Fall TV 2021: The 31 Shows to Watch

Fall television returns to normal this year after the pandemic wipeout of 2020, with the broadcast networks presenting their usual full schedules. But what’s normal these days?

Serial killers, for one thing, in “Chucky,” “You” and “Dexter: New Blood.” On the other hand, perhaps reflecting a cultural turn toward the serious, there are star-laden dramas drawn from topical nonfiction books: “Our Kind of People,” “Maid,” “Dopesick,” “The Shrink Next Door.”

But nothing is more normal this fall than a new version of something you’ve seen before. There are revivals that pick up where shows or film franchises left off: “CSI: Vegas,” “Dexter: New Blood” and “Chucky” again. There are new members of existing TV universes: “NCIS: Hawaii,” “FBI: International,” “Star Wars: Visions” and the “Yellowstone” prequel “1883.” And there are the pure nostalgia plays, straight remakes of shows of a certain age: “The Wonder Years,” “Highway to Heaven,” “Dalgliesh,” “Cowboy Bebop.”

Here, in chronological order, are 31 shows from the fall season that might pique your interest.

All dates are subject to change. Shows without announced premiere dates are not included.

‘Muhammad Ali’

Ken Burns, directing with Sarah Burns and David McMahon, presents the life and impact of Ali across four nights and eight hours. With “Muhammad Ali” and “Hemingway” (released in April), Burns has kept adding to his portfolio of biographies of Black male athletes (Jackie Robinson, Jack Johnson) and white male artists (Mark Twain, Frank Lloyd Wright, Thomas Hart Benton). (PBS, Sept. 19)

‘The Big Leap’

A scripted series inspired by a British reality show, this lightly satirical comedy created by Liz Heldens (“Friday Night Lights,” “The Passage”) features various emotionally or professionally stalled Detroiters who hope to turn their lives around by auditioning for a new Fox TV dance competition. Scott Foley plays the annoying producer (any resemblance to Simon Fuller is surely coincidental); Kevin Daniels is the fulsome host; and the aspiring dancers include Piper Perabo, Teri Polo and Simone Recasner. (Fox, Sept. 20)

‘Ordinary Joe’

It’s a game of tinker-tailor turned into a TV drama. At his college graduation, Joe (James Wolk) faces a life choice: stay with existing sweetheart (Elizabeth Lail), pursue newly met knockout (Natalie Martinez) or focus on honoring the legacy of his father, who died on Sept. 11. We watch all three paths play out, in parallel lives as a doctor, a rock star and a New York cop. It is probably no accident that this soapy timeline jumper is from the same network as “This Is Us.” (NBC, Sept. 20)

‘Our Kind of People’

Lee Daniels’s latest production for Fox, created by Karin Gist (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Star”), is a “soapy” (Fox’s word) drama inspired by Lawrence Otis Graham’s book “Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class” that is set in the Oak Bluffs enclave on Martha’s Vineyard. Yaya DaCosta plays a strong-willed natural-hair-care entrepreneur, which on paper sounds a lot like the pioneering Black businesswoman Madam C.J. Walker. (Fox, Sept. 21)

‘Star Wars: Visions’

May the fan service be with you! Lucasfilm acknowledges a profound artistic debt by inviting nine Japanese animators to create short “Star Wars” films. The directors include anime heavyweights like Kenji Kamiyama of Production I.G., Hiroyuki Imaishi of Trigger and Eunyoung Choi of Science Saru. (Disney+, Sept. 22)

‘The Wonder Years’

Among the fall’s prominent exercises in brand extension, here’s the one that will inspire the biggest “aww.” The intensely relatable middle-class family negotiating the late 1960s is now Black and lives in Montgomery, Ala., the hometown of the show’s creator, Saladin K. Patterson, a veteran of “Dave,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Frasier.” Replacing Fred Savage and Daniel Stern are Elisha Williams as the 12-year-old hero, now named Dean, and Don Cheadle as the voice of the grown-up Dean. (ABC, Sept. 22)

‘The Conners’

John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert, Lecy Goranson and Michael Fishman return as the beleaguered Conners, a gig they’ve had, on and off, since “Roseanne” premiered in 1988. You want to do something new after 33 years, so the fourth season of their current show will begin with a live episode in which the actors will improvise telephone conversations with fans chosen through a “You Can Be a Conner” sweepstakes. (ABC, Sept. 22)

‘Foundation,’ ‘Invasion’

Apple’s streaming service, already home to “See,” “For All Mankind” and “Amazing Stories,” doubles down on traditional science fiction with a pair of ambitious projects. “Foundation” (Sept. 24) finally brings Isaac Asimov’s hugely influential series of stories and novels to the screen, 70 years after they began appearing in print; apparently the time is right for a saga of mathematicians and scientists forecasting the end of a despotic empire and trying to salvage something from the ruins. “Invasion” (Oct. 22) is a “War of the Worlds”-style story in which the humans have so many problems already that it takes them a while to figure out that they’re under alien attack. Apple TV+

‘Nuclear Family’

Ry Russo-Young, director of narrative features like “Nobody Walks” and “Before I Fall,” turns to documentary for this three-part series about her life with her two mothers, and about the sperm donor whose decision to sue for paternal rights threatened the family they had built. (HBO, Sept. 26)

‘The Problem With Jon Stewart’

The man whose DNA is spread throughout late-night TV returns to the field of regularly scheduled comic commentary with this punnily titled biweekly show. He’ll be competing in the space (though not on the late-night cable grid) with several of his former employees from “The Daily Show,” in particular John Oliver, whose “Last Week Tonight” on HBO has won five Emmys for best variety talk series during Stewart’s six-year absence. (Apple TV+, Sept. 30)


Margaret Qualley — who was great in her last TV role, as the dancer Ann Reinking in “Fosse/Verdon” — stars in this adaptation of Stephanie Land’s memoir about turning to housecleaning as a route away from homelessness, poverty and male violence. The top-notch cast includes Andie MacDowell (Qualley’s mother) and Billy Burke as the protagonist’s parents and Anika Noni Rose as a lawyer whose house she cleans. (Netflix, Oct. 1)

‘CSI: Vegas’

Back in 2015, “CSI” ended its 15-season run with those crazy kids Grissom and Sidle literally sailing away from the crime-lab life. Now they sail back, as William Petersen and Jorja Fox reprise their roles in this new series, the fifth in the “CSI” family. (CBS is in full: franchise mode this fall, also adding “NCIS: Hawaii” on Sept. 20 and “FBI: International” on Sept. 21.) (CBS, Oct. 6)


This new series pretends that the 2019 “Child’s Play” remake never happened and returns to the film franchise’s original continuity, which means that Brad Dourif also returns as the voice of Chucky, the little plastic serial killer. The doll’s appearance on a sale table in a suburban town coincides with a murder spree, but let’s not assume he’s guilty — after 33 years, maybe he can be rehabilitated as well as rebooted. (Syfy and USA, Oct. 12)


Aside from the 2007 mini-series “The Company,” the phenomenal actor Michael Keaton has not been a regular presence on TV for almost 40 years. (He wasn’t a major presence in movies for quite a while, either, but that’s another story.) So his role as a small-town doctor in this drama based on Beth Macy’s book about Purdue Pharma and the opioid epidemic, “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company That Addicted America,” is sufficient reason for excitement. Other good signs: the cast also features Peter Sarsgaard, Kaitlyn Dever, Rosario Dawson and Mare Winningham, and the eight episodes were directed by Barry Levinson. (Hulu, Oct. 13)


It’s appropriate that Dexter Morgan is returning in the same TV season as his mini-me, Penn Badgley’s Joe Goldberg in “You,” another serial killer who’s meticulous and romantic and just generally better behaved than the people he kills. In the third season of this very dark comic melodrama — in which the murders take the place of pratfalls — Joe is still with Love (Victoria Pedretti), the woman who turned out to be as twisted as he, and he has to decide how he’s going to deal with a serious rival for her attention: their new baby. (Netflix, Oct. 15)


In the category of regional crime drama, the first season of this series created by Rebecca Cutter was solid and atmospheric. In the category of hard-boiled action with a female protagonist, it succeeded — in contrast to other examples like “Jett,” “Briarpatch” and “Reprisal” — by virtue of being modest and straightforward, and avoiding cartoonishness. Monica Raymund returns for Season 2 as Jackie Quinones, the hard-partying Provincetown fisheries agent who aspires, with an almost comic eagerness, to a career as a narcotics cop. (Starz, Oct. 17)


Peacock’s “Girls5Eva” got to market first with a story about a 1990s female vocal group reuniting now that the singers are in their 40s. But “Queens” can boast more musical star power in its cast: The members of the show’s rebooted hip-hop quartet are played by Brandy, Eve, Naturi Naughton and Nadine Velazquez (the only one of the four without a career in music). (ABC, Oct. 19)

‘Maya and the Three’

An animated princess from someone other than Disney. Jorge R. Gutierrez (“El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera”) created this 3-D saga about a 15-year-old girl on a quest to save the world, which blends Mesoamerican and Caribbean mythologies and features a bountifully talented voice cast that includes, to name a few, Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Alfred Molina, Stephanie Beatriz, Kate del Castillo, Danny Trejo, Rosie Perez, Queen Latifah and Rita Moreno. (Netflix, Oct. 22)


Season 4 took both Issa (Issa Rae, the coming-of-age dramedy’s creator and star) and her once and possibly still best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji) back to square one in their romantic lives. Season 5, the show’s last, gives them a final chance to figure things out, with regard to men and with regard to each other. Jay Ellis returns as Lawrence, the former boyfriend Issa came agonizingly close to reclaiming. (HBO, Oct. 24)


Your new British mystery, if you’re looking for one, is an old reliable. Bertie Carvel steps into the role of the brainy and reserved Scotland Yard detective Adam Dalgliesh in a new series based on the novels by P.D. James, which were previously filmed with Roy Marsden and then Martin Shaw as Dalgliesh. (Acorn TV, Nov. 1)


The third and final season of Alena Smith’s wildly playful comedy about the poet Emily Dickinson arrives less than nine months after the end of Season 2, rushing in like its intense, exuberant heroine (played by Hailee Steinfeld). (Apple TV+, Nov. 5)

‘Highway to Heaven’

The unassailably wholesome 1980s show is resurrected as a series of TV movies, starring Jill Scott in the Michael Landon role of the angel sent back to earth and Barry Watson in the Victor French role of the human helper (now a junior high principal rather than an ex-cop). (Lifetime, Nov. 6)

‘Dexter: New Blood’

Last seen living out his days alone in an Oregon logging camp, the conscientious serial killer and forensics tech Dexter Morgan resurfaces as a shopkeeper in upstate New York 10 years after the events of the original “Dexter” (though eight years, in real time, after its final season). Michael C. Hall returns to the role that brought him five Emmy nominations; also returning is the original showrunner, Clyde Phillips. (Showtime, Nov. 7)

‘The Shrink Next Door’

The story of the Manhattan psychiatrist Isaac Herschkopf and his patient Martin Markowitz — who claimed that Herschkopf exploited their relationship for decades, taking over every aspect of Markowitz’s life including his business and his Hamptons home — comes to the screen starring Paul Rudd as the psychiatrist and Will Ferrell as the analysand. (Apple TV+, Nov. 12)

‘Cowboy Bebop’

A live-action version of the coolest anime series of all time? Real actors in place of Shinichiro Watanabe’s animated, psychedelic-noir outer-space bounty hunters and scam artists? A real dog playing Ein the robot Corgi? The world holds its breath. (One reason for optimism: The protean anime composer Yoko Kanno, who was in charge of the eclectic music that was essential to the original’s mood, returns for the remake.) (Netflix, Nov. 19)

‘The Game’

The football dramedy that would not die is back for a third go-round, following stints on the CW (2006-9) and BET (2011-15). Wendy Raquel Robinson and Hosea Chanchez return as the well-traveled agent, Tasha, and her son and former client, Malik. (Paramount+, Nov. 11)

‘Mayor of Kingstown’

The producer Taylor Sheridan and the actor Hugh Dillon, who work together on the cable hit “Yellowstone,” created this new streaming drama about a Michigan family in the private-prison business. The formidable cast includes Jeremy Renner, Kyle Chandler, Dianne Wiest, Taylor Handley and Dillon. (Paramount+, Nov. 14)


The Marvel migration to Disney+ continues with Jeremy Renner’s emo archer. The show’s creator, Jonathan Igla, doesn’t have a superhero background — his credits as a writer and producer include “Mad Men,” “Masters of Sex” and “Bridgerton” — and neither does Renner’s co-star, Hailee Steinfeld of “Dickinson,” who plays a Hawkeye-in-training. Florence Pugh provides Marvel Cinematic Universe D.N.A. as an avenging Black Widow and Alaqua Cox makes her screen debut as the hero Echo, who is deaf. (Disney+, Nov. 24)

‘The Beatles: Get Back’

Having worked magic with archival film and audio for his absorbing World War I documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old,” Peter Jackson trains those methods on a more recent and, relatively speaking, smaller subject. With access to material that included 60 hours of unused footage shot by Michael Lindsay-Hogg for his 1969 documentary, “Let It Be,” Jackson has constructed his own six-hour record of the Beatles’ latter days, in the studio and in performance. If you didn’t think Lindsay-Hogg showed enough of their rooftop swan song concert, now you get to see the whole thing. (Disney+, Nov. 25)

‘The Hot Zone: Anthrax’

Daniel Dae Kim and Tony Goldwyn play an F.B.I. agent and a microbiologist investigating the unnerving wave of anthrax letters that killed five people just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. (National Geographic, Nov. 28)

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