Get ready for the strangest fall television season ever. After the coronavirus pandemic suspended TV production around the globe this spring, rendering the 2020 pilot season effectively nonexistent, The Ringer cautioned in July that “we’re going to run out of television.” It is true it’s taken some creativity — pandemic-proofing schedules, straight-to-series orders, and a heavy reliance on reruns — but as they say in the entertainment business, the show must go on!
And go on, it evidently does. The fall will see a number of shows about outer space, politics, and yes, even pandemics, ranging from ambitious dramas to delightful comedies. Whether you’re looking for an escape from current events, or a prescient commentary on them, this much is for sure: there will be lots of new shows to get you through quarantine. Here are our top 21 picks for the season.
1. Transplant (NBC, Sept. 1)
After television production halted this spring, many broadcasters resorted to acquiring “pandemic proof” TV shows from other networks to fill their fall slates. One example of that is NBC’s newest medical drama, Transplant, which comes to us from Canada, where it was the most-watched original series this spring. Dr. Bashir “Bash” Hamed (Hamza Haq) is a Syrian refugee in Toronto, but can’t find medical work in Canada until he puts his emergency training to use in the aftermath of a tragic accident. Having more than proven his worth, Bash is invited to join the staff of York Memorial Hospital, where he must overcome the challenges the country’s refugees face while he continues to save lives. The show was called a “must-watch” by The Loop, with The Globe and Mail writing that Transplant “gives grim articulation to the issues of immigration and the harried, under pressure immigrant experience. It’s not entirely original, but certainly superior to the usual and disarmingly different.”
2. Raised By Wolves (HBO Max, Sept. 3)
If panic-buying toilet paper during the early days of the pandemic didn’t exhaust your interest in post-apocalyptic stories, then you’ll want to check out HBO Max’s big, new sci-fi drama, Raised by Wolves. Ridley Scott executive produces, as well as directs the first two episodes of this story about two androids, Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim), who attempt to raise six human children after Earth is destroyed in a war between atheists and the religious Mithraics. The show has been described as “real f—ed up” by Entertainment Weekly (be warned, “very terrible things happen to very young people, and then more terrible things happen to other people”), while RogerEbert.com writes, “Watching Raised by Wolves, you feel a certain gratitude that someone can still make sci-fi projects like this.” Read Den of Geek‘s spoiler-free review here.
3. Away (Netflix, Sept. 4)
Outer space is en vogue this fall — I mean, who doesn’t want to leave the planet at this point? — and Netflix’s Away will be the first of a number of extraterrestrial television shows to hit the small screen this season. I won’t attempt to top Vulture‘s summary of this one, though: “Mars Needs Moms, But Dammit, So Do We.” Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank stars as Emma Green, the commander of a three-year mission to the red planet. But Emma “must reconcile her decision to leave behind her husband (Josh Charles) and teenage daughter (Talitha Bateman) when they need her the most,” the official synopsis says. Still, Emma is in good hands, chiefly those of executive-producer Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights), showrunner Jessica Goldberg (The Path), and creator Andrew Hinderaker. Get your box of tissues ready; this looks like it’ll be a weepy one.
4. Woke (Hulu, Sept. 9)
The first must-watch comedy of the fall will be Woke, a “semi-animated” series inspired by the life and work of artist Keith Knight. Lamorne Morris of New Girl stars as Keef, a Black cartoonist whose eyes are opened after experiencing a racist incident with police in San Francisco. The confrontation leaves Keef “woke,” having awakened him to voices and characters in his head that give him a new perspective of the world. “There are headlines and it’s an issue and people can see, ‘Oh this is a heavy topic,’ but at the same time we tell the story of this one man’s journey through his PTSD and through this trauma and how it feels for the individual,” explained executive producer and showrunner Jay Dyer. Plus it just looks like it’s gonna be hilarious. All eight episodes will be available Sept. 9.
5. We Are Who We Are (HBO, Sept. 14)
Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino returns with another sun-dappled coming-of-age story set in Italy, this time an eight-episode HBO miniseries called We Are Who We Are. Fourteen-year-old Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) moves with his mothers, Sarah (Chloë Sevigny) and Maggie (Alice Braga), to a military base near Venice, where he befriends the more experienced Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón), who has lived there for several years already. HBO’s synopsis says that the series “explores friendship, first-love, identity, and immerses the audience in all the messy exhilaration and anguish of being a teenager” and calls it “a story which could happen anywhere in the world, but in this case, happens in this little slice of America in Italy.” But if it took place anywhere else, would it have such an aesthetically-pleasing Instagram page?
6. Ratched (Netflix, Sept. 18)
Allow me to be the thousandth person to wonder, how on Earth does Ryan Murphy do it? Already the creator and producer on seven current shows (American Horror Story, American Crime Story, Pose, 9-1-1, The Politician, 9-1-1: Lone Star, Hollywood, and heck, maybe he’ll reboot Glee one of these days too), Murphy racks up another project with Ratched, the origin story of Nurse Ratched from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The trailer makes this one look like vintage Murphy, too: it’s highly-stylized, whip-smart, and wickedly deranged. And I haven’t gotten to the best part: Sarah Paulson — who can quiver on the line between composure and a breakdown as well as anyone — plays Nurse Ratched. I’m sold.
7. Pen15, Season 2 (Hulu, Sept. 18)
The first season of Pen15 got rave reviews, even earning a surprise Emmy nomination. This season, the comedy — which stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle playing their 13-year-old selves — will be split into two parts, with the first seven out of 14 episodes airing beginning Sept. 18, and the second set coming sometime in 2021. “We struggled a little bit with how dark to go,” Konkle told Indiewire of the upcoming season, which deals with her parents’ marital problems. As Erskine added, the duo were unsure in the first season if Pen15 was even going to be renewed, so they laid all their cards on the table: “What I repressed was the pain associated with these stories.” The two hope their show will continue to be relatable to fans, but judging by Konkle whining “I’m sorrrrry, I’m just hormonal!” in the trailer, it absolutely will be.
8. Filthy Rich (Fox, Sept. 21)
When casting for Filthy Rich, showrunner Tate Taylor asked himself, “Who would be the least likely person out there to play a Southern matriarch billionaire Christian?” This is a joke: The actress Taylor settled on was Sex and the City‘s Kim Cattrall, who is of course the perfect person to play Margaret Monreaux, who inherits a hugely successful Christian TV network after her husband dies in a plane crash. The problem is, her husband apparently had three illegitimate children — and he wrote them into the will. Despite Taylor’s jokes, Cattrall told Deadline, “I don’t come from the South, I wasn’t raised in a religious household. All of these new aspects of the character were a wonderful opportunity: If I was filthy rich, if I had children … the script was a one-off dealing with serious topics and questions about faith, family, and secrets.” Taylor is best known for directing 2011’s The Help, and Entertainment Weekly calls Filthy Rich “Succession by way of Dallas, with a dash of … Joel Osteen?” Why not!
9. A Wilderness of Error (FX, Sept. 25)
A Wilderness of Error is poised to be the true crime docuseries of the season. Directed by The Jinx co-writer and producer Marc Smerling and based on Academy Award-winning documentarian Errol Morris’ book of the same name, the five-part series dives deep into the case of Jeffrey MacDonald, a Green Beret doctor who was accused of murdering his pregnant wife and two daughters in 1970. But did he really do it? MacDonald has maintained that the killings were done by “hippies,” and that he himself was hurt in the attack. Similar to Smerling and Morris’ previous works, A Wilderness of Error will rely on re-enactments to more deeply explore the story. As The New York Times put it in its 2012 review of the book, A Wilderness of Error “tinkers explicitly with larger themes, not merely those of innocence and guilt and morality but also how we arrive at the narratives that undergird our notions of these things. ‘What if our expectations trick us into a false sense of security?’ [Morris] asks. ‘What if everything is the opposite of what it seems?'”
10. Utopia (Amazon, Sept. 25)
Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn is behind Amazon’s remake of the 2013 British TV series Utopia, which — rather relevantly — is about a pandemic. But as Becky, Ian, Samantha, Wilson Wilson, and Grant discover, certain clues about the end of the world seem to be prophesied by the comic book Utopia. John Cusack will play Dr. Kevin Christie, The Office‘s Rainn Wilson is Dr. Michael Stearns, and American Honey’s Sasha Lane will play the daughter of the comic book’s author. Flynn has promised to make the show her own, despite it being a remake: “My idea was to not only Americanize it — and deal with things that are resonant to Americans in a lot of ways — but to also make things gritty and dirty and nasty in a very realistic way,” she said at Comic-Con. “Whereas [Dennis Kelly, the U.K. show’s writer] took his cue from the graphic novels themselves, I took my cue more from the ’70s paranoia thrillers that I love.”
11. The Comey Rule (Showtime, Sept. 27)
You know all those jokes we made back in 2017, “who’s going to play Donald Trump and James Comey when this gets made into a TV show“? Well now we have our answer: Brendan Gleeson and Jeff Daniels, respectively. The Comey Rule follows former FBI Director James Comey in the lead-up to the 2016 election, including the fateful decision to tell Congress he was investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, and presumably runs through Trump firing him in 2017 during the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Based on Comey’s 2018 memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, The Comey Rule looks to be a nail-biter audiences will either love — or loathe. In fact, there’s at least one person I can think of in the latter category who soon might be tweeting about this show.
12. Monsterland (Hulu, Oct. 2)
(“Newark, NJ” | Hulu)
Fans of Lovecraft Country are definitely going to want to stick around for Monsterland, based on Nathan Ballingrud’s 2013 short story collection, North American Lake Monsters. The eight one-hour episodes in this anthology will reportedly follow people “driven to desperate acts in an attempt to repair their lives, ultimately showing there is a thin line between man and beast,” and the series will feature “encounters with Gothic beasts, including fallen angels and werewolves.” Kelly Marie Tran, who played fan-favorite Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, will star in the episode “Iron River, MI,” in which she plays a a woman returning to get married in her hometown, where her best friend vanished when they were 16. Evil‘s Mike Colter will likewise star in an episode called “Newark, NJ,” in which he plays a grief-stricken father whose daughter has disappeared.
13. The Good Lord Bird (Showtime, Oct. 4)
Ethan Hawke seems to have a thing for playing pastors. The actor appears in this fall’s seven-episode limited series The Good Lord Bird as the abolitionist John Brown, who famously led the raid on Harpers Ferry. Based on the novel of the same name by award-winning writer James McBride, and told from the point of view of the (fictional) slave boy Onion (Joshua Caleb Johnson), The Good Lord Bird also stars Hamilton‘s Daveed Diggs as Frederick Douglass and Hawke’s own daughter, Maya, as Brown’s daughter Annie. Showtime was supposed to premiere the show in early August, but decided to hold it for October to better consider its context given the show’s ties to conversations that have been recently reignited, Deadline notes. As Hawke, who co-adapted the book, said: “The genius of the novel for me is how it deals with gender and race and how we deal with the blind spots that we see.”
14. The Right Stuff (Disney+, Oct. 9)
I promised you more astronauts, didn’t I? Based on the bestselling book by Tom Wolfe (previously adapted in 1983 for Philip Kaufman’s movie of the same name), The Right Stuff is an eight-episode drama that follows the real story of the Mercury 7 program, which put the first American astronauts into space. The show also marks the National Geographic channel’s first scripted original series for Disney+, Deadline reports, with Nat Geo “[providing] the platform with a high-end original drama series in the fall when streamers will feel the effects of the current coronavirus-related production shutdown with a dwindling volume of new originals.” By virtue of the story, the show will feature an ensemble cast (Patrick J. Adams as John Glenn; Jake McDorman as Alan Shepard) and is being produced by fellow cosmophile Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way. Want even more space this fall? Check out Cosmos: Possible Worlds (Fox, Sept. 22), Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 (Oct. 15, CBS All Access), Moonbase 8 (Showtime, fall), and The Astronauts (Nickelodeon, fall).
15. The Bachelorette, Season 16 (ABC, Oct. 13)
If you’ve been keeping up with the gossip, the quarantine edition of The Bachelorette is shaping up to be a doozy. The new season was shot entirely in a reality TV bubble at the La Quinta Resort & Club in Los Angeles, with the production team and contestants required to complete a 14-day quarantine before arriving on set. Talk about a test of love! But rumor has it that 39-year-old Bachelorette Clare Crawley actually found love too quickly, and a new Bachelorette had to be brought in. It sounds like a real mess, and that’s saying something after Peter’s season.
16. The Mandalorian, Season 2 (Disney+, October)
The Mandalorian‘s second season wrapped on March 6 — eking in just before the coronavirus lockdown halted production on dozens of other shows. Thankfully for fans of Baby Yoda, Disney CEO Bob Chapek has confirmed that “there’ll be no delay” on the series’ return, with the show set to come back sometime in October. That means fans won’t have to wait long to find out more about that mysterious Darksaber in the finale. Meanwhile, Katee Sackhoff is rumored to appear as Bo-Katan Kryze, a Mandalorian she voiced in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels; the magnificent Timothy Olyphant is also supposed to be in the new season, while Temuera Morrison could potentially appear as Boba Fett. Though the cast and crew are naturally tight-lipped about the new season, Sam Hargrave, who served as the second unit director, told Collider that “the next season is really, really cool. The way the story arcs is really cool. So, we tried to have the action represent that and take it to the next level. I think we did that.”
17. The Crown, Season 4 (Netflix, Nov. 15)
The monarchy. Above all else. @GillianA and Emma Corrin join Olivia Colman in Season Four of The Crown, arriving 15th November. pic.twitter.com/Z4RPvzb32R
— The Crown (@TheCrownNetflix) August 20, 2020
Despite some coronavirus-shaped bumps along the way, The Crown is confirmed to be returning this fall to focus mainly on the drama surrounding Lady Diana Spencer and her courtship and eventual marriage to Prince Charles in November 1977. Twenty-four-year-old newcomer Emma Corrin will play Princess Di, while Gillian Anderson will appear as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Angus Imrie (who had a small role on Fleabag) will play a young Prince Edward. Otherwise, most of the rest of the actors will stay the same, with Olivia Colman continuing to star as Queen Elizabeth, and Helena Bonham-Carter as Princess Margaret; the next cast change will be for seasons five and six, the final two of the series.
18. The Stand (CBS All Access, Dec. 17)
The Stand, a story about the survivors of a plague, almost got shut down by our real-life plague. But while other attempts to adapt Stephen King’s best book have ended disappointingly, CBS All Access has apparently managed to pull off its star-studded limited series about the struggle between good and evil, complete with a new coda written by the author. “I’m still getting over the fact that it’s a show about the global pandemic that wipes out 99 percent of the population,” actor James Marsden, who plays the Texan Stu Redman, told TV Guide. “Very eerie to me still.” The Las Vegas-based antichrist Randall Flagg will be played by Alexander Skarsgard, while Whoopi Goldberg plays the ancient Mother Abagail. Even Marilyn Manson is apparently in the show! “It’s about the fundamental questions of what society owes the individual and what we owe to each other,” Ben Cavell, who is producing the show with Josh Boone, told Vanity Fair, adding: “It’s interesting to see a story about people who are rebuilding it from the ground up.”
19. American Crime Story: Impeachment (FX, fall)
No, not that impeachment. The third season of American Crime Story will focus on the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton, based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book, A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President (another of Toobin’s books was the basis for the series’ first season, The People v. O.J. Simpson). “I’m very, very excited to have Monica Lewinsky’s version of what happened be put out there in the world, and I think that she’s earned the right to be able to tell her story, how she wants to tell it,” explained Ryan Murphy to Collider. Lewinsky herself is serving as one of the producers, and will be portrayed in the show by Beanie Feldstein, with Sarah Paulson playing Linda Tripp and Clive Owen playing 42.
20. Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine (Netflix, fall)
Sarah Cooper doesn’t even have to write some of her best lines; she earned thousands of new fans this summer just by lip-synching the president’s most head-scratching moments. But Cooper is a comedian in her own right — she just hosted Jimmy Kimmel Live! — and she’s being vouched for by some big names. Netflix scooped up her one-off variety special, which will reportedly feature “vignettes focusing on issues related to politics, race, gender, class, and other topics,” with Russian Doll‘s Natasha Lyonne set to direct the special, and with Maya Rudolph and Danielle Renfrew Behrens attached as executive producers.
21. Selena: The Series (Netflix, fall)
Get your first look at Christian Serratos, who will play Selena Quintanilla in a coming of age story chronicling the iconic singer’s rise.
Selena: The Series — Part 1 premieres in 2020. pic.twitter.com/3U7hBrxLHi
— Netflix (@netflix) November 12, 2019
The first part of the long-awaited series based on the life of Selena Quintanilla is expected to premiere this year on Netflix, some 23 years after Jennifer Lopez’s turn in the title role in the 1997 film Selena. The forthcoming television adaptation is authorized by Selena’s family — her father and sister are actually producing — and will focus on the story of how the Mexican-American Tejano singer made “tough choices to hold on to love and music.” (The series is tagged by the streamer as “feel good” and “inspiring,” suggesting it might not focus so heavily on her tragic death at the age of only 23). Netflix has already teased footage of Christian Serratos in the lead role, with Ricardo Chavira starring as her father, Abraham; Gabriel Chavarria as her brother, A.B.; Noemi Gonzalez as her sister, Suzette; and Seidy Lopez as her mother, Marcella. Fans have been waiting two years for Selena to finally premiere; as with all fall television, here’s to hoping the long wait was worth it.