Sep 7, 2016
What to Watch, and Watch For: Your Fall TV Preview
In years past, just as with film, Fall was the prestige season for television. This perhaps reached its peak in the mid-2000s, when ABC released Lost, featuring a pilot directed by J.J. Abrams, a killer cast, a beautiful locale, and an addicting premise.
A decade later, though, and the biggest show on TV is HBO’s Game of Thrones, which enjoys its 10-episode run typically in the spring through early summer, and for its final two seasons will shift even later to accommodate for the reduction of episodes. This summer saw a host of great shows, as HBO’s limited series The Night Of compelled viewers with it’s murder mystery from coast-to-coast, Netflix’s Stranger Things had the internet buzzing with Spielberg-ian glee, and USA’s Mr. Robot continued it’s nihilistic brilliance into an engrossing second season.
While it will be tough to match that Lost high of years past, there’s still plenty to be excited for in the season to come, including returning favorites, huge budgets, high concepts, and big stars, coming to keep you company on your TV, laptop, or phone.
After nine years off the air, Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham return to their signature roles, as Gilmore Girls is back on November 25 for four 90-minute episodes on Netflix. Black Mirror, an episode-by-episode, Twilight Zone-esque series that originated on BBC will also make its grand return on the streaming giant. Episodes of the original televised run feature favorites such as Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm and Star Wars‘ Domhnall Gleeson. If you’re not familiar with either series, it’s truly no worry; both are available in their entireties on the site’s back catalog.
Real Life Drama
Sometimes, the most exciting story on television isn’t fictionalized at all—it’s just reality, and no, I’m not talking about Survivor. It’s an election year, and at this point, everyone knows what they’re going to know about the candidates to lead our country. With that big decision coming the first week of November, there’s going to be a whole lot more coverage, a whole lot more controversy, and—possibly the most exciting part—at least a few debates between the two polarizing contenders.
One of the shows that I’m most excited to see this season is FX’s Atlanta. Donald Glover, known to some as rapper Childish Gambino and previously seen on NBC’s Community, is the star and creative force behind this semi-autobiographical series about coming up in the ATL music scene. As a successful musician and comic, Glover appears to have found a project that so perfectly matches his impressive multitude of talent. I, for one, am enthusiastic to tune in on September 6th.
Another high-concept series with a familiar face is TBS’ Search Party. Starring Arrested Development alumna Alia Shawkat in the lead, Search Party looks to comment on the millennial New York vibe that Girls and Broad City go for, while applying it to a slightly different story style: Shawkat’s lead character, Dory, is the only one who seems to care when an old high school acquaintance goes missing, and becomes obsessed, of sorts, in solving the mystery. It’s rare to even try Dark Comedy on TV, so at the very least this is a welcomed attempt. Michael Showalter of Stella and Wet Hot American Summer fame is involved as a producer, adding a degree of pedigree to the intrigue.
Quirky New Comedy
Between Louis C.K.’s Louie, Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, and a host of other great content, it’s a rich time for eccentric, weird comedy on television, and this fall there’s only going to be more of the same. With NBC’s The Good Place, creator Michael Schur (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks & Recreation, The Office) takes yet another foray, this time trading in the workplace setting for a fantasy series revolving around the afterlife. It stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, so the stars are certainly out for this one.
FOX has a second series coming from Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who in the midst of working on their Han Solo spinoff film and producing season two of Last Man On Earth found the time to create and produce Making History, which will star the hysterical Adam Pally of Happy Endings. Almost like a mash-up of Last Man and Hot Tub Time Machine, Making History is an entry to the time-travel comedy realm and looks like it could combine an interesting enough story with some clever writing and solid performances. While network drama has stalled, they must be doing something right when it comes to comedies.
Finally, FX is bringing Better Things to your television set, which will star Pamela Adlon, longtime friend and collaborator of the aforementioned Mr. C.K. From the promotional material, Better Things looks to be just as much Adlon’s verion of Louie as Master of None was Ansari’s, and that turned out to be the best new comedy of 2015. The jury is out for how this will be received, but with Louie himself a producer, a bit of excitement seems fair.
On tap for Halloween, Fox has a remake of the 1975 cult classic film The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Orange Is The New Black fan-favorite Laverne Cox is taking the lead in Tim Curry’s iconic lead role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Adam Lambert and Victoria Justice also star, while Curry himself will take part in a supporting role. It’s the latest in a series of re-imaginings of old musicals, after last year saw a live Grease musical on the same network.
After two wildly successful seasons, Amazon’s Transparent, television’s best dramedy, will be returning this fall for a third go. Jeffrey Tambor’s transcendent portrayal of Maura Pfefferman leads one of television’s finest ensemble casts, also including Gaby Hoffman, Judith Light, Amy Landecker, and a great role for Jay Duplass, who is more typically found behind the camera with his brother, Mark. Netflix’s Narcos, about drug lord Pablo Escobar, was a runaway success last year in its debut season, and heard rave reviews for its star, Wagner Maura, who plays the kingpin. Season 2 will debut on September 2nd.
Stars on TV
Continuing with a trend that’s grown more and more common ever since Matthew McConaughey’s southern drawl brought us into a trance in the first season of HBO’s True Detective, there are more and more movie stars making the jump to the small screen. Keep an eye out for Tom Hardy, star of Mad Max: Fury Road and Academy Award nominee for The Revenant a year ago, as he is producing and taking a lead role in the BBC One/FX joint venture, Taboo, about the East India Company and seeking vengeance. Jude Law also will be making his TV debut on HBO’s The Young Pope miniseries.
Amazon, meanwhile, is going all in on this: Woody Allen’s long-awaited miniseries, Crisis in Six Scenes, will debut on September 30th. Amazon got the full Allen treatment—he wrote and directed the full series all by himself, and also will star in the series, taking the lead role alongside Miley Cyrus, Elaine May, John Magaro, and Michael Rapaport. The network is also all-in on a new legal drama from David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Legal) titled Goliath, which will begin streaming on October 14th. The series stars a pair of Academy Award winners in William Hurt and Billy Bob Thornton, who recently had a dynamic role of his own on the tube, stealing the show in the first season of FX’s Fargo.
Hope for Network Drama?
FOX’s new series Pitch looks like it could be a winner, as it focuses on the first woman to play in Major League Baseball. The series is helmed by Dan Fogelman, writer of Crazy, Stupid, Love and director of last year’s excellent Danny Collins, so it’s certainly in promising hands. Unfortunately, though, aside from Friday Night Lights, which struggled while on the air before truly finding an audience post-run on Netflix, can you think of a single sports drama that ever took off? There’s not much of a precedent for success. There’s also intrigue over on ABC, where Kiefer Sutherland will once again take the lead in a political action series on Designated Survivor. Here, he’ll play a man who, after a violent attack, is thrust into the Presidency after being the designated offsite survivor. Sutherland, of course, used to be JACK BAUER, so he’s got that going for him.
Second Season Bump?
I recently had a chance to spend some time on the midtown Manhattan set of Amazon’s Red Oaks, which just wrapped filming on it’s second season. Yes, that’s second season. Didn’t hear of/see the first season? That’s just fine: with only 10 half-hour episodes, you can burn right through that first season and be caught up for season two, due in November, in no time.
The series is largely inspired by ’80s teen comedies, such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High—that film’s director, Amy Heckerling, herself, has been at the helm of several of the series’ episodes— and is funny, while feeling familiar yet new at the same time. Starring Craig Roberts, a rising star seen in Neighbors and Submarine, the show channels a lot of different vibes, from Ridgemont, to The Squid and the Whale, all the way to The Graduate. Comedian Paul Reiser plays a key role in the series, and as he told me, when people discover the show, it “feels like a little discovery.” Well, lucky you: you’ve just discovered the treasure of Red Oaks.
How Will Big-Budget Shows Fair?
HBO is at an impasse: with only two abbreviated seasons left on Game of Thrones, the network has long been seeking its next huge hit. It looked a few years ago like anthology series True Detective could have been a flagship after a stellar debut season, but a messy and uneven sophomore run put an end to that idea. Now, HBO has a lot of money and resources behind Westworld, a sci-fi/western series based on source material by Michael Crichton, produced by J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan, and
with a star-studded cast including Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, and more. It looks like a mysterious journey much within Abrams’ “Mystery Box” ideal that could totally suck the viewer in—or leave them confused and frustrated.
The heat is on for the show to be a quick hit with viewers and critics alike, though—after middling reviews and ratings, the new leadership at the network recently pulled the plug on Vinyl, a Mick Jagger/Martin Scorsese-produced music series after originally being renewed for season two. If Westworld doesn’t take off quickly, its reliance on such a massive budget could force it to a similar fate. ♦
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