On September 21, the TV season is officially starting—and with the glut of TV shows clogging your DVR and being Recommended For You on Netflix, it’s more difficult than ever to find what you like. Here’s my guide to the madness. Every day this week, including Friday/Saturday and Sunday, I’m offering up my recommendations for that evening of programming and the best way to watch it. Maybe you still watch live; maybe you catch up the next day on Hulu. Maybe you remember to set your DVR, which makes you far more conscientious than I am. Maybe you’re looking for something to watch during housework or something to watch with family. The upside to #TooMuchTV is that your options are endless; there appears to be a program for everyone. Let’s find it.
Sunday nights, in our Golden Age of television, are the haven for prestige and prestige-wannabe programming. I had to leave aside a lot of debuting shows trying to make a mark, both on venerable broadcast institutions and on second-tier cable networks, because there’s simply too much happening on this one night. The big cable networks are offering up whole nights of programming; HBO has the trump card of John Oliver to cap off its evening, too. Elsewhere, various award-winning shows fight for a piece of an increasingly attention-deficit audience as a few newcomers attempt to make a mark.
“The Leftovers,” 9 p.m. on HBO. Returns Oct. 4.
“Project Greenlight,” 10 p.m. on HBO. Returns Sept. 13.
“Doll & Em,” 10:30 p.m. on HBO. Returns Sept. 13.
“Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” 11 p.m. Returns Sept. 13.
HBO goes into the fall with a weird and potentially quite weak lineup. Of the first three, “Doll & Em” is definitely my pick—an intimate comedy written by and starring two real-life best friends, it’s addictive and satisfying. It’s also the least-discussed show of the three fall shows. Damon Lindelof’s “The Leftovers” is HBO’s drama offering for the night, which, no matter how much you like the show, is an unequivocally depressing note on which to start the season. The second season takes some of the characters to a new setting—Miracle, Texas, where no one, apparently, was disappeared, but obviously, it’s a TV show, so something bad is going to happen. Regina King is joining the already excellent cast. I have been impressed by the performances in “The Leftovers,” but its grim misery never quite got through to me. King, like Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon and Amy Brenneman, will almost definitely never laugh.
“Project Greenlight,” between the two, is a continuation of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s reality series about filmmaking that last aired a whole decade ago. It’s more of a wildcard, in terms of quality, than the other two; 10 years can lead to quite a crew turnover, even if Damon and Affleck are still onboard. There will likely be something reliably engaging about the show to keep viewers interested, even if that is entirely scrutinizing Affleck’s persona for hints of his currently much-discussed personal life. A topic that 11 p.m. host John Oliver—who has transitioned from newcomer to instant classic—will have no trouble mocking, as the opportunity arises.
“Blood And Oil,” 9 p.m. on ABC. Debuts Sept. 27.
“Quantico,” 10 p.m. on ABC. Debuts Sept. 27.
ABC’s Sunday-night offerings are, true to form, a little bit more melodramatic and splashy than the prestige cable networks; but this year, it’s only a little bit. “Quantico,” starring Bollywood A-lister Priyanka Chopra, is more like “Homeland” than it is like “Revenge,” which occupied its time slot last fall. In terms of story, it’s hitting some standard military-espionage beats, with a lot of double agents and questions of identity and the now-requisite domestic terror plot. In terms of casting and audience, it feels decidedly different—both a play for an international audience, with Chopra, and a stab at prestige drama that has been historically dominated by cable. (The network’s limited-run “American Crime” was also an effort in that vein.) “Blood and Oil,” directly preceding it, is a lot less interesting—a prime-time soap opera set in the oilfields of Texas—but if your taste runs toward “Nashville,” it could appeal.
“Bob’s Burgers,” 7:30 p.m. on Fox. Returns Sept. 27.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m. on Fox. Returns Sept. 27.
“Last Man on Earth,” 9:30 p.m. on Fox. Returns Sept. 27.
In terms of sheer enjoyment, Fox’s lineup on Sundays might be your best bet; it’s two-and-a-half hours of comedy, starting with “Bob’s Burgers” at 7:30 p.m. and ending at 10 p.m. with sophomore comedy “Last Man on Earth.” But both “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” are, in their venerable old age, incredibly skippable, and all three of the shows I’d watch are available on Hulu the next day. “Bob’s Burgers” is a staple of joy in our current TV moment; award-winning “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is a similar reliable injection of good humor, after two seasons that borrow from and improve on the legacy of shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” And though “Last Man on Earth” is not nearly as optimistic, I’m excited to see what Will Forte’s post-apocalyptic comedy—where he is both hero and villain and president of the United States—will do for season two.
Oh, Showtime. At this point, the network has become home to most of my shattered dreams—because while Showtime is able to secure incredible talent, it’s less skilled at making sure that its shows are consistent or coherent. The stereotype about the network’s shows is that they just run for seasons and seasons on end, with no attention to quality. That’s worth considering, as Showtime’s two most critically acclaimed dramas come back for another round. “Homeland” is now a drama about international relations that just happens to star Claire Danes; “The Affair” didn’t even bother to finish up its first-season conceit, promising us a whole season more of waiting and wondering about what the hell happened in Montauk that summer. I was quite critical of both show’s finales when they aired last year, mostly because I had liked their early episodes so much. I doubt that new seasons will convince me of anything, but I will be probably watching anyway.
“The Good Wife,” 9 p.m. on CBS. Returns Oct. 4.
The biggest story to come out of season six of “The Good Wife” was how the real-life personal rift between Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi translated into a season of clunky awkwardness and thwarted emotional payoff, capped by a finale that didn’t even film the two actresses at the same time. It was an embarrassing follow-up to the show’s explosive and Emmy-winning fifth season, which was easily the series’ best yet. Now, without both Panjabi and Josh Charles, “The Good Wife” is facing a seventh season that has long been rumored to be its last. This reliable character drama might be heading into its last 20-odd episodes, with a lot of explaining left to do. I’ll be watching, cautiously.
“Into The Badlands,” 10 p.m. on AMC. Debuts Nov. 15.
AMC’s been struggling to find its voice ever since it accidentally and simultaneously created two of the best shows on television, period—“Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad”—as well as the most watched drama on cable, “The Walking Dead.” The network cemented its audience with “Fear the Walking Dead” and “The Talking Dead,” which with “The Walking Dead” make up the top three most-watched shows on AMC. But in terms of diversifying creative vision, the network’s run aground on shows like “Turn,” “Low Winter Sun” and “Humans.” Even “Halt and Catch Fire” spent most of its first season finding itself; after its stellar second season, the show has yet to be renewed for a third, presumably because it just never built an audience.
“Into the Badlands” is a serious attempt by the network to be a platform for new and interesting voices again. The drama’s primary influences are martial-arts films from Asian cinema. But it’s also set in a post-industrial future, occupying a space that has proven successful for “The Hunger Games,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and, yes, “The Walking Dead.” The premise weaves in a slave rebellion, a marauding warrior, a landscape that looks a bit like “Game of Thrones” set in the American South, and Asian-American actor Daniel Wu in the lead role. At the very least, it promises world-building and genre appeal; at best, it could be AMC’s next big hit.