Along with everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the entertainment industry to a screeching halt for the spring and summer. Some productions are now carefully starting back up, but it seems possible we’re in for a dry period in which there won’t be many new or returning scripted television shows coming out later this winter. However, we still have a few months this fall in which the various networks and streaming services can unveil the last shows that they had in the can from before coronavirus.
Many of us could use as much entertainment as possible to distract ourselves from the otherwise unrelenting daily grind of news stories about pandemic spikes and election doomsday scenarios. But is TV still a thing? And are there any good shows to watch? Below, we’ve picked out a few highlights from the current and forthcoming schedule.
The Boys (Amazon Prime) I was lukewarm on the first season of The Boys, which was an exceedingly gory, somewhat juvenile superhero show about how if superheroes existed in the real world, they probably wouldn’t be very nice people. At the same time, it was also often a fun, easy-to-watch show, and had an unforgettable standout performance from Antony Starr as the sociopathic Homelander. Overall, the second season has been an improvement, doubling down on what worked in season one and adding Aya Cash as Stormfront, whose attitude about fame and power is pretty undeniably relevant to politics in 2020.
Lovecraft Country (HBO) HBO’s big late-summer series is well into its second half now, and has become somewhat of a polarizing show among critics. This adaptation of Matt Ruff’s novel is, at its core, a prestige TV version of a monster-of-the-week series, and can be somewhat inconsistent at times. When it’s good, like with “Sundown,” “Strange Case,” and “Meet Me In Daegu,” it has been one of the most daring shows on TV, an incredibly bold mashup of different genres and big ideas on race. When it’s not good, like with “A History Of Violence,” it feels like a fancy version of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Overall, it’s a show that takes big swings, and I’d certainly recommend checking it out if you haven’t yet.
The Vow (HBO) The saga of Keith Raniere and NXIVM captured headlines all throughout 2018 and 2019, and has been brought to life in agonizing detail in HBO’s nine-part series. It’s an engrossing doc that cleverly lulls the viewer in during its first episode, to try to give you a sense of how intelligent, thoughtful people could be suckered by Raniere’s psychobabble. But as the series goes on, following several key figures as they slowly untangle themselves from the cult and then try to get others out and bring media attention to it, it becomes an increasingly darker look at Raniere’s deep-seated misogyny.
We Are Who We Are (HBO) If you enjoyed Call My By Your Name, you won’t want to miss Luca Guadagnino’s new HBO series, which is an exploration of identity set against a backdrop of an American military base in Italy. The characters can be equally grating and vulnerable, surprising and frustrating, but the show invites you to empathize with them at a transformational moment in their lives rather than judge them. And the show is just gorgeous to look at, as Guadagnino remains a master of atmosphere and lingering camera work.
PEN15 (Hulu) One of the best debut comedies of 2019 may have topped itself in season two. Co-creators and 30-somethings Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play themselves at 13, opposite real teens in this coming-of-age comedy set in the ’90s. Puberty gets extra complicated in season two with both girls dealing with slut-shaming, frustrations with parents, dalliances with witchcraft, school plays, and navigating weird new friendships. It can be excruciating at times because of how true to life it all feels, but Erskine and Konkle never forget to make it hilarious.
The Great British Baking Show (Netflix) In these troubled times, we all need some comfort TV, and nothing–I mean NOTHING—is more comforting than GBBS, the cable knit sweater of television.
Bob’s Burgers (Fox, September 27th) Not only is it the best animated show about a loving family of weirdos on TV, it’s the best show about a loving family of weirdos on television altogether. Animated series are some of the only ones whose production schedules have not been seriously affected by the pandemic, so the show is returning for its 11th season right on time. And they will even have a serendipitous pandemic episode, titled “Worms of In-Rear-ment,” which “is about a pinworm epidemic.”
Fargo (FX, September 27th) After an extended hiatus, Noah Hawley’s anthology crime series/Coen Brothers pastiche Fargo returns. This season is set in 1950s Kansas City and concerns the conflict between a Black crime syndicate led by Chris Rock and an Italian mafia led by Jason Schwartzman. The excellent supporting cast includes Jessie Buckley as a sociopathic killer with a classic Midwest accent; Timothy Olyphant as a Mormon cop; Salvatore Esposito as a mafia member whose eyes seem to be permanently bulging; Ben Whishaw as a conflicted guardian; and mega-talented musician Andrew Bird making his acting debut as one Thurman Smutney, a character written specifically for him.
The Comey Rule (Showtime, September 27th) Okay, this probably won’t take your mind off the election. But if you have a stronger stomach than me, you may enjoy watching thespians Jeff Daniels and Brendan Gleeson as former FBI Director James Comey and Donald Trump in this two-part event series about the fallout from the 2016 election. It may make you cringe at times, but that’s only because real life can make you cringe.
The Good Lord Bird (Showtime, October 4th) Ethan Hawke gives an incredible performance as abolitionist John Brown in this miniseries adaptation of James McBride’s novel, which went through several delays this year. But it seems it was all worth it for Hawke’s performance, which is described as “a crescendoing turn, a scenery-devouring blend of crazy-eyed, spittle-flying excess spiked with silent, poignant grace notes of sincerity.” But that doesn’t necessarily make him the hero of the story: the series is told from the point of view of “Onion (Joshua Johnson-Lionel), a fictional enslaved boy, who is part of Browne’s crew of abolitionist soldiers during the time of Bleeding Kansas, eventually participating in the famous 1859 raid on the Army depot at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.” It also stars Daveed Diggs as Frederick Douglass and Wyatt Russell as U.S. Army Officer J.E.B. Stuart.
Soulmates (AMC, October 5th) If you’re a big fan of Black Mirror but wish it had a little more romance, you may want to check out AMC’s Soulmates. It’s set 15 years in the future, “when science has made a discovery that changes the lives of everyone on the planet – a test that unequivocally tells you who your soulmate is.” Relationship drama galore ensues! The ensemble cast includes tons of TV regulars including Malin Akerman, Charlie Heaton, Betsy Brandt, Sarah Snook, David Costabile and Sonya Cassidy.
How To With John Wilson (HBO, October 23rd) Nathan Fielder has been suspiciously quiet in the last three years since the end of his brilliant series Nathan For You, but he’s finally back as an executive producer of this similarly quirky docu-comedy series set in NYC. The show is about the absurdities of day-to-day life in the city via documentary filmmaker and self-described “anxious New Yorker” John Wilson, who serves as writer, director, cameraman, producer, and narrator. “In a uniquely hilarious odyssey of self-discovery and cultural observation, Wilson covertly and obsessively films the lives of his fellow New Yorkers while attempting to give everyday advice on relatable topics.”
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix, October 23rd) Anya Taylor-Joy is great in everything she’s been in, so we can’t wait to see her anchor this miniseries, based on the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. Taylor-Joy plays orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon, and the show charts her life “from the age of 8 to 22 as she struggles with addiction in her quest” to become a Grandmaster in chess.
The Undoing (HBO, October 25th) Looking for something to scratch the rich-people-dealing-with-crimes-itch that you previously got from shows like Big Little Lies? Nicole Kidman stars as a successful self-help author whose life unravels when her husband (played by Hugh Grant) disappears in David E. Kelly’s miniseries The Undoing, an adaptation of the 2014 Jean Hanff Korelitz novel You Should Have Known.
The Mandalorian (Disney+, October 30th) It’s the Baby Yoda show, what more do you need to know?
Moonbase 8 (Showtime, November 8th) All trends come in threes, and so it goes for space comedies: last year we got Armando Iannucci’s Avenue 5, earlier this year came Space Force with Steve Carrell, and next up is Moonbase 8. It stars the fantastic trio of John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen and Tim Heidecker as group of somewhat hopeless wannabe astronauts training at NASA’s Moon Base Simulator in the desert, hoping to get chosen to go to space for real. It’s nowhere near as ruthlessly acerbic as Avenue 5, but definitely darker (and funnier) than Space Force.
Industry (HBO, November 9th) With no new Succession on the horizon until next year, HBO’s new series about the financial industry might be your next best bet. According to the logline, “The series follows a group of young graduates competing for a limited set of permanent positions at a top investment bank in London – but the boundaries between colleague, friend, lover, and enemy soon blur as they immerse themselves in a company culture defined as much by sex, drugs, and ego as it is by deals and dividends. As members of the group rise and fall, they must decide whether life is about more than the bottom line.”
A Teacher (Hulu, November 10th) FX’s production schedule has been greatly affected by the pandemic, with tons of shows moved to 2021 or later as a result, but one show that was able to finish is A Teacher. Kate Mara and Nick Robinson star in this remake of Hannah Fidell’s 2013 movie about the “complexities and consequences” of a predatory sexual relationship between a young teacher and her student.
The Crown (Netflix, November 15th) Just in time for a post-election day binge session, enjoy the latest season of a show about a very different, slightly less dysfunctional governing system. Olivia Colman returns as Queen Elizabeth II, along with Tobias Menzes as Prince Phillip and Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret. They are joined by Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher and Emma Corrin as Lady Diana Spencer, and the season will include her doomed marriage to Prince Charles.
Big Mouth (Netflix) Netflix’s profane and sweet exploration of puberty will release its fourth season sometime toward the end of this year, right at the point where we’re all desperate for anything to laugh at. It has become the perfect series for people who enjoy their comedy swinging between earnestness and utter perversity—expect storylines about summer camp, periods, anxiety, and more when it returns.
WandaVision (Disney+, November/December) There will be no Marvel Studios movies released in 2020, the first time that’s happened since 2009, and no one is happy about it (okay, some people might be happy about it). But the one piece of Marvel content that is coming out sometime before the end of the year is this trippy TV show, the studio’s first for Disney+. It stars Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Vision (Paul Bettany), and a whole lot of fun side characters from the MCU as they channel Leave It To Beaver, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, Roseanne, and Full House. Any show that has both Katherine Hahn and Fred Melamed has to be pretty good, right?
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