We’re currently living in the new golden age of TV. And even though prestigious programming is generally associated with cable networks like AMC and HBO, even networks are becoming more high-minded and bold with their offerings. (Well, in some cases at least. There are still plenty of Kevin Can Waits out there.)
Here’s a look at a handful of new shows coming later this summer and this fall that look like they’ll continue to push the envelope on quality TV.
From supernatural comedies and shows about music and media to political thrillers and sci-fi mysteries, this season’s new line-up has something for everyone. Yes, even Kevin James fans.
Donald Glover’s new FX series about Atlanta hip-hop culture represents the stylized, short-film approach to TV-making that FX and FXX have embraced with shows like Louie and Baskets. The premise also sounds like it has a lot on its mind. The network explains that it “revolves around two cousins on their way up through the Atlanta rap scene whose opposing views on art versus commerce, success and race will make their quest anything but easy.”
The Great Indoors (CBS)
Sure, laugh-track heavy, three-camera, formulaic CBS sitcoms aren’t typically the most compelling programming. But, Joel McHale’s return to network TV actually has some interesting ambitions: It’s a takedown of millennial culture, Buzzfeed-style media and modern political correctness.
In The Great Indoors, McHale plays a magazine writer who leaves the field to work in the offices of an outdoors magazine that is slowly transitioning into a listicle-heavy digital outlet run by overly sensitive millennials, obsessed with social media. Sure, it’s a little on the nose, but considering McHale’s roots—the always self-aware Community and The Soup—the first look seems to laugh with millennials, not at them.
Mr. Robot (USA)
OK, so Mr. Robot isn’t a new show—but to many audiences it might as well be. Season one of the tech thriller was one of TV’s biggest surprises, and many are just now catching up.
The show is about paranoia, consumerism and hacktivism, but is also an examination of all of the anxieties involved in living in the digital age. It’s shocking, haunting and totally thrilling. There’s still time to watch season one (it’s available on USA’s website) before the season two premiere this July.
The Young Pope (HBO)
HBO will air this eight-part miniseries that tells the story of a fictional pope, extremely controversial, pope from America. From Deadline:
Inside the Vatican, the mysterious and contradictory Pius XIII is at once shrewd and naïve, old-fashioned and very modern, doubtful and resolute, ironic, pedantic, hurt and ruthless. As he walks the long path of human loneliness to find a God for mankind, he’s also seeking one for himself.
Considering it stars A-lister Jude Law and is being directed by acclaimed Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino, this one looks to have the pedigree of a movie more than a TV series.
And if the trailer is any indication, it’s going to be pretty controversial.
Stranger Things (Netflix)
Imagine taking sci-fi TV hits like Lost and Wayward Pines and mashing them up with a classic Spielberg movie. You’ve essentially got the premise for Netflix’s chilling Stranger Things. There are hidden symbols, strange devices, small-town creepiness and lots of intrigue.
Son of Zorn (Fox)
OK, so this is weird. But, the part-animated superhero parody sitcom starring Tim Meadows, Cheryl Hines and the voice of Jason Sudeikis is so off-the-wall that it just might work.
The Get Down (Netflix)
Netflix’s upcoming musical series tells the story of the early days of hip-hop, as a group of teens from the Bronx prepared to change pop-culture forever.
It’s ambitious—and spans 10 years in the history of New York—but with filmmaker Baz Luhrmann (the visionary behind musical spectacles like Romeo + Juliet, The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge!) at the helm there’s reason to think that this one will not be your average drama.
This Is Us (NBC)
NBC’s new tear-jerker tells the story of several people who share the same birthday, and whose lives are intertwined in unexpected ways: A woman struggling with her weight; a man who finds his long-lost father; a couple who loses a baby during childbirth; a soap opera star suffering a moral dilemma.
With series like Parenthood, NBC has proven in the past that it’s capable of tackling big, complicated stories about relationships and morality with a light touch. We’ll see if This Is Us can carry that torch.
Sometimes, there is a fine line between exploiting current events and offering real commentary on them. It’s not clear yet where Shots Fired will fall on the spectrum, but the first look appears to hint that the series will look at the issue of police shootings and racial tension in a deeper way than typical “ripped from the headlines” episodes of Law & Order.
And, considering it’s created by the socially conscious filmmaking couple Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood (behind films like The Secret Life of Bees, Beyond the Lights, Gun Hill, which won the 2014 NAACP Image Award), the show seems to be in good hands.
The Good Place
This one is easily the most theologically questionable on the list, with its set-up using tropes and pop-culture presumptions about “heaven” as the setting. Kristin Bell plays a recently deceased woman, who, by some supernatural mix-up, mistakenly ends up in heaven instead of “the bad place”. Once there, she finds a world free of cursing, drunkenness and the vices of earth—vices she was actually comfortable with during her life.
The premise might sound a little preachy or religiously questionable (it is a religious parody after all), but its creator, Michael Schur, has a good track record for making comedies with real-heart: He’s the former Office producer who went on to co-create Parks and Rec and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Designated Survivor (ABC)
ABC’s new political thriller is based on an interesting real-life premise. During the State of the Union address, when the president and all of the country’s lawmakers are gathered in the same building, a Washington official is taken to an undisclosed location, and granted the title “designated survivor”: In case of a disaster at the site of the State of the Union, that individual becomes president.
Kiefer Surtherland’s return to network TV looks to strike a similar chord as his time 24—a political drama involving intelligence, high stakes decision making, national security and terrorism.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.