Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

NPR's Fall TV Preview: 19 Shows To Watch Out For

(Clockwise from upper left) Kennedy McMann in <em>Nancy Drew</em>, Forest Whitaker in <em>Godfather of Harlem</em>, Ruby Rose in <em>Batwoman</em>, TJ Atoms in <em>Wu-Tang: An American Saga, </em>Kathy Bates in <em>American Horror Story: 1984</em>, Ben Platt in <em>The Politician.</em>
Robert Falconer/The CW, David Lee/Epix, Kimberley French
The CW, Courtesy of Hulu, Courtesy of FX, Courtesy of Netflix
(Clockwise from upper left) Kennedy McMann in Nancy Drew, Forest Whitaker in Godfather of Harlem, Ruby Rose in Batwoman, TJ Atoms in Wu-Tang: An American Saga, Kathy Bates in American Horror Story: 1984, Ben Platt in The Politician.

It's an old tradition that endures, even amid the year-round deluge of programming brought to us by the age of streaming. It is the fall TV preview.

Turns out fall is the perfect time to refocus on television after a summer filled with vacations and outdoor distractions. So our pop culture team collected the coolest TV shows coming your way over the next few months as a guide through the madness. We haven't seen all of these programs yet, but we've learned enough to know they're worth checking out.

Whether you're excited by an updated Jim Henson classic, the backstory behind a legendary rap group or a continuation of the most beloved graphic novel in comics history, there's something here for you. Here's our list of the most interesting shows coming this fall.

Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix) Friday, Aug. 30

Perhaps the most notable thing about this 10-episode series, a prequel to Jim Henson and Frank Oz's 1982 fantasy film, is what it isn't. It isn't a digitally animated CGI spectacular; it relies instead on practical, painstakingly constructed animatronics and old-school hand-puppetry. (Director Louis Leterrier notes that there will be some green-screen work, but the series aesthetic is definitively one of puppets over pixels.) Artist Brian Froud is once again on the production design, so the Skeksis species, and its scuttling crablike enforcers, will be back to supply a new generation with the same nightmare-fuel mixture that kept their parents and grandparents up. — Glen Weldon

Wu-Tang: An American Saga (Hulu) Wednesday, Sept. 4

This 10-episode limited series unfolds as a taut, suspenseful take on the formation of the legendary rap group Wu-Tang Clan, as the members choose music over a life in competing drug gangs in New York during the 1990s crack epidemic. One reason it's so dramatic: The story is fictionalized for maximum effect. Viewers see The RZA (aka Bobby Diggs, played by Moonlight's Ashton Sanders), inspired by the murder of a friend, gathering compatriots like Method Man, Ol' Dirty Bastard, GZA and Ghostface Killah into a group that stacks beats instead of bodies — revolutionizing the rap world in the process. — Eric Deggans

Rosa Salazar stars in <em>Undone</em>, a rotoscope animation series from two primary creators of <em>BoJack Horseman.</em>
/ Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios
Rosa Salazar stars in Undone, a rotoscope animation series from two primary creators of BoJack Horseman.

Undone (Amazon) Friday, Sept. 13

BoJack Horseman alums Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg have created one of the most ambitious new series on TV, exploring the thin line between mental illness and mysticism in a visually stunning story. Using rotoscope animation, filmed performances by flesh-and-blood actors are traced over and transformed into textured visuals. (Think movies like A Scanner Darkly or Tower.) Rosa Salazar shines as Alma, a depressed, sardonic 20-something who begins seeing visions of her late father (Better Call Saul's Bob Odenkirk) after a near-fatal car accident. Purdy says she based Alma's circumstances on her own struggles with mental illness; her series explores race, culture, gender, family and sanity in a singular way. — Eric Deggans

Country Music (PBS) Sunday, Sept. 15

It's surprising that Ken Burns — a master of the authoritative American documentary — has taken this long to chronicle the rise of country music, after shaking the world with gigantic projects on jazz, baseball and the Vietnam War. But now he's on the case with a 16-hour opus, weaving talks with 80 musicians into a surprisingly emotional and myth-busting look at a core American art form. Sure, you'll see Dolly and Merle and Willie. But you'll also hear about the music's early days in southern Appalachia, its life in the honky-tonks of California and why Nashville became the industry's epicenter. — Eric Deggans

Dolly Parton appears in <em>Country Music,</em> the new PBS documentary series from Dayton Duncan (center) and Ken Burns.
Courtesy of Katy Haas / PBS
Dolly Parton appears in Country Music, the new PBS documentary series from Dayton Duncan (center) and Ken Burns.

American Horror Story: 1984 (FX) Wednesday, Sept. 18

Anthology series are by nature uneven, season to season, and Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story is no exception. Frankly, even individual AHS seasons have a tendency to fly off the rails in their back halves, but for some of us, that's a feature, not a bug. This time out, the setting/genre is 1980s slasher flick, as teen summer campers are terrorized physically by a knife-wielding maniac and aesthetically by headbands and hair volumizer. AHS alums Billie Lourd, Emma Roberts, Cody Fern and John Carroll Lynch will be joined by fresh blood in the form of freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, Glee's Matthew Morrison and Pose's Angelica Ross. This season, camp isn't just the show's sensibility: It's the setting. — Glen Weldon

Between Two Ferns: The Movie (Netflix) Friday, Sept. 20

Not a lot of details have been forthcoming about this feature-length adaptation ofa Web series that features a tetchy, bored Zach Galifianakis interviewing A-list celebrities on a D-list talk show set. But that's fine. The formula is simple, and the reported guests — including Keanu Reeves, Peter Dinklage and David Letterman — are solid. Plus, the film will be written and directed (with Galifianakis) by Scott Aukerman, who co-created the viral Web series. — Glen Weldon

In <em>Mixed-ish</em>, a spinoff of the ABC show <em>Black-ish</em>, the character Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross) narrates her experience growing up in a mixed-race family in the '80s.
Eric McCandless / ABC
In Mixed-ish, a spinoff of the ABC show Black-ish, the character Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross) narrates her experience growing up in a mixed-race family in the '80s.

Mixed-ish (ABC) Tuesday, Sept. 24

Kudos to Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and star Tracee Ellis Ross for finally realizing there is a sitcom's worth of entertainment in the backstory of Ross' character, matriarch Rainbow Johnson. Mixed-ish picks up in the 1980s, when 'Bow was a tween and federal authorities shut down the commune where she, her siblings, her white father and her black mother were living. The result is a sidesplitting fish-out-of-water story narrated by Ross, Wonder Years-style — a look back at her struggle to fit into a mainstream school at a time when biracial children weren't particularly common or understood. — Eric Deggans

Emergence (ABC) Tuesday, Sept. 24

Fargo TV series alum Allison Tolman shines as another plucky police officer; this time, she's Jo Evans, a recently-divorced police chief who shelters a mysterious young girl who survives a plane crash without injury. As a succession of strange types show up trying to grab the kid (who can't remember her past or the accident, of course), I'm more interested in Clancy Brown, who plays Evans' crusty dad, and Scrubs alum Donald Faison, who impresses as her sympathetic ex-husband. Can this ragtag group figure out what's going on before it's too late? — Eric Deggans

In <em>Carol's Second Act</em>, the title character played by Patricia Heaton attempts to become a doctor after raising children and retiring from a job as a teacher. Kyle MacLachlan plays Dr. Stephen Frost.
Sonja Flemming / CBS
In Carol's Second Act, the title character played by Patricia Heaton attempts to become a doctor after raising children and retiring from a job as a teacher. Kyle MacLachlan plays Dr. Stephen Frost.

Carol's Second Act (CBS) Thursday, Sept. 26

Patricia Heaton (The Middle) stars as Carol, a woman who decides to become a doctor after she has raised her kids. Heaton is a sitcom staple, but what will also sell the show to keen-eyed comedy enthusiasts is that it comes from creators Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern, who also made the wonderful short-lived series Trophy Wife and co-wrote the film Booksmart. They're about as good as it gets at writing warm, funny, unusual comedy about women, and seeing them with a show on-air again is a heartening sign. — Linda Holmes

Perfect Harmony (NBC) Thursday, Sept. 26

By now, TV fans are used to seeing West Wing alum Bradley Whitford play smart, self-involved know-it-alls with hearts of gold. But he's still affecting here as Arthur Cochran, a former Princeton University music professor who decides to help a small-town choir pull together more than their vocal harmonies. Think Pitch Perfect meets Mr. Chips, as Cochran impatiently coaches these singers — including Pitch Perfect alum Anna Camp — to better performances onstage and in life. — Eric Deggans

The Politician (Netflix) Friday, Sept. 27

The first series to emerge from superstar executive producer Ryan Murphy's megadeal with Netflix centers on a high school kid who is pathologically focused on getting elected class president — because he sees it as the first step in getting elected president of the United States. Along the way, he joins forces with a sickly kid who may not be what she seems and has a secret affair with a hunky, popular guy — who is running against him for class president. Murphy sets this all in an opulent, upper-middle-class environment that feels less like a typical high schooler's world and more like the setting of a high-end soap opera. — Eric Deggans

Godfather of Harlem (Epix) Sunday, Sept. 29

Forest Whitaker is alternatingly empathetic and super-scary as New York gangster Bumpy Johnson, who was determined to free his operations from domination by the Italian mob after he returned from a stint in prison. This is basically an old-fashioned organized crime story but told from the perspective of black gangsters — with the added appeal of Vincent D'Onofrio as Italian boss Vincent Gigante and Nigel Thatch's spot-on performance as Malcolm X. — Eric Deggans

Watchmen (HBO) October TBA

The latest from Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost and The Leftovers, is a visually stunning show based on the legendary 1986-87 comic books about borderline psychotics in superhero garb, Watchmen. (This show isn't related to the 2009 movie adaptation, which had a different ending.) HBO's show picks up in an alternate 2019; liberal President Robert Redford has been in office since the 1990s, prompting a group of white supremacists to target police in Tulsa, Okla., in the same wayblack people were victimized in 1921. To troll earnest liberalism in today's Trumpian times, while also continuing one of the most beloved stories in comics history, is a serious gamble. But if anyone can carve out a new story while confusing culture warriors and avoiding the ire of fanboys (and girls), my money's on Lindelof. — Eric Deggans

Batwoman (The CW) Sunday, Oct. 6

With Arrow wrapping up with a brief eighth and final season this fall, a dark and broody space will open up in The CW's superhero schedule. Enter: Ruby Rose's Batwoman, who first burst into the network's so-called Arrowverse in a series of crossover episodes in 2018. The premise: Batman has abandoned Gotham, leaving Rose's Kate Kane to protect its people as Batwoman. The fact that Rose identifies as gender fluid, and the character of Kate Kane is a lesbian, seems a significant step forward in making the various Arrowverse Earths look a bit more like our own. — Glen Weldon

Back to Life (Showtime) Sunday, Oct. 6

Got a Fleabag-shaped hole in your heart? Find yourself hankering for a funny/uncomfortable/quietly devastating tale of a woman attempting to get her life together and failing consistently, albeit with verve and elan? In Back to Life, Daisy Haggard plays a middle-aged, middle-class woman who returns to her sleepy English coastal town after 18 years in prison for — well, that's something the series doles out gradually. Her parents put on a brave face, but the local townsfolk aren't the forgive-and-forget types. Haggard sparkles as a woman striving to ensure that her past choices can be put behind her for good, even as she struggles with how much everything she knew has changed. — Glen Weldon

Daisy Haggard stars in and co-wrote the series <em>Back to Life</em>, where she plays an ex-con who moves back in with her parents. Originally shown on the BBC, it's coming to the U.S. via Showtime this fall.
Luke Varley / Showtime
Daisy Haggard stars in and co-wrote the series Back to Life, where she plays an ex-con who moves back in with her parents. Originally shown on the BBC, it's coming to the U.S. via Showtime this fall.

Nancy Drew (The CW) Wednesday, Oct. 9

The network that brought back the Archie comics as the moody, soapy teen drama Riverdale does the most logical thing imaginable, turning next to that most famous literary girl detective, Nancy Drew. Creator Josh Schwartz has a long pedigree in angsty teen TV, going all the way back to his creation of The O.C. in 2003. And in Nancy Drew, he has an iconic character who solves mysteries and whose streak of independence and sharp mind have always been part of her appeal. It's a natural fit for TV — you could say she was Veronica Mars before Veronica Mars was. — Linda Holmes

Modern Love (Amazon) Friday, Oct. 18

This anthology adaptation of The New York Times column that often inspires both swooning sighs and exasperated ones boasts an enormously impressive cast: Anne Hathaway, Cristin Milioti, Brandon Victor Dixon, John Slattery, Tina Fey, Dev Patel ... it's a stacked show on-screen. It's got a solid pedigree off-screen, too: It's led by John Carney, who made Once and Sing Street, both of which are fine examples of translating joy and love to film without shutting out melancholy. Almost all anthology series are uneven, but that means they almost always have high points worth seeking out. — Linda Holmes

Sid & Judy (Showtime) Friday, Oct. 18

The biopic Judy, which stars Renée Zellweger as legendary performer Judy Garland, hits theaters three weeks before this documentary airs on Showtime. But where the Zellweger film focuses on the last year of the singer's life, Stephen Kijak's documentary examines Garland's turbulent relationship with her third husband, Sid Luft, who helped engineer the comeback that led to A Star Is Born. — Glen Weldon

Slow Burn (Epix) Sunday, Nov. 24

Slate's Slow Burn is by no means the first podcast to get turned into a television series, and it won't be the last. But this six-episode TV adaptation ofan eight-episode podcast series will document something specific that we tend to collectively forget about historical events: namely, how haltingly, slowly and frustratingly they play out. This season will tackle the Watergate scandal, which stretched on for two years, only very, very gradually building up enough momentum to topple a president. The best parts of the podcast series focused on colorful if too-little-remembered figures like Martha Mitchell and Sam Ervin; here's hoping there's room to squeeze them in. — Glen Weldon

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.