The Paste TV Guide: Our 20 Most Anticipated Series This Fall

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The <i>Paste</i> TV Guide: Our 20 Most Anticipated Series This Fall

Surprise! There’s TV this fall! And not just dregs of leftovers or hastily-acquired second-run foreign series. Because of Peak TV production schedules, networks had a lot set to premiere this spring and summer that they have now metered out to fall, given the uncertainty that the pandemic and social distancing measures have had on filming. But for those who worried about a lack of TV this fall, fear not: there is, instead, a manageable amount. Gone is the robust broadcast premiere season, but in its place, something that might actually be more sustainable.

Below are 20 new and returning TV shows that the Paste TV writers are looking forward to*, in order of their premiere dates. We can’t guarantee all of them will actually be good, but hope springs eternal!

*Note: This list was compiled before the premiere date for The Mandalorian Season 2 was announced (October 30th), but know that we are very excited for all things Mando and Baby Yoda of course.

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Woke

Network: Hulu
Premiere Date: September 9
Status: New Series

Tackling heavy topics like police brutality, anti-Blackness, colorism, and complicity may feel like the stuff of social media feeds these days, but Hulu’s new series, Woke, is trying to broach these sticky themes through an unexpected lens: humor. Woke stars New Girl’s Lamorne Morris as San Francisco-based cartoonist Keef Knight, a thinly veiled stand-in for real-life cartoonist and political activist Keith Knight (who also happens to be a co-creator of the eight-episode series). When the show kicks off, Keef is on the cusp of mainstream success for his comics, which depict talking toast and other inanimate objects; he’s also a self-proclaimed non-controversial Black cartoonist, and wants to keep it that way. “Why is it that people of color are always having to stand for something?” he asks a comic book store employee (SNL’s Sasheer Zapata) in the trailer. “Because the world is a racist place,” she responds with some side eye. It’s not until he has a seriously traumatizing run-in with the cops that he starts to recognize just how complicit he’s been in his apoliticism. He gains super powers—he’s suddenly “woke”—following the encounter, and starts to get confronted about racial injustice by inanimate objects that come to life. Think Big Mouth meets The Brave Little Toaster, with a side of racial politics. —Joyce Chen


Julie and the Phantoms

Network: Netflix
Premieres: September 10
Status: New Series

Between the sparkling charm exuded by newcomer Madison Reyes, the ‘90s pop-punk bro-ness of the Phantom boys backing her up, and the Descendants / High School Musical / Hocus Pocus bona fides of marquee EP/choreographer Kenny Ortega, Netflix’s upcoming half-hour musical series Julie and the Phantoms (based on the 2011 Brazilian series Julie e os Fantasmas) has more than enough going for it to be the next big family-friendly thing. Add in a pair of showrunners with decades of Nickelodeon experience, a bevy of stadium-ready pop performances, and Descendants’s own Booboo Stewart as an adorable skatebro ghost boyfriend (that Disney’s never quite gotten around to giving any of its cute and emotionally available rocker dudes), and you’ve got legit tween catnip on your hands. (That said, we, uh, definitely recommend battening down the aural hatches in preparation for the series’ fortune of future Radio Disney earworms being played and/or sung, for months on a loop. From what we’ve heard so far, they’re all great songs! But, you know, so is Let It Go. Make of that what you will.) —Alexis Gunderson


PEN15

Network: Hulu
Premieres: September 18
Status: Returning for Season 2

In a commencement address to Emory University in 2005, Tom Brokaw said, “real life is not college; real life is not high school. Here is a secret that no one has told you: Real life is junior high. The world that you’re about to enter is filled with junior high adolescent pettiness, pubescent rivalries, the insecurities of 13-year-olds, and the false bravado of 14-year-olds. 40 years from now, I guarantee it: You will still make a silly mistake every day. You will have temper tantrums and you’re feelings will be hurt for some trivial sleight. You’ll say something dumb at the wrong time. And you will wonder at least once a week, ‘Will I ever grow up?’” PEN15 says no, but maybe that’s ok.

Look, the truths laid bare in PEN15 will probably destroy you directly, especially if you were in junior high from anywhere in the 90s to early aughts. The hysterical, brutal specificity in which Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle set their story is brilliant because it captures the dramatic earnestness of being that age without simply satirizing it from an adult’s perspective. Erskine and Konkle are in their early 30s, and yet somehow fit in seamlessly with their teenage co-stars for that reason—their lampooning comes out of love and understanding, their heightened portrayals of junior high life is emotionally accurate. It’s not funny so much as felt, deeply, uncomfortably accessing memories of a time you thought you had moved on from. It’s bold and quite possibly brilliant. —Allison Keene


Ratched

Network: Netflix
Premieres: September 18
Status: New Series

Sarah Paulson was born to play the sadistic nurse dreamed up by Merry Prankster Ken Kasey back in 1962. The new prequel series to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest follows the domineering Nurse Mildred Ratched as she takes a job at a psychiatric ward in Los Angeles, where Dr. Richard Hanover is conducting experimental lobotomies. With stylish cinematography and a cast that includes Cynthia Nixon, Sharon Stone and Vincent D’Onofrio, it’s a Ryan Murphy production through-and-through. Whether you enjoy it will probably be determined by how much you think that’s a good thing. —Josh Jackson


Last Tango in Halifax

Network: PBS
Premieres: September 20
Status: Returning for Season 5

Don’t be fooled—what looks like a gentle, bucolic, cozy British kitchen drama is actually a sharply drawn meditation on family life and changing generational values. It is also, however, gentle, bucolic, cozy, and absolutely full of soapy drama. The much-loved series from Sally Wainwright—starring two septuagenarians who rekindle a lost love and get married, which immediately causes trouble between their very different daughters—returns for a short fifth season after a three-year hiatus. For those of us who have caught up on Netflix in the meantime, it is a welcome return to wonderfully portrayed characters full of warmth and realistic foibles, thanks to an outstanding cast that features Derek Jacobi, Anne Reid, Sarah Lancashire, and Nicola Walker. A hidden gem. —Allison Keene


Fargo

Network: FX
Premiere Date: September 27
Status: Returning for Season 4

Fargo’s crushing production delays (Chicago’s winter? Meet coronavirus’ summer) still haven’t damped my excitement for the fourth round of period criminal weirdness from Noah Hawley and his idiosyncratic star-studded cast. Giving us the Black criminal organization of KC versus the city’s mafia AND casting Chris Rock as the lead? Absence from that has already made my heart so fond it’s near to bursting. The connected-universe’s most apparent returning element is its ridiculous names, as Timothy Olyphant plays someone named Dick “Deafy” Wickware and Constant Calamita is taking a break from being, I guess, a knockoff Looney Tune to stop by as well.—Jacob Oller


The Comey Rule

Network: Showtime
Premiere Date: September 27
Status: Miniseries

Whether you love or hate James Comey—and there are a lot of reasons for every person from every seat on the political aisle to hate the guy—there will be no getting around any Zoom dinner party conversation about Showtime’s two-night adaptation of his book about working under President Trump, A Higher Loyalty. In fact, there was even controversy surrounding the premiere date for the miniseries, which stars The Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels as the imposing and meticulous former FBI director and In Bruges’ Brendan Gleeson as our Commander-in-Chief. Showtime had originally set the project to premiere after this November’s presidential election, until writer-director Billy Ray expressed his great displeasure at that news. Will the move to September actually sway voters? That’s debatable, but it will allow us to see Gleeson in a stupendous hair piece. —Whitney Friedlander


Monsterland

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Network: Hulu
Premiere Date: October 2
Status: New Series

Give me a monstrous anthology drenched in Americana any day of the week. Hulu’s horror-of-the-month track record has been spotty with Into the Dark, but Monsterland’s basis in a single novel (North America Lake Monsters: Stories by Nathan Ballingrud) and killer cast (Kelly Marie Tran, Mike Colter, and Bill Camp to name a few) looks to separate it from its holiday cohort. Call me crazy, but I really think a good version of Quibi’s 50 States of Fright exists. Maybe this is it, maybe it’s another missed opportunity—the good thing about anthologies is it’s got chance after chance of doing it right.—Jacob Oller


The Good Lord Bird

Network: Showtime
Premiere Date: October 4
Status: New Series

I’m an Ethan Hawke stan. And, this year in particular, seeing Hawke play radical abolitionist John Brown (the anti-slave vigilante came to national prominence when he rounded up and killed five pro-slavery men) ought to touch on some meaningful points. Will it play fast and loose with history? Definitely. Will it capture Brown’s radical, pissed, abolitionist spirit as it documents the events leading up to the Civil War? Almost certainly. —Jacob Oller


Soulmates

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Network: AMC
Premiere Date: October 5
Status: New Series

What if the technology existed to find your perfect soulmate? No more bad dates. No more bad marriages. No more dating apps. But what if you were already happily married? Would you want to find out your spouse isn’t your soulmate? What if you are single and tried to find out who your soulmate is, but didn’t have a match yet; how long do you wait? What if you meet someone on the way to meet your soulmate? This six-part anthology series, set in the year 2035, explores the issues that arise when technology gives us what we think we want. Each episode delves deep into what happens when people take “the test.” (Oh to live in a year where “the test” refers to romance and not Covid-19). Sarah Snook, Kingsley Ben-Adir, David Costabile, Sonya Cassidy, Bill Skarsgard, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, and Betsy Brandt are among the guest stars.—Amy Amatangelo


Star Trek: Discovery

Network: CBS All Access (Seasons 1-2 will air on CBS this fall)
Premieres: October 15
Status: Returning for Season 3

As CBS All Access’ first major Star Trek original series, Star Trek: Discovery both had a lot to live up to when it first premiered, and a lot of good will to burn. On several fronts, Discovery more than delivered: As we noted when considering it alongside the rest of the streamer’s programming earlier this year, in addition to being the first Star Trek property to feature two women of color (the excellent Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh) in lead roles, it also quickly proved itself a true visual treat. But while Discovery hit just about every casting and aesthetic bar one might have hoped for that first season, it fumbled over and over when it came to the actual storytelling, losing fans (and streaming subscribers, one has to assume) along the way. In introducing both Spock (Ethan Peck) and Captain Pike (Anson Mount III) in Season 2, the series began the hard work of righting Discovery’s ship, but it wasn’t until the season finale’s big, time-leaping twist that it felt safe to actually get excited about where Michael Burnham’s story might be head in the long run. Whether you kept up the slog from the beginning, dropped out mid-Klingon war, or are about to get on the Discovery train for the first time when it hits linear CBS airwaves for the first time this fall, the third season of Star Trek: Discovery is worth looking forward to. —Alexis Gunderson


Marvel’s Helstrom

Network: Hulu
Premieres: October 16
Status: New Series

This has been the first year without a spring or summer Marvel movie since 2009. And while that’s maybe not the worst aspect of 2020, it does have superhero fans itching for a fix. But Marvel’s new horror series Helstrom doesn’t look like it’s for the faint of heart. Tom Austen and Sydney Lemmon star as the Helstrom siblings, children of Victoria Helstrom (played by the confusingly named Elizabeth Marvel), an institutionalized serial killer. Daimon and Ana Helstrom are vigilantes, protecting the world from demons and murderous humans with the secret help of the Vatican. Originally meant to be the first entry in Hulu’s “Spirits of Vengeance” corner of the Marvel universe, along with the since-canceled Ghost Rider, Helstrom will now look to stand on its own. —Josh Jackson


The Undoing

Network: HBO
Premiere Date: October 25
Status: New Series

David E. Kelley and Nicole Kidman, who previously collaborated on Big Little Lies, reunite in this sure to be juicy six-part series. Kidman and Hugh Grant star as successful marriage therapist Grace and compassionate pediatric oncologist Jonathan Fraser. Based on the 2014 novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, the series follows the events that unfold after a violent death creates upheaval in Grace’s life and she is forced to confront dark truths she has avoided. The series has all the ingredients to be just as compelling as Big Little Lies, and be the escapist TV we desperately need right now. Edgar Ramirez, Lily Rabe, and Donald Sutherland also star. —Amy Amatangelo


Deutschland 89

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Network: Sundance TV
Premieres: October 29
Status: Returning for Season 3 (Final Season)

A riveting, colorful Cold War tale, German series Deutschland 83 followed a young East German patrol guard who gets recruited to work undercover in West Germany by his aunt Lenora (Maria Schrader). As Martin / Mortiz, star Jonas Nay is incredibly charming, able to meaningfully convey the constant confusion of being pulled between two Germanys and two systems of government while unsure who is ultimately right. Beautifully shot with some of the tensest, most anxiety-inducing scenes since The Americans, the series’ lead-up to Abel Archer will leave you sweating—nevermind what it does to poor Martin. But he returns, stronger and less naive, in the sequel Deutschland 86, which moves the story to where the East German state is providing weapons to the apartheid government of South Africa. More politically complicated and perhaps more action-packed rather than focused on Martin’s personal problems as an undercover agent, 86 expands the story in important ways, while preparing for the final installment of the trilogy, 89 (the fall of the Berlin Wall), very soon. Plus, it has one of TV’s best title sequences, set to Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home).”—Allison Keene


Roadkill

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Network: PBS
Premiere Date: November 1
Status: New Miniseries

Although this is yet another political-minded miniseries airing before an important U.S. presidential election, Roadkill creator David Hare has maintained that his characters are fictional. He told journalists during PBS’s all-virtual press days in July that he wanted to write his story—which follows star Hugh Laurie’s self-made politico who finds it hard to move on after he’s beset with scandal—because “there used to be something called disgrace, and when a politician did something wrong and was caught out doing something wrong, there was usually meant to be calamity; something was meant to follow. And now nothing follows. In the 21st century, getting caught out doing bad things doesn’t have the effect that it used to have.” The miniseries also stars Helen McCrory and Normal People’s Sarah Greene. —Whitney Friedlander


The A Word

Network: Sundance TV
Premieres: November 4
Status: Returning for Season 3

The quietly brilliant A-Word makes a return after three years, hopefully finding more appreciation this time around from U.S. viewers. While Netflix series like Atypical have been eagerly embraced, The A-Word—which focuses on a young autistic boy, Joe (an exceptional Max Vento), and his family living in England’s hauntingly beautiful Lake District—has flown under the radar. Hopefully no longer; the short series (running 6 episodes each season) overflows not only with emotional authenticity, but with a warm, quirky humor that makes the setting of its rainy, windswept-moors feel homey rather than austere. Things are not easy for Joe and his family, and there are bust-ups and breakups along the way. But truth is at the core of what The A-Word seeks to uncover as it examines each of its rich characters’ lives, and the new season is sure to be no different. —Allison Keene


The Crown

Network: Netflix
Premieres: November 11
Status: Returning for Season 4

Netflix’s lavish historical series has been great from the start, but as it moves closer to present day it only continues to gather momentum and excitement for what it will bring. The new season holds on to actors introduced in Season 3 (Olivia Colman as the Queen, Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip) and adds a few more (Gillian Anderson as Thatcher, Emma Corrin as Diana). The best thing about the series—incredible acting and costuming aside—might be how each episode almost stands alone as a unique lens into an important moment in modern British history. Not beholden to typical narrative constraints, The Crown plays with form in ways that allow it to create exceptional small stories within each hour that focus on various and often disparate royal family members. And yet, it holds together not only under its prodigious emotional weight, but also the steady march of time, which changes its cast and characters but never its strict adherence to the supremacy of the crown itself. —Allison Keene


Supernatural’s Series Finale

Network: The CW
Premieres: November 19

There are shows that have been on the air longer than Supernatural, but rarely do fans talk about any of them with the same sense of immortality as do fans of the CW’s spooky fraternal standard bearer. (“It will outlive us all” is something I literally said in closing my list of milestone Supernatural episodes on the occasion of the series’ 300th in 2019.) Part of this is due, of course, to the fact that when the series ended the five-season run it had originally planned with the actual Apocalypse, the CW said “Cool! Let’s do more!!” Part of it is due to the fact that there isn’t a character on Supernatural who hasn’t died and been resurrected at least once. (At this point, the Winchester brothers have enough frequent flyer miles to buy out all of Hell, should Rowena ever see fit to step down from her hard-won throne.) In any case, while it is true that every series on air this spring found its run cut short by the pandemic, the fact that one of them was Supernatural, which had officially announced its last season as its last season when its pick-up was announced, and thus was about to kick off its final stretch of God-battling episodes ever, felt like a kind of celestial joke. Like, maybe Supernatural really MIGHT outlive us all?? The Winchesters have beaten worse odds! But no, Supernatural really is coming to an end—and in a nod of respect from the network that’s kept it going as so many other Teen TV dynasties have risen and fallen around it, the CW has made it the sole original series that will air any new episodes this fall. To be honest, I won’t be convinced it’s actually over until the final scene of the final episode cuts to black, but whatever happens between now and then, I’m sure It’s going to be epic. —Alexis Gunderson


Animaniacs

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Network: Hulu
Premiere Date: November 20
Status: Reboot

The Animaniacs have been off of TV for far too long. Cartoons shouldn’t always have its young audience thinking “Who the hell is Steven Spielberg,” but damn it, Animaniacs could do that inside of three other jokes. The original voices of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot reunite for one of animated TV’s dumbest/smartest comedies, giving nostalgia and utter strangeness in equal measure. The new Looney Tunes and Muppets have walked the tightrope so far of finding success, so why not the show that gave us Pinky and the Brain and the Goodfeathers?—Jacob Oller


For All Mankind

Network: Apple TV+
Premieres: TBD
Status: Returning for Season 2

It was obvious that Apple TV+ planned for its alternate history Space Race series For All Mankind to be big when it helped launch the streamer late last fall, but I think it’s safe to say that no one—at least, on our side of the screen—expected it to be as emotionally rich and historically granular as it ended up being—nor how brazen, in terms of how willing it showed itself to be in burning through both narrative arcs and good old fashioned time. That we’d see the United States make enormous (and often inadvisably risky) moves in response to the Soviet Union landing on the moon was obvious; that the series would speed us through so many of those moves that its narrative would reach the 1980s by the end of the finale was decidedly not. That the excited anxiety we feel over seeing where a militarized Season 2 takes things is informed by the experience of watching Season 1 leap past conventions of all kinds should make the not-knowing easier to bear, but honestly, it really doesn’t. We can’t wait. —Alexis Gunderson



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