Fall TV previews used to be a lot simpler: A handful of networks put out a bunch of new shows each fall. Publications could round them up, maybe lay out some odds as to whether or not they’d make it through a season, and be done with it. But TV has changed a lot over the last decade. In fact, it’s changed a lot over the last few years, with more networks putting out more original shows, to say nothing of the streaming services that have gotten in on the game as the traditional TV order seems in danger of crumbling. What’s more, TV shows have a way of sticking around even when they don’t become part of the cultural conversation. The days of the brilliant-but-canceled series haven’t ended entirely — miss ya, The Grinder — but we’re also living in an age when The Last Ship just got renewed for a fourth season.
All of which is a long way of saying that we decided it would be best if we offered a Fall TV Preview at the beginning of each month rather than trying to look at the whole thing at once. So let’s start with September, a month that brings new shows starring Donald Glover, Pamela Adlon, and, inevitably, Kevin James.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 6
At a glance: Donald Glover is back on television for the first time since leaving Community, and he’s got his own fancy show on FX. Atlanta follows Glover’s character, Earn Marks, as he manages his cousin’s rap career so the two of them can “work through the Atlanta music scene in order to better their lives and the lives of their families.” More specifically, Glover has said, “The thesis with this show was to show people what it’s like to be black, and you can’t write that down. You have to feel it.” That’s a pretty ambitious place to start.
Should you give it a shot: Yup. Glover is a big ball of talent — he’s an actor, he’s a rapper, he’s a comic, he was hired to write for 30 Rock while he was still in college — so any project from him is worth checking out, especially if it comes on the heels of an extended semi-break. The series premieres with back-to-back episodes, so at the very least, give those two a look, just so you’re not stuck binge-watching a huge chunk to get caught up later.
Chances it will be worth sticking with: Pretty good. The track record is solid here on both fronts, between Glover’s history as an actor/creator and FX’s history with half-hour shows that teeter between comedy and drama (Louie, You’re the Worst). It’s all enough to be pretty optimistic about.
Queen Sugar (OWN)
At a glance: Over the course of the summer, Oprah Winfrey’s network has undergone an identity overhaul. It began with Greenleaf, the drama that centered on a megachurch pastor’s family and its scandalous secrets, and it continues with Queen Sugar, another family drama that has Winfrey producing a series she co-created with Melissa Carter and Selma director Ava Duvernay. The series follows the Bordelon siblings: Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), an NBA star’s wife; Nova (True Blood’s Rutina Wesley), an eccentric journalist; and Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), an ex-con, as they return home to claim their inheritance – an 800 acre sugarcane farm in Louisiana – and reconcile past wrongs.
Should you give it a shot: Yes. Not only is this looking to be another rich, African-American drama that stands out given the currently whitewashed landscape of TV, it also sports an all-female directing team — led by DuVernay — many of whom are just starting their careers. This new series also looks decidedly less soapy than Greenleaf, opting for serious character studies and a meaningful look at family and forgiveness.
Chances it will be worth sticking with: Good. This of course depends on what you want out of your fall TV. Winfrey’s dramas center solely on family and relationships and this one has already been dubbed a slow-burn by critics. In other words, if you’re looking for thrilling intrigue or doomed romance, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder will be better options. There won’t be many big twists in Queen Sugar, and it will probably take a while to get into – episode three seems to be the turning point for some – but it’s the sort of show that’s sorely needed right now.
At a glance: Crackle crashes the Peak TV party with this new drama about a digital currency company and the FBI agents out to track it. Notable faces include Martin Freeman (Sherlock, Fargo) as a morally flexible agent and Adam Brody (The O.C.) as a banker with a shady family history.
Should you give it a shot: The answer here feels like it should be no, if only because there are really a ton of TV shows and a drama from another new-ish streaming service screams “Pass.” But then you get to the thing about Watson and Seth Cohen involved in South Beach Bitcoin crime. It’s tough, this new television era. Let’s file this one under “maybe.”
Chances it will be worth sticking with: Eh. The smarter move here is probably sitting back and waiting to see what kind of buzz this picks up, then hitting a bunch of episodes in a weekend if people are raving about it. You are a very important person and your time is valuable.