You can stop pretending to prefer movies (although, to be fair, there are a number of promising films coming up). It's fall, and according to most Tarot readings, that means television shows are about to return (and debut) in abundance.
There will be a reported 400 scripted TV shows this year in total (that includes the over 250 that have already aired), to say nothing of reality programming and the like. So with such embarrassment of serial / procedural / dramatic / comedic / dramedic riches, what's worth your investment? What favorites from last season are returning with a vengeance (or similarly extreme plot twist)? Here are the television shows we are most excited about for the rest of the year.
The Mindy Project
(Tuesdays starting September 15th on Hulu)
Why would anyone kick Mindy Kaling off TV? Whatever. The Mindy Project is back, and this time around it's on Hulu, which is also streaming the series' first three seasons. Twenty-six more episodes are on the way, released weekly (which is something of a rarity for streaming services), the first of which arrives this week.
The Bastard Executioner
(Tuesdays starting September 15th on FX)
Kurt Sutter's Sons of Anarchy wrapped up its final season last year, and now he's back on FX with something new — and very different. The Bastard Executioner is supposed to be a medieval epic that deals with politics, divine intervention, secret identities, and — naturally — an executioner.
(Mondays starting September 21st on Fox)
It seems strange to think of a movie as a classic when it's little more than a decade old, but Stephen Spielberg's Minority Report has influenced so much of the sci-fi and technology made since that it seems to deserve the title. That's why it's pretty exciting that Minority Report is being turned into a TV series, even if it's one that looks very different than the movie we all love.
Fox's Minority Report is a procedural crime drama that takes place years after the film wraps up. The show will follow a detective who teams up with a precog who still has the ability to see crimes before they occur. It's basically a typical crime series with a sci-fi twist. Will Minority Report the show ask the same big questions as Minority Report the film? We're not holding out that much hope, but it could lead to a lot of fun.
(Mondays starting September 21st on Fox)
DC's big push into film doesn't kick off until next year, but there'll be plenty on TV to hold you over. Gotham is returning for a second season this month on Fox with a renewed focus on the villains of the Batman-verse — including the Joker’s origin story.
Fresh off the Boat
(Tuesdays starting September 22nd on ABC)
The sitcom-ified story of chef Eddie Huang’s childhood was a surprise highlight to ABC’s lineup last year (to say nothing of its cultural impact, being the first sitcom starring an Asian-American family to air on a major network in decades). Season one managed to stay consistently good throughout, so we’re pretty upbeat about its sophomore episode run.
(Tuesdays starting September 22nd on Fox)
Scream Queens looks awesome. It's like Mean Girls but people are also getting horribly maimed and murdered, and it's on TV. It's also stylized in a way that little on TV is, and it has a pretty killer (heh) cast: Emma Roberts, Ariana Grande, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Nick Jonas, to name maybe a quarter of them.
Season one of Scream Queens is about a sorority that comes under attack from a masked murderer who seems to be interested in knocking all of them off. But it's an anthology show, so if this season plays well, it'll come back next year with all new characters, True Detective style.
Scream Queens actually comes from the creators of American Horror Story, so the team behind it know how to pack a ton of style and character into a single season. Scream Queens seems like it'll be a much more fun and funny take on the horror genre than AHS, and that's definitely a formula we're interested in checking out.
(Tuesdays starting September 22nd on CBS)
Remember that Bradley Cooper movie from a few years ago where he played an author who takes a strange pill that temporarily gives him superhuman intellect? It's now being turned into a TV series on CBS. The show is a continuation of the film, and Cooper even shows up in the pilot and supposedly on occasion throughout this first season.
Though Limitless is supposed to be a crime drama, it's also going to be dealing with an overarching story that seems to involve government conspiracies and maybe a mob or shadow corporation or some sort of evil entity all revolving around these genius pills. Because I guess when you're the smartest person in the world, you still just want to make money and gain power.
In a lot of ways, Limitless is CBS's answer to Fox's Minority Report: it's a crime drama that continues a sci-fi movie. It just happens to be based on a sci-fi movie that not as many people have seen. The movie was warmly received, so it's not as though it's coming off of a bad concept. And with Bradley Cooper appearing in episode one, there are some solid reasons to give it a shot.
(Wednesdays starting September 23rd on Fox)
If you haven't heard of Empire yet, you must not have turned on Fox last fall. Last year, Empire became the network’s surprise smash hit of the season, with a record-breaking numbers of viewers tuning in each week to the music business drama. Now it's coming back for a second season, and you can expect it to be even bigger.
Empire is about a hip-hop entertainment company and all of the people fighting for control of it as its CEO begins to step away. That drama continues — and escalates — this year, especially following the finale's major twists at the eleventh hour.
Also making this season exciting: a ton of amazing guest stars. Chris Rock, Kelly Rowland, Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz, and Mariah Carey — among many others — are all supposed to appear on the show. Basically, when a show is both popular and exciting enough to energize that kind of talent, you wouldn't be wrong to guess that it's worth taking the time to check out. It returns to Fox next week.
(Wednesdays starting September 23rd on ABC)
ABC's deliberate push into more diverse programming last year has paid off, and that's especially true for Black-ish. The Anthony Anderson-led show was one of the most successful new sitcoms last year, resulting in ABC throwing more money at creator Kenya Barris (and presumably giving him more creative trust). All signs point to another season of taking a subversively slapsticky tone to serious issues.
(Thursdays starting September 24th on NBC)
"Remember how good season one was?" Every Heroes fan has had that conversation over and over again in the years since the disaster that was Heroes season two. And three. And... wait, you're telling me there was a fourth? Geez. So it's with equal parts excitement and dread that we count down to the premiere of Heroes Reborn, a return to Tim Kring's world in which people wake up one day to discover they have superpowers (and are now on the run after being blamed by the government for a terrorist attack). New people are developing powers, while a number of heroes from the original series are returning including space-time manipulator Hiro Nakamura and mind-reader Matt Parkman — but not, unfortunately, Zachary Quinto's Sylar.
The Last Man on Earth
(Sundays starting September 27th on Fox)
How much can a show do with just a few characters? A lot, when it's as smart as The Last Man on Earth. The series' apocalyptic conceit continues to serve as a fun and unique setting for comedy that makes it unlike anything else on TV. So what's new for season two? Taking over the White House. Meeting an astronaut. Probably more wanton destruction of valuables and priceless works. You know, an expansion on all of the great stuff in the first season. The core cast — Will Forte and Kristen Schaal — do appear to be on the move, though, which means it's probably worth expecting a new supporting cast to move in and keep things interesting.
(Sundays starting September 27th on ABC)
Take a normal TV workplace drama but then imagine that its workplace is the FBI, and you've kind of got Quantico. The show is about new FBI recruits going through training, but there's also one big twist: one eventually ends up on the run, suspected of masterminding a major terrorist attack.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
(Weeknights starting September 28th on Comedy Central)
It's hard to imagine The Daily Show without Jon Stewart, but we're going to have to get used to it. Two weeks from now, Trevor Noah takes over as host and will introduce us to a new set, some new correspondents, and — more important than all of that — the show's new sensibilities. For over a decade, The Daily Show has been run through Jon Stewart's voice and humor. Now, it's going through Noah's.
The good news is that Noah has some Daily Show experience, having made a couple of appearances over the last year. A lot of his comedy already revolves around cultural satire, something that he'll bring an interesting perspective on as a comedian who grew up under apartheid in South Africa, where he was raised by a black mother and a white father. Noah has the difficult task of maintaining The Daily Show's respect and quality while opening it up to new, often online audiences, and we're excited to see what that looks like.
Saturday Night Live
(Saturdays starting October 3rd on NBC)
Saturday Night Live celebrated its 40th anniversary last February with a lengthy, overstuffed bash, one that captured the show’s unique generational resonance and proud scattershot quality. The show’s 41st has the potential to land more hits than usual: the cast has had a few seasons to build chemistry, it’s anchored by strong veterans like Kate McKinnon and Taran Killam, and it’ll have plenty of joke fodder with a wacky election on the horizon. It’ll be tough for the show to reach Palin-esque heights, but McKinnon’s alien, unsettling Hillary Clinton has a chance to take it there.
(Sundays starting October 4th on Showtime)
Even The Affair’s most ardent fans probably couldn’t have guessed that the show would enter its second season the reigning Golden Globe winner for Best Drama. The Showtime drama won out over heavyweights like Game of Thrones and House of Cards at the January ceremony, earning plaudits for its multi-lensed look at a sordid Long Island affair; lead actress Ruth Wilson also came away with a trophy, winning the Globe for Best Actress in a drama. Wilson and paramour Dominic West are entering the second season on uncertain footing; time will tell if they can retain their golden form.
(Sundays starting October 4th on HBO)
TV doesn’t get much more bleak than the first season of The Leftovers, Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s eerie journey into a world compromised by an unexplained mass disappearance. The show’s first 10 episodes were pulled directly from Perrotta’s 2011 novel of the same name, and rooted in the same fictional upstate New York town of Mapleton. That’s all changing in the second season, which is comprised of original material and set in a Texan suburb. (It’ll still be anchored by Justin Theroux’s police chief Kevin Garvey and his family.)
The Leftovers may be moving to a warmer climate, but it’s hard to imagine that change rendering the show any sunnier or lighter. Lindelof and Perrotta were uncompromising in their creation of a downbeat, dour tone poem; this is a show that used a brutal, extended stoning as a midseason fulcrum and refused to let up in its wake. If you’re going to follow the show down its dark, weird rabbit hole, you’re better off just embracing the darkness. (Cuddle up to that lovely cult!)
American Horror Story: Hotel
(Wednesdays starting October 7th on FX)
The fifth season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s freaky, filthy horror anthology series will be the first without series stalwart Jessica Lange. It’s hard to imagine anyone filling Lange’s talented shoes, which is why it’s good that Murphy and Falchuk aren’t looking to replace her. Instead, they’re getting even weirder by casting none other than Lady Gaga. Pop’s weird grandmother will play The Countess, the owner and operator of the titular Hotel Cortez; populated by a horde of AHS regulars and guest stars, it’ll surely be revealed as a regular hive of scum and villainy in short order. Murphy and Falchuk are promising straightforward, startling horror from AHS: Hotel, but it’s hard to imagine this show without the camp and style that’s made it so fascinating to follow. AHS isn’t always good, but it’s also the kind of show that makes "quality" feel irrelevant.
The Walking Dead
(Sundays starting October 11th on AMC)
Do you hear that on the horizon? Those shuffling, labored footsteps? It’s not the sound of zombies, friend — it’s the sound of 20 million Americans lurching back toward their TV sets for Sunday nights spent watching this decade’s most popular drama. The Walking Dead’s sixth season is returning to the world having figured out how to balance naked, pulpy commercial appeal — throw in a bunch of zombies, murder them in increasingly creative ways — and a real narrative and character development. It’s also having its seat warmed by a successful prequel, one whose very existence is rendering the show’s world richer and larger. If The Walking Dead’s popularity has an expiration date, it doesn’t seem to be arriving anytime soon; like a rabid zombie walking around chowing down on helpless stragglers, it’s only gaining strength as it pushes forward.
(Mondays starting October 12th on FX)
With the first season of Fargo, showrunner Noah Hawley managed to do the impossible: he fleshed out the weird, dark world of the Coen brothers’ 1996 film without misinterpreting their vision or relying on cheap references and callbacks. Hawley and his talented cast — led by Martin Freeman and a fiery Billy Bob Thornton — captured the marginal oddness and sinister politeness of rural Minnesota with real patience and care, and it paid off come awards season, yielding the 2014 Emmy for Best Miniseries.
For its second season, the show is leaping into the past (1979) with a new setting and a largely revised cast. Patrick Wilson is stepping into the role of Lou Solverson, the father of the first season’s hardy detective Molly Solverson; Lou made an appearance too, albeit in the hands of Keith Carradine, and repeatedly referenced the harrowing case that’ll likely serve as the second season’s base. Solverson is returning to the Dakotas a Vietnam vet, investigating a local gang and protecting a pre-presidency Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail. The premise alone sounds like a recipe for more strange, suspenseful TV — and with actors like Wilson, Ted Danson, and Kirsten Dunst bringing it to life, Fargo’s set to come back stronger than ever.
Nathan for You
(Thursdays starting October 15th on Comedy Central)
Nathan for You isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay: if you feel visceral and unrelenting discomfort at the thought of cringe comedy or find menace in fooling innocent people, there are other comedies out there. If you can stomach a little awkwardness, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a show that’s funnier or more distinct. Nathan Fielder has the skill and tenacity to push people to the limits of comfort and mine the resulting humor. "Dumb Starbucks" was a quality stunt, but Nathan for You’s real laughs don’t have much to do with creative interpretation of fair use: they emerge in the moments where natural courtesy butts up against the work of a determined, expert doofus.
(Fridays starting October 16th on Cinemax)
There’s still nothing on TV like the first season of The Knick, a gory, gripping period drama set in a madhouse of an early 20th century New York hospital. Steven Soderbergh’s camera was daring and kinetic, whipping around primitive surgeries and heated conversations with equal verve; Clive Owen was captivating as lead surgeon John Thackery, drug-addled and totally compromised by addiction. A trailer for the second season released last week only upped the ante on Thackery’s dangerous experiments and relentless self-abuse; he wants to "make history," and whether it’s for his surgical prowess or his batshit behavior remains to be seen. Soderbergh is directing and editing the full second season, so at the very least you can rest assured that Thackery’s exploits will be rendered with maximum beauty and style.
Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo
(Saturday, October 17th on HBO)
Live at the Apollo is going to make a fine cap on an incredible year for Amy Schumer. With her work on Inside Amy Schumer, she cemented her place as one of comedy’s most incisive and intelligent forces, dismantling routine sexist bullshit like a hot knife through butter. If that wasn’t enough, she became a bona fide box office force with the success of Trainwreck. This special constitutes a return to her roots — her first big break was a stint on Last Comic Standing, and she refined her work on stages for years — and it should be one funny, filthy victory lap.
(Mondays starting October 26th on CBS)
CBS is late to the superhero TV party — NBC, Fox, ABC, the CW, and Netflix all have superhero shows of their own on the air and more in planning. With that in mind, there’s a lot of pressure on Supergirl’s upcoming debut. It’ll have to be good to carve out any sort of meaningful space in a crowded field, a task that’s even more challenging given its lead character’s relative prominence. Luckily for CBS, the people behind the show seem to know what they’re doing. Executive producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg helped to create Arrow and The Flash for the CW, shows that put new spins on existing superhero mythologies and earned good ratings and critical acclaim for their efforts. And while it’s probably an overstatement to suggest that CBS was excited about the show’s pilot leaking in full in May, it did lead to some healthy buzz regarding its potential quality. The combination of solid fundamentals and CBS’s commercial power could serve as the foundation for a special kind of success for Supergirl.
Master of None
(Friday, November 6th on Netflix)
After several Netflix stand-up specials, Aziz Ansari is making the small leap into Netflix original series with Master of None, a new comedy that sounds like it’s equal parts Louie and Ansari’s lauded stand-up work. He’s playing Dev, a version of Ansari with a little less success and a little more indecisiveness; the show’s said to pull from classic comedies and the work of Woody Allen, and it’ll focus on a single theme with each new episode. It sounds like an ambitious gambit on Ansari’s part, and it’ll be nice to watch him spread his wings after a half-decade living it up as Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation.
Flesh and Bone
(Sundays starting November 8th on Starz)
Moira Walley-Beckett was one of the forces driving Breaking Bad’s explosive final seasons: she was one of the show’s leading writers and producers from season four on, work that ultimately won her an Emmy for Writing for a Drama Series. (She wrote "Ozymandias," an episode that’s been described as one of the greatest in the history of TV.) The premiere of ballet-centric miniseries Flesh and Bone will mark another huge step for Walley-Beckett, one into the world of showrunning; if she can infuse the show with even a fraction of Breaking Bad’s intensity and depth, it should be a pleasure to watch.
The Man in the High Castle
(Friday, November 20th on Amazon)
It’s not hard to strike gold with a piece of original programming once; for streaming services, the hard part is setting yourself up for sustained and consistent success. It’s something Netflix has managed to accomplish this year; Amazon is still working on it. The company tapped a vein with last year’s Transparent. The Man in the High Castle, an alternate history drama based on a 1962 Philip K. Dick novel and headed up by legend Ridley Scott, is its best chance at capturing the zeitgeist again this year. The show’s premise is certainly juicy: it takes place in a world where the Axis powers of World War II have cleaved the former United States in several parts, instituting their own versions of totalitarian rule and engaging in an alt-Cold War of their own. Its pilot didn’t quite capture the spirit of Dick’s novel, but that didn’t stop it from becoming Amazon’s most-watched pilot ever. The nascent network is hoping it can maintain that momentum when it debuts in full this November.
Marvel's Jessica Jones
(Friday, November 20th on Netflix)
Daredevil, Netflix's first series in the Marvel universe, was a surprisingly well-crafted (and exceptionally blood-splattered) take on the blind vigilante. Jessica Jones is the follow-up series and follows the titular character (played by Krysten Ritter) as she transitions from superhero to private investigator. The show also stars former Doctor Who star David Tennant as the villainous Purple Man and Halo: Nightfall's Mike Colter as Luke Cage — who, by the way, is the star of Netflix's next Marvel series set to debut sometime next year. Followed by Iron Fist. Followed by The Defenders. Also, there's another season of Daredevil somewhere in between all that. It's a Marvel thing.
(Friday, December 4th on Amazon)
Transparent’s first season was a revelation, a tender and intricate glimpse at a family whose relationships and lives are defined by their exploration of gender and identity. It was no surprise that the show picked up plenty of Emmy nominations, becoming Amazon’s first such nominated show; it’s already been renewed for a third season, well before the second season has had a chance to premiere. It’s the kind of show that can make you feel hopeful about the future of television, a medium where all kinds of stories and perspectives will be given the space and opportunity to thrive. According to star Jeffrey Tambor, the show’s second season is going to focus less on Maura Pfefferman’s personal journey. Instead, it’ll take a broad look at all of its characters and assess what "transformation" means in the context of their lives. Transparent’s first season was already quite balanced, but this potential shift is still exciting. The show’s gentleness and deft touch with a trans person’s story made for a solid base — the next step is showing that story as just one thread in a complex family tapestry.
(Christmas Day on BBC and PBS)
BBC's modern day Sherlock is going back to Victorian London for a one-off special episode / excuse to see Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in great hats. Need we write anything more? A fourth series is still being planned but production is still a ways off on account of everyone involved being major film stars, so this will have to do for now. The Christmas special will air on BBC, PBS, and select theatrical screens.