Selena takes a bow, James Marsden takes The Stand, and Shonda Rhimes comes to Netflix this December on TV

Selena takes a bow, James Marsden takes The Stand, and Shonda Rhimes comes to Netflix this December on TV

Clockwise from upper left: The Stand (Photo: Robert Falconer/CBS), Bridgerton (Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix), Selena: The Series (Photo: Netflix), Small Axe: Red, White And Blue (Photo: Will Robson-Scott/Amazon Studios), The Hardy Boys (Photo: Brooke Palmer/Hulu)
Clockwise from upper left: The Stand (Photo: Robert Falconer/CBS), Bridgerton (Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix), Selena: The Series (Photo: Netflix), Small Axe: Red, White And Blue (Photo: Will Robson-Scott/Amazon Studios), The Hardy Boys (Photo: Brooke Palmer/Hulu)
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Even in this most unusual year, the December TV lineup features several stand-bys, including an annual viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas, a Mariah Carey holiday special, and NBC’s tradition of airing a bewildering musical (this year, it’s Matthew Morrison as The Grinch). But if you’re looking to unwrap something new, December’s offerings also include two teen-centered dramas with life-or-death stakes, a biographical drama about Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand, the final three installments of Steve McQueen’s film anthology series, Small Axe, and Shonda Rhimes’ Netflix debut. So grab some eggnog and don your viewing apparel—it’s time for the final A.V. Club TV preview of 2020.

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Selena: The Series (Netflix): Premieres December 4

Selena: The Series (Netflix): Premieres December 4

The life of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, already the subject of a well-received biopic and an unauthorized biographical drama, gets an even more comprehensive treatment in Netflix’s Selena: The Series. Co-showrunner and writer Moisés Zamora builds a fairly traditional framework for the story of this groundbreaking Mexican American artist, revisiting Selena’s childhood in the late 1970s just long enough to establish her knack for performing before moving into her teenage years, when Selena Y Los Dinos really began to hit their stride. The Walking Dead’s Christian Serratos dons bejeweled bustiers and other bedazzled numbers to embody the Queen of Tejano, whose crossover success helped pave the way for future Latin music artists. But Zamora’s envisioned a family drama as much as a detailed look at the life of a Latinx icon; the rest of the Quintanilla family, most notably siblings A.B. (Gabriel Chavarria) and Suzette (Noemi Gonzalez), also take center stage. Selena: The Series debuts with nine episodes in December, with the remaining episodes coming to Netflix some time in 2021. [Danette Chavez]

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Small Axe: Red, White And Blue (Prime Video): Premieres December 4

Small Axe: Red, White And Blue (Prime Video): Premieres December 4

Red, White And Blue is the explosive and highly pertinent third installment in Steven McQueen’s Small Axe series, which centers Black British history and culture. John Boyega, in his first role since Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, leads this taut and harrowing chapter, which is based on the life of Leroy Logan, a forensic scientist who became one of the first Black British police officers in the Metropolitan Police Force. Leroy’s father, Ken (Steve Toussaint), is dismayed to see his son join the Met, as it wasn’t that long ago that members of their ranks assaulted him. Much of the film’s tension comes from Leroy and his parents struggling with his decision, but the new recruit must also contend with racist coworkers. With Red, White And Blue, McQueen and his co-writer, Courttia Newland, explore the oft-Sisyphean task of changing an inequitable culture or institution from within the very same system. [Danette Chavez]

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The Hardy Boys (Hulu): Premieres December 4

The Hardy Boys (Hulu): Premieres December 4

The CW has had a lot of success developing dark (or at least darker) takes on classic properties, specifically Riverdale and Nancy Drew, and now Hulu’s getting in on the fun with a new adaptation of the Hardy Boys books about a couple of hearty boys (Rohan Campbell and Alexander Elliot) who move to a new small town with their detective dad (James Tupper) after the death of their mother. They quickly discover that their mom may have been killed for investigating a mystery, so, being Hardy boys, they throw caution to the wind and see if they can succeed where the grown-ups failed. There are some spooky things happening in the trailer (and tons of secret doors!), but it’s unclear if things will go full-on supernatural. They probably won’t, but that’s the fun of kids solving a mystery, right? You never know if it’ll be smugglers or an actual ghost. [Sam Barsanti]

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Your Honor (Showtime): Premieres December 6

Your Honor (Showtime): Premieres December 6

A father’s protective instincts are extraordinarily tested in Your Honor, Peter Moffat’s adaptation of the Israeil drama Kvodo. Bryan Cranston stars as Michael Desiato, a well-respected judge in New Orleans who finds himself in a no-win situation in the first 10 minutes of the series premiere—his son, Adam (Hunter Doohan), is involved in a hit-and-run. That’s bad enough, but the young man left for dead happens to be the son of a major crime boss (Michael Stuhlbarg) determined to find out who’s responsible. Lives and illusions are shattered as Michael tries to shield his son from the fallout. Moffat, the former lawyer behind Criminal Justice and The Night Of, produces yet another thorny dilemma, while Cranston leads the series as another beleaguered parent intent on taking care of his family by any means. A great supporting cast, including Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Hope Davis, could help Your Honor make the most of its boilerplate premise. [Danette Chavez]

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A Suitable Boy (Acorn TV): Premieres December 7

A Suitable Boy (Acorn TV): Premieres December 7

This handsomely made limited series, based on Vikram Seth’s 1993 novel of the same name, has already come under fire in India, where it premiered on Netflix earlier this year, because of an onscreen kiss between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man. A period drama set in post-partition India, A Suitable Boy follows Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala), a young Hindu woman and university student with the requisite pluck to navigate her own coming-of-age story in the middle of a tumultuous political era. Her mother’s plans to find her a suitable boy to marry are both the least of Lata’s concerns—she’s in no rush to become a wife—and one of the greatest sources of conflict. A cast of winning performers, —including Mehra, Rasika Dugal, Ishaan Khatter, and mononymous multi-hyphenate Tabu—and director Mira Nair bring to life this fraught yet charming tale. [Danette Chavez]

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40 Years A Prisoner (HBO): Premieres December 8

40 Years A Prisoner (HBO): Premieres December 8

Directed by Tommy Oliver (Black Love, 1982), 40 Years A Prisoner chronicles the 1985 MOVE bombing—in which the Philadelphia Police Department bombed the home of the Black radical MOVE group—including the events leading up to the attack, as well as one man’s lifelong quest to exonerate his parents. That man, Mike Africa Jr., provides a compelling center for the documentary; he’s the son of two MOVE members he believes are wrongfully imprisoned for the death of a police officer. His search for the truth is one of many resonant through-lines in 40 Years A Prisoner: Police brutality, racial inequities, the militarization of police forces, and the question of who’s allowed to dissent in this country are all explored in this HBO documentary. The film pushes past timeliness to explore how systemic racism has been a quintessential part of governance in the United States. [Danette Chavez]

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Small Axe: Alex Wheatle (Prime Video): Premieres December 11

Small Axe: Alex Wheatle (Prime Video): Premieres December 11

In Alex Wheatle, the penultimate installment of his Small Axe series, Steve McQueen explores the life of the award-winning novelist, whose Crongton Knights was awarded the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Wheatle is a Member of the British Empire, but it’s his wry humor about a childhood spent in the British foster care system that has served as a beacon to young and old readers alike. The author was a part of the Brixton uprising of 1981, which saw centuries of inequality and a U.K.-wide recession come to a head in the South London district, for which he was imprisoned. (Wheatle’s East Of Acre Lane provides insights into the British Black community in Brixton before the uprising.) McQueen continues to display a knack for discovering talent; like Lovers Rock newcomer Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Sheyi Cole provides an empathetic anchor for a story that combines injustice with optimism born of adversity. [Danette Chavez]

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The Wilds (Prime Video): Premieres December 11

The Wilds (Prime Video): Premieres December 11

“There was trauma. But being a teenage girl—that was the real living hell.” With those not-exactly-subtle words, the trailer for Amazon’s The Wilds lays out the basic theme of its story. Beginning as a distaff take on Lord Of The Flies, with a small plane carrying a dozen-plus teen girls crashing in the middle of the ocean and washing its young passengers up on a small, deserted island, the narrative quickly reveals itself to be slightly more complicated than that primal tale. The series combines Lost-style flashbacks of the characters’ high school lives and tribulations with intimations of something stranger and more sinister lurking beneath the surface of their seemingly cut-and-dried situation (so, even more like Lost, in other words). The Wilds looks to fuse the standard elements of a teen drama—where every romance or frenemy interaction can feel positively apocalyptic—with a raw survival thriller that actually provides life-and-death stakes. Unlike Lost, however, something tells us this particular island-set story will know better than to end with everyone leaving purgatory to walk into a glowing afterlife. [Alex McLevy]

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The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? (HBO): Premieres December 12

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? (HBO): Premieres December 12

Uber-producer Frank Marshall turns to documentary directing with How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?, an overdue exploration of the history of The Bee Gees. The three Australian brothers who wrote stirring pop songs with unparalleled harmonies first became popular in the 1960s, but exploded with the soundtrack to 1977 disco sensation Saturday Night Fever. The doc features previously unseen archival footage, including interviews with late twin brothers Robin and Maurice Gibb, along with revealing interviews with oldest brother Barry Gibb. Artists like Liam Gallagher and Nick Jonas show up to offer their opinions on how tough it can be to be in a band of brothers, and Barry Gibb impersonator Justin Timberlake, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, and Maurice’s ex-wife, Lulu, also make appearances. It looks to be a fascinating exploration of a once-in-a-lifetime group. [Gwen Ihnat]

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Tiny Pretty Things (Netflix): Premieres December 14

Tiny Pretty Things (Netflix): Premieres December 14

Ballet and bloodletting, anyone? Tiny Pretty Things (based on Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton’s novel of the same name) takes the basic premise of the 2000 teen drama Center Stage (Fame, but for ballet, essentially) and gooses it by adding a murder-mystery. Arriving at Chicago’s elite Archer School Of Ballet, outcast newcomer Neveah (Kylie Jefferson) finds herself thrown into the highly competitive and angst-filled world of young people struggling to stand out among the best of the best in dance. And that’s before she learns of the reason for her chance to snag a last-minute opening in the roster: The school’s former star pupil fell to her death from the rooftop—and more than a few of her fellow students are convinced she was pushed. It’s anyone’s guess as to the degree this series will successfully thread the needle between thrills and sudsy dramatics, but at least the dance numbers look solid, which, in a post-Step Up world, feels pretty necessary. [Alex McLevy]

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The Stand (CBS All Access): Premieres December 17

The Stand (CBS All Access): Premieres December 17

This is either the best or the worst possible time for a new adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand, what with the real world still being ravaged by a global pandemic that is not wholly unlike the virus that decimates humanity in the book. We’re at least lucky that COVID-19 isn’t accompanied by a charismatic antichrist figure like Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård), and we also don’t have to worry about an elderly woman (Whoopi Goldberg) appearing in our dreams and convincing us to face The Walkin’ Dude in the ultimate battle of good versus evil in Las Vegas. But that’s exactly what the characters of The Stand have to deal with, even after surviving the “super flu” and making it through a plague-ravaged United States. CBS All Access’ The Stand also stars James Marsden, Amber Heard, Greg Kinnear, Ezra Miller, Heather Graham, Jovan Adepo, and Odessa Young. [Sam Barsanti]

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Small Axe: Education (Prime Video): Premieres December 18

Small Axe: Education (Prime Video): Premieres December 18

Kenyah Sandy in Education
Kenyah Sandy in Education
Photo: Will Robson-Scott/Amazon Studios

Education is the final installment in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series, but the debate over whether the director made a series of films or a drama anthology will rage on well past its premiere. Starring Kenyah Sandy, Education explores the effects and outcry over the Haringey Council’s “banding” proposal, which claimed to provide “appropriate” education based on ability and resources. But it was actually predicated on the infamous Doulton Report, which erroneously surmised that West Indian students had lower I.Q.s than their Anglo counterparts, and would therefore drag down academic standards at their respective schools. Sandy plays Kingsley, a 12-year-old boy from a working-class family who is a victim of that shameful policy of educational segregation. Education replaced Red, White And Blue as the series closer—along with Alex Wheatle, Education is one of the Small Axe installments that went without festival play—so we’ll soon see if McQueen decided to save the best for last. [Danette Chavez]

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Bridgerton (Netflix): Premieres December 25

Bridgerton (Netflix): Premieres December 25

Shonda Rhimes, creator of Thursday night soap operas like the (still-running) Grey’s Anatomy, left ABC two years ago for Netflix to the tune of $150 million in one of the biggest deals in TV history. Rhimes returns to the period-drama well (after her ill-fated 2017 drama Still Star-Crossed) for Bridgerton, based on Julia Quinn’s best-selling novel series. Shondaland producer Chris Van Dusen takes the reins for this lavishly shot and refreshingly inclusive series, which focuses on the titular family, as daughter Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) makes her debut onto the competitive marriage market of Regency-era London. Sparks fly with the rebellious and much-sought-after Duke Of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), undoubtedly setting up a will-they/won’t-they for the 19th century. Meanwhile, Julie Andrews narrates all the proceedings as scandal sheet author Lady Whistledown, a kind of 1810s Gossip Girl—different era, similar soap opera. [Gwen Ihnat]

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Returning

Returning

Big Mouth (Image: Netflix); Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina (Photo: Netflix)
Big Mouth (Image: Netflix); Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina (Photo: Netflix)

Big Mouth, season four (December 4); Euphoria “holiday” episode (December 6); High School Musical: The Musical: The Holiday Special (December 11); Pennyworth, season two (December 13); The Expanse, season five (December 16); Letterkenny, season nine (December 26); Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, Part Four (December 31)

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