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New to view - 20 of 2020's early TV offerings

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Remember when the fall television lineups were all that mattered?

It wasn't so long ago that that autumn offerings were the be-all and end-all of new TV. Shows that made their debuts in January were considered little more than filler, with the term “midseason replacement” taking on a derogatory tone.

However, as the ways in which we consume television have changed, so too have our attitudes regarding when shows join their respective lineups. Instead of an afterthought, this second season has become a viable entity in its own right, with loads of interesting programming arriving on your screens of choice.

Broadcast networks, premium and basic cable outlets, streaming services - everybody has something for the viewer looking for something new to consume this winter. If nothing else, it seems likely that all tastes - highbrow, lowbrow and everything in-between - will be addressed.

Have a look at some of the intriguing options coming your way.

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Streaming

Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access - Jan. 23)

Oh, hell yes. While the performance of “Star Trek” properties has been … uneven … in recent years, it’s tough to articulate just how eagerly this newest entry into the franchise is being anticipated. They’re bringing the greatest captain in “Star Trek” history (don’t @ me, Kirk stans) back to the small screen, and the indications we’ve seen so far are very positive. The fact that Patrick Stewart is bringing the grand old man of the Enterprise back to TV (BTW – has he aged? Like at all? It’s weird, right?) is undeniably exciting. It looks like more than a few of Stewart’s “TNG” co-stars will be back as well, with appearances from Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes and more. One word – engage.

Ragnarok (Netflix – Jan. 31)

This Scandanavian series offers a more grounded take on the superhero genre. It revolves around a small Norwegian village called Edda, a place where drastic weather shifts seem to indicate that the world-ending event known in Norse mythology as Ragnarok might not be so mythical after all. Particularly when you realize that a new-to-town young man named Magne might be far more than he seems. Might in fact be … a god. So yes, these aren’t technically superheroes (although more than a few prominent figures in the MCU spring from Norse legend), but the skeleton is the same. Consider me intrigued by the potential of this one.

Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet (Apple TV+ - Feb. 7)

“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is one of those shows that I’ve never really watched, despite the passionate following it has inspired from many, including people whose opinions I trust. But while that show is still going strong, co-creators Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day, along with “Sunny” cohort Megan Ganz, are launching this new effort. McElhenny stars as the egotistical creative director of a team putting together the first major expansion of the titular MMORPG. It’s got a stacked cast, including Danny Pudi and the legendary F. Murray Abraham. I’d guess we’re getting a look at video game development through the cracked “Sunny” lens … and that sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.

Locke & Key (Netflix - Feb. 7)

Better late than never, right? This series – based on the comic book series of the same name written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez – has been in and out of development since its initial publication over a decade ago. After passing through a number of hands, we’re finally here: the folks at Netflix are bringing to life this weird, wild tale of demon-fighting siblings. It certainly seems to be in good hands, with “Lost” veteran Carlton Cuse steering the ship. “Locke & Key” is one of the most beloved comic offerings we’ve see in recent years; expect its unique brand of supernatural esoterica and familial dysfunction to resonate with streaming audiences.

High Fidelity (Hulu - Feb. 14)

Full disclosure: I love both the 2000 John Cusack-starring film “High Fidelity” and the 1995 Nick Hornby novel on which it was based. This iteration brings something new to the table – the lead has been gender-swapped, with Zoe Kravitz playing the lovelorn record store owner. But there’s also a delightful connection to the film – Kravitz’s mom is Lisa Bonet, who played a fleeting love interest for Cusack’s character in the movie. I can’t imagine there will be a lot of wheel reinvention here, but that’s OK. Sometimes, you can just take a charismatic and talented performer – which Kravitz absolutely is – and let them shine. It might not be groundbreaking, but I bet it’ll be fun.

Hunters (Amazon Prime Video - Feb. 21)

Let me get this straight: Jordan Peele is executive producing a show about a team of people hunting down Nazis hiding out in America in the late 1970s? Oh, I’m in. Wait, and now you’re going to tell me that it stars Al Freaking Pacino? I was already in, yet somehow I’m now even more in. And this isn’t finding Nazis and turning them over to the authorities. This is straight-up tracking, capturing and killing Nazis. I love everything that I’ve heard about this show (which admittedly isn’t much, but still). Sometimes, the pieces just come together for a show. While I probably won’t watch every show on this list – who has the time? – you best believe I’ll be all over this one.

Devs (Hulu - March 5)

I’ve seen a couple of early trailers for this one and it looks delightfully weird. The particulars are vague – basically, we have a computer engineer investigating behind the scenes of a quantum computing company called Amaya run by a mysterious genius. There’s not much more to go on so far. That said, it’s got some trippy visuals, potentially dense plotting and – perhaps most importantly – Nick Offerman in the role of the aforementioned mysterious genius, which, come on. Also, the series creator is Alex Garland, whose filmed version of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel “Annihilation” was awesome and criminally underrated. This one looks to be cool to look at, unapologetically strange and thought-provoking as hell.

Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu - March 18)

This one is based on Celeste Ng’s 2017 novel of the same name, an acclaimed story of suburban bigotry and malaise that invited the small-screen treatment from the moment it hit shelves. And with quality source material comes quality talent. Reese Witherspoon’s production company has shepherded the project forward, while Witherspoon herself stars as a suburban mother coming apart at the seams beneath a façade of perfection (sound familiar?) alongside the always-excellent Kerry Washington as an artist who comes to town and upsets the status quo in a variety of ways. Joshua Jackson and Rosemary DeWitt are among the many co-stars. All in all, this has the makings of some prime prestige TV.

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Broadcast & Cable

The Outsider (HBO - Jan. 12)

The last few years have seen a constant (and welcome) stream of Stephen King content coming our way – and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. HBO’s “The Outsider” – based on the 2018 novel of the same name – is the latest installment, and it promises to be a good one. Ben Mendelsohn stars as a cop determined to take down a child murderer. Only the thing is, while all the evidence points to one guy (played by Jason Bateman), there’s ALSO proof that he couldn’t possibly have done it. What follows is a crime thriller with supernatural elements – practically a proprietary blend for King – that promises to be one of the more unsettling offerings of early 2020.

Avenue 5 (HBO - Jan. 19)

Trying to figure out how to fill the “Veep”-shaped hole in your life? Well, show co-creator Armando Iannuci is back with another satire – this one set in a sci-fi future. It takes place on a luxury space cruiser – the “Avenue 5” of the title – and features the crew and passengers dealing with the issues both large and small that come with such an undertaking. Hugh Laurie plays the captain of the spaceliner, with Josh Gad co-starring as the uber-wealthy owner of the ship. One imagines that it will have the same sort of whip-smart and delightfully profane dialogue between leaders and those who are led that made “Veep” such an enjoyable viewing experience.

Awkwafina is Nora from Queens (Comedy Central - Jan. 22)

If I’m a Comedy Central executive, I am pretty pleased with myself right now. Under ordinary circumstances, this show – based on Awkwafina’s real life growing up in Queens – would have been a weird, funny show with a small but devoted following. It may still be that, but with Awkwafina stealing scenes in “Crazy Rich Asians” and putting herself into Oscar contention with a Best Actress win at the Golden Globes thanks to her acclaimed performance in “The Farewell,” it could wind up being much more. Regardless, with Bowen Yang and B.D. Wong among the many talents joining the cast, this will almost certainly be good – and might be a certifiable hit.

Outmatched (Fox - Jan. 23)

There’s a bit of a dearth of new sitcoms this time around – there are only a couple featured in this year’s preview – so the pickings are a little slim. This one has a concept that feels a little flimsy – basically, you’ve got a normal middle-class couple (played by Jason Biggs and Maggie Lawson) doing their best to raise four kids. The kicker is that three of those kids are certified high-IQ geniuses. I can’t say for certain, but I’m guessing that some hijinks will probably ensue? Focusing on precocious kids can make for excellent comedy, but it can also lead to derivative and/or formulaic narrative laziness. Not to be a jerk, but I have a hunch this one is more the latter than the former.

Lego Masters (Fox - Feb. 5)

As a rule, I don’t tend to include reality competition shows in these previews, choosing instead to focus on scripted fare. However, I’m making an exception for this one, because Lego. The show features Will Arnett as host – an apt choice considering his multiple turns as Lego Batman – and a host of talented Lego builders. Based on the British show of the same name, the series will follow the assorted artists through a number of Lego-related challenges, with the whole thing culminating in a finale where the top teams will compete for cash and the title of Lego Master. I don’t expect that it will deviate much from the usual reality competition formula, but anyone with a love for Lego will doubtless have fun.

Indebted (NBC - Feb. 6)

Sitcoms – particularly midseason addition network sitcoms – are very much a hit or miss proposition. So take this look at “Indebted” with a grain of salt, but it does look like it might have some potential legs. The premise – a man and his wife, having just emptied the house of their kids, are forced to take in his broke parents – is a bit trite and potentially formulaic, but the cast is dynamite, with Adam Pally and Abby Elliott as the couple and Fran Drescher and Steven Weber as his parents. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but with sitcom royalty like Drescher and Weber on board, their chances of success are certainly better than most.

Tommy (CBS - Feb. 6)

If I were to describe to you a TV series titled “Tommy” in which Edie Falco played the first female commissioner of the LAPD and sported the titular nickname, then asked you which network you thought would air it, how quickly would you say CBS? That isn’t to say that the show will be bad – having a heavyweight like Falco carrying the load can cover up a lot of sins – but it is very much of a piece with the network’s usual fare. I’ll put it this way – series creator Paul Attanasio’s last series developed was “Bull.” I’m guessing that tells you everything you need to know – for good or ill – with regards to this new show. But hey – maybe it’ll surprise us!

For Life (ABC - Feb. 11)

It just wouldn’t be a TV preview if there wasn’t at least one legal drama in here, right? This time around, “For Life” fits the bill. The show stars Nicholas Pinnock as a man serving life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. While incarcerated, he earns his law degree and becomes a defense attorney, striving to prevent what happened to him from happening to anyone else. To be honest, it sounds overwrought and a little soapy, but for most viewers of this kind of show, those qualities are features, not bugs. Also of note: Curtis Jackson – better known as 50 Cent – is an executive producer on the show. This one could last six episodes or six seasons and neither would surprise me.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (NBC - Feb. 16)

There’s a chance you’ve already watched the pilot for this one – it aired on January 7. But it lands in earnest starting on February 16. The show stars Jane Levy as a young woman working for a San Francisco tech company who, thanks to an earthquake during an MRI, can now hear the thoughts of those around her. The twist? Those thoughts take the form of popular songs. It’s got a nice cast – Skyler Astin, Lauren Graham, Peter Gallagher, Mary Steenburgen – but one wonders if the show will have any staying power. Sure, it’s a nice hook, but will “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” have enough beyond that to warrant being put on repeat? We’ll have to wait and see.

The Good Lord Bird (Showtime - Feb. 19)

This one promises to be the heaviest of the shows in this year’s preview. It’s based on James McBride’s 2013 National Book Award-winning novel of the same name, telling the tale of a young slave living in the South in the years leading up to the Civil War. While fictional, it features real-life historical figures such as the abolitionist John Brown (played by Ethan Hawke), Frederick Douglass (Daveed Diggs) and J.E.B. Stuart (Wyatt Russell). It’s not the usual fare for Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions – best known for their small-budget horror offerings – so it will be interesting to see how this project ultimately comes together.

Dispatches from Elsewhere (AMC - March 1)

If I’m honest, I’m not at all sure how to feel about this one. But the basic premise of this anthology series – a group of regular people who begin playing an alternative reality game, only to find the puzzles they solve drawing them ever-deeper into a rabbit hole that has them questioning everything they know about the world around them – certainly intrigues. Jason Segal is the star, series creator and executive producer; he also directed the pilot. A couple of pretty good actors by the name of Sally Field and Richard E. Grant are involved as well. There’s a good chance that this turns out to be a bit of an incomprehensible mess, but if it works, it could be great.

The Plot Against America (HBO - March 16)

“The Plot Against America” was one of the best works from the latter part of the late novelist Philip Roth’s literary career. An alternate history in which Hitler-sympathizing aviator Charles Lindbergh runs for and is elected President, turning the country toward fascism along the way, it’s the sort of book that cries out for the limited-series treatment; HBO is happy to oblige. And they are not screwing around – the adaptation is coming from co-creators David Simon and Ed Burns (perhaps you’ve heard of them) and will star Winona Ryder, John Turturro and Zoe Kazan, among others. This show promises to be powerful and challenging television – not to mention particularly timely.

Last modified on Wednesday, 15 January 2020 08:50

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