with genre to some degree, “The Affair” seems to be something more novelistic (albeit with a flashback/mystery structure side by side), and with an ‘Eleanor Rigby’-style dual perspective conceit that should make things even more interesting. There’s a very fine cast involved too: Dominic West and Ruth Wilson are the straying duo, with Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson as their respective spouses. This promises to be something truly grown up, and don’t forget, last time Dominic West was in a prestige cable drama we got “The Wire.”
Why it might not: Showtime’s track record is decidedly spotty with original drama. Yes, they’re behind the excellent “Masters of Sex,” and enjoyably silly stuff like “Penny Dreadful,” but too often they’ve left promising shows go off the boil (“Dexter,” “Homeland“), or they never worked in the first place (“Ray Donovan“). And so far there’s something disappointingly familiar about “The Affair,” from a cast all best known for prior TV shows, to the premise, which evokes the likes of “Little Children” and roughly a billion other adultery dramas. We hope that Levi and Treem can find new territory to mine here, and the dual perspective thing might help (or might get old really fast), but we need to see a couple of episodes to ensure this isn’t going to be something reheated.
“The Walking Dead” Season 5
Start Date: October 12th on AMC.
Where it’s heading: The smash hit adaptation of Robert Kirkman‘s long-running zombie-themed comic book continues. With old adversary The Governor dead, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) leads the survivors to a supposed sanctuary called Terminus, from where they’ll try and head to Washington D.C. with a scientist who claims he can end the undead outbreak.
Why it’s still worth watching: Well, “The Walking Dead” doesn’t need to be your new favorite show, it’s already the biggest one on TV. A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable that a grisly basic-cable zombie show would be getting a larger viewership than almost anything on the networks, but despite its tumultuous production history, “The Walking Dead” has only grown from year to year. The creative kinks appear to have been worked out, with a more action-packed and eventful storyline, and the blend of human drama, gore and action appeals not just to hardcore genre fans. If you’re a zombie enthusiast, you’re probably already watching, but even if you’re not, it might be worth giving the show a shot.
Why it might not be: “The Walking Dead” is another one that’s eluded us so far in terms of understanding the appeal. It’s not doing much of what hasn’t already been done in other zombie-themed narratives, it’s just taking longer to do it, and so many of the post-apocalyptic beats it hits feel sort of tired and lazy. The writing’s inconsistent, and the acting even more so (though there are a few good turns, most notably Danai Gurira and Norman Reedus). If you’re not on “The Walking Dead” train by now, it’s probably never happening, and we certainly don’t begrudge the show its huge fanbase, but there’s other stuff we’d rather watch.
Start Date: October 24th on NBC
What it’s about: John Constantine (played here by Welsh actor Matt Ryan, looking like a rumpled “Doctor Who“) is a rough-around-the-edges paranormal investigator who defends humanity against demonic forces, even if he has to grumble about it the entire time. Based on the comic book character that originally appeared in Alan Moore‘s run of “Swamp Thing” before being spun off to his own series titled “Hellblazer,” that has been published for years as part of DC Comics‘ Vertigo imprint.
Why it might be your new favorite show: The character of John Constantine has been brought to life once before—played, with a certain amount of aplomb, by Keanu Reeves, in the 2005 film “Constantine,” but on the television series they are offering a more faithful version of the character (in some ways: primarily he’s blond and English) David Goyer, who seemingly has his hands in every DC Comics adaptation on both the big and small screen, co-created the new series and co-wrote the first episode, and “Game of Thrones” director Neil Marshall (who helmed both the “Battle of Blackwater” and “The Wall” episodes of the series) directed the pilot. NBC is looking for a nice companion for “Grimm,” and there are certainly enough subplots and side-stories in the comics to last years on television. Plus, NBC is the network that gave us “Hannibal,” so we’re hoping that “Constantine” gets seriously scary.
Why it might not: While it seems like there are a certain amount of liberties if your show airs on a night when hardly anyone watches television, at a late enough time slot, there are just as many restrictions and, as faithful as this new version of the character might be, he’s missing one of his defining characteristics: John Constantine isn’t allowed to smoke in the show. D’oh! Plus Goyer’s co-creator/showrunner is Daniel Cerone, a writer and producer whose credits elicit a never-ending series of groans (“Dexter,” “The Mentalist,” “Dirty Sexy Money,” “Charmed“).
“Peaky Blinders” Season Two
Start Date: None officially announced yet, but it’ll appear on BBC 2 in October in the U.K. The Weinstein Company bought rights to the series last year, but haven’t yet announced a home for either this or the first season.
What it’s About: In the aftermath of World War I, the Shelby family returns to Birmingham to attempt to set up their criminal enterprise.
Why it might be your new favorite show: British TV has tried to wholeheartedly copy some of the classics of the golden age of U.S. cable TV several times, with decidedly mixed results (see “The Sopranos” riff “The Fear,” or “Mad Men“-ish “The Hour“). But “Peaky Blinders” is more effective. While it’s essentially a U.K. take on “Boardwalk Empire” (the rise of a criminal empire in the aftermath of the First World War), it’s managed to stand on its own two feet. In part, this is due to the similarly lavish production values, as well as some solid writing (the show is created and written by Steven Knight, screenwriter of “Eastern Promises,” and director of “Locke“). It has a movie-level cast, too. Cillian Murphy takes the lead role, with Paul Anderson (“Sherlock Holmes: Game Of Shadows“) and rising star Joe Cole as his brothers, Helen McCrory as the matriarch, Annabelle Wallis as the love interest and Sam Neill as the dogged cop on their trail. That cast is getting even better in season two, with Noah Taylor (“Shine,” “Edge Of Tomorrow“), Charlotte Riley (“Edge Of Tomorrow”) and, most impressively, A-lister and Knight collaborator Tom Hardy joining the cast for the second go round.
Why it might not be: Like the first season of “Boardwalk Empire,” “Peaky Blinders” was absolutely solid without ever quite adding up to the sum of its parts and moving into that top tier of TV shows. The performances, particularly Murphy’s, are compelling, it looks handsome and it’s thoroughly watchable, though it never quite feels like appointment television. The presence of Hardy, as brief as it’s likely to be (the star will reteam more substantially with Knight for eight-part Africa-set miniseries “Taboo” in late 2015), is undoubtedly enticing, and the writer gets better all the time (“Locke” was a huge step up), so we’re hopeful now it’s found its feet, the show could move up a gear. But if it only matches season one, it’ll stay a kind of B-grade series rather than the A+ that the level of talent involved suggests.
Start Date: November on HBO.
What it’s About: Nine years on, “The Comeback” gets a comeback, with a belated second season—Lisa Kudrow returns as former sitcom star Valerie Cherish, now playing a version of herself on an HBO drama called “Seeing Red.”
Why it might be your new favorite show: Some shows are ahead of their time, and “The Comeback” was one of them. Co-created by and starring Kudrow, working with “Sex And The City” maestro Michael Patrick King, only a short gap after their seminal shows wrapped up, it saw the “Friends” star play a washed-up sitcom actress appearing in a reality show documenting her would-be comeback. Anticipating the likes of “Extras,” “Episodes” and “30 Rock,” it was acerbically funny and occasionally even emotionally raw, but never quite got the love it deserved at the time. But the public caught up to it, with the cult growing over time (Entertainment Weekly named it as one of the best shows of the last decade), and HBO surprisingly revived the series for a six-episode second season earlier this year. Kudrow is back along with co-stars like Malin Akerman and Kellan Lutz, and if it’s anything close to the original run, it should be worth tuning in for.
Why it might not: Ten years ago, “The Comeback” was ahead of its time, but could it now end up being a little behind the curve? We’ve had plenty of meta sitcoms since 2005, and we wonder if diminishing returns might have set in a bit. Also, while we’re glad the show’s back, six episodes feels like a meager run. Is HBO just looking to fill a slot to pair with the end of the “Newsroom,” or are there real creative reasons for bring the series back? We’re excited, but perhaps a little nervous about the whole prospect.
“Mozart In The Jungle”
Start Date: Hits Amazon Prime Video in December, exact date TBD.
What It’s About: Inspired by a memoir, this is a comedy-drama set in the world of New York classical music, as a young upstart clashes with the established order.
Why it could be your new favorite show: Short of Wes Anderson suddenly heading for the small screen (and given the success of “Grand Budapest Hotel” that doesn’t seem likely any time soon), the closest thing we’re going to get to a TV series from the auteur might be “Mozart In The Jungle,” seeing as it comes from two of his most regular collaborators, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman. The pair, who co-wrote “The Darjeeling Limited” with Anderson, created this new Amazon Studios show, and after the well-received pilot at the start of the year, the full run will debut in December. Paul Weitz directed the pilot, and the trio assembled an impressive cast, with Gael Garcia Bernal and Malcolm McDowell in the lead roles, and Lola Kirke, Saffron Burrows and Bernadette Peters in support. The pilot was certainly funny in places, and is weird enough that we’re certainly in for the long haul, even if it didn’t come from Coppola and Schwartzman.
Why it might not be: The pilot was enjoyable, but wildly uneven, and in places reminded us more of Coppola’s “A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III,” which is firmly not a good thing. We hope it’ll find its feet as the run goes on, but do still wonder if it’ll still be too niche to really catch on with a wider audience, although Bernal’s star power should help (Kirke, sister of “Girls” star Jemima Kirke, looks to be the real standout though).
Slot/Start Date: TBD on HBO
What’s It About? Two couples, linked by a pair of sisters, live under the same roof.
Why it could be your new favorite show: It’s been a few years since we had a new movie from the Duplass Brothers, but that’s in part because they’ve been colonizing the small screen. Mark is a regular on “The League,” Jay is among the cast of “Transparent” (see above), and they appear together on “The Mindy Project” as a pair of malevolent midwives. But now they have their very own show, writing, directing and, in Mark’s case, starring in HBO’s “Togetherness.” The premise might sound sitcom-generic, but assuming the mumblecore pioneers can bring the same emotional truth and low-key humor that they brought to “The Puffy Chair,” “Cyrus” and “Jeff Who Lives At Home,” this should be something distinctive and welcome. They’ve got a strong cast too, as the great Melanie Lynskey plays Duplass’ wife, while Amanda Peet is her sister, and Duplass regular Steve Zissin her partner.
Why it might not: The Duplass’ films are sort of an acquired taste. We’re into them, but if you didn’t like the movies, you’re probably not going to like this one. The show could potentially suffer from a brace of similarly-premised ones too including FX‘s “Married” and Amazon‘s “Really” in the last few months, shows offering an indie-tinged spin on traditional married-couple sitcoms, so this may start to see diminishing returns. But frankly, this has Melanie Lynskey in it, so we’re on board.
Start Date: All ten episodes hit Netflix on December 12th.
What’s It About: A big-budget adventure series, produced by the Weinstein Company‘s television wing, about legendary explorer Marco Polo and his time at the court of Kublai Khan in 13th century China.
Why it might be your new favorite show: So far, streaming-only shows have been relatively modest in ambition. Even the expensive “House Of Cards” is set in contemporary Washington D.C., with the period trappings and expansive effects of, say, “Game Of Thrones” or “Boardwalk Empire,” seemingly out of financial reach. But that changes in December with “Marco Polo,” the Weinstein’s first major venture into TV drama, and one that has cost them a pretty penny. Originally developed at Starz, the show has ended up as the last of the Netflix Originals in 2014, and has some big-name talents working on the project. “Young Guns” writer John Fusco created the show, and the first few episodes are helmed by “Kon-Tiki” directors Joachim Ronnin and Espen Sandberg (who’ll go from this to “Pirates Of The Caribbean 5“). The names in front of the camera are less recognizable, as newcomer Lorenzo Michelmy plays the title character, with Benedict Wong as Kublai Khan and the great Joan Chen the biggest name involved in the project. We haven’t seen much from the show yet, but we certainly hope that this could be a grand-scale adventure with insight into a historical period that’s yet to be explored on TV.
Why it might not: Bar the occasional “Game Of Thrones,” TV historical dramas tends to fall into the sort of middling ground trod by “The White Queen” or “The Borgias,” and on paper this feels closer to the latter two. And one wonders at the motivations of those that greenlit this—is this the first televisian attempt to create something that appeals to the Chinese market the way that movies like “Iron Man 3,” “Transformers: Age Of Extinction” and “Blackhat” were all conceived? Right now, this is all conjecture, and we’ll certainly give the series a shot, even if we’re not putting aside the whole weekend to binge watch just yet.
“Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell“
Start Date: December TBD on BBC America
What it’s about: In an alternate 19th Century England, where magic exists but is rarely used, Gilbert Norrell, an older magician and one of the most respected practitioners, becomes the mentor to a promising young aspirant, Jonathan Strange, who believes he is destined for greatness. But the men quarrel and a deep rift opens up between them, making them adversaries rather than allies.
Why it might be your new favorite show: So. Many. Reasons. Susanna Clarke’s award-winning book, on which the show is based, was a fabulous crossover bestseller, bringing a compelling blend of fantasy (there’s even a subplot set in a fairy realm) and evocative period detailing (the Gothic 19th Century British trappings and language are brilliantly evoked) to the mainstream. It’s the sort of adaptation that the BBC has made its prestige bread-and-butter, and early indications are very promising, such as the spot-on casting of great British character actor Eddie Marsan as Norrell, suddenly-everywhere theater star Bertie Carvel (see “Babylon“) as Strange and rising star Alice Englert as the tragic heroine Lady Pole, whom Norrell brings back from the dead. It’s hard to find anyone who has read the book who isn’t a fan, and if the summary sounds a tiny bit Young Adult-ish, let us assure you that the book is far stranger, more ambivalent and more textured than can be communicated in a logline. Which is one reason it’s being made into a 7-part TV show rather than the Julian Fellowes-scripted film that was mooted at one point (the collapse of rights holder New Line being the other reason). And perhaps most reassuringly, Clarke herself has given the production her blessing, reportedly wondering “what are all these people doing outside my head?” when she visited an early table read.
Why it might not: While a seven-hour-long miniseries is definitely an improvement on a single feature film, there’s still some question over whether the adaptation can possibly do justice to the 800-page doorstop novel that incorporates parallel worlds and an ironic tone of voice that both embodies and pastiches several literary genres. Plus the inclusion of actual fairy magic may not be to everyone’s taste, and there are no big stars to attract neophytes. Finally, it was such a successful book that its many fans (ourselves among them) will have high expectations and will no doubt be sensitive to any and all narrative tightening that’s has to be done to effect the transition to screen. But again, the BBC has tackled works of enormous complexity before and triumphed, so our hopes are high.
Start Date/Slot: TBD/Channel 4 (U.K.)
What it’s about: Just as a new round of violence dogs the Metropolitan Police Force in London, an American PR adviser is brought in to spruce up the Met’s image.
Why it might be your new favorite show: If there’s one false dichotomy we’re even less fond of than “Movies vs. TV,” it’s probably “British TV vs. U.S. TV.” But if there’s one area in which the Brits overall may just slightly have the edge, it’s in satire with bite (arguably the best satirical comedy on U.S. TV right now is “Veep” which is of course comes from Scot Armando Iannucci of “The Thick of It” fame). So perhaps what is most surprising about the pilot for satirical dramedy “Babylon,”—which was directed by show co-creator Danny Boyle, stars James Nesbitt and Brit Marling, and aired in February in the U.K.—was that it wasn’t just an acerbic look at bungling and spin doctoring in the police force. It was that, of course, but it also has surprising compassion for its characters, even as it was justifiably excoriating about the institution. And it was also pacy, well-acted and very funny, as we’d have expected from Boyle and from writers Sam Armstrong and Jesse Bain of “Peep Show,” “Four Lions” and “Veep.” Add the somewhat surprising casting of indie darling Marling, a showcase role for ubiquitous British TV star Nesbitt, and “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” star Bertie Carvel as a scene-stealingly horrible deputy head of communications, and there’s the recipe for something special here.
Why it might not: Will it be too British to translate? Will the portrayal of the police force—any police force —as a group of dunderheaded but essentially well-meaning people trapped in a broken system play to U.S. audiences in the wake of incidents like in Ferguson? Perhaps by the time it airs stateside, those issues will have receded somewhat , or perhaps its Britishness will work to its advantage in distancing it from them. Whatever the case, if it doesn’t fly, it’s hard to believe it will have anything to do with the show’s inherent quality. It’s also worth noting that Boyle isn’t directing any episodes of the show past the pilot, though some promising names stepped in instead, namely “Filth” helmer Jon Baird, and “My Brother The Devil” filmmaker Sally El Hosaini.
Honorable Mentions: That’s not enough for you? Are you some kind of TV watching machine? Well, there’s more where that came from. September 18th brings a new Tim & Eric show, “Bedtime Stories,” a “Twilight Zone“-inspired anthology series that should be a change of pace from the absurd comedy duo, on Adult Swim. The surprisingly entertaining “Sleepy Hollow” returns for a second run on Fox on September 22nd, while we’re hoping that “Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” can maintain the momentum from its last few episodes, which weren’t completely boring, when it also returns for a second season on September 23rd.
September 28th brings a second season of last year’s best new network comedy, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” while the next week it’ll be paired with the promising-on-paper “Mulaney,” the best-looking of a bad bunch of new sitcoms. On October 8th, Playlist favorite Frank Grillo gets his own series, MMA Drama “Kingdom” on DirectTV (co-starring a Jonas Brother!), while on November 2nd and 3rd, Lisa Cholodenko‘s miniseries “Olive Kitteridge” will air on HBO. Starring Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins and Bill Murray, the only reason we didn’t include it is because we saw it in Venice already (it’s ace – read the review here).
The next week sees the return of “The Newsroom,” and Aaron Sorkin‘s ego, for its third and final season. The same night, the excellent “Getting On” comes back (we actually would have included it here, but we assumed it wasn’t back until 2015, and it was only announced literally as we were going to press). Syfy show “Ascension” begins on November 24th. As for stuff that doesn’t yet have a firm date, Gillian Anderson will be trying to catch Jamie Dornan again in the second season of “The Fall,” while the miniseries adaptation of J.K. Rowling‘s “The Casual Vacancy” will air on at least the BBC before the end of the year. We should also see colonial India-set “Indian Summers” from that side of the pond too. Anything we missed out you wanna see? Let us know in the comments.
— Oliver Lyttelton, Drew Taylor, Jessica Kiang, Rodrigo Perez