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The A.V. Club’s most anticipated TV of 2017

The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)
The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)

Previously, on The A.V. Club: We previewed the next few months of TV premieres, casting (more often than not) an objective eye toward reboots of the sitcom and fantasy variety, a notably young pope, and a noticeably buffer Archie. Now its time to endorse some programs from further on in the TV calendar, either because we’ve seen them (pro tip: Santa Clarita Diet is delectably loopy, but it’s not great for mealtime viewing) or because we’re eager to see what they’ve got (are the owls in Twin Peaks still not what they seem?). And we’ve thrown some returning favorites into the mix, too, because when you’re looking after a forest of 450-some scripted TV shows, you can’t just mind the saplings. You want to pay some attention to the shows that are about to be cut down, or the ones that are suddenly blooming after several years of dormancy, too.

American Gods (Starz)

In some corners, American Gods is always going to be the show that kept Bryan Fuller from fulfilling his destiny of captaining a Star Trek series. But this Neil Gaiman adaptation is an equally ideal match of producer and source material, given Fuller’s prior TV treatments of the hereafter and all the potential for rococo imagery and rich psychological detail inherent in American Gods’ clash between the mythical beings of the old world and their modern-day counterparts. These gods and goddesses are played by Fuller repertory players (Gillian Anderson, Kristin Chenoweth, Jeremy Davies, Beth Grant, Orlando Jones), seasoned character actors (Ian McShane, Cloris Leachman, Jonathan Tucker, Pablo Schreiber), and, er, Dane Cook, who form the constellation of personalities swirling around Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), an evocatively named protagonist who’s newly widowed and newly out of prison. Shadow soon takes up with the even more evocatively named Wednesday (McShane), pulling him into an out-of-this-world adventure that might not be Fuller at the helm of the Starship Discovery, but might also be the closest you’re going to get to that long-delayed Sandman movie. (The closest thing that’s not Lucifer, at least.)

The Americans, season five (FX)

TV’s best ongoing drama ended its fourth season with a number of cliffhangers—FBI shake ups! Young love! Biological threat contained?—and as the show kicks off its two-season endgame, current events have conspired to make The Americans TV’s most relevant ongoing drama, too. While tensions between Washington and Moscow reignite the Cold War in the real world, the 1984 of The Americans finds Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) taking on a new mission that, judging by production stills released in December, has something to do with the airline industry. A show about keeping secrets must guard its own with extreme caution, though there are a few reliable online sources for leaks from the set. Co-showrunner Joel Fields isn’t shy about revealing episode titles or directorial assignments on his Twitter feed, while costume designer Katie Irish provides the occasional glimpse at the Reagan-era styles and fashion inspirations that are due to make their way to the screen. Judging by one recent tweet, somebody’s due for a new-wave makeover—our money’s on young Henry Jennings.

Curb Your Enthusiasm, season nine (HBO)

Larry David is not Larry David, the exaggeratedly curmudgeonly co-creator of Seinfeld that he plays on Curb Your Enthusiasm. But the real Larry David’s arrangement with HBO would incite the envy of the fake one: When he doesn’t feel like making more episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, he doesn’t make more episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm. And when he does, he does. And for the first time in half a decade, Larry David feels like making more episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, reuniting with Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, J.B. Smoove, Susie Essman, Ted Danson, and Mary Steenburgen for a fresh round of faux pas and broken social contracts in 2017. And with an asshole (Say it like Essman: “Asshole!”) who always says what’s on his mind rising to the most powerful office in the land, David’s timing couldn’t be better.

Detroiters (Comedy Central)

Comedy thrives on specificity, and it doesn’t get more specific than the inspiration for this single-camera sitcom created by and starring real-life best friends and actual Michiganders Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson. Drawing on shared memories of the type of low-budget TV commercial that would cast a former Detroit Lions runningback as an automobile-peddling superhero, Richardson and Robinson cast themselves as small-time Motor City ad men who wouldn’t last one pitch with Don Draper. It’s man-child mayhem in the Workaholics mode, with the whole enterprise underscored by a comeback narrative for the titular city and the seen-better-days ad agency run by Richardson and Robinson’s characters. Ultimately, it’s the bond between the central goofballs that sells Detroiters—but the dozen or so Metro Detroit-raised comedy nerds who’ve had the “Get A Dawg-Gone Good Deal” jingle stuck in their heads for the last 30 years are going to love it.

The Deuce (HBO)

James Franco and Zoe Kazan (Photo: Bobby Bank/GC Image)

The last time the Home Box Office Time Machine traveled back to 1970s New York, it didn’t work out so well. You can say this for Vinyl, though: Even at its lowest, most-coked-out, ranting-at-full-volume-about-the-authenticity-of-Bo-Diddley low, Terence Winter’s (and Martin Scorsese’s and Mick Jagger’s and Rich Cohen’s) record-industry chronicle provided something to gawk at. (Like the the record industry in the ’70s itself.) And The Deuce, a period piece created by David Simon and George Pelecanos, is all about gawking. The show the trades call the “HBO porn drama” looks at the pornography trade in Times Square, following its legalization in the early ’70s. Lest the title put you in mind of the scatological, The Deuce was actually the nickname for the infamous stretch of 42nd Street that was dotted with grindhouses during this time period—though you could draw a numerical connection there, too, with James Franco headlining the series in the dual role of twins Vincent and Frankie Martino. (Of course, the headline writers of the world would be advised to keep “The Deuce craps out” in their back pocket, in case of bad reviews, poor ratings, and/or cancellation.) The series marks the most nakedly lurid topic the creator of The Wire and Treme has ever approached, but with Maggie Gyllenhaal, David Krumholtz, and Zoe Kazan onboard (along with a bevy of Wire and Treme alums), The Deuce is bound to lend an air of class to the peep shows, junkies, and eponymous punksploitation films that epitomized Times Square as Vinyl’s Richie Finestra would recognize it.

Feud (FX)

Jessica Lange, Ryan Murphy, and Susan Sarandon (Photo: Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter)

The first installment of FX’s newest anthology series seems like it should be heralded by the type of movie-theater one-sheet that put prospective audiences on a last-name basis with its biggest stars. “Lange. Sarandon. Murphy.” Before you can even say “A dramatization of the backstage tensions between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis during production of What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?” it already sounds like the most deliriously campy project to ever hit basic cable. Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon star as Crawford and Davis, respectively, with Ryan Murphy and his American Horror Story cohort Tim Minear recreating the notorious Hollywood rivalry that came to a head on the set of the Robert Aldrich’s 1962 psychological thriller. (Aldrich is played here by Alfred Molina; other notable castings include Murphy muse Sarah Paulson as Geraldine Page, Stanley Tucci as studio head Jack L. Warner, and Judy Davis as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.) Judging by the mountain of awards won by The People V. O.J. Simpson and the positive notices earned by American Horror Story: Roanoke, it might seem like Murphy’s run as TV’s enfant terrible is at an end. Building Lange and Sarandon a mansion of scenery to chew might prove that Murphy’s mischievous streak is still alive—and with Minear by his side, that streak doesn’t run the risk of sending the whole project tumbling down the stairs.

Great News (NBC)

The pilot that later became 30 Rock was set in the world of cable news, so this workplace comedy would carry a whiff of TGS With Tracy Jordan even if it wasn’t produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock or backed by a zippy Jeff Richmond score. 30 Rock was also where Great News creator Tracey Wigfield got her start (penning scripts for “Jackie Jormp-Jomp,” “Queen Of Jordan,” and the Emmy-winning series finale), and she successfully transplants that show’s joke-a-second pacing and behind-the-scenes hijinks to the misadventures of struggling producer named Katie (Briga Heelan). Katie’s office woes are compounded when her mother, Carol (Andrea Martin), lands an internship on her daughter’s show, complicating their relationship but finally giving the staff someone who can soothe the fragile ego of news anchor Chuck Pierce (John Michael Higgins). A supporting-cast MVP on Cougar Town, Love, and Undateable, Heelan has been a screwball talent in search of a spotlight for several years; she gets several worthy foils here—Horatio Sanz, Adam Campbell, even Nicole Richie—but the worthiest is Martin, the SCTV alum who’s proof that there’s a lot of longevity in this type of battiness.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

Originally published in 1985, Margaret Atwood’s novel of theocratic dystopia is the type of book that calls out to be visualized while simultaneously setting up hurdles to a successful screen adaptation. The film version from 1990 does some chilling world-building, but sacrifices the novel’s first-person POV in the process. The pilot for Hulu’s new adaptation, meanwhile, is heavily narrated by its protagonist, Offred (Elisabeth Moss), the surrogate for (and property of) a military official (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife (Yvonne Strahovski) in the totalitarian Republic Of Gilead. Elsewhere, such a device could be suffocating, but here it links The Handmaid’s Tale to its literary roots while informing the show’s cinematic techniques, from its flashback structure to its extreme close-ups. At the offset, it might have seemed like the number-one reason to recommend The Handmaid’s Tale would be its cast, which also includes Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley, and Ann Dowd in parts that subtly tweak roles from their TV pasts. But there’s something very smart about the look of this show, which gives an allure to some particularly spooky subject matter.

I’m Dying Up Here (Showtime)

Once again: Maybe premium cable outlets shouldn’t go back to the wide collars, long hair, and bleery-eyed machine-gun patter until we’ve managed to clear the last particle of Vinyl from our nasal passages. But the early episodes of Showtime’s comedy-scene drama I’m Dying Up Here demonstrate why the creative underground of the 1970s remains tempting territory for TV creators—and not just because it sets up ample opportunity for showy, Goodfellas-riffing long takes. Based on the nonfiction book by William Knoedelseder, I’m Dying Up Here is set in and around the fictional comedy club Goldie’s—a stand-in for The Comedy Store, with Melissa Leo playing the tough-as-nails stand-in for the Store’s tough-as-nails owner, Mitzi Shore—with a focus on the hungry talent that frequents the place in hopes of delivering the set that leads to a spot on Midnight Special, Merv Griffin, or the grand prize of them all: The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. There’s a nostalgic streak on display, and indulgences in Showtime’s undying T&A fixation, but the bull sessions between the comedians are so electric—especially when Andrew Santino or Ari Graynor are involved—and the stand-up sequences so engagingly staged and filmed that the stumbles can be overlooked. In the two episodes we’ve been able to see, I’m Dying Up Here does a better Almost Famous impression than the Showtime show that had actual Cameron Crowe working behind the scenes—and it does vintage Scorsese better than 2010s Scorsese could do on Vinyl.

Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix)

Thanks to some excellent mimicry of weight-loss-plan marketing, the secret’s out about the Santa Clarita Diet. So we don’t have to dance around it anymore: This is a domestic sitcom about Drew Barrymore eating people. But not just any people—people who “deserve” to line the stomach of a California real estate agent who’s suddenly seized by strange appetites and desires, much to the confusion of her partner in business and marriage (Timothy Olyphant) and teenage daughter (Liv Hewson). And if you order now, you get the satirical barbs of Better Off Ted creator Victor Fresco, the type of expertly orchestrated gore gags Ruben Fleischer brought to Zombieland, and Olyphant delivering a high-pitched comedic performance that taps into a vein he previously unearthed on The Grinder.

Final seasons of The Leftovers (HBO), Halt And Catch Fire (AMC), Girls (HBO), and Orphan Black (BBC America)

Nothing gets canceled anymore, part one: The renewal notices for this quartet of cable shows were all accompanied by the news that their next seasons would also be their last. It’s not the unexpected and merciless axing of old, but rather a vote of confidence that the creative brain trusts behind The Leftovers, Halt And Catch Fire, Girls, and Orphan Black could end their series on their own terms. (Not bad for programs whose combined ability to garner critical accolades and inspire intense fandoms and/or online debate always outweighed their capacity to draw huge audiences.) The third and fourth seasons of The Leftovers and Halt And Catch Fire, respectively, will represent the dismounts that follow astonishing leaps of storytelling faith, with Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s supernatural saga taking flight to Australia while Chrises Cantwell and Rogers steer their PC-boom drama onto the Information Superhighway. For Girls and Orphan Black, the end is one of sound narrative reasoning: The Clone Club closes its ranks before Orphan Black can irreversibly fly off the rails, while Hannah Horvath and friends have reached the point in their lives when they either have to grow up and move, lest they become truly dispiriting cautionary tales. (Then again, when that happened to Charlie, it gave the show one of its best episodes.)

The returns of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Twin Peaks, and Star Trek

Nothing gets canceled anymore, part two: In the time of Peak TV, any cult classic that met an untimely demise can return from the grave, given the right amount of Kickstarter money. At least that’s the case with Mystery Science Theater 3000, which resumes its movie-mocking mission on Netflix this year thanks to a record-setting run on Kickstarter last fall. (Coincidentally, the fundraising platform’s previous record holder for a film or video project was another TV revival: The Veronica Mars movie.) New MST3K cast members Patton Oswalt, Felicia Day, Jonah Ray, Baron Vaughn, and Hampton Yount will mingle with alumni from the original series, though presumably not to the same extent that Showtime’s Twin Peaks continuation will combine veterans and rookies. Co-creator David Lynch remains cryptic about the thriller’s long-gestating third season, but with that 217-person cast list—which joins the likes of Laura Dern, Amanda Seyfried, and Trent Reznor with returning players Kyle MacLachlan, Sherilyn Fenn, David Duchovny, and others—you have to assume Special Agent Dale Cooper makes it out of the red room at some point.

Besides, he’s been in there for more than 25 years, 11 of which saw a complete absence of new Star Trek from the nation’s airwaves. Trek was born on TV, and it thrives on TV, and though Star Trek: Discovery isn’t technically being broadcast on TV—it’ll stream on CBS’ over-the-top subscription service, CBS All Access—it’s still the Federation’s most significant homecoming since the one that involved saving the whales. A decade prior to the events of the original series, Sonequa Martin-Green leads an intrepid crew of explorers into a new frontier in which the Star Trek of the 21st century no longer has to pretend that it’s Star Wars.

Superheroes, superheroes, superheroes: Legion (FX), Powerless (NBC), Marvel’s The Defenders (Netflix), Marvel’s Inhumans (ABC)

The current rule of thumb for the cinematic universes overseen by the United States’ two biggest publishers of superhero comics: Marvel makes the movies worth seeing, while DC makes the TV shows worth following. The former hasn’t figured out how to map the TV-like rhythms of its big-screen blockbusters onto its serialized fare, whose seasons feel like they’re two or three episodes too long. The latter—with help from executive producer Greg Berlanti—has built a lively multiverse of entertaining TV heroes who stand in stark contrast to their dour counterparts in the Zack Snyder movies, laying the tonal path for Powerless, an NBC comedy in which Danny Pudi, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ron Funches help their fellow mortals cope with the often destructive consequences of the metahumans in their midst.

However, there are exceptions to this rule—Jessica Jones and Agent Carter for Marvel, and, from the looks of the promotional materials, Wonder Woman for DC—and 2017 looks to add at least one more, thanks FX’s take on Legion. It should help that Legion is free from the constraints and forced connections of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it should further help that Legion is being run by Noah Hawley, the guy who accomplished (and then some) the unenviable task of converting Fargo into a TV show. Back in the MCU, there’s hope on the horizon in the form of the team-up that all of those over-long Netflix shows have been building toward, The Defenders, as well as Inhumans, which is neither a revision of the feature that was pulled from Marvel Studios’ insanely ambitious release slate nor a spin-off of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. The eight-part series revolving around the royal family of an alien race borne of humanity airs on ABC, but it’ll have its debut in a venue where the MCU has enjoyed greater success: movie theaters, where the first two episodes will run on IMAX screens in September.