Just try to resist Wade Felton, the hero of CBS’s charming comedy The Unicorn. Better known for playing TV villains in shows like The Shield and Justified, Walton Goggins reveals a disarmingly appealing warm side as a widowed dad who slowly and sheepishly realizes, thanks to a gaggle of loyal and funny friends, that he’s a catch. If only he believed it.
Believe this: Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother) is a bona fide TV star, with her best role yet as scrappy and sexy PI Dex Parios in ABC’s Stumptown. Flirt with Dex at your peril. Wielding her sardonic wit as a blunt-force weapon, able to give as well as take a beating, Dex sets quirky Portland, Oregon, ablaze with her outrageous antics, steering the year’s most entertaining action romp into the must-see column.
Whoopi Goldberg wrangled a choir of nuns in Sister Act, so how hard could it be for curmudgeonly music prof Arthur Cochran (Bradley Whitford) to whip some lovably raw Kentucky churchgoers, including Pitch Perfect‘s Anna Camp, into vocal shape in NBC’s delightful Perfect Harmony? The West Wing alum’s gruff charisma earns a “Hallelujah” as Arthur rattles the pompous and pious, making beautiful music through comedy — or vice versa.
Two Paul Rudds for the price of one? Sold. Rivaling the buzzy Russian Doll in high-concept dazzle, Netflix’s marvelously twist-filled fantasy Living With Yourself casts Rudd as burnout Miles Elliot. His trip to a spa for rejuvenation magically results in a fresh-faced copy attempting to usurp his place in the world. How can anyone compete with his actual better self, especially when they’re both this effortlessly adorkable?
It’s the part Tiffany Haddish was born to play: herself. As host of ABC’s Kids Say theDarndest Things revival, the infectiously unfiltered live-wire comic mixes it up with tykes who (judging from hilarious clips) achieve the impossible — they leave big kid Haddish almost speechless.
Forest Whitaker makes a commanding Godfather of Harlem in an evocative Epix drama of violent 1960s mob and racial conflict. As real-life Bumpy Johnson, he walks a treacherous tightrope upon returning to Harlem after a decade in Alcatraz, tangling with Italian gangsters while appeasing neighborhood celebrities he sees as fellow hustlers: politician Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (Giancarlo Esposito) and Muslim firebrand Malcolm X (Nigél Thatch). The acting chops are considerable.
Courtesy of NETFLIX
Netflix is hoping you’ll love to loathe the calculating Payton Hobart (Tony winner Ben Platt), aka The Politician, in Ryan Murphy’s colorfully corrosive and darkly comic melodrama of ruthless ambition at a Santa Barbara, California, high school. Part Glee, part Manchurian Candidate, this messy yet fascinating cartoon parable ponders the value of winning at the cost of one’s soul. And yes, there’s singing.
John Paul Filo/CBS
Oozing menace as the embodiment of CBS’s Evil in the fall’s boldest and creepiest thriller, Michael Emerson (Lost, Person of Interest) adds to his gallery of eccentrics with malevolent mystery man Leland Townsend. As he bedevils the X-Files-like team of a skeptical psychologist (Katja Herbers) and a priest-in-training (Mike Colter) investigating paranormal events, Leland aims to invade their (and our) nightmares.
James Devaney/GC Images
So Many to Love
After devouring three sample episodes, I’ve fallen hard for Prime Video’s Modern Love (see above), a heartfelt anthology derived from the New York Times column. Big stars, including Anne Hathaway as a bipolar romantic, deliver full-hearted emotion, and a vignette featuring Cristin Milioti as a single New Yorker who develops a strong platonic bond with her building’s doorman brought tears. Also of note: The CW updates the iconic with Ruby Rose as an out-and-proud Batwoman and Kennedy McMann as a sexed-up Nancy Drew. And don’t count out longtime faves like Patricia Heaton, a late-in-life medical intern in CBS’s genial Carol’s Second Act, and Jimmy Smits as a would-be Atticus Finch in NBC’s earnest Bluff City Law. The comeback I’m most jazzed about: Jennifer Aniston, teaming with Reese Witherspoon as rival coanchors on the high-profile Apple TV+ drama The Morning Show.
Wade. Dex. Bumpy. Miles 1 and Miles 2. You haven't met them yet, but once you do, I'm betting these and a few select other characters might join your ever-expanding TV family.
The fall season may now just be part of a never-ending continuum of shows premiering year-round on a ballooning and mystifying array of platforms. Yet there's something about the tradition of settling in for a new batch of fall television — on familiar and newfangled networks alike — that piques our curiosity about who's worth getting to know.
Get a sampling of my early favorites in the gallery above.