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New to view! Previewing fall 2021’s series premieres

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Fall TV season is upon us!

Granted, the whole concept of the “new fall lineup” has increasingly become less of a thing with the proliferation of streaming services willing to drop entire seasons in one go and networks becoming more and more flexible with regards to when a series can and should debut, but whether it is by design or simply through inertia, we still see a whole lot of premieres hit the airwaves in the autumn.

And yes, I know that we’re still in mid-August, but the truth is that the “fall” schedule keeps getting pushed in this direction. Besides, this will give you a chance to prepare for the deluge of new material that’s coming your way.

It’s already started - the past couple of weeks have seen top-notch offerings like Disney+’s “What If…?” and FX’s “Reservation Dogs” and STARZ’s “Heels” hit screens. Heck, you can even see our review of Hulu’s “Nine Perfect Strangers” – which dropped Aug. 18 – right here.

As per usual, this preview addresses only those shows entering their debut seasons. This isn’t about all the exceptional television that is returning for a second or third or fifth or tenth season – this is about stuff we haven’t seen before. It’s a chance to look ahead at what’s coming and think about what content – if any – we might be willing to invest our limited leisure time into.

It’s a mixed bag for sure. We’ve got broadcast and we’ve got streaming and on and on we go. We’ve got comedy and drama. We’ve got prestige fare and we’ve got mass appeal. We’ve got highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow – all the brows you could ever desire.

Will all of these shows be good? Absolutely not. Should you watch them all? Also – no. And this is far from everything. But if there’s even one or two gems among the flotsam, that’s a big win. And honestly, it looks like there might be a couple of winners here.

Or maybe it’s all just poorly-conceived adequately-executed entertainment detritus. Who can say? And bear in mind – this is just a selection of what’s coming, a baker’s dozen of premieres heading your way over the next couple of months. There’s plenty more out there and even more to come, so get ready for the deluge.

Let’s have a look at a few of 2021’s fall TV premieres.

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The Chair (Netflix; Aug. 20)

As someone with a lot of friends in academia, I’m very much looking forward to this one. Starring Sandra Oh and created by Amanda Peet and Annie Wyman, “The Chair” tells the story of a Korean-American woman ascending to the chair of the English department at the fictional Pembroke College – and all the hurdles (expected and otherwise) that she’s forced to clear simply because of who she is, all while navigating the fundamental lunacy of departmental politics. It’s got a great cast – shout out to Jay Duplass – and looks like it has real potential. Anyone who has ever struggled their way through a staff meeting is likely to find something relatable within the confines of this six-episode dramedy.

Only Murders in the Building (Hulu; Aug. 31)

This is one of those shows where just the people involved make you want to watch it. This show is co-created by Steve Martin, Dan Fogelman and John Hoffman, with a cast led by Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez – I don’t even need the premise, I’m in. And then the premise lands – three strangers and true crime obsessives stumble on a murder in their apartment building and take it upon themselves to solve it (and making a podcast while they do it). As the kids say, shut up and take my money. It’s such a wonderful and weird combination of elements that promises a lot of laughs, even as the mystery gradually develops. With a pedigree like this, “Only Murders in the Building” has real promise.

Y: The Last Man (FX on Hulu; Sept. 13)

Look, I’m not ready to actually believe that this is happening. Until I’m sitting down and watching it unfold on my screen, I can’t commit to the idea that, yes, this show is finally happening. “Y: The Last Man” – based on the Vertigo Comics series of the same name – is (allegedly) coming, after years in development hell. Ben Schnetzer stars as the titular last man; his Yorick Brown is the only cisgender man to survive an apocalyptic event, leaving him to navigate a world of women – some of whom mean to do him harm. I’m trying very hard to keep my expectations in check, but the comic is so interesting – and the current climate is so ripe for this adaptation – that it’s hard. Legitimately stoked.

The Premise (FX on Hulu; Sept. 16)

Anthology shows tend to have pretty high variance – the nature of the format means that you can’t rely on familiarity with characters and settings, so you have to bring it every time. Still, this one seems promising – B.J. Novak is the creator and has apparently had a hand in pretty much every aspect of this first season. It’s intended to tell stories of “the times we live in” – think “Black Mirror,” only now instead of in the near-future (and probably funnier since Novak is involved). And there’s an absolutely killer list of actors on the cast list as well. Expect some up-and-down to this one – no anthology series bats 1.000 – but there’s a good chance this one has some legs.

Ordinary Joe (NBC; Sept. 20)

I’ll confess that I’m usually a sucker for any kind of riff on the “Sliding Doors” theme – the notion that a single decision or event can cause a divergence in one’s life. We’ve seen efforts along those lines to varying degrees of success, but now it’s NBC throwing its hat into the ring. Basically, we have Joe – played by James Wolk – making a decision at his college graduation, one that completely alters his life’s path. From there, we follow along on three parallel timelines as we see the ramifications – both good and bad – spiraling outward from that decision. I’ll give it a shot, because I dig the concept, but it won’t take long for viewers to figure out if these timelines are worth their time.

The Big Leap (Fox; Sept. 20)

All right, so here’s the thing – I have no idea how this show is even going to work. My understanding is that this scripted series – based on a British reality show – is about an American reality show involving aspiring dancers. Got it? Said reality show invites aspiring and/or former dancers to try out for what will eventually build to a production of the ballet “Swan Lake.” While I don’t anticipate that this show is going to be all that good – the commercials aren’t doing it any favors, that’s for sure – it could wind up offering some campy fun. If they embrace the ludicrous premise, we might have something here. If they treat it all too seriously, well … we’ll see. Break a leg, I guess?

The Wonder Years (ABC; Sept. 22)

I’ve never been one who was afraid to surrender to my nostalgic impulses, so it’s no wonder that I’m looking forward to this show, a sort of nostalgia-ception event. As someone who loved the original “The Wonder Years” – a series that was itself an exercise in nostalgia – I’m primed to dig into this one. Set during the same ‘60s time period as the original, the show will follow a young Black kid – played by E.J. Williams – growing up in Alabama. Dule Hill and Saycon Sengbloh will play his parents, while Don Cheadle will handle the narration duties a la Daniel Stern. It’ll be interesting to see how this effort translates, but my guess is that this show may well appeal to viewers both old and new.

Foundation (Apple TV+; Sept. 24)

It’s going to be a big fall for massive adaptations of beloved sci-fi properties. There are those who would argue that Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series of books make up the best work of the author’s extremely prolific career (note: I’m one of those people). And fans of the books have been waiting for years to get a screen adaptation of the series, a millennium-spanning epic about the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire and the scientist Hari Seldon, whose discoveries were a fundamental part of both the ascent and descent. Jared Harris stars as Seldon. Whether this show can live up to the hype remains to be seen – Apple has been hit or miss with its original offerings – but I for one can’t wait to find out for myself.

La Brea (NBC; Sept. 28)

As someone who watched a lot of Olympics coverage on NBC, I am now very familiar with one of the ads for this upcoming sci-fi drama. The concept is bonkers – a giant sinkhole opens up in the middle of Los Angeles and a bunch of people and buildings fall into it. Only instead of landing at the bottom of a hole, they wind up in a mysterious primeval land – I’m anticipating a whole lot of Hollow Earth nonsense, with dinosaurs and Atlantis and junk. If I’m frank, it looks like a misfire; NBC has had mixed results pursuing this brand of genre programming in recent years. Still, they seem to have a lot invested in its success, so I imagine it will get every opportunity to find an audience.

Ghosts (CBS; Oct. 7)

Full disclosure: I hadn’t even heard of this show before I started researching this story. It’s remarkable, really, because this kind of weird, high-concept sitcom is right up my alley. A remake of a British show, “Ghosts” follows Samantha and Jay, a young couple that decides to convert a recently-inherited estate into a bed-and-breakfast. There’s just one problem – the place is full of ghosts. Specifically, the spirits of previous residents that only Samantha can see and hear. It’s a great premise, but we’ll have to see if it succumbs to the general Lorre-fication that tends to hit sitcoms on the network. It all sounds rather ridiculous, but hey – I liked “Jennifer Slept Here,” so let’s go.

Chucky (SyFy/USA; Oct. 12)

I … I don’t even know what to say about this. It remains fascinating to me that a low-budget, high-concept killer doll slasher flick from the late ‘80s has these kinds of legs. But for those concerned with diminishing returns – which should be all of us, by the way – it looks like this is a genuinely good-faith effort to make something happen. A ton of franchise veterans are involved, including Jennifer Tilly and longtime Chucky voice actor Brad Dourif. Will it be good? It seems highly unlikely, but who can say for certain? We might be in the realm of an idea so crazy that it just might work. It probably won’t, but it might. Fans of the franchise or horror TV in general should probably check this out, I guess.

I Know What You Did Last Summer (Amazon Prime Video; Oct. 15)

Speaking of perhaps-poorly-conceived television reimaginings of less-than-stellar horror movie properties, the folks at Amazon are apparently trotting out “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Now, to be fair, it seems as though the powers that be are taking great pains to clarify that this series is adapted from the 1973 Lois Duncan book rather than the 1997 film which was itself (very) loosely based on that novel. You know the drill – group of teenagers haunted by the events of a fateful night find themselves bound together by a terrible secret and stalked by a killer as they slowly uncover the dark side of their idyllic town. Standard stuff, really. We’ll see, but I don’t have high hopes.

Queens (ABC; Oct. 20)

This show revolves around the reunion of an all-female musical group. No, it’s not “Girls5eva” – it’s “Queens,” the story of how ‘90s hip-hop icons the Nasty Bitches – you heard me – come back together after two decades apart. Honestly, all I had to see was the list of the quartet’s stage names – Xplicit Lyrics, Da Thrill, Professor Sex and Butter Pecan – to know that this was something that I was at least going to check out. Expect some laughs, but word is that the show is going to venture in some more serious directions as well. One wonders how the concept will jibe with the realities of broadcast television, but at the very least, I think “Queens” deserves a shot.

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 August 2021 11:59

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