This summer TV fans witnessed an apotheosis of the lowly couch potato. All by itself, Stranger Things swept television watching into a pop aesthetic heaven that movies haven’t achieved since Spielberg and Lucas were good — a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Nobody predicted it. The show’s potent combo of suspense, nostalgia, and emotional connection had everybody talking about it afterward, creating a new sense of crazy TV possibilities. Who knows what this now-surprising media might pull off this fall? Here are some promising things.
There were meant to be two shows based on that travel-hub Southern city that travel writer Pico Iyer scorned for its “placelessness.” The first (now nixed) was a comedy series produced by Lorne Michaels called Brothers in Atlanta starring Diallo Riddle and Bashir Salahuddin; a pilot was made though the show never followed. That’s probably because of Atlanta, which launched September 6 on FX and is being produced by the prodigiously talented Donald Glover. Glover, best known from Community, was also a writer on 30 Rock, though the kids know him as the rapper Childish Gambino. Those are lavish enough credentials for a show about Atlanta, the city that gave us OutKast, and maybe Iyer will someday change his mind.
On September 9, Quarry comes to Cinemax. Based on super-prolific Max Allan Collins’s (Road to Perdition) murder mystery series, Quarry is about a disillusioned Vietnam War vet named Mac Conway, and New Orleans and Mississippi scenery costar.
On broadcast TV we celebrate the epic accomplishment nobody expected. South Park marked its 20th season on Comedy Central on September 14. The still-audacious cartoon, which puts adult-strength language in the mouths of babes, has survived on a brilliant barrage of smut-peppered dialogue, cut-rate but cool animation, and the sharp edge of its topical humor. Only The Simpsons comes near it for brainy brat pronouncements, and they’re rounding into the stretch of eleventy million seasons on Fox (actually, their 28th).
NBC offers a potentially bizarre combo with The Good Place, starring the unlikeliest duo of the season (after Barbra Streisand and Jamie Foxx): Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. Bell (known to Veronica Mars lovers) and Danson play dead in this show about the Pearly Gates. Through a celestial bureaucratic error, Bell’s gone to heaven, which turns out to be stuffy surroundings. It premieres September 19.
Back for its third season of revolutionizing television representations of gender and sad love is Transparent. Are more remarkable plot swerves possible? Find out September 23 on Amazon Video. Also, Transparent writer Noah Harpster, a UCSB theater grad, costars in an overdue Tig Notaro starring vehicle, One Mississippi, due in November also on Amazon.
Spinning off from the remarkable Marvel series Jessica Jones comes Luke Cage, about a bulletproof bartender (the best kind) continuing the gritty superhero genre Krysten Ritter’s Jones created with a combination of noir antiheroes, comic-book melodrama, and a surprisingly deep investigation of free will.
But it is Woody Allen who helms the most anticipated TV offering this year. Amazon’s Crisis in Six Scenes teams Allen with the likes of Miley Cyrus and Elaine May in a show that explores a volatile time in American history. (Maybe that time when Cyrus decided to leap from teen dream to soft-core pop porn star?) It’s hard to imagine arch-cineaste Allen doing television, but it’s also further recognition of the new power the small screen has gained. It premieres September 30.
And on October 2, we finally get to see what all the fuss was about the future. HBO’s Westworld has been years in the making, based on a very mediocre 1973 Michael Crichton sci-fi horror film, but the combined talent employed in making the remake is astounding, including Christopher Nolan’s brainy brother and writing partner Jonathan collaborating with J.J. Abrams on a lavish, epic look at artificial intelligence. It stars Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, and Evan Rachel Wood, just for starters.
And finally, everybody say, “Auwhhh!” Gilmore Girls is coming back November 25. One of the best-written of the old-school shows — by Amy Sherman-Palladino, no relation — the new show is a four-part “movie,” and where she leads, we couch potatoes will follow.