TV’s Return After Its Forced Hiatus Could Hatch a Batch of Instant Classics

Our critic looks at three fall series—Foundation, Y: The Last Man, and Impeachment—that show serious promise

Traditionally, the Emmys not only wrap up television’s previous year but also fire the starting gun on the fall season. That’s even more true in 2021 because this is the first real season since 2019, the pandemic having delayed production of some big shows over the past 18 months.

Coinciding with new variants and anti-vax idiocy that may circumscribe this autumn’s full coming-out, the new season should nonetheless find all of us watching more interesting new TV than we have in a while: Showtime’s murder mystery, American Rust, with Jeff Daniels; Netflix’s Q-Force, an animated comedy about a gay secret agent assigned to West Hollywood; The Shrink Next Door, with Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd, on Apple+; the televisionized Chucky (God help us) on USA and SyFy; Batwoman (ditto) on the CW; more science fiction—The 4400 and Invasion—from the CW and Apple+; Ken Burns’s documentary Muhammad Ali on PBS; and major docs about two of the most influential rock bands, The Beatles: Get Back from Peter Jackson and The Velvet Underground from Todd Haynes.

Having just returned from the future, I can tell you that one show of the following three is destined to break out as a major event. Not wanting to upset that whole space-time continuum thing, I just can’t tell you which.

Based on a septet of novels by Isaac Asimov, one of the founding authors of modern sci-fi, Foundation (premiering Sept. 24) is surely the most epic of the contenders. Following the always stellar Jared Harris as a prophetic professor persecuted for visions born less of theology than mathematic probability, Foundation, with its almost literally infinite scope, humbles even Game of Thrones, with which the new blockbuster sometimes shares a tonal darkness as well as a complex cast of characters with silly names. As it’s a TV show and not a novel, Foundation is driven more by character than by Asimov’s ideas, and it inevitably improves on the books just by being more woman-friendly. Apple+ is all in on the show; the production values are a knockout, and at a price tag that only Harris’s character can calculate, it’s one of the most expensive series ever.

Woman-friendliness isn’t a challenge shared by Y: The Last Man (Sept. 13), the show from Hulu that’s just in time to take over from the once-acclaimed The Handmaid’s Tale that, now entering its fifth season, has exhausted itself. Because we just don’t have enough movies and TV inspired by comic books these days, Y is sourced from a comic published in the early 2000s about the abrupt death, mysterious as it is massive, of every breathing being with a Y chromosome except one last man and his monkey. Guys being good for one thing and one thing only, perpetuating the species becomes something of a challenge facing not only our main man (well, our only man), Yorick, but also his female bodyguard, his congresswoman mom, and the scientist trying to figure out why Yorick has survived what none of the world’s other males have. As comic-book sources go, Y is witty and provocative; we could do worse and have.

The FX anthology American Crime Story set an almost impossibly high bar for itself in its first season five years ago with The People v. O.J. Simpson—there’s never been better-acted TV. The 2018 follow-up, about the murder of fashion titan Gianni Versace, was bound to be less interesting, and the new season, Impeachment (Sept. 7), concerning the adventures of the 42nd president’s wandering penis, rises or falls (so to speak) on a couple things: the casting of Clive Owen and Beanie Feldstein as Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky (Edie Falco and Sarah Paulson as Hillary Clinton and Linda Tripp can already be judged slam dunks) and writing that, pitched between gravitas and absurdity, is more tonally adept than, say, executive producer Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood from last year. In any case, Impeachment should reveal just how much democracy can be trivialized before, particularly in a contemporary context, it threatens to vanish altogether.

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