In mid-May, just two months or so into the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, we launched our summer TV preview with more than a little concern that we might, at some point in the not-too-distant future, run out of television. Now, as we turn our attention to fall — boy, time flies in a crisis — it increasingly seems as though those fears were misplaced.
With film and TV production (haltingly) starting to resume, under health and safety measures designed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, we’re still a long way off from the fire hydrant of content we’ve become used to in the years of “peak TV.” But a combination of quarantine productions, foreign imports and unscripted and animated series, along with the streamers’ and cable networks’ long production pipeline, means that there’s plenty in the hopper to hold you over as the days get shorter and the weather cools off.
Intrepid viewers all, the TV team here at The Times decided to use our fall TV preview to help you narrow things down. Here are the 15 TV shows we’ll be watching this fall — and that you should be watching too.
From “This Is Us” to “The Bachelorette,” COVID-19 is reshaping the fall TV schedule — and hastening the end of a TV calendar that dates back decades.
In a time when headlines are dominated by COVID-19 death counts, essential worker exhaustion and critical shortages of personal protective equipment, you may not have the capacity for yet another hospital drama. But “Transplant” puts a twist on the venerable TV genre, starring Hamza Haq as a doctor who fled war-torn Syria and is working to rebuild his career in emergency medicine in a new country. Earlier this year, the 13-episode season became the most-watched Canadian original series and earned critical praise for tackling topics such as the refugee crisis and problematic power structures in the medical field. Even my boyfriend — a nurse who has been treating COVID-19 patients for the past six months, and usually doesn’t watch any hospital-set shows — wants to check this one out. (NBC, Sept. 1) —Ashley Lee
The superhero series continues to rip the mask off the billion-dollar genre when it returns with a second season of sharp social commentary tucked inside a dark, irreverent comedy about the perils of hero worship. Developed by Eric Kripke and based on the comic book by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, the series follows a team of vigilantes lead by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban). They’re determined to expose the crimes of America’s beloved superhero squad, the Seven, and destroy the corporation that promotes and profits from their masked malfeasance. Season 2 continues the keen satire, tackling everything from corporate greed to cancel culture with new themes and characters that feel made for this moment. (Amazon Prime Video, Sept. 4) —Lorraine Ali
This comedy series that interrogates race and identity seems particularly timely as America continues to reckon with systemic racism and we pay close attention to whose creative voices get elevated and why. Among the themes the show is poised to explore is the difference between a Black artist and an artist who happens to be Black. How does a person navigate art and politics when their identity has been politicized? Created by Marshall Todd and Keith Knight, “Woke” is about a Black cartoonist on the cusp of a new career milestone. But a run-in with the police leaves him shaken and unable to escape new voices that challenge his ideas and approach to life. (Hulu, Sept. 9) —Tracy Brown
“We Are Who We Are”
Director Luca Guadagnino, the sensualist behind “I Am Love,” “A Bigger Splash” and “Call Me by Your Name,” shows off yet another side of his native Italy in his first TV series, the HBO/Sky Atlantic coproduction “We Are Who We Are.” Starring Jack Dylan Grazer and Jordan Kristene Seamón as U.S. Army brats coming of age on an overseas base, the drama shares a sensibility with much of Guadagnino’s prior work — it’s queer, it’s nostalgic, it’s as suffused with romance as an Italian summer — this time refracted through a structure (dual perspectives), a genre (the teen melodrama) and a political moment (the months preceding the election of 2016) that take the filmmaker’s work in bold new directions. Swoon. (HBO, Sept. 14) —Matt Brennan
The Emmy Awards
Normally the Primetime Emmys would not make my list, but we’re so far from normal at this point that anything goes. TV’s biggest night — i.e., the Television Academy’s annual awards gala celebrating its voters’ top picks — will go virtual for the first time, which means rethinking the entire show from the red carpet to the acceptance speeches. Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, it’s sure to be full of awkward moments, major flubs and myriad mistakes, which means it’ll probably be the best awards telecast we’ve seen in ages. The Oscars, Emmys and Grammys have been losing viewers for years, so the forced change could actually prove to be a blessing. Or not. Either way, it’ll be one more new twist on an old tradition, courtesy of the pandemic. (ABC, Sept. 20) —Lorraine Ali
“A Wilderness of Error”
Decades before accused murderers O.J. Simpson, Robert Durst and Adnan Syed captivated the public, there was Jeffrey MacDonald, a Green Beret who was convicted for the murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters in 1970 and blamed the crime on a gang of drug-crazed hippies. The notorious case has already inspired a TV miniseries and two well-known books, Joe McGinniss’ bestseller “Fatal Vision” and Janet Malcolm’s provocative study of journalistic ethics, “The Journalist and the Murderer.” The five-part docuseries “Wilderness of Error,” which is based on the book by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, is likely to revive interest in one of true crime’s foundational stories. (FX, Sept. 25) —Meredith Blake
It seems like forever since the last season of FX’s quirky anthology series “Fargo,” although it’s only been three years. But judging from the storyline and the star power of lead Chris Rock, the fourth edition will be worth the wait. Rock takes a dramatic turn as the head of a crime family who faces off against a competing syndicate in 1950s Kansas City. “Fargo” was scheduled to premiere last April, but production shut down due to the pandemic. The new season is scheduled to premiere Sept. 27 with two episodes directed by creator Noah Hawley. (FX, Sept. 27) —Greg Braxton
With profound change comes possibility: As we enter the 2020 fall season, TV has not only the opportunity, but the need, to do so. Here are some ways it might.
The Presidential Debates
Of all the upcoming viewing options this fall, the debates between President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden will carry the most significance to our daily lives. Debates already have a reputation for being television spectacles, but with the pandemic complicating some of the usual hallmarks of a presidential campaign, there is extra importance in these upcoming face-offs — which will be unlike any other — as a guide for undecided voters or rallying point for those who’ve already cast their lot. The first presidential debate is scheduled to take place Sept. 29, with two more slated for October. (various, Sept. 29) —Yvonne Villarreal
Horror and fantasy allows us to examine our humanity — and inhumanity — in particularly poignant ways, and recent films and TV shows such as “Get Out” and “Lovecraft Country” have set a high bar. This anthology series, based on Nathan Ballingrud’s collection of short stories, “North American Lake Monsters,” boasts an impressive cast and promises encounters with “mermaids, fallen angels and other strange beasts.” Ballingrud’s work has been noted for being dark, fraught and challenging, so it will be interesting to see how that is adapted for TV. (Hulu, Oct. 2) —Tracy Brown
“The Right Stuff”
This account of America’s first astronauts, first popularized in Tom Wolfe’s bestselling book and dramatized in Philip Kaufman’s 1983 film featuring an all-star cast, will be revisited in a new series from National Geographic. The eight-episode project will air on Disney+ and launch with a two-episode debut Oct. 9. Unlike the film, the cast of astronauts here is composed of relative unknowns: Patrick J. Adams (“Suits”) plays Major John Glenn, while Jake McDorman (“Limitless”) plays Commander Alan Shepard. Leonardo DiCaprio joins showrunner Mark Lafferty (“Castle Rock”) and others as an executive producer on the series. (Disney+, Oct. 9) —Greg Braxton
Back when Hugh Laurie (“House”) was avoiding engagement to Honoria Glossop and doing disastrous favors for Gussie Fink-Nottle opposite Stephen Fry in “Jeeves & Wooster,” one would not have predicted for him a future playing antiheroes and villains. In this story of post-shame politics from playwright and screenwriter David Hare (“Collateral”), Laurie, as far as I can make out from the press release, plays a compromised conservative British politician coming under public scrutiny and not caring a jot. It probably has to do with Boris Johnson, but no one is going to stop you from bringing that metaphor closer to home. With Helen “Narcissa Malfoy” McCrory as the prime minister. (PBS, Nov. 1) —Robert Lloyd
The last time we caught up with the Windsors — 1,000 years ago, in 2019 — Prince Charles was falling hard for Camilla and Queen Elizabeth was grappling with middle age. When “The Crown” returns for its fourth season on Nov. 15, the lavish drama will dive headlong into the scandal-plagued Diana years. Based on the recent teaser trailer, the series has evidently spared no expense in re-creating the Princess of Wales’ ginormous wedding dress (or her iconic feathered bob). “The Crown” has thrived when dramatizing less familiar moments in the lives of the royals; it will be fascinating to see how creator Peter Morgan navigates this more recent, exhaustively chronicled chapter of British history. (Netflix, Nov. 15) —Meredith Blake
“Emily in Paris”
With the number of times I’ve written about “Younger,” it’s no secret that I’m a champion of the glossy romantic comedy. So of course I’ve been counting down to the debut of “Emily in Paris,” the latest series from Darren Star (“Sex and the City,” “Younger”) and his frequent collaborator, costume designer Patricia Field (also of “Ugly Betty” and “The Devil Wears Prada”). The underrated Lily Collins, also a series producer, plays Emily, who moves to the City of Light for a new job. These 10 episodes were shot on location throughout France — and probably through a metaphorical rose-colored lens. But right now, a highly compartmentalized half-hour of hijinks in heels is the escapist entertainment I crave. (Netflix, TBA) —Ashley Lee
There will be fancier sci-fi shows and starrier super-casts, but on paper this sitcom created by and starring three great weirdos of modern comedy looks to be just my bag of cats. Even if it turns out to be awful by conventional standards of art and taste, there’s no way it won’t be interesting, and likely great. Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker and John C. Reilly play would-be astronauts living in a lunar simulator in the Arizona desert and hoping to qualify to go to the moon. Fourth cocreator Jonathan Krisel (“Portlandia,” “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”) directs. A pre-COVID production, but isolation is conveniently a theme we’re living through. (Showtime, TBA) —Robert Lloyd
Selena: The Series
After nearly two years of waiting — and waiting! — Netflix’s series about Selena Quintanilla will finally make its debut this fall. Billed as a coming-of-age story, the series stars “The Walking Dead’s” Christian Serratos as the late Mexican American singer and will chronicle her rise to becoming the queen of Tejano music. It arrives 23 years after the release of the Oscar-nominated biographical film, which launched the acting career of Jennifer Lopez. The Quintanilla family, who have always been protective of the singer’s name and image, are on board as executive producers, so it’ll be interesting to see how much more revelatory the series will be than the classic biopic. But there’s little doubt the soundtrack will have viewers Bidi Bidi Bom Bom-ing a lot in quarantine. (Netflix, TBA) —Yvonne Villarreal