Fall TV 2020: Relatively thin schedule nonetheless offers some shows worth going bananas for (Commentary)


he pandemic has wreaked havoc with fall TV scheduling (it’s hard to tell one socially distanced, masked story, let alone fill a slate with them), and also revealed that (no surprise) cable and streaming were better prepared with content in their pipelines than the networks. But while 2020 serves up the thinnest lineup in modern TV history, it’s not a total wash. Here are my thoughts on 13 notable fall premieres, along with a “Go Bananas” Level (on a 10-point scale) of how excited I am for the series. All times Eastern:

“Raised by Wolves” (Sept. 3, HBO Max) – HBO Max is hyping up the fact that Ridley Scott is one of the producers. Aaron Guzikowski (“Prisoners” writer) is actually the showrunner of this series, which could almost be a continuation of “Westworld” further in the future. It touches on religion (belief in the unprovable) and bigotry (the unnaturalness of androids) from all angles, spreading the blame around. But the trailer suggests there might be room for the brand of humor and wonder Scott still brings in films such as “The Martian” and the last two “Aliens” pictures. Go Bananas Level: 6

“Away” (Sept. 4, Netflix) – Netflix emphasizes that this comes from the creator of “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood” (Jason Katims), and I also notice that Edward Zwick is among the producers, but the showrunner is Andrew Hinderaker, in his first lead gig. As Hilary Swank’s Emma Green leaves her family behind for a Mars mission, the trailer focuses much more on family than the mission. It got me thinking about how much I miss NatGeo’s “Mars,” which got pretty great in its second season. “Away” turns the Red Planet into a supporting player, and if the wonder is gone before humanity even goes to Mars, there might be too many Mars shows. GBL: 3

“The Boys” Season 2 (Sept. 4, Amazon Prime) – This marks the thinnest season of superhero shows since the genre’s boom period began, but if we’re gonna have only a few of them, thank god “The Boys” is one. The way it portrays street-level good guys taking on the corrupt high-profile superheroes – weaving through layers of moral ambiguity – makes it the ideal superhero show for 2020. GBL: 8

“Woke” (Sept. 9, Hulu) – From Marshall Todd (“Barbershop” writer) and newcomer Keith Knight, “Woke’s” trailer suggests the series could be anywhere from terrible to masterful. Lamorne Morris might be underrated because he played the milquetoast on “New Girl,” but I liked his turn in “Bloodshot” and he’ll be a strong lead here. This is also Rose McIver’s first series since “iZombie.” Cartoonist Keef’s superpower/curse of having inanimate objects speak to him reminds me that I’m due for a “Wonderfalls” rewatch, but even though Keef “keeps it light” in his comic strips, the objects remind him the world is a racist place in the wake of his beating by cops searching for a black suspect. “Woke” will attempt to walk the almost impossible tightrope of politics and humor, and I wish it well. GBL: 5

“The Third Day” (9 p.m. Sept. 14, HBO) – It’s hard to tell what “The Third Day” is about, but in this case that’s not a bad thing. The trailer for British TV veteran Dennis Kelly’s miniseries shows us an island off the U.K. coast accessible only by a road barely above the water that floods over in the rainy season. Jude Law is a depressed man and Naomie Harris (Moneypenny in the Craig “Bonds”) a desperate woman who come to the beautiful yet haunting island. Katherine Waterston is one of the villagers who I suspect might have “Wicker Man”/ “Midsommar” types of tricks up their sleeves. GBL: 7

“Departure” (Sept. 17, Peacock) – It’s truly remarkable that a network can pitch yet another “plane goes missing, then a passenger mysteriously reappears” series with a straight face. So kudos for that, and for having Archie Panjabi and Kevin Spa—I mean Christopher Plummer – in the cast. But let’s just say “Departure” is not enough of a reason to figure out how to watch Peacock. GBL: 1

“Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous” (Sept. 18, Netflix) – Remember when taking kids to see “Jurassic Park” was controversial? Well, we’ve definitely moved beyond that, as the “JP” movies have become less and less scary through the years. And here’s the nadir of the trend: the animated “Camp Cretaceous.” It’ll be perfect for parents whose kids are in their dinosaur phase, but it’s hard to see how a pseudo-scary repeat of the “dinos on the loose” tale will hook the rest of us. GBL: 3

“Fargo” Season 4 (10 p.m. Sept. 27, FX) – We’ve waited three years (about twice as long as usual) for a new season of Noah Hawley’s outstanding crime series – one of Cold Bananas’ top 20 of last decade – and there’s no reason to doubt it’ll be worth the wait. Season 4 takes us back to 1950s Kansas City and Chris Rock joins the pantheon of “Fargo” stars following the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Kirsten Dunst and Ewan McGregor. I don’t need to watch the trailer to know where my GBL is on this one. GBL: 10

“Emily in Paris” (Oct. 2, Netflix) – Lily Collins, daughter of Phil, will be easy to root for as the title character, an American who lands a marketing job in France. The trailer is a little thin, but on the other hand, it’s shot in picturesque Paris, and we could use a light and fluffy TV series right now. And there’s no arguing with the pedigree of Darren Star (“Miss Match”), even if I’m skeptical about the episode-by-episode staying power of this premise. GBL: 5

“neXt” (9 p.m. Oct. 6, Fox) – Manny Coto, the writer of several episodes of “24,” tries to wring suspense out of the emergence of sentient artificial intelligence in what could almost be a “rise of Skynet” prequel to “The Terminator.” The problem is that our fear of what an A.I. could do with technology pales in comparison to what we’ve already seen human politicians do with technology. In 2020, it’s hard for writers of fiction to come up with something grimmer than reality, and maybe they shouldn’t try. On the plus side, this isn’t a continuation of the Nicolas Cage film of the same name. GBL: 3

“The Haunting of Bly Manor” (Oct. 9, Netflix) – You know, I’m not even gonna watch the trailer. I want to go into this fresh. “The Haunting of Hill House” was my No. 2 TV show of 2018 – featuring all those creepy ghosts in shadows, plus a jump scare to end all jump scares. Oh, and also a generations-spanning mystery and top-shelf actors. “Bly Manor” is the followup from Mike Flanagan, who again draws from classic literature – in this case Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.” GBL: 10

“The Right Stuff” (Oct. 9, Disney Plus) – This miniseries version of Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book (which was already made into a lauded 1983 film) about the first astronauts will probably most appeal to someone who is new to space docudramas. All the admittedly unavoidable tropes are present – centered on these men’s drive to go to space while their ready-for-a-close-up wives watch their missions on TV (while also being televised themselves). The cast is a solid collection of “Oh yeah, that guy” character actors, so the focus will stay on the story, but it’s a little too familiar for my taste. GBL: 5

“Helstrom” (Oct. 16, Hulu) – This one has franchise appeal because it’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But former “Lost” writer Paul Zbyszewski’s series looks nothing like any other MCU show, as it chronicles siblings who hunt bad people, helped by their own genes as the offspring of a serial killer. However, it does look like other shows in general, with too much dire mood and not enough intrigue – although that might be the trailer’s fault. At any rate, I’ll aim to catch up on older MCU shows before I get to this one. GBL: 3

What fall TV shows are you most looking forward to? Click here for the schedule of fall TV premieres.