Now that the Emmy deadline rush has transformed March and April into TV’s equivalent of year-end movie listings choked with Oscar-baiting prestige fare, fall premieres just don’t have the luster they used to. They still have the volume, however, as the broadcast networks cling to tradition, court consumers who spend big in the fourth quarter, and initiate the broadcast season with new programs that are likely to be forgotten sometime around the expiration of the final Thanksgiving leftovers. The never-ending cycle of cable and streaming debuts makes the fall feel simultaneously more and less relevant—you no longer have to wait for a new school year to start to get new TV, but you’re also getting more TV at this time of year than ever before.
Since we know your time is precious, The A.V. Club has developed a quick rubric for all the fresh content coming to your screens in the next few months. Quite simply: watch, skip, or binge.
These are the shows you have to see as soon as you can see them, either because they start off on the right foot, because they’re going to be dominating the cultural conversation, or because you can tell, in just one episode, whether it’s for you or not.
Self-explanatory. These are the duds, the dregs, the DOAs. They’ll be trivia soon enough.
Sounds like an automatic endorsement, but it doesn’t have to be—and it’s not just for Netflix or Amazon. Just as some streaming shows are better savored than gorged upon, some network offerings work best if you let the kinks work themselves out over six or seven weeks, and then dive into the DVR cache.
Happy viewing! We’ll see you on the other side of this mountain of screeners.
Editor’s note: Any pilots referenced within these previews are works in progress and are subject to change prior to broadcast.
The Orville (Fox, two-part premiere September 10 and 17 at 8 p.m. ET. Moves to Thursdays at 9 p.m. on September 21)
What’s it about? Star Trek. Because make no mistake: Despite the copious drinking, despite the sentient oozes voiced by Norm Macdonald, and despite Seth MacFarlane’s face front and center, The Orville frequently feels like an honest-to-goodness attempt to do a surprisingly faithful (if comically dysfunctional) take on Star Trek on the cheap. The series stars MacFarlane as Ed Mercer, a top-tier captain for the show’s erstwhile Starfleet, whose career gets derailed when he catches his wife (Adrianne Palicki) in bed with a bright blue alien. A year later, he’s a drunken mess, who gets his last shot as a leader when the title ship—complete with a super strong but inexperienced security officer (Halston Sage), a humorless Worf-a-like from an all-male species (Peter Macon), and a robot science officer from a civilization that’s “incredibly racist” against all organic life (Mark Jackson)—gets a vacancy in command. Joined by his fuck-up best friend (Scott Grimes) and the aforementioned ex-wife as his second-in-command (leading to a running, bitter joke that’s not as funny as MacFarlane seems to think), The Orville charts a somewhat shaky give-and-take between riffing on the conventions of Star Trek and taking a shot at trying to replicate the real thing.
Watch, binge, or skip? After a rough start, The Orville actually manages to push out some decent sci-fi TV, without sacrificing bursts of slacker comedy from Grimes and fellow helmsman J. Lee. For instance: Give or take a subplot about Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the show’s third episode wouldn’t feel out of place on The Next Generation 25 years ago. In the end, it’s going to come down to how much you can take of MacFarlane’s fast-talking, awkward guy schtick; give it a watch and, if it doesn’t drive you off immediately, you might find something to like. [William Hughes]
What’s it about? New York City at the dawn of the 1970s—though, considering that it’s coming from The Wire and Treme team of David Simon and George Pelecanos, odds are The Deuce will wind up having a lot to say about the United States as a whole. The show takes another big-picture view of the all-American intersection of vice and virtue, centering on the sex workers, barkeepers, bookies, pornographers, police officers, and assorted degenerates clustered around the seedy stretch of 42nd Street known colloquially as “The Deuce.” Among its sprawling cast of characters: Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a prostitute working by and for herself; debonair pimp C.C. (Gary Carr); college dropout Abby (Margarita Levieva); free-thinking beat cop Chris (Larry Gilliard Jr.); and James Franco in the splashy, Dickensian dual role of twin brothers Vincent and Frankie Martino. In addition to Gilliard, The Wire’s erstwhile D’Angelo Barker, be on the lookout for other returning Simon players like Cliff “Method Man” Smith, Chris Bauer, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Dominique Fishback, and Michael Kostroff.
Watch, binge, or skip? Watch. The Wire was a bigger hit on DVD than it ever was on HBO because viewers benefited from getting absorbed into Simon’s Baltimore several episodes at a time. The Deuce holds no hands during its feature-length, Michelle McLaren-directed pilot, presenting its own vocabulary to decipher, cliques to meet, and geography to learn. But unlike the movies screening in its dingy grindhouses, you’ll want to be there for all the talk at the beginning of The Deuce. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? There’s certainly no shortage of films about the Vietnam War, but few filmmakers are better fit to tackle the conflict in its entirety than Ken Burns, the patron saint of multipart PBS documentaries. His latest, made with long-time collaborator Lynn Novick, stretches across 10 parts and some 18 hours, and while recent works like Prohibition and The Dust Bowl featured the same sedate pace and unceasing gradual zooms into faded photographs, there’s reason to believe The Vietnam War will be a more vital experience. Burns’ 2007 take on World War II illustrated how much more captivating he could be when primary sources can still tell their stories on-camera, and the surplus of footage and music from the era remains vivid and harrowing. An original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross will help.
Watch, binge, or skip? Watch. Too much Ken Burns in a row muddles the impact, but in neatly delineated sessions, it’s illuminating and compulsively watchable stuff. [Clayton Purdom]
What’s it about? Lifetime’s flagship reality competition, Project Runway, is still making it work after 15 seasons (with a 16th currently airing) and a portfolio full of spin-offs. American Beauty Star isn’t one of them, but it certainly seems like it could be: It has the supermodel host (in this case, Adriana Lima), the nattily dressed mentor (celebrity makeup artist Sir John), and the spread of telegenic hair and makeup stylists eager to raise the level of their craft (and/or their profile). Weekly challenges have the competitors pairing off to create looks to complement runway styles and red-carpet creations, but there can be only one American Beauty Star.
Watch, skip, or binge: This is where American Beauty Star gets tripped up. Like too many Runway, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Face Off contestants before it, the show seems to have mistaken complication for complexity, muddling the clarity of its concept in the process. To make the show, you must be an expert in one craft, but to win, you must be an expert in both? And every week is a team challenge, but there’s an individual winner? Skip. Ninety-minute Runway episodes make Thursdays on Lifetime too long as it is. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? Space: once the final frontier, now the setting for action, adventure, and political metaphors. These are the voyages of the U.S.S. Shenzhou and the Discovery, which share a common first officer—Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), who’s bucking Star Trek convention by being the first non-captain series lead. But if you absolutely must go up the chain of command, Michelle Yeoh and Jason Isaacs are captaining the Shenzhou and the Discovery, respectively. Anticipation is high for the show, despite the many bumps in the production road. Losing Bryan Fuller as executive producer has also meant dropping the anthology-series angle he was pushing, which would have gone where no Star Trek show had been before. Instead, Fuller’s Pushing Daisies and Wonderfalls collaborators Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg are breaking new ground by developing a fully serialized show, one that’s set 10 years before the original Star Trek.
Watch, binge, or skip? Even if it hadn’t been 12 years since Enterprise was canceled, the time would still be ripe for the return of TV’s most optimistic show. So even though you’ll have to sign up for yet another streaming service, this is a definite watch. [Danette Chavez]
Young Sheldon (CBS, debuts September 25 at 7:30 p.m. ET; moves to Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on November 2)
What’s it about? Testing the audience’s endurance for halfway clever nerd jokes and “but they love each other” family schmaltz. Iain Armitage stars as a pint-sized, single-camera version of The Big Bang Theory’s breakout character, managing to milk some human warmth out of a kid already well on his way to becoming the collection of arrogance and tics that the show’s audience so aggressively loves. Young Sheldon operates on a very basic formula: Sheldon says something loud and inappropriate (usually emphasizing his intelligence or love of rules), and then everybody around him goes, “What is wrong with this kid?” (Repeat until 22-minute runtime is up.) The only deviation from the rote is Sheldon’s mother, Mary (Zoe Perry, playing a part originated by her mother, Laurie Metcalf, on the Big Bang mothership), who manages to anchor the whole thing by acting as a tireless advocate for her son to everybody who refuses to grasp his genius. Meanwhile, Sheldon’s older brother and football coach dad both have to cope with the fact that their high school careers are being consumed by Sheldon’s sudden promotion into their school/working lives.
Watch, skip, or binge? Armitage and Perry do their best, halfway selling Young Sheldon as a story about growing up with a difficult but gifted kid. (And young actress Raegan Revord has a real talent for expressing her exasperation at her TV twin brother’s unending tide of precocious behavior.) But every actual moment of humanity is undercut by narrator Jim Parsons, who’s constantly popping in to remind us what kind of mean, joyless know-it-all this kid ultimately grows up to be. Skip. [William Hughes]
What’s it about? The life of Alex Riley, as seen at ages 14, 40, and 65. Think of it is as This Is Me: Jack Dylan Grazer, Bobby Moynihan, and John Larroquette all depicting a different version of Alex, who grows from a dweeby teen inventor with a Michael Jordan fixation to a middle-aged, divorced tinkerer to a world-beating tech guru. Each Alex seems to think he’s having the worst time of his life, but scenes of his other selves are always there to put things in perspective, whether that involves maneuvering a mint into his schoolyard crush’s mouth, walking in on his wife banging a paramedic, or having a heart attack in the gallery of the New York Stock Exchange. (No spoiler: It’s all in the first-look trailer.) Guiding Alex through these first, second, and third chances are his stepbrother and stepfather (Christopher Paul Richards and Brian Unger), his daughter and best friend (Skylar Gray and Jaleel White), and his grown daughter and the mint-swallowing one who got away (Kelen Coleman and Sharon Lawrence). While you’re keeping track of all that, try not to think too hard about the 14-year age difference between the two actors playing former classmates in 2042.
Watch, skip, or binge? The pilot gets by on the charms of Moynihan and Larroquette, but it’s also an awful lot to digest. Let a few episodes accumulate, and binge those, to see if Me, Myself & I follows its own philosophy about time making some bumps in the road look smaller—or if it reflects the pilot’s impression that time can also make things more difficult. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? Freddie Highmore stitching up people who are still alive. TV’s former Norman Bates stars as Shaun Murphy, a promising surgeon with autism and savant syndrome who’s beginning his career at San Jose’s St. Bonaventure Hospital. Shaun’s new colleagues have trouble looking past his diagnoses, but he has a powerful advocate in hospital president Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff), who knew the titular good doctor back when he was just a kid with a beloved toy medical kit.
Watch, skip, or binge? TV is still trying to figure out how to treat autism spectrum disorders as neither punchline nor inspiration porn. The Good Doctor is not going to be the show that figures out that balance—the pilot is dripping from mawkishness. But if there’s anyone who can make good TV out of a genius physician who has difficulty relating to other people, it’s House creator David Shore, who developed The Good Doctor from a South Korean format with Lost and Hawaii Five-0 vet Daniel Dae Kim. Since ABC’s relationship with Shonda Rhimes is nearing its end, it desperately needs this type of show. Expect The Good Doctor to run for seven seasons, at which point you can binge an afternoon of reruns when you yourself are feeling under the weather. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? NBC lobbing the initial volley in the battle of the network military dramas. The first of three new shows about America’s fighting men and women takes place within the ranks of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the organization tasked with gathering and analyzing information about the military operations of other countries. The TV version of that boils down to a special-ops task force of part soldiers, part spies swooping in to assist Americans in need abroad, with the help of a high-tech control room supervised by DIA deputy director Patricia Campbell (Anne Heche). The series promises to be more action-adventure-oriented than its counterparts on CBS and The CW, with executive producer Dean Georgaris citing an unexpected inspiration for The Brave’s tight focus on its characters missions. “We don’t cut away to characters at home. We are in that model of ‘Let’s do what they did in ER.’” And ER managed to differentiate itself from Chicago Hope, right?
Watch, skip, or binge? If you have to watch one of these shows, it might as well be the one with fewer pretensions, with the feel of a louder, dumber era of primetime. But you won’t risk a court martial if you skip. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? NBC is giving American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson a run for its money, right down to the unwieldy title. Dick Wolf’s traded procedurals for anthology series, but he’s still very much in his milieu. True Crime is, in a sense, a serialized version of Law & Order—where the flagship drama ripped from different headlines on a weekly basis, Wolf’s new series will see a single crime and trial unfold over the course of a season. In its first outing, True Crime will tell the story of the Menendez brothers, who were convicted of murdering their parents in 1994. The show’s lined up some A-list talent, including Edie Falco as Leslie Abramson, who defended the Leopold and Loeb of Beverly Hills. Anthony Edwards, Julianne Nicholson, and Josh Charles are also in the cast, with the latter playing the Menendez brothers’ psychiatrist.
Watch, binge, or skip? The jury’s still out on how well Wolf will handle adhering to real-life events, but this is still a watch. Not only is the cast stacked and the story lurid, but we can’t wait to see what the Law & Order equivalent of “Juice” is. [Danette Chavez]
What’s it about? More elite special-ops forces, this time composed of Navy SEALs. But unlike their compatriots in the DIA, they don’t have the luxury of leaving it all on the field: This SEAL Team digs deep into the things they carry, introducing spouses and families and, in the scenes that open the pilot, a therapy session with team leader Jason Hayes (David Boreanaz). Hayes is haunted by a fractured home life and an operation gone awry; the only family he still has—his work one—is having its delicate balance tested by the young turk who’s angling to join the unit (Max Thieriot). It’s jarring to see Boreanaz pivot immediately from the decorated cracking-wise-to-hide-a-secret-pain Army sniper he played on Bones to the decorated SEAL who’s practically nothing but secret pain; playing the unit’s tough-as-nails CIA contact, Jessica Paré will only exaggerate your longing for Mad Men. There’s a cute dog, though.
Watch, skip, or binge? Skip. Boreanaz will be on another show soon enough. [Erik Adams]
Marvel’s Inhumans (ABC, premiere now screening in select IMAX theaters; series debuts September 29 at 8 p.m. ET)
What’s it about? The race of superhumans (don’t call them “mutants”—a different studio owns the screen rights to that part of the Marvel universe) living on the lunar city of Attilan. Following a coup mounted by hot-headed noble Maximus The Mad (Iwan Rheon—what, him mount a coup?), the rest of the Inhuman Royal Family seeks refuge, separately, on Earth—Hawaii, specifically. There, strong-and-silent type Black Bolt (Anson Mount, who’s apparently assembled a 50-page document to keep track of his character’s unique sign language) and follically gifted queen Medusa (Serinda Swan) gear up to reclaim what’s theirs, attempting to reunite with hoof-stomping military leader Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor), fault-sensing adviser Karnak (Ken Leung), and the giant, teleporting canine known as Lockjaw. So, again: There’s a cute giant dog, though.
Watch, skip, or binge? Skip. There’s a lot about this series that’s beyond comprehension, human or inhuman. None more so than the choice to launch Inhumans in an IMAX cut that provides more screen (but less screen time) than the version of the two-part premiere that’s going out over the air. There’s enough superhero product out there; investing so much in this one seems, well, mad. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? A group of animated friends on the precipice of adolescence, refracted through the decades-long friendship between Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg, who created the series with the filmmaking duo of Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett. Big Mouth draws on a lot of fruitful partnerships from throughout Kroll’s life, putting him at the head of the voice cast opposite Oh, Hello collaborator John Mulaney and filling out the supporting ranks with their fellow Kroll Show veterans Jenny Slate, Jessi Klein, and Jason Mantzoukas. The premise is one that would fit right in on a sketch show, too, with all the discomfort and awkwardness of puberty visualized in such NSFW forms as phallic-nosed demons, human-sized penises, sperm that talk like the turtles from Finding Nemo, or a belligerent Lady Liberty. It’s like if the fantasy-tinged episodes of Bob’s Burgers were way more explicit about Tina’s thing for butts; in Simpsons terms, it’s a realistic, down-to-earth show that’s completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic manifestations of hormonal urges and the ghost of Duke Ellington. (Little Nick’s closest confidant is the spirit of the swing impresario, voiced by Jordan Peele. It’s a great gag.)
Watch, skip, or binge? It’s never quite the gut-buster that Oh, Hello or Kroll Show are, but Big Mouth is doing some interesting things with a topic most people don’t want to touch with a 6-foot-tall phallus. Watch it, because taking too much Big Mouth at one time might leave you as the one feeling uncomfortable. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? Amazon’s left no genre untouched in this original series—the streaming arm of the online retailer touts Tin Star as a “revenge thriller” that’s “part drama” and “part comedy.” Let’s look at the facts of the case: Tim Roth stars as Jim Worth, a British expat turned small-town police chief. He resettles with his family in the Canadian Rockies, and that’s where the trouble starts, in the form of Elizabeth Bradshaw (Christina Hendricks). As Big Oil’s representative, the Mad Men alum has a demeanor as icy as the Canadian tundra. Elizabeth and Jim clash—he might be the law in town, but multibillion-dollar corporations have a way of skirting such things. Which is why we suppose it’s a good thing that Jim has a twisted alter ego who also has a penchant for getting his hands dirty. Rowan Joffé’s writing the series, which looks equal parts Michael Clayton and Sundance’s The Red Road.
Watch, binge, or skip? Roth’s poised to give a powerhouse performance opposite Hendricks, whose primness here belies inner turmoil. And Joffé’s already written one solid drama about a gunslinger-type who can’t quite avoid a fight. We’re going to make this easy on everyone—since the full season arrives in late September, binge at your leisure. [Danette Chavez]
What’s it about? A skeptic (Craig Robinson) and a believer (Adam Scott) seek the truth behind the too-strange-to-be-true in a show airing on Sunday nights on Fox. But unlike the latest round of The X-Files, Ghosted is funny on purpose. As disgraced LAPD detective Leroy Wright and disgraced Stanford professor Dr. Max Jennifer, Robinson and Scott are reluctantly inducted into The Bureau Underground, a clandestine agency tasked with monitoring paranormal activity and staffed by a deadpan Ally Walker and a madcap Adeel Akhtar. Amber Stevens West joins the cast after the pilot, though the case of “Why didn’t more people watch The Carmichael Show?” remains frustratingly open.
Watch, skip, or binge? The Jennifer-Wright dynamic is classic stuff: It’s Mulder and Scully, it’s Stantz and Venkman (or Yates and Gilbert, if you prefer), it’s Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in the first act of Men In Black. It’s hard to fuck that up when you’ve got a paring like Scott and Robinson, but it also requires the type of dialogue catch-up that eats pilots whole. Given the lackluster performance of other fantasy-tinged sitcoms in this timeslot, Ghosted probably can’t spare the live numbers, but the principals’ buddy-comedy rhythms, its vaporwave flourishes (a brief description of the score: “Hey, you got your Harold Faltermeyer in my Jan Hammer!” “You got your Jan Hammer in my Harold Faltermeyer”), and approximately British tone (think anything with Matt Berry) are ideal for a binge. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? When Silicon Valley mogul Jeffrey Tanner (Jeremy Piven) loses his daughter, he gives up everything to pursue a solution that will ensure no parent ever has to mourn their child again. And that solution is: crowd-sourcing. Setting up shop on the East Bay, Tanner and associates—Det. Tommy Cavanaugh (Richard T. Jones), engineer Sara Morton (Natalia Tena), programmer Josh Novak (Blake Lee), and hacker Jake Matthews (Tariq Bakari)—communicate with the users of their crime-deterring software, Sofe. Completely innocent question: When Sofe is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, why do the results look like a mob straight out of a Black Mirror episode?
Watch, skip, or binge? There’s a smarter show trying to work its way to the front of Wisdom Of The Crowd. It feels like a leftover from last season’s spate of “Tech bros to the rescue!” shows, but the concept originated in Israel; said executive producer Ted Humphrey of that show’s premise, “It’s an idea that, honestly, kind of scared the hell out of me.” There’s a ghost in the machine that knows Wisdom Of The Crowd could be better, but that might just be the lingering memory of Person Of Interest or fond remembrances of Mr. Robot’s first season. Darker edges aside, it’s still another CBS show about people clumped around computer screens. Skip. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? Jane Sadler (Kyra Sedgwick) is a documentarian making the move into series television, running a cop show whose hours run long, and whose consultants work off the book. When Jane steals away for some last-minute rewrites, her life takes an unfortunate turn toward imitating her art: Her daughter is kidnapped, and everyone around her is a suspect. But the detective on the case, John Bird (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), has just as much cause to be suspicious of Jane, who can’t stop lying to John in order to cover up smaller misdeeds. There’s a dirtbag ex (Kick Gurry), Jane-adjacent voices of reason (Erika Christensen as her sister and Malcolm-Jamal Warner as one of the writers on Jane’s show), and assorted connections to the criminal underground—if Ten Days In The Valley wasn’t an ABC show, it could be another network’s parody of an ABC show.
Watch, skip, or binge? Watch the first Days, just to see if the show can pull off such a high-level-of-difficulty routine without twisting itself into incomprehensible knots. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A CBS multi-cam sitcom about a too-lovable guy frequently invaded by his overbearing parents and sibling. Call it Everybody Loves Raymond: Bachelor Apartment edition. This one was based on star Mark Feuerstein’s actual life staying near his family when he was filming Royal Pains in New York, and is created and executive-produced by his wife, Dana Klein. Except here Feuerstein’s alter ego, Josh, is recently divorced and coming off of starring in a cancelled TV show, Blind Cop (tagline: “See no evil”). Feuerstein gets a lot of mileage from his charming Royal Pains days and his recent, hilarious turn as a late addition to the Wet Hot American Summer crew. And he’s surrounded by solid sitcom vets here like Linda Lavin and Elliott Gould as the invasive, filterless parents, David Walton as the brother, even Trophy Wife’s beloved Bert, Albert Tsai, as a neighbor. But the roar of the studio audience and jokes about Costco and breastfeeding are stale and can be spotted a mile away. Toss this one on Feuerstein’s flaming sitcom pile, next to Conrad Bloom, Fired Up, and Good Morning, Miami.
Watch, skip, or binge? Skip, and watch Everybody Loves Raymond reruns instead. [Gwen Ihnat]
What’s it about? Bryan Singer delves into his favorite topic, the X-Men, in one of three Marvel group shows debuting this fall (alongside Inhumans and Runaways). The Gifted draws from the original X-Factor comics series, in which X-Men posed as mutant adversaries to draw them out and enlist them into their ranks. Stephen Moyer plays the mutant hunter who’s really on the good guys’ side, which becomes more obvious when his two kids (Natalie Alyn Lind and Percy Hynes White) hit adolescence and begin displaying powers. Meanwhile, Thunderbird (Blair Redford), Eclipse (Sean Teale), Blink (Jamie Chung), and Polaris (Emma Dumont) hide out until they figure out how to get the band back together. While the themes of prejudice are valuable, especially in the Trump era, this looks like a surprisingly un-fun, cheerless series, cloaked almost exclusively in darkness and longing for a Wolverine wisecrack.
Watch, skip, or binge? Skip unless you’re a die-hard X-Men fan who hates daylight and will be super excited to see Polaris on your small screen. But we will suspect this show will be a hit regardless. That Polaris pull is just too strong. [Gwen Ihnat]
What’s it about? About the only network offering worth watching straight from the jump this fall. Brandon Micheal Hall plays Courtney Rose, an aspiring MC who hits on a novel method of raising his profile: running for public office. But when he actually wins the mayoral election in his hometown, he has to reorient his priorities and learn to work with the establishment operative (Lea Michele, re-engaging those Rachel Berry muscles) who ran his opponent’s campaign. It’s the framework of the 2016 presidential election, with legitimately likable people in the lead roles, and a potentially positive outcome. Hall was a breakout in Search Party, and his playful antagonism with Michele is only outmatched here by the chemistry Courtney has with his inner circle (Bernard David Jones and Marcel Spears) and his mom (Yvette Nicole Brown).
Watch, skip, or binge? Watch. It’ll provide a weekly distraction from what happens when a real-life stunt campaign ends with an unprepared executive. (In happier thoughts related to a president: Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs is an executive producer on The Mayor; the Tony winner and his group Clipping are providing music for the show.) And, not to belabor the point, but it’s genuinely the only thing on the big four that’s rolling off the line completely ready to go. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? Kevin Finn (Jason Ritter) has hit rock bottom. But rock is about to hit Kevin in ways he could’ve never expected: When he and his niece, Reese (Chloe East), head out to track down a meteorite that’s crashed nearby, Kevin meets Yvette (Kimberly Hébert Gregory), a “warrior for God” who puts her new, earthbound charge on the path that just might save humanity. It’s small-town quirk with a touch of Touched By An Angel, as Kevin’s mission to correct his mistakes and anoint the other 35 souls who maintain balance in the world (more on that in a bit) brings him closer to his estranged twin sister, Amy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), and other residents of the hometown (India De Beaufort, Dustin Ybarra, J. August Richards) he turned his back on to strike it rich in the big city.
Watch, skip, or binge? It’s a heavy, fanciful load, but showrunners Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters did wonders with Marvel’s Agent Carter, and Angel alum Richards can attest that sillier concepts have yielded rich TV rewards. Here’s the sticking point: The 36 souls thing. It’s so hard to depend on a show that sets that type of parameter for itself in the first episode. Star Trek fell two seasons short of its five-year mission, Sleepy Hollow came up shy on seven years of tribulation, Eddie McDowd got nowhere near the 100 Deeds he needed to reclaim his human form. It’s just a setup for a letdown. Skip it and go watch Ritter play a twin dealing with mystical beings and numerical quests in Gravity Falls instead. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? The military-drama trend completes basic training with Valor, the story of helicopter pilots coping with and getting to the bottom of a covert operation in Somalia that didn’t go according to plan. The only survivors of that mission, Officer Nora Madani (Christina Ochoa) and Captain Leland Gallo (Matt Barr), receive the Distinguished Flying Cross upon their return, but what happened in Somalia is gnawing away at them—what they’re unable to tell their fellow Shadow Raiders, and what they themselves still don’t know. No one’s story is complete, causing friction as Madani and Gallo grow closer, their friend Jess (Corbin Reid) wonders about the whereabouts of her Shadow Raider husband, and a CIA agent (Melissa Roxburgh) opens up her inquiry into the matter.
Watch, binge, or skip? We’ll say this for Valor: It’s the new military show that best reflects the network airing it. There’s a soapy love triangle, a long-term mystery to be teased out across story arcs, and the main cast looks like it was sculpted from marble—it could only be more CW if a DC superhero factored in there somewhere. While keeping the flag-humping to a minimum, it still falls short of achieving the ostensible goal of a show like this: to reflect the lives of thousands of currently enlisted military personnel across the country that doesn’t glorify the most violent aspects of their jobs. Skip. Company: Dismissed. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? An inspired revamp of everyone’s favorite ’80s nighttime soap that wasn’t Dallas. The original Dynasty kicked off with a controlling oil magnate shaking up his spoiled family by remarrying someone from the wrong side of the tracks. This Dynasty pays homage to the original show, even as it improves on some of the details: For example, Cristal’s relative Sammy Jo (Rafael De La Fuente) is no longer a niece but a nephew, the better to sleep with no-longer-closeted Steven Carrington (James Mackay). Blake’s daughter Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies) is still sleeping with chauffeur Michael (Robert Christopher Riley) and trying to hook up with Jeff Colby (Sam Adegoke), but now both characters are black, and Cristal (Nathalie Kelley) is Latinx, adding welcome diversity to the original’s nearly all-white cast. Cristal is not just Blake’s former secretary, but an up-and-coming mogul in her own right, and the family dynasty has switched its focus from oil to renewable energy. Best of all is the casting of Melrose Place/Swingtown/Devious Maids veteran Grant Show as patriarch Blake Carrington, who views all the slap-fight proceedings and drummed-up intrigue with a bemused air, as well he should.
Watch, binge, or skip? Watch for the fun of a frothy, escapist nighttime soap, if you can handle the queasy parallels to a certain family that’s ruining the country right now. Dynasty tries to get the Trump connection out of the way right at the beginning: In no world is the Donald even a fraction as palatable as Blake Carrington, but it’s hard not to picture Fallon as an even-more-ambitious Ivanka. The ’80s reveled in excess like the private planes and lavish estates of the Carrington family; 2017 audiences may be less than enthused about viewing the top one percent of the one percent. [Gwen Ihnat]
What’s it about? There’s a new subgenre of shows that involve famous people hanging out in more relaxed settings, like a soundstage kitchen or a vintage car. Rob Huebel blows up that model in Do You Want To See A Dead Body?, which he’s adapted from his Funny Or Die webseries for YouTube Red. The premise is as straightforward as the title: The Transparent star takes his comedian pals on a journey to see a corpse. Along the way, there are epiphanies, tea parties, and dick-twisting fights. Do You Want To See A Dead Body? is set to usher in a new era of original content on YouTube Red, along with Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes On Television.
Watch, binge, or skip? Corpses aside, this is a binge. Episodes clock in under 20 minutes each and are packed with appearances from Judy Greer, John Cho, Rob Corddry, and Adam Scott. Finally: Scott and Huebel can continue the Human Giant/Party Down crossover that began with the latter’s “Not On Your Wife Opening Night.” [Danette Chavez]
What’s it about? Breaking down America’s ever-widening ideological divide—using comedy, of course. Hulu’s answer to Netflix’s Chelsea stars Sarah Silverman, traveling the States to engage with everyday Americans across cultural and political lines. If that seems like an uneasy proposition at first given the comedian’s incisive sarcasm and famously strong political convictions, Silverman swears this is neither strictly political nor “gotcha” comedy: “What’s really important is it’s funny, it’s silly, it’s aggressively dumb, because that’s how I like my comedy, and I don’t like to be told what to think.” The weekly half-hour episodes will feature studio segments like monologues and recurring focus-group interviews, but the real action will be in the show’s field pieces, like when Silverman has dinner with a family in Slidell, Louisiana, who has never met a Jew. Ultimately, I Love You, America’s mission statement is to expose how we’re all more alike than we are different—and hey, that’s more than we can say about this country’s president.
Watch, skip, or binge? We could all use a little inspiration to step outside of our echo chambers and not take ourselves too seriously, so this promises to be a good watch. [Kelsey J. Waite]
House Of Cards has transformed almost entirely from the whiplash precision of its David Fincher-directed series premiere, settling into something outrageous and altogether soapier, but Fincher’s newest show for Netflix seems tailor-made for a descent into pulp. Set in 1979, Mindhunter traces the emergence of serial killers in pop culture by following a pair of FBI agents (played by Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) who specialize in getting inside their heads. It’s based on a book by the guy who inspired the Jack Crawford character in all the Hannibal Lecter-related fictions, a rich font of source material that should allow Fincher to indulge his taste for lurid, true-crime gore in the context of a precise procedural. Fringe’s Anna Torv costars.
Watch, binge, or skip? Binge, assuming you’re into dead bodies, moody music, and exacting period-specific outfits. [Clayton Purdom]
What’s it about? A kind of R-rated Partridge Family, Hit The Road centers on the unfortunately named Swallow family, a group of struggling musicians in matching outfits that just aren’t cutting it in this post-Lollapalooza world. The Swallow parents, played by Jason Alexander and Amy Pietz, haven’t just pushed their dreams of stardom unto their children; they’re chasing fame with them on a busted tour bus. Alexander and his co-creators Peter Tilden and Dean Craig are obviously hoping to get a lot of mileage out of the cramped quarters, overflowing hormones, and middle-aged desperation. The advance press admonishes that this is a show about a family band and not a “family show,” but there are surprisingly sweet moments. Those are quickly followed by multiple handjob scenes, though, in case you thought the show would squander its cable-TV nest.
Watch, binge, or skip? Early on, Hit The Road strikes notes similar to those of raunchy, family-oriented comedy The Detour. Let a couple of these episodes build up in your DVR and then binge. [Danette Chavez]
What’s it about? Ron Livingston adds another role to his misanthropic repertoire in this comedy from Peter Farrelly. The Office Space star, late of Search Party, plays Sam Loudermilk, a recovering alcoholic whose 12 steps have taken him far from his hard-drinking, music journalist days. Despite everyone calling him by his last name, he’s no lovable ditz like Kramer; Loudermilk has little patience or use for others, which he makes abundantly clear in the alcohol- and substance-abuse counseling sessions he runs. This isn’t new territory for Livingston or Farrelly, who’ve either played or directed unlikable leads before. But Loudermilk does represent a change of course for Audience Network, which has gone from saving canceled shows like Friday Night Lights to beefing up its own original content.
Watch, binge, or skip? You can skip, unless “Ignatius J. Reilly as a former Spin writer” is the cable comedy premise you never knew you wanted. (And if you really want to see Livingston show humorous disdain for others, just re-watch Office Space). [Danette Chavez]
What’s it about? Comedic rants about the gentrification of Brooklyn are by now as omnipresent as the yuppies who provoke that rage, but Jordan Peele and John Carcieri have more than a trip to the artisanal mayo shop planned for The Last O.G. Tracy Morgan stars in this half-hour comedy as said stalwart Tray, an ex-con who returns to his old neighborhood to find it covered in slogan tees, penny-farthings, and all the other trappings of hipsterdom. He’s further thrown by the fact that he has twin children with his ex (Tiffany Haddish), who is now married to a rich white man (Ryan Gaul). Although Tray digs his heels in, The Last O.G. seems to be taking a considered look at shifting demographics and family dynamics. That, or Morgan/Tray will just walk around growing increasingly infuriated at the notion of Venmo-ing anyone.
Watch, binge, or skip? We don’t have much to go on, but this is Morgan’s return to TV, and with Haddish there to liven things up, The Last O.G. could be worth a watch early on. Just don’t be too surprised if it’s replaced by a tiny-house designer’s office. [Danette Chavez]
What’s it about? Alongside her acting career, Amy Sedaris has established herself as a new kind of domestic goddess, one equally inclined towards wearing sweaters with sequin bears and candy canes embroidered on them, but way more chill about getting high before craft time. Now, the cheerfully nutty DIY attitude of Sedaris’ books I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence and Simple Times: Crafts For Poor People comes to the small screen with At Home With Amy Sedaris, a new series on TruTV. Each episode will be based around a domestic theme—“entertaining the grieving, the craft of love making, and cooking without pots and pans” are all cited in a press release—and a guest star. These will include Stephen Colbert, Jane Krakowski, Rachel Dratch, Paul Giamatti, Scott Adsit, Sasheer Zamata, and more; some of them will appear as themselves, while others will get into the demented spirit by playing characters. Sedaris, naturally, will be in character as well, in personas ranging from “a hobo” to “an international wine lady.”
Watch, binge, or skip? Full episodes of the show are not yet available, but Jane Krakowski and Sedaris’ song about glue in the clip above is very much consistent with their comedic personas, and that alone is enough to make this a watch. [Katie Rife]
What’s it about? If anyone remembers ABC’s original S.W.A.T., it’s because of the wah-wah-pedal funk of its instrumental theme, which played under the type of kinetic, action-packed intro sequence that later inspired the Beastie Boys to paste on fake mustaches and scramble over Crown Vic hoods in the “Sabotage” video. Now under the command of Aaron Rahsaan Thomas and Shawn Ryan—who’ve each spent time writing about different types of L.A. cops—the franchise enters the modern era with a conscience and a pilot directed by Justin Lin. The new S.W.A.T. begins with the shooting of an unarmed black teen and the promotion of Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson (Shemar Moore), putting him in a position where he must balance the riot-gear-wrapped duties of his job with his responsibilities to the community that raised him, the one he’s now sworn to protect—and the one whose relationship with the police is only growing more fraught.
Watch, skip, or binge? S.W.A.T. wants to have it both ways: Shoot-outs and call-outs, car chases and honest conversations about the intersection of policing and race. It’ll be tricky, but if anyone is equipped for the challenge, it’s a production team that includes Thomas and Ryan. Wait to binge it, so you can get a better picture of what S.W.A.T.’s weekly reality looks like when it has neither the pilot’s budget nor cinema’s premier flipper of cars at its disposal. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? Netflix jumps into the Margaret Atwood game after Hulu’s recent success with The Handmaid’s Tale. Alias Grace looks backward instead of forward: It’s a fictionalized account of Grace Marks, a Canadian maid who was accused of murdering her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper/mistress Nancy Montgomery, in 1843. The book is a fascinating look at the debilitating class structure and few options for an Irish immigrant like Grace in that era, with Atwood deftly throwing doubt on both sides as to whether Marks was actually guilty or not. From the previews, this series looks like a step in the right direction for Netflix, which needs to straighten itself out a bit after recent, disastrous dramatic efforts like Gypsy. This period series has the pedigree, as well as considerable intrigue: It’s like Handmaid’s Tale meets Downton Abbey, directed by Mary Harron and written and produced by Sarah Polley. Fortunately Atwood has no shortage of source material for heady, absorbing series like these: Can The Blind Assassin please be next?
Watch, binge, or skip? You’ll probably want to binge all the way to the end to reach the series’ conclusion about Grace’s possible guilt. [Gwen Ihnat]
What’s it about? Having successfully adapted Preacher for the small screen, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are bringing the “high-stakes comedy” of Future Man to Hulu. The series stars The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson as Josh Futterman, a janitor and world-ranked gamer who just might save the world. Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson (late of Preacher) play the time travelers who recruit Josh for their mission, which is—you guessed it—to save the world. The hallmarks of Rogen and Goldberg’s partnership are all here—dick jokes, comic books, video games, stunted adolescence, and a woman to jolt Josh out of his slacker daze. But Rogen and Goldberg have said that they took inspiration from virtually every sci-fi property out there, from Terminator to Back To The Future.
Watch, binge, or skip? The pilot isn’t a knee-slapper, canker sores notwithstanding, but Preacher got off to a slow start, too. And since Hulu’s dropping the entire first season at once, anyway, you can be like Josh and binge-watch. [Danette Chavez]
What’s it about? Marvel’s Runaways—the comic-book series about a group of teenagers who discover that their parents are supervillains, and go on the lam to fight them with powers of their own—has a fervent fandom, which is waiting with bated breath for this much-anticipated adaptation. Get ready to exhale: Hulu is following up the momentum of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Path with another superior drama. The new series is, thankfully, not a paint-by-numbers adaptation of the source material. By adding a few new plot twists, as well as excellent casting that should satisfy even the most die-hard comics purists, Runaways will leave this offbeat crew’s many fans gasping for more. Showrunners Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage should help Runaways draw in a whole new audience with the quippy, pop culture-laden dialogue they honed on shows like The O.C. and Gossip Girl.
Watch, binge, or skip? You’ll want to binge, but Hulu, unlike Netflix, only doles out episodes on a weekly basis. The waiting will be torturous, but oh-so worth it. [Gwen Ihnat]
You could saddle up for Godless, Netflix’s six-part Western, based on its top-bill pedigree alone, which reunites Steven Soderbergh with his Out Of Sight screenwriter Scott Frank, who serves here as writer and director across the entire series. But further into the credits the hits keep coming, with a cast that includes Jeff Daniels, Nurse Jackie’s Merritt Wever, Unbroken’s Jack O’Connell, Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery, Halt And Catch Fire’s Scoot McNairy, Thomas Brodie-Sangster (a.k.a. Jojen Reed), The Knick’s Jeremy Bobb, Stranger Things’ Rob Morgan, Sons Of Anarchy’s Kim Coates, and god, it just keeps going—Sam Waterston is even in this fucking thing. You’re probably in it. Not a ton more is known about it, but count on Soderbergh to keep all this talent in service of a good story.
Watch, binge, or skip? Watch, because Soderbergh’s quality control is about the best in the game. Also, because statistically speaking, you are probably in this show. [Clayton Purdom]
What’s it about? The very first Spike Lee joint gets a contemporary update, with Lee back in the director’s chair—though he’s handing Mars Blackmon’s Knicks jersey down to Hamilton alum Anthony Ramos. It’s the 10-episode story of Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise), a Brooklyn artist navigating her late 20s and refusing to be pinned down to a single romantic partner: There’s the aforementioned sneakerhead, Mars; model Greer (Cleo Anthony); and investment banker Jamie (Lyriq Bent). But make no mistake (as the original film occasionally does), this is Nola’s series; as she once said on the big screen, “It’s about control: my body, my mind. Who’s going to own it? Them? Or me?”
Watch, skip, or binge? Thirty-one years later, She’s Gotta Have It has a complicated legacy. It launched Lee’s career; it was a milestone for independent American film and black filmmakers. But it’s also a straight woman’s perspective on sexuality filtered through a straight man’s, and it contains a rape scene that Lee characterizes as the biggest regret of his career. Will the Netflix series—which came about thanks to the director’s wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, who’s onboard as an executive producer—count as a do-over? Give it a watch to find out. [Erik Adams]
What’s it about? The cold, hard facts: Frank Olson died on November 18, 1953. He was a scientist employed by the CIA at Camp Detrick, who’d been sent to New York City for medical care. His body was found outside the Hotel Statler, haven fallen from the inn’s 10th floor. Whether or not he was induced to take that fall because he was unknowingly dosed with LSD by the CIA, or whether the death was a suicide at all, are open questions prodded by this docudrama in which an all-star cast—Peter Sarsgaard, Molly Parker, Bob Balaban, and Tim Blake Nelson, to name a few—reenact the information brought to light by Errol Morris’ interviews.
Watch, skip, or binge? It’s becoming a holiday tradition: tempering the tidings of great joy with a soul-scarring immersion into some of humanity’s darkest deeds—and Wormwood seems like the worthiest binge yet. Just keep a close watch on your eggnog. [Erik Adams]