What should you watch, read and listen to this fall? Here’s your ultimate guide

The 2021 fall preview issue
(Photos by Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times; Typography by Sarah J. Coleman)
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WE’VE LEARNED, as we head into our second pandemic autumn, to approach the future gingerly — with anticipation, but also the knowledge that our hopes might be dashed by a last-minute cancellation amid surging infection rates. That uneasy feeling? Of course there’s a meme for that.

Yet the season ahead is less a battle between our fall plans and the Delta variant, and more a moment of transformation.

Last year, there was barely a fall season to celebrate. We had our computer screens and televisions to keep us connected, as well as books for unplugged interludes of escape, but all around us were shuttered movie theaters, empty opera stages, abandoned festival grounds and museums filled with art no one could see.

This year is different. COVID-19 may still be with us, but it’s culture that’s surging. Artists and actors, musicians and game designers, playwrights and moviemakers, authors, TV writers and composers are all fighting back with their own culture variants. Our reporters and critics have come up with more than 30 ways of looking at the fall season with creator and performer interviews plus recommendations for more than 160 movies, TV shows, video games, music events, books and Southern California cultural happenings, along with notes on virtually every movie — nearly 200! — coming to theaters or streaming in the coming weeks. Read on ....

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"Impeachment" star Sarah Paulson poses in a floral dress
Sarah Paulson connected deeply with Linda Tripp for “Impeachment”: “Every person I’ll ever play from now on will have a touch of Linda because she’s just in my bones, for better or for worse.”
(Photo by Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times; Typography by Sarah J. Coleman)

TRANSFORMATION is at the heart of some of the coming season’s most intriguing film and TV performances, from Jessica Chastain’s mascara-fueled turn in Searchlight Pictures’ “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” to Sarah Paulson’s manifestation of Linda Tripp, the former White House secretary who exposed the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair, for the FX series “Impeachment: American Crime Story.” We’re also watching the evolution of “badass women,” animated family sitcoms and Lee Daniels’ expanding empire.

The 15 TV shows we’re most excited to watch this fall

6 new true-crime docs to watch

Why Sarah Paulson has regrets about playing Linda Tripp in ‘Impeachment’

‘Badass women’ reshaped the culture. Now, it’s time to move on

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Some white execs may find his work ‘too Black.’ But Lee Daniels’ empire is expanding

‘The Simpsons’ set the bar. But it’s not the only cartoon to revolutionize the sitcom

Beyond “Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy” and new “Life Is Strange,” “Metroid” and “WarioWare” games are the stylistic “Deathloop,” the de-stressing fantasy “Lake” and more.

Awkwafina stars in "Shang-Chi," set for Sept. 3 release, and Kumail Nanjiani is in "The Eternals," opening wide Nov. 5.
Awkwafina stars in “Shang-Chi,” releasing Sept. 3, and Kumail Nanjiani will be seen in “The Eternals,” opening wide Nov. 5. They are just two of the new faces coming this fall to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
(Photo by Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times; Typography by Sarah J. Coleman)

STUDIOS ARE at last releasing many of the movies we’ve been waiting for, even as we’ve become accustomed to new titles arriving simultaneously at our local cineplex and home screens. Among the most anticipated are two new movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — “Eternals” directed by Oscar winner Chloé Zhao and the Destin Daniel Cretton-directed “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” — with a fresh, diverse cast of superheroes to root for. Many of us are eager to revisit the world of “The Sopranos” with new actors playing some of our favorite characters — including James Gandolfini’s son Michael Gandolfini as young Tony — in “The Many Saints of Newark,” and to find out whether director Denis Villeneuve has cracked the code on Frank Herbert’s famously difficult-to-adapt sci-fi novel “Dune.”

Virtually every movie coming to theaters or streaming this fall

‘Shang Chi’s’ Awkwafina and ‘Eternals’’ Kumail Nanjiani trade notes on their MCU debuts

How the ‘Sopranos’ prequel reimagines some of your favorite characters — and introduces new ones

‘Dune’ was long considered ‘unadaptable.’ The screenwriters explain how they tackled the sci-fi classic

Why televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker was the hardest role of Jessica Chastain’s career

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The key movies to look out for at this year’s fall film festivals, according to our awards expert

Lashana Lynch redefines what it means to be 007 in ‘No Time to Die’

A peek at Diana Rigg’s final screen role in Edgar Wright’s ‘Last Night in Soho’

Coi Leray poses in a pink hoodie
Coi Leray transforms online hate into star power: “If I did what everyone else did, I would get swept under the rug.” Her new album arrives this fall.
(Photo by Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times; Typography by Sarah J. Coleman)

YES, COVID-19 precautions have forced some high-profile tour cancellations — stay virus-free, Steve Nicks! But after a year without live music, we are seeing huge stars return to concert arenas and music festival stages, including the Rolling Stones (sadly, without late drummer Charlie Watts), Harry Styles, TLC, Phoebe Bridgers, Kamasi Washington, YG, George Clinton and, after far too long, Kendrick Lamar. Even if you’d rather not take the risk of a live concert, there are many exciting albums and other music media to consume at home.

The 25 concerts, festivals, albums and music docs we’re most excited for this fall

Coi Leray keeps stirring up outrage. She wouldn’t have it any other way

Sting has ‘no truck’ with his rock peers who oppose vaccines: ‘I’m old enough to remember polio’

Rising reggaeton star Jhay Cortez: ‘Follow the rules and you’ll just sound like everyone else’

On a hit podcast, a music insider explores the ‘underwritten history’ of Black women in pop

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Remi Wolf’s ‘very L.A.’ debut: Gen Z dance-rap that shouts out to Anthony Kiedis

From Saweetie to the Linda Lindas, this fall’s must-see music fest could be Head in the Clouds

Layton Williams in "Everybody’s Talking About Jamie"
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” the West End musical about a teenage, aspiring drag queen starring Layton Williams, will make its North American premiere at the Ahmanson this fall.
(Photo by Johan Persson. Typography by Sarah J. Coleman)

PLAYS AND MUSICALS are once more being staged, though often at limited audience capacities, and sometimes with a virtual component. For many theater companies and other cultural institutions, it’s a make-or-break season and they’re going all out with with a packed calendar of stage shows, art exhibits, concerts and operas, including one that requires up to 20 tons of sand to pull off.

11 essential L.A. art exhibitions this fall, from Obama portraits to smog art

12 classical music makers to watch this fall in a topsy-turvy SoCal season

The live stage is back. Here are 11 SoCal shows on our theater critic’s radar

Up to 20 tons of sand will be poured into an L.A. museum for fall’s biggest spectacle

L.A.'s small theaters worry about hanging on

Broadway and West End musicals coming to a SoCal theater near you

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6 museums to enjoy this fall, showcasing ‘Star Trek’ to the Oscars

Author Sally Rooney poses in a long-sleeved gray shirt.
Sally Rooney, author of “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” remains the reigning queen of flat-affect millennial fiction
(Photo by Kalpesh Lathigra; Typography by Sarah J. Coleman)

THE FALL BOOKS lineup looks like a return not just to normalcy but to blockbuster fiction, as well as more varied and nuanced nonfiction.

Why publishers are getting mixed signals lately, after a surprisingly lucrative COVID selling season

The 30 books we’re most anticipating this fall

The 5 biggest nonfiction books of the fall

5 thrillers to look out for