A new year is upon us! And when that year comes off of a year defined by a global pandemic that is still tragically raging and shut down the majority of TV productions, it means that things are simply not normal. I should start by saying that we at Paste TV are grateful that there will be television in 2021 at all, from sets that are following strict guidelines. There was a lot less media in 2020, for good or ill, but that could make 2021 a bumper year. Still, with so much uncertainty on the horizon about ongoing COVID protocols, the vaccine, and generally [waves hands] everything, this year’s Most Anticipated list has a ton of TBDs. In fact, there are only three concrete premiere dates.
This year we also decided to only focus on new shows, because there are so many highly-anticipated projects coming from the industry’s heavy hitters. Further, it’s telling that almost all of our choices accidentally come from streaming networks—another sign of the changing TV times. So while we are very much looking forward to new seasons of Succession, Better Call Saul, Dickinson, PEN15, HSM:TM:TS, Top Boy, Stranger Things, The Witcher, and Younger, below we are only highlighting the newest additions to the TV landscape—assuming some of them air in 2021 at all … you might notice a few from our “Most Anticipated of 2020” list.
All Creatures Great and Small
Premieres: January 10
If PBS Masterpiece’s All Creatures Great and Small could be described in one word, I’d go with tender. Set in 1930s Britain within the Yorkshire Dales, the miniseries based on the incredibly popular book series unfolds as a full escapist fantasy: lush, kind, and low stakes. For plot, James Herriot (Nicolas Ralph), a newly minted veterinarian, finds his first job at the remote Skeldale House. Mired in a rural area with eccentric bosses and clients to boot, Herriot must find ways to tend to the animals while also healing the hidden wounds of their owners. Chosen families are forged and lovers’ arrangements are cast. If anything, Herriot’s trials and tribulations unveil that the smallest creatures reveal our greatest character. For a show that unfolds like velvet, why not embrace your inner horse girl and accept the binge watch? —Katherine Smith
Premieres: January 27
“Harry Vanderspeigle” might really be a powerful alien from another planet sent to destroy earth, but he also is faced by that universal question: “Why do I want to drink alcohol and dance?” Syfy’s new dark comedy Resident Alien is a very Syfy kind of show, but it’s elevated by its leads, including Alan Tudyk (one of the few actors who can have you pulling for a murderous invador) and newcomer Sara Tomko. Based on Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse’s Dark Horse comic of the same name, Resident Alien is a welcome addition to 2021. —Josh Jackson
New MCU Series
Premieres: Throughout 2021
After a slow start on launch when it came to original series, Disney+ is leaning in hard to its blockbuster Marvel IP for the upcoming year. And with theater closings changing up movie release dates, these series couldn’t have come at a better time. From the mesmerizing oddity of WandaVision (January 15th) to MCU favorites The Falcon and the Winter Soldier headlining their own short series (March 19), to the return of everyone’s favorite trickster god Loki (May, TBD), we should have a constant slate of revamped Marvel TV (RIP to the Netflix misfire) for the next six months if the streamer sticks to weekly release. All of that will be followed—assuming everything stays on track—by the fun animated exploration What If…? (Summer TBD), the Hawkeye series (late 2021), and the introduction of Ms. Marvel (late 2021) in her own series after appearing as a playable character in the Avengers video game in late 2020. Reportedly, some of these TV storylines will even have some crossover with the films, something previous Marvel TV shows were not afforded. Can you feel the synergy? Yes, but also the excitement of the ever-expanding MCU coming to television, where we will get the full-fledged character-driven stories that the movies never had the space to give us. Assemble! —Allison Keene
New Star Wars Series
Premieres: Throughout 2021
During Disney’s 2020 Investors Day in December, the company announced that it had officially gone off the deep end and was greenlighting every spin-off, sequel, and prequel series to established franchises found within their deep vault. That includes Marvel, as noted above, but for Star Wars, we’re not only getting a sequel to the ever-popular Mandalorian, but 2021 is also bringing three new series to the streaming platform: one in live-action, another in western animation, and the final one in eastern animation.
Slated for “mid-2021,” The Bad Batch serves as a spin-off and sequel to supervising director Dave Filoni’s The Clone Wars, the franchise’s longest-running series, which followed the release of the film of the same name in 2008 and finally concluded on Disney+ in May 2020. A computer-animated series in a similar style to The Clone Wars, The Bad Batch centers on its titular group of mutated clone troopers as they take on “daring missions” following the Clone Wars. The series combines characters from that show’s final season and The Mandalorian, bringing Star Wars closer to the vision of cross-media storytelling Disney has largely achieved with Marvel. As someone who wants to see The Clone Wars for its final season but doesn’t want to wade through hours of filler from its earlier Cartoon Network days, this might be the fresh start to bring in new audiences.
The Book of Boba Fett (December 2021) brings the only bounty hunter better known than Din Djarin back to the silver screen after a surprise appearance in The Mandalorian. Originally appearing as Jango Fett, essentially Boba Fett’s father (it’s complicated) in 2002’s Attack of the Clones, Temuera Morrison reprises his role as the lone clone to kick some ass and probably take revenge on some sarlacc pits. Morrison killed it in his role as Fett in The Mandalorian and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to do so in his own series.
Finally, the most mysterious new series for this year is subtitled Visions (2021, TBD), an anime anthology series of short films within the Star Wars galaxy. We don’t have any trailers or concrete details, but the fact that “anime” and “Star Wars” are together in the same sentence is enough to get me excited! —Joseph Stanichar
The Underground Railroad
Coleson Whitehead won a Pulitzer for his surreal reimagining of The Underground Railroad as an actual set of tracks leading enslaved people to freedom. Now Oscar winner Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk) has adapted the novel into his first TV project, directing every episode of the show. In 2016, we named Moonlight the best film of the year and The Underground Railroad the best book of the year so yeah, we’re a little excited about this TV show. Now put Harriett Tubman on the Twenty. —Josh Jackson [Photo: Roy Rochlin, Getty]
There’s just not enough Native TV. And when fixing that problem, it’s best to let Native creators do it. That’s how we get to Reservation Dogs, a half-hour comedy collaboration between Indigenous filmmakers a world apart: Oklahoma’s Sterlin Harjo and New Zealand’s Taika Waititi. Waititi, the guy who used his cult comedy chops (What We Do in the Shadows) to leap to Marvel blockbusters (Thor: Ragnarok) and Oscar-winners (Jojo Rabbit), is the perfect shepherd for this reservation-set comedy’s tone. Harjo, who co-wrote the pilot (which he directed) with Waititi, has a similar mix of deadpan humor and heart in his work (Four Sheets to the Wind) alongside a specificity of place that’ll make Oklahoma’s outskirts feel true. Together, along with a lead ensemble of relatively fresh actors, the duo inspires nothing but confidence in this Tarantino-titled riff.—Jacob Oller
Kate McKinnon is best known for her hilarious send-ups on Saturday Night Live but what makes her impersonations and characters truly special is the heart and compassion she gives to each caricature. Think of her Hilary Clinton singing “Hallelujah” or Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “Gins-burns.” There’s always remarkable depth to McKinnon’s portrayals. That’s why we can’t wait to see her take on Elizabeth Holmes (who was profiled in the recent documentary The Inventor on HBO). If you’ll recall, Holmes was the venture capitalist darling who founded Theranos, a biotech company that claimed to have a new revolutionary way of testing blood. In 2015, Forbes named her the youngest self-made billionaire. The only problem? Her “innovative” blood machine didn’t really work and Holmes faced a litany of criminal charges. What made Holmes so willing to lie and deceive so many for so long? The series, which is based on the ABC News podcast of the same name, should provide viewers insight into the Stanford dropout and give McKinnon the opportunity to fully embrace her dramatic side. —Amy Amatangelo [Photo: HBO]
Network: HBO Max
It feels a bit like giving in to Stockholm Syndrome to say that the television project I’m most looking forward to in 2021 is a limited series adaptation—on HBO Max, no less [insert personal grudge against HBO’s perennial snobbishness here]— of a book about humanity trudging onwards after a decimating global flu pandemic, but, alas, that’s apparently where I am. I just can’t help it! Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven was one of my picks for the best novels of the last decade, and while it is true that *technically* it’s the story of humanity barely making it to the other side of a devastating global pandemic, as I wrote in that round-up, what it’s really about is the marrow-deep fact that survival is insufficient. Art, community, love, imagination, hope—those are all just as important. And honestly, with the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel only barely starting to peek through, that’s a message we can all do with hearing.
Plus, you know, it’s got Mackenzie Davis, Himesh Patel and Gael García Bernal teaming up under cinematographer/filmmaker Hiro Murai’s thoughtful eye—how could I not be excited? —Alexis Gunderson
The Lord of the Rings
As far as my social circle and social media timeline go, everyone’s constantly rewatching The Lord of the Rings trilogy at all times. It’s mostly because they are perfect, miracle films, but also because we all love Middle-earth so much we want to scream. Of course Amazon’s super ambitious, super secretive LotR series was going to drive us into a frenzy. The showrunners—JD Payne and Patrick McKay—are basically publicly untested film screenwriters (they’ve been attached to unproduced scripts, done uncredited work, and have a few movies on the way out … eventually) and the cast, while huge, is nothing that would pull Saruman away from his palantír. But still … there’s something there. An electricity. Potential. Setting the series long before the events of the movies, somewhere in J.R.R. Tolkien’s vast Silmarillion history, could be exactly what it needs to thread its infinitely small needle. It might crash and burn, but how is any LotR fan NOT excited?—Jacob Oller [Photo: New Line Cinema]
Mare of Easttown
There’s a lot we don’t know about Mare of Easttown, such as when it premieres, how somber the tone will be, and whether or not the title is a pun (mare = mayor??). Luckily, what we do know is more than enough to entice. Kate Winslet stars in this HBO limited series as a small-town detective in Pennsylvania (continuing the network’s long tradition of passing over 300+ million Americans for American roles in crime shows), and like any good TV detective, her life is an absolute mess. Judging by the three-second clip that was inexplicably posted to YouTube by the official account, she’ll be wearing heavy plaids and refusing to bullshit. The ubiquitous and excellent Jean Smart (Designing Women, Watchmen, Fargo) plays her mom, who, per the main site, “never holds back on her opinions, solicited or not.” She’s going to piss off her daughter so much! Seriously, though, Pennsylvania is rich American noir terrain, especially if it happens to be in coal country, and with a track record of gems like True Detective, HBO making a Winslet detective show where most of the leads are women (mare is probably a lot closer to “mother” in symbolism than a bad pun) is the kind of thing that feels can’t-miss. The big comparison here will be to Top of the Lake, another woman-driven prestige detective show with a big name at the top, and if HBO can even approach that level, they’ll have done well. —Shane Ryan [Photo: 20th Century Fox]
Perhaps nothing other than the Lord of the Rings series fills me with such excitement and trepidation as Cowboy Bebop, Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the iconic 90s anime. The jazz-fueled original series about a motley crew of bounty hunters traveling together aboard a spaceship had a specific aesthetic and emotional feeling that will be hard to mirror in this change of format. But, of course, there’s always the chance that the series could bring new life and a new energy to the material, especially as it stars John Cho in the lead role of Spike Spiegel.
Speaking of Cho, this adaptation has already, tragically, not been without its issues. The actor sustained an injury on set that pushed the production back six months, and then the pandemic started. As such, the release date for the show remains very uncertain. And yet, it will be fascinating to see how Bebop will land with a predominantly Western audience on a platform as accessible as Netflix. (Initially, it was only available to watch during Adult Swim or from sketchy DVDs, although since the mid-2000s there have some elegant, complete, official releases made available for US viewers.) Until then, we’ll see you later, space cowboy. —Allison Keene
The Sex Lives of College Girls
Network: HBO Max
Four girls from different backgrounds meet at an upscale private college in New England and must navigate the perilous waters of friendship, family, and of course, sex—the premise of HBO Max’s forthcoming The Sex Lives of College Girls isn’t exactly high-concept, but it is being helmed by the very capable hands of Mindy Kaling.
The leads of The Sex Lives of College Girls are relatively fresh and diverse faces: Pauline Chalamet (yes, of that lineage) plays a working class valedictorian trying to fit in at the elite private school, Amrit Kaur is Bela, a sex-positive comedy-obsessed roommate from an affluent background, Alyah Chanelle Scott plays the resident athlete with political ties, and Reneé Rapp rounds out the cast as the conservative, legacy recruit. The series also features a TV comeback I didn’t know I wanted in Dylan Sprouse, who will likely play a romantic role in the lives of the roommates.
Since leaving The Office, Kaling has made a business of crafting well-drawn characters that test the limits of female portrayals on-screen, from the often irresponsible Mindy Lahiri in The Mindy Project to the smart aleck teenage Devi in Never Have I Ever. So given the precedent, I am very eager to see what Kaling and her co-creator Justin Noble cook up with this ensemble. —Radhika Menon [Photo: Rich Fury, Getty]
Pieces of Her
There are few things in the world I relish in more than watching Toni Collette slowly unravel into an unhinged mess. Coming back to the silver screen since her excellent stint on Netflix’s miniseries Unbelievable, Pieces of Her stars Toni as Laura, an even-keeled mother and a pillar of her community. When she and her daughter, Andy (Bella Heathcote), go out to a diner to celebrate Andy’s birthday, they are embroiled in a mass shooting incident. What happens next is unthinkable—Laura executes the shooter with ease, solidifying herself as a hometown hero rattling Andy’s image of her otherwise earnest mother.
Adapted from Karin Slaughter’s novel of the same name, Pieces of Her promises to be a pulpy thriller straight from the pages of Gillian Flynn. This one’s for all the Flight Attendant and Sharp Objects fans out there looking for their fix—or people who just really love watching Toni’s facial contortions. —Austin Jones
Anything that brings Michael Keaton back to television and also features the brilliant Kaitlyn Dever, undeniably one of the best actresses of her generation, is bound to land on a list of most anticipated shows (at least for me). But it’s not just Dopesick’s impressive cast, which also includes Peter Sarsgaard, Phillipa Soo, Michael Stuhlbarg, Ray McKinnon, and Rosario Dawson, that makes the limited series from writer and executive producer Danny Strong one to watch. Directed by Oscar winner Barry Levinson and based on Beth Macy’s non-fiction book of the same name, Dopesick digs into the opioid epidemic that has been choking the U.S. for decades, a crisis that does not discriminate and leaps across class lines. Weaving together the harrowing tales of those frequently left voiceless with those of the first responders who become everyday heroes as they combat the worst drug epidemic in our country’s history, the series exposes the shameful greed of the men and corporations that first created this problem and then allowed it to spread unchecked until opioid addiction became firmly entrenched in American life, but especially in small communities in Appalachia. This will no doubt be a compelling, if sometimes difficult series to watch, but that’s likely what also makes it deeply necessary. —Kaitlin Thomas
Brian K. Vaughan is about to have a big year on TV between the adaptations of his comics Y: The Last Man (illustrated by Pia Guerra) and Paper Girls (illustrated by Cliff Chiang). Vaughan’s comics are always fun and fresh, and the time-traveling adventures of girls who deliver newspapers in the 1980s are no exception. But what really piques my interest is the combination of Vaughan’s story and co-showrunners Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers, who created Halt and Catch Fire. Vaughan, Cantwell, and Rogers have a history of dynamic female characters—and excellent uses of time jumps. What they are able to create together will surely be exciting and play to their strengths. —Rae Nudson
Bridgerton, Shonda Rhimes’ first splashy project under her Netflix deal, centered on a Regency-era gossip-monger who lived among the elites who were both none the wiser as to her true identity and who hung on her every word. One of her next ones—and she has many in the works;—is about a con-artist who duped the cool kids. Based on the journalist Jessica Pressler’s (aka, the lady who wrote the piece that inspired the movie Hustlers) New York magazine story, the miniseries stars The Americans alum Julia Garner as Anna Delvey, a young woman so good at the humble brags and with such an addictive joie de vie persona that no one knew it was all a lie until some were stuck holding the empty bag. Anna Chlumsky, Katie Lowes, and Laverne Cox also star. —Whitney Friedlander
Wheel of Time
Network: Amazon Prime Video
Robert Jordan’s epic series sprawls over the course of 14 novels—the last three co-written by Brandon Sanderson from Jordan’s notes after his death. It’s a delightfully imaginative series that was in desperate need of a more merciless editor. Here’s hoping the TV adaptation from Amazon (which will restart a COVID-delayed production in April of 2021) can capture the best of the series with far fewer tugs on braids and better written women characters in general. I’m optimistic. The bones for the next great TV fantasy series are there. Rosamund Pike strikes me as perfect casting for Moraine. On the other hand, showrunner Rafe Judkins and most of the rest of the cast are mostly unproven on a project this big. But with the might of Sony Pictures Television and Amazon Studios behind them, they’ll be given every opportunity to succeed. —Josh Jackson
American Horror Stories
One of the best things about Ryan Murphy’s long-running American Horror Story is the anthology format that allows the series to play with different settings and genres, telling creepy new stories of haunted houses, deadly insane asylums, and terrifying summer camps each season. But as much as its fans may love it, most of us also acknowledge that the series is somewhat infamous for never quite sticking its landings, either running out of narrative gas before the final credits roll or cramming in too many storylines that never see a resolution.
This is the reason upcoming spinoff series American Horror Storiesis so exciting as a more bite-sized version of the original that tells stories across individual episodes rather than seasons. The possibilities here feel endless, especially since many of the original AHS’s best hours are those that focus on specific characters and their back stories (See also: Freak Show’s “Orphans”, Asylum’s “I Am Anne Frank: Part 2,” Hotel’s“Flicker” and Apocalypse’s Constance-focused “Return to the Murder House”). Single hour stories can be tighter, more focused and give specific characters from previous seasons—who may have been lost in the sprawling plots of a Covenor a Cult—a chance to have their stories told. (And real talk: This is the only way we are ever getting to see Jessica Lange again in any of these shows, so just give me a Sister Jude episode and let’s keep it moving, shall we?)
Truly, the idea of forcing Murphy to fit his ideas into a single episode just might be one of the best things that’s ever happened to this franchise. —Lacy Baugher
Y: The Last Man
Aside from being the least Googleable show in recent memory, the upcoming (and much delayed) FX adaptation of beloved graphic novel Y: The Last Man has an incredible cast (including Diane Lane, Imogen Poots, Lashana Lynch, and that last man himself, Barry Keoghan) and a network known for its creative and strange genre shows. With Eliza Clark (Animal Kingdom) at the helm of Y, taking over from Michael Green and Aida Mashaka Croal, the show’s still got a female leader behind the scenes even after the leadership shuffle. The post-apocalyptic story is even better than its component parts, just by its premise alone: all the men on Earth are wiped out. Except for one. And a monkey. Who runs the world? Girls, by default. That’s exactly the kind of energy I want 2021 to bring.—Jacob Oller
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