5 New Shows to Check Out This Autumn
Fall is here, and as the new season ushers in cooler weather and more beautiful leaves, our TV season heats up with better shows. With cable, network, and streaming platforms coming with a glutton of new shows it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the multitude and suspicious of every advertisement claiming that it is the next hit (TV is definitive proof that believing hard enough in something is not enough to make it true). Let us remove your existential dread of watching a new pilot and feeling the enormous anxiety of, “but what if something on another channel is better?” that leads to endlessly channel surfing and palm-sweating over whether you think it will get better after a few episodes, and then the soul-crushing realization that no, no it won’t. Use this handy guide like a televisional Prozac, so you know what to watch next, and what to skip, and save yourself the meditation on the meaninglessness of your existence through those hours of “giving it a shot.”
The Good Place – NBC (Thursdays at 8:30 PM and streaming on Hulu)
Can The Office, Parks & Rec, and Brooklyn 9-9 creator Michael Schur do wrong (well, I don’t really like The Office, so I’m off to a good start with rhetorical questions)? In a sea of high-concept comedies comes The Good Place which takes place in the afterlife. In essence, every action you’ve ever taken is accounted for an given a point value, positive or negative, and when you die if you meet a certain threshold you go to the “Good Place,” a utopia based on your personality, and if not… well, you go to the “Bad Place,” which, we don’t know much about other than it sounds awful (literally). Very few make it into the Good Place, only the best of the best, which is why it is strange that narcissistic jerk Eleanor has ended up there. In fact, she shouldn’t be there at all. After some kind of mixup by Good Place super Ted Danson (charming), she is in. Only trouble is there is trouble in paradise–could it be that Eleanor’s presence is throwing everything off? The Good Place moves away from the workplace comedies of Schur’s past, while still keeping the ensemble premise intact. The tone feels something akin to the mystery and obtuseness of Lost with the loose humor of Parks & Rec. Add bonus points due to a winning performance of Kristen Bell, and you have yourself a winner. It’s almost strange to watch a comedy where you’re actually curious about the story.
Atlanta – FX (Thursdays at 10 PM)
Donald Glover left Community in a torrent of controversy: “How dare he leave the show that made him!” the internet decried. However, between releasing two pretty cool rap albums under the moniker Childish Gambino, popping up in a few films (The Martian), and now Atlanta, it seems like he made the right decision. As Troy on Community, Glover was a very funny part of the ensemble, but he had bigger dreams, and Atlanta is proving him the multi-hyphenate part he sought out. Glover stars as Earn, a down-and-out young man who ends up as the manager for his cousin who is becoming an underground hip-hop sensation. What sets this show apart from other musical dramas/comedies is the perspective of Glover. The writer’s room is himself, his brother, and a few other fairly unknown writers. The first season is all directed by one director. The show showcases two standout performances from unknowns Brian Tyree Henry and Keith Stanfield who steal every scene they’re in. Vacillating from laugh-out-loud funny, to quiet drama, all while skillfully touching on social issues is a high-wire act Atlanta pulls off, while feeling wholly unique. Glover wanted to make a show that was “what it felt like to be black” without being a “black” show, and a show that was, “Twin Peaks with rappers.” I don’t know what those mean, but I’m sold.
Westworld – HBO (Sundays at 9 PM)
While on break from Westeros comes Westworld. A big-budget adaptation of Crichton’s novel that was also the source for the 70s film starring Yul Brynner. Boasting a creative team including Jonathon Nolan as writer-director (Person of Interest and brother of Chris) and the prestige of HBO is likely to produce a heady, dark, twisty drama. Early reports are good on a series that uses many of the familiar Nolan elements of identity, memory, and reality and puts them to work in a world that works with both Western and sci-fi genres. Westworld is a small town full of life-like robots. People pay money to come to the town and act out their fantasies. Sex with robots? Check. Killing robots? Check. Probably doing both at once? Double check. Things change when the robots begin to dream (of Electric sheep perhaps?) and have memories. Plus, when the robots are that lifelike… are you sure that’s a robot?
Luke Cage – Netflix (Binge)
Marvel’s Netflix Defenders series (Daredevil and Jessica Jones) have been a mixed bag. The first season of Daredevil was pretty great, pulpy fun. The second season devolved into nonsense and silliness and somehow managed to completely bungle the Punisher despite a strong performance from Jon Bernthal. Jessica Jones was maddeningly inconsistent, with a strong start, weak middle, and a decent end to a very uneven first season. Now, we have Luke Cage. The titular invulnerable mercenary was played winningly by Mike Colter in Jessica Jones, who, among other things, managed to yell, “sweet Christmas” and make it work.This series will follow him (and the inevitable Rosario Dawson cameo) as he realizes he is a hero. Marvel is hoping to make this their version of The Wire, and deal with race head on. Netflix has shown Marvel more willing to take risks than their films have since the first Avengers, so I’m hopeful they get this on track (though I’m worried about Iron Fist).
Jean-Claude Van Johnson – Amazon Prime
After the surprising success of JCVD where JCVD played a barely fictionalized version of himself as a washed up action hero who had to help hostages after becoming unwittingly involved with a bank robbery–comes Jean Claude Van Johnson–where JCVD plays a barely fictionalized version of himself as a washed up action hero who comes out of retirement to assume his famous alter ego, but this time as an undercover private contractor. It all somehow works better than it seems it would with a melancholy sense of humor and a respectable vehicle for Jean-Claude Van Damme, who has always hinted at more actorly aspirations with his performances. This one only half counts, as the full show won’t be premiering until 2017 (due to Amazon’s pilot voting system).