Fall TV returns (sort of) with a Utopia, a Jurassic World spin-off, and The Comey Rule

Jude Law in The Third Day (Photo: Ludovic Robert/HBO), Sarah Paulson in Ratched (Photo: Saaed Adyani/Netflix), Abubakar Salim in Raised By Wolves (Photo: Coco Van Oppens/HBO Max), Lamorne Morris in Woke (Photo: Joe Lederer/Hulu)
Jude Law in The Third Day (Photo: Ludovic Robert/HBO), Sarah Paulson in Ratched (Photo: Saaed Adyani/Netflix), Abubakar Salim in Raised By Wolves (Photo: Coco Van Oppens/HBO Max), Lamorne Morris in Woke (Photo: Joe Lederer/Hulu)
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Despite all the assurances we’ve seen from networks, the fall TV schedule looks decidedly different from that of years past—particularly the more recent, “Peak TV is just getting started” years. Thanks to the production shutdowns, even the midseason dates look awfully optimistic (though, again, it’s better safe than sorry). But this month, cable, broadcast, and streaming outlets have banded together to fill in some of the programming voids with several promising series and a few Canadian transplants. It’s not exactly a Utopia, but September’s TV premieres still offer some hard science fiction courtesy of Ridley Scott, an eerie limited series starring Jude law, a dreamy new drama from Luca Guadagnino, a Jurassic World spin-off, and the Trump-Comey story that, as it turns out, couldn’t wait until after the election.

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Transplant (NBC): Premieres September 1

Transplant (NBC): Premieres September 1

NBC’s going back to programming basics with medical drama Transplant. This Canadian series—itself a transplant, when we think about it—stars Hamza Haq as Dr. Bashir Hamed, a Syrian trauma surgeon who travels to Canada after losing most of his family in the war. Visa policies being what they are, Bash is unable to obtain a position at the hospital run by Dr. Bishop (John Hannah), so he begins to work at a restaurant to support what’s left of his family. One fateful night, Bash saves the lives of several diners, including Dr. Bishop, and it’s not long before he finds himself donning a stethoscope once more. There are shades of The Good Doctor and ER in Transplant, whose lead character seems as unconcerned with medical malpractice suits as one Gregory House. The show otherwise looks to be a standard aspirational story; Bash is even told by his boss that “In this hospital, you need to be better than everyone else.” (What marginalized person hasn’t heard that before?) But with Haq’s warm performance at the center of these routine arcs, this Transplant’s chances of acceptance look good. [Danette Chavez]

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Raised By Wolves (HBO Max): Premieres September 3

Raised By Wolves (HBO Max): Premieres September 3

If you’re going to do visually ambitious sci-fi, get Ridley Scott. The director returns to helm his first episodes of a TV series since he got his start in the industry back in the 1960s (and his first for American TV); if the trailer is anything to go by, the world he’s created (Scott directed the first two installments) for Raised By Wolves is striking, indeed. Creator and showrunner Aaron Guzikowski (who previously led the uneven but intriguing Sundance series The Red Road) follows a pair of androids attempting to raise humans on a mysterious planet. Along with the obvious philosophical questions posed by such a premise, there looks to be plenty of signature Scott action and horror—besides alien creatures, it seems some other beings are interested in taking these kids. Unfortunately, we won’t know who the good guys and the bad guys really are until we get a look at this 10-part season, but it seems safe to say that, regardless of its eventual quality, Raised By Wolves delivers on the spectacle. [Alex McLevy]

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Away (Netflix): Premieres September 4

Away (Netflix): Premieres September 4

Producer Jason Katims is known for TV ensemble dramas like Friday Night Lights and Parenthood: This time he loads a disparate international group of astronauts on a mission to Mars, led by Emma Green (Hilary Swank), a steadfast American who leaves devoted husband Matt (Josh Charles) and teenage daughter Alexis (Talitha Eliana Bateman) back on Earth. The space shots seem surprisingly realistic, even for a Netflix series. In its way, Away appears to recraft the workplace drama to the nth degree with its atypical setting: Many working parents have guilt, even without having to be millions of miles away from their families. Career conflicts are common, but what if your office is a claustrophobic tin can floating in space? Katims being Katims, though, Away’s ultimate question seems clear: Is making history worth leaving your family behind for three whole years, out of reach? The 10-episode series has the possibility to be a tired war between ambition and sentimentality—but two-time Oscar winner Swank may just have the tenacity to pull that off. [Gwen Ihnat]

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Power Book II: Ghost (Starz): Premieres September 6

Power Book II: Ghost (Starz): Premieres September 6

“Like father, like son,” goes the saying, and the line of succession in this Starz franchise. Power Book II: Ghost centers on Tariq St. Patrick (Michael Rainey Jr.), who after shooting his father, James (Omari Hardwick), in the Power series finale, seems poised to mold Ghost’s empire in his own image. But that’s not the life Tariq dreams of for himself—not at the outset of this spin-off, anyway. The enterprising teen is just trying to keep his family together after his father’s death and his mother Tasha’s (Naturi Naughton) arrest, but the only way to do that seems to be by retracing his father’s footsteps. This battle for Tariq’s soul is waged in the latest hour-long series from Power creator Courtney A. Kemp. The cast includes Mary J. Blige (as Monet, who could just as easily be Tariq’s mentor as his competition), Method Man, and Paige Hurd. Viewers can expect the same twisty drama of Power—and maybe even a few returning characters. [Danette Chavez]

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Woke (Hulu): Premieres September 9

Woke (Hulu): Premieres September 9

Keef Knight (New Girl’s Lamorne Morris) is a popular Californian cartoonist who is on the cusp of mainstream success when he experiences a particularly violent, racist run-in with the police. Previously insistent on staying out of discussions concerning race, Keef’s trauma has him seeing his environment through a new lens—one that features anthropomorphic trash cans and taunting, cartoon liquor bottles. Inspired by the real life of series creator Keith Knight, Woke filters familiar racial trauma through surreal imagery as it follows Keef’s “awakening.” In an age that touts the inclusions of HBO’s Lovecraft Country and Netflix’s sci-fi film See You Yesterday, Hulu’s first big foray into the Black American experience hopes to enter the ranks of creative, thought-provoking works with something that is both timely and innovative. [Shannon Miller]

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Julie And The Phantoms (Netflix): Premieres September 10

Julie And The Phantoms (Netflix): Premieres September 10

Kenny Ortega is most famous for directing the High School Musical and Descendants movies, and choreographing everything from Dirty Dancing to Newsies. The new Netflix series Julie And The Phantoms, directed and produced by Ortega and based on a Brazilian TV series, seems like an ideal outing for his talents. Julie (Madison Reyes), who is still mourning her recently deceased mom, is transformed by the surprising appearance of three cute teen ghosts who encourage her to join their band. (Somehow, the ghosts can be seen while performing—best not to question the logic.) Embracing her musical side helps shy Julie come out of her shell, and the attention of her cute, although unfortunately dead, guitarist (Charlie Gillespie) doesn’t hurt. All of this musical excitement naturally explodes into a plethora of brightly costumed dance numbers—an Ortega signature that signifies that even in a teen world touched by death, there’s (almost) nothing the perfect song can’t cure. [Gwen Ihnat]

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Coastal Elites (HBO): Premieres September 12

Coastal Elites (HBO): Premieres September 12

This could either go right or painfully, horribly wrong. A comedy shot entirely (and remotely) under quarantine by frequent HBO filmmaker Jay Roach (Recount, All The Way), Coastal Elites takes a close look at five people living in Los Angeles and New York as they bare their souls straight to camera about dealing with life and politics during the COVID-19 pandemic. Played by Bette Midler, Issa Rae, Dan Levy, Sarah Paulson, and Kaitlyn Dever, these titular folks pour out assessments of the right-wing Trump supporters who disgust them so, and it’s unclear to what degree the cringe-worthiness is intentional. The film is described as a satire, so it’s probable we’re meant to laugh at, not with, these people; still, while writer Paul Rudnick’s plays tend to have an incisive, Wildean wit, his screenplays have mostly been of the big, broad variety (Addams Family Values, In & Out)—not exactly the stuff of razor-sharp character study. We’ll see which direction this one goes in, but apart from some good one-liners delivered by Levy and Paulson, the trailer isn’t tipping its hand as to whether this will be fresh or a fiasco. [Alex McLevy]

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The Third Day (HBO): Premieres September 14

The Third Day (HBO): Premieres September 14

The Wicker Man vibe has been strong in the promos for The Third Day, a new series from Felix Barrett and Dennis Kelly. This six-part HBO miniseries looks to be split into two stories: the arc titled “Winter,” which centers on Sam (Jude Law), a man who seeks refuge on a reclusive isle, and the “Summer” story, which follows Naomie Harris’ Helen, who’s come to the same idyllic, out-of-the-way spot looking for answers. It’s safe to say they both get more than they bargained for in the process; the townspeople, including Mr. Martin (Paddy Considine) and Mrs. Martin (Emily Watson), seem both solicitous and creepy. Along with Jess (Katherine Waterston), they’re driven to preserve their way of life, which may or may not include pagan rituals—though the guy running around in a burlap sack for a mask is more reminiscent of early Jason Voorhees. Midsommar proved that horrible things could happen in broad daylight; The Third Day looks equally poised to reveal the dark side of a pastoral paradise. [Danette Chavez]

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We Are Who We Are (HBO): Premieres September 14

We Are Who We Are (HBO): Premieres September 14

After a detour into occult body horror with his Suspiria remake, director Luca Guadagnino returns to the sun-soaked beaches and quaking adolescent infatuation of Call Me By Your Name in We Are Who We Are. Guadagnino wrote and directed all eight episodes of this HBO series, which stars Jack Dylan Grazer and Jordan Kristine Seamón as American teenagers navigating the complexities of first love and family drama while living on a U.S. military base in Veneto, Italy—“a story which could happen anywhere in the world, but in this case, happens in this little slice of America in Italy,” as an official description puts it. While this is Guadagnino’s first major television work, an eight-hour narrative, his style appears to have been translated to the small screen fully intact, based on the gorgeous trailer. [Katie Rife]

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Enslaved (Epix): Premieres September 14

Enslaved (Epix): Premieres September 14

Samuel L. Jackson leads this Epix deep dive into the centuries-long human trafficking ring otherwise known as the “translatlantic slave trade.” The docuseries, which is produced by Ric Esther Bienstock, Sarah Sapper, and Felix Golubev, combines Jackson’s discovery of his ancestral tribe with the investigative work of journalists Simcha Jacobovici and Afua Hirsch, and new scientific efforts to trawl the ocean floor for the ships that transported enslaved people. These three paths intertwine over the course of this six-part docuseries to provide a comprehensive look at a global evil. As Jackson intones in the short teaser for Enslaved, the history of enslaving people is “not something unique to America. It was a worldwide phenomenon”—and it’s more important than ever to understand its long-lasting effects. [Danette Chavez]

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Departure (Peacock): Premieres September 17

Departure (Peacock): Premieres September 17

If you’ve yet to get on board with Manifest, NBC’s other drama about a mysterious vanishing flight, maybe Peacock’s Departure will be more to your liking. This British-Canadian import from Vince Shiao (Killjoys), which was originally intended to air in Europe, stars Archie Panjabi and Christopher Plummer, two actors who can be counted on to bolster whatever show or movie they’re in (Plummer’s not a pinch hitter by accident). When a commercial flight vanishes over the Atlantic Ocean, it’s TSIB investigator Kendra Malley’s (Panjabi) job to find it and the people responsible for its disappearance. She gets a lead on the latter when Madelyn Strong (Rebecca Liddiard), a passenger aboard the plane, is found drifting in the ocean. Conspiracy theories abound as everyone, including Kendra’s mentor Howard Lawson (there’s Plummer!), tries to figure out what caused the plane to crash or disappear or whatever led to there being a sole survivor. Claire Forlani and Star Trek: Discovery’s Shazad Latif co-star in this six-part suspense drama directed by Orphan Black and Longmire alum T.J. Scott. [Danette Chavez]

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Ratched (Netflix): Premieres September 18

Ratched (Netflix): Premieres September 18

Ryan Murphy and Sarah Paulson’s latest post-American Horror Story team-up sees the pair reunited on Netflix, giving more (and more lurid) backstory to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’s cruel antagonist than author Ken Kesey probably ever intended. Jon Jon Briones, Cynthia Nixon, Judy Davis, Finn Wittrock, and Sharon Stone all co-star—with assists from the likes of Vincent D’Onofrio and Rosanna Arquette—but it’s Paulson’s show, as she dives deep into the logical madness underpinning the Big Nurse’s icy exterior. Series creator Evan Romansky penned Ratched’s initial scripts, while Murphy directed its first episode, which sees its titular caregiver join the staff of a sinister Northern California hospital in 1947. [William Hughes]

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Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous (Netflix): Premieres September 18

Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous (Netflix): Premieres September 18

Set during the events of Jurassic World on a different part of Isla Nublar, Camp Cretaceous focuses on the eponymous kid-friendly area of the famously ill-conceived dinosaur zoo where a group of young people have a thrilling and perfectly safe time riding on zip lines and rolling around in those big Jimmy Fallon balls. You don’t need to have seen Jurassic World to guess what happens, though, because eventually the dinosaurs get out, the infrastructure of the park begins to collapse, and then everybody is tackling each other in hopes of getting off the island before something eats them—at which point the kids over at Camp Cretaceous are left to fend for themselves. The series will star Jameela Jamil and Glen Powell as the camp’s counselors, with Jenna Ortega, Ryan Potter, Raini Rodriguez, Sean Giambrone, and Kausar Mohammed playing the unlucky kids. There’s no sign of familiar Jurassic characters, or at least human characters, but it wouldn’t be Jurassic World without some fun/distracting fan service. [Sam Barsanti]

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Utopia (Amazon Prime Video): Premieres September 25

Utopia (Amazon Prime Video): Premieres September 25

For Utopia, her adaptation of the British black comedy/drama/thriller of the same name, Gillian Flynn opted to streamline things a bit. The Gone Girl author and screenwriter’s not only toned down the overabundant violence of the original (which was co-written by The Third Day’s Dennis Kelly), but she’s given the whole affair the feel of a ’70s paranoia thriller, like The Parallax View. Still, Flynn’s Utopia, which is directed by Toby Haynes, looks like it keeps the comic books’ and more than a little of the original’s comedy. The series stars Sasha Lane as Jessica Hyde, the hero of the eponymous comic book seemingly come to life. Ashleigh LaThrop and Dan Byrd co-star as just a few of the obsessives who begin to look at their favorite read in a new light once their world starts to mirror it a little too closely. Rainn Wilson co-stars as Michael Stearns, who appears to want to help the younger heroes decipher the comic’s pages, while John Cusack is in a more mysterious (and glamorous) role. Happy Death Day’s Jessica Rothe also appears in a recurring role in Utopia’s story of community, which has just as much potential as its twists and dark humor. [Danette Chavez]

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A Wilderness Of Error (FX): Premieres September 25

A Wilderness Of Error (FX): Premieres September 25

FX wades into A Wilderness Of Error with its latest true-crime docuseries. In conjunction with Blumhouse Productions, The Jinx co-producer and co-writer Marc Smerling reexamines the case of Jeffrey MacDonald, an Army surgeon who was accused of murdering his entire family in 1970. He was convicted in 1979, and remains in prison. Using Errol Morris’ A Wilderness Of Error: The Trials Of Jeffrey MacDonald as a guide, the series explores what put MacDonald under suspicion, the alternate theories he put forth, and the sensational 1984 miniseries that reinforced the public perception of MacDonald as a narcissistic murderer. But, just as its source material pointed to mistakes made in the investigations, A Wilderness Of Error also seeks to uncover a possible miscarriage of justice. [Danette Chavez]

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Magical Girl Friendship Squad (Syfy): Premieres September 26

Magical Girl Friendship Squad (Syfy): Premieres September 26

Syfy’s animated TZGZ block gets a mystical boost with Magical Girl Friendship Squad, a look at two reluctant heroes struggling to both pay the rent and fulfill their shared destiny. From creator Kelsey Stephanides and starring Quinta Brunson (A Black Lady Sketch Show) and Anna Akana, the animated comedy follows two millennials who are suddenly tasked with protecting the planet, a fate that was handed to them by the creator of the universe turned adorable red panda (Ana Gasteyer). A steady stream of comedy favorites will aid (or exacerbate) their journey, including The Good Place’s Manny Jacinto, Jason Mantzoukas, Paget Brewster, Vella Lovell, and a host of others. The fate of the world lies in the hands of two young women who can barely take care of themselves, but considering how 2020 has progressed, they may just be our best shot at survival. [Shannon Miller]

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Wild Life (Syfy): Premieres September 26

Wild Life (Syfy): Premieres September 26

Syfy is relaunching its TZGZ animated block on Saturday nights, which suits us just fine, given that our Saturday nights are usually spent in front of glowing screens anyway. Created by Adam Davies, Wild Life is a cartoon comedy that follows a group of zoo animals doing their best to stay sane and together in the wake of the apocalypse (sounds timely). Search Party’s John Reynolds voices a pacifist cheetah named Glenn, while Grace And Frankie’s Baron Vaughn lends his upbeat delivery to a hyperactive fox named Hudson. Other animal/actor pairings include “psychedelic koala Darby” (Reggie Watts) and “bubbly dolphin Marny” (Claudia O’Doherty). The six-episode series will be paired with Kelsey Stephanides’ Magical Girl Friendship Squad, which is just as packed with great comedic talent and exciting guest stars. [Danette Chavez]

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The Comey Rule (Showtime): Premieres September 27

The Comey Rule (Showtime): Premieres September 27

Originally and inexplicably scheduled for after the upcoming presidential election, Showtime wisely moved The Comey Rule to September to better position it as the exact kind of political exposé that the former FBI director’s memoir—A Higher Authority, which this is based on—was meant to be. Of course, Comey’s actual book barely made any impact whatsoever, and anyone who remembers 2016 should recall that it was Comey who decided it was a good idea to resurrect the issue of Hillary Clinton’s private email server days before the election, so it’ll be interesting to see how The Comey Rule treats its main subject (who is played by Jeff Daniels). But you can’t tell Comey’s story without Trump, who is played here by Brendan Gleeson, and writer-director Billy Ray has said that the production went out of its way to make this Trump seem less cartoonish than the real one in order to “play fair.” That seems like it would be the opposite of fair, but we’ll see how it goes when this premieres. [Sam Barsanti]

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Michelle Buteau: Welcome To Buteaupia (Netflix): Premieres September 29

Michelle Buteau: Welcome To Buteaupia (Netflix): Premieres September 29

Michelle Buteau
Michelle Buteau
Photo: Netflix

Comedian Michelle Buteau has long been Netflix’s go-to source for a side serving of laughs with brief appearances peppered throughout the streamer’s slate of original comedic movies (and one reality competition, The Circle). This month, the former VH1 talking head gets to be the main dish in her very own stand-up special, Welcome To Buteaupia. Properly decked out in sparkles and equipped with a goblet of frosé, Buteau is ready to get real about life with newborn twins, realistic expectations in a relationship, and her marriage to a European husband. We’ve seen Buteau step in to play the supportive best friend more than a few times. Seeing the veteran comedic actor twirl in her own spotlight should be a nice, long-earned change of pace. [Shannon Miller]

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Returning

Returning

Left: Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine in Pen15 (Photo: Erica Parise/Hulu); right: Glenn Howerton and Allisyn Snyder in A.P. Bio (Photo: Chris Haston/Peacock)
Left: Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine in Pen15 (Photo: Erica Parise/Hulu); right: Glenn Howerton and Allisyn Snyder in A.P. Bio (Photo: Chris Haston/Peacock)
Graphic: The A.V. Club

A.P. Bio, season three, now on Peacock (September 3); Archer, season 11 (September 16); Pen15, season two, part one (September 18); Fargo, season four; Bob’s Burgers, season 11, The Simpsons, season 32 premiere (September 27)

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