|The fall television season has been an annual rite since viewers were splitting their time between the trio of networks on their black-and-white TVs.|
Nowadays, watching TV isn’t even limited to TV screens, while dozens of channels are spewing out new series for the modern pampered audience.
Although the major broadcast networks still make the most noise when it comes to promoting their new wares, savvy viewers may find the best new shows often blossom far afield of mainstream outlets, as cable channels and streaming services prove more and more conclusively they’re where the action is.
For instance, Amazon Prime will host a six-part series starring as well as directed and written by Woody Allen beginning Sept 30. Although “Crisis in Six Scenes” isn’t yet available for preview, one thing is for sure: The first-ever TV series from this master filmmaker will be a signal moment not only for him, but also for the network that snagged him and for viewers on the lookout for groundbreaking content.
And there’s plenty more ahead. Viewers who take the broad view this fall across the video landscape will find a host of delights such as these dozen new arrivals:
* “Atlanta,” FX; Sept 6. Starring and created by Donald Glover, who’s also one of its writers, this remarkably gritty yet heartwarming comedy focuses on two cousins as they try to break into the Atlanta rap scene with many a stumble in both their professional and personal lives. Everything about this show rings true, sometimes painfully so: “I just keep losing. I mean, some people just supposed to lose … just to make it easier for the winners?” Good question. But hope springs eternal, along with well-earned laughs, on this winning new series.
* “Queen Sugar,” OWN; Sept 6. If it were only a robust melodrama, that would be enough. Its African-American ensemble and perspective make this family saga instantly appealing. But along with an intoxicating tale of the at-odds Bordelon clan and their at-risk cane farm in the Deep South, “Queen Sugar” does something any series should be proud to accomplish: It puts forth a varied group of individuals ranging from rich to poor and from reckless to righteous, minus the stereotyping. This series is executive-produced by Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay, director of the Oscar-nominated “Selma.” A breath of fresh air, it’s a series that could bring viewers to OWN who have never come before.
* “Fleabag,” Amazon; Sept 16. Fleabag (this gal’s nickname) is a klutz, a kook and a self-perpetuating outcast. On the loose in London, she’s a cringingly hilarious mess you can relate to, even while seized by an urge to look away. Not that she isn’t pretty and, one supposes, bright. And yet: “I have a horrible feeling that I am a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist,” she blurts out to her arm’s-length dad, to which he replies, “You get all that from your mother.” In the tradition of “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, “Girls” and even TV-Larry-David’s trouble-seeking compulsions, it’s a virtuoso performance by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who not only stars but also created the series, which premiered on BBC Three in July.
* “The Good Place,” NBC; Sept 19. Clerical errors can happen anywhere, even in the Hereafter. On this comedy, a paperwork glitch leads to a not-so-good young woman being mistakenly dispatched to the exclusive Good Place, where only the most virtuous are meant to gain entry. Kristen Bell plays the misappointed Eleanor, who, through wiles if not through personal improvement, means to hang onto her Good Place posting — and to keep the mistake hidden from her Good Place overseer (Ted Danson). It’s a refreshingly loopy, ultimately goodhearted romp, occasionally punctuated with surreal flights of fancy (Eleanor’s invasive presence in the Good Place has wildly disruptive effects). It’s a good place to settle for half-hours of fun.
* “The Exorcist,” Fox; Sept 23. To judge from the pilot, at least, this is no pro-forma remake. No, it appears to truly be its own thing while recapturing the (evil) spirit of the chilling 1973 film. The less said beyond that, the better, other than to note that the impressive cast includes Ben Daniels and Geena Davis — and to promise a twist that, all by itself, will make the pilot episode worth checking out. Here’s hoping the same creative spirit haunts this show in episodes to come.
* “Westworld,” HBO; Oct. 2. This two-pronged odyssey is simultaneously set in an imagined sci-fi future and the reimagined Old West past in the form of an epic theme park where lifelike robots indulge every appetite of its paying guests. What measure of depravity does this unleash in the humans who visit? And what measure of upheaval will be triggered when the robots go haywire? A huge ensemble includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright. The series’ visuals — both its western splendor and its futuristic labs — is spellbinding. The potential sprawl of its mythology seems limitless. In short, this is a candidate to be HBO’s next “Game of Thrones.”
* “Divorce,” HBO; Oct 9. Sarah Jessica Parker has passed beyond “Sex and the City” to a next-stage comedy that takes her out of New York City and up to the ‘burbs for a role that could prove as totemic as single-girl Carrie. This time, she plays a mother and a wife (to co-star Thomas Haden Church) who’s having an affair and wants out of her marriage, explaining, “I want to save my life while I still care about it.” But there’s no simple escape for her or anyone else among the series’ crumbling collection of marrieds, and this show about modern life and suburban mores is a shrewd reminder why. Funny and well-observed, “Divorce” is a comedy that could have viewers saying “I do.”
* “Insecure,” HBO; Oct 9. What’s it like to be a modern young black woman who can function in a mostly white world (and the totally white workplace of a social-service agency) but savors sisterhood with her favorite gal pal? This charming comedy was created by and stars Issa Rae (creator of the YouTube web series “Awkward Black Girl”) as an insecure L.A. girl on the make and Yvonne Orji as her seemingly has-it-all-together chum.
* “Falling Water,” USA; Oct 13. This dreamy drama tells of three people who realize their dreams each compose part of a universal dream, with a powerful cumulative story to tell. Tess is a professional trend spotter who knows, without quite knowing how, what the next thing will be that catches on with the public. Taka is an NYPD detective whose job is finding clues to solve human puzzles. Burton is the fixer at an investment banking firm who’s tasked with halting sinister human impulses. What does this add up to? A mesmerizing wakeup call. (AP)
* “Goliath,” Amazon; Oct 14. Billy Bob Thornton is irresistible as Billy McBride, a washed-up, gin-soaked former maestro of the courtroom who, now an ambulance chaser, has no way to go but up. Pulling him out of his funk is a wrongful death lawsuit he files against an all-important client of Cooperman & McBride, the titanic Los Angeles law firm he helped found. This deadly battle pits him against former partner Donald Cooperman, a fearsome adversary you might see as his Goliath. It’s hard to tell from the two episodes previewed where this saga, co-created by David E. Kelley (“Boston Legal”), could lead, but Thornton’s “David” is ripe for redemption and worth rooting for.
— “Berlin Station,” Epix; Oct 16. Could any series be more timely? A whistleblower has gained fame and notoriety for leaking secrets from the CIA’s Berlin office. CIA Officer Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage, “Hannibal”) arrives in Berlin on a clandestine mission to identify and stop this obscure scoundrel. The mood is tense and somber. The look is brooding. This thriller boasts an international collection of flawed or broken characters played by a global cast including Michelle Forbes and Richard Jenkins. In sum: Think John le Carre meets “True Detective.”
* “People of Earth,” TBS; Oct 31. As loopy as this comedy is, it comes from a real place: There really ARE support groups for (self-declared) alien abductees. The show centers on a journalist visiting a small town to write about such a support group and the alien encounters its members allege. His initial skepticism then gives way to unsettling suspicions that he, too, has been spirited away. He is forced to claim his spot among this group of misfits — and, even more unnerving, to acknowledge the possibility of alien life. Wyatt Cenac stars as the journalist going through a major head trip as he learns to be more tolerant of others, however alien they may seem. (AP)
By Frazier Moore