According to both the calendar and Nielsen, the fall season doesn’t technically begin for another few weeks. But Labor Day has come and gone, and the TV business for all intents and purposes has already moved into fall mode, with premieres of several dozen new and returning shows happening over the next couple of months.
Some falls are more exciting for new shows, other for returning ones. Last fall — which gave us Atlanta, Better Things, Speechless, and more — was one of the former group. This looks more like one of the latter ones. The broadcast networks in particular seem to have saved their most promising rookies for January or later, while (with one very notable exception), cable and streaming are devoting the fourth quarter of 2017 to shows you may already know and love.
So I’ve broken down this fall TV micro-preview into two pieces: five new shows debuting in September or October that could be promising — or, really, one great one and four that could be promising — and 15 series I’m excited to see return in that same span. I couldn’t decide in which category to place PBS’ Vietnam War, because in many ways Ken Burns is TV’s greatest ongoing series, so just mark your viewing calendars for September 17.
Note that in some of these cases, I haven’t seen any episodes of the new shows in question — those will be marked with asterisks — and am guessing based on the premise and/or creative teams. (I tried to only pick a couple of those, or else ABC’s Kevin (Probably) Saves the World — from the Reaper/Agent Carter team — might have wishcasted its way onto the list.)
Also, I’m still figuring out what’s realistic to recap every week in the fall — and may give some shows the every-other-episode treatment or something like that — but it’ll tentatively be drawn from a group that includes You’re the Worst, The Deuce, The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Mr. Robot, with lots of other ones being checked in on as time and my interest warrants.
The Deuce (HBO, Sept. 10)
This is the great one, as you might expect from the duo of George Pelecanos and David Simon (plus director Michelle MacLaren!), who bring some Wire-style patient storytelling to an early ’70s tale of a bartender (James Franco, who plays identical twins), prostitutes (including Maggie Gyllenhaal), pimps (several played by Wire alums like Method Man and Gbenga Akinnagbe), cops (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), wiseguys (Michael Rispoli), and more dealing with the relaxing of public standards as the pornographic film industry became very public. Smart, honest, and almost shockingly fun, it’s among the most purely entertaining things you’ll see on TV this year.
*Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access, Sept. 24)
The first Star Trek series in over a decade has been through delays and production turmoil, with the departure of co-creator Bryan Fuller, who was the biggest reason to be excited about it in the first place. But it’s got a terrific cast — Sonequa Martin-Green, Michelle Yeoh, Jason Isaacs, James Frain — and even if it’s not, as the producers sometimes claim, the first serialized Trek (that would be Deep Space Nine), the ideals of the franchise melded with the narrative sensibilities of modern cable could be really interesting. But after the first episode (which will air on CBS proper), you’ll have to pay for All Access to see if it works without Fuller.
*Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders (NBC, Sept. 26)
Yes, it’s a transparent cash-in on the success of FX’s American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson. And yes, it’s shamelessly using the Law & Order brand name, despite being a straightforward docudrama, rather than a fictionalized twist on headlines. But it’s also Dick Wolf and Rene Balcer, who’ve done very well over the decades dramatizing infamous crimes, it’s directed by the superb Lesli Linka Glatter, and it’s got Edie Falco as defense attorney Leslie Abramson. That’s great raw material, if nothing else.