The streaming era means that there’s rarely a time when spicy programming is off the airwaves. August, a typically quiet month reserved for overdue vacations and blasting air-conditioning, has this year been home to powerhouses like Succession, Mindhunter, The Righteous Gemstones, and GLOW. But even if an unregulated deluge of content is television’s new normal, the fall season is still the time when networks and streamers like to unleash some of their biggest swings of the year.
In 2019, that doesn’t just mean we’re getting exciting new series—The Witcher, His Dark Materials, and Watchmen, just to name a few—but new places to watch them. The much-hyped streaming services Disney+ and Apple TV+ are on the way, and with them, even more programming to command your attention. (And even more potential subscriptions to add to your monthly credit card bill, and LOL, now you’re bundling streaming like it’s a cable package; time is a flat circle.) While the fall should yield some of the year’s best shows, this avalanche of series and services is also unbelievably overwhelming. It’s enough to make a culture blogger feel like they’re trapped in a certain Kubrick film.
For my own sanity—and more importantly, for your own bingeing interests—we’ve devised a guide for making the most out of television in the final months of 2019, combing through the most anticipated releases of each month, where you can watch them, what you can expect, and how much all of this would theoretically cost. Let’s begin with the biggest releases arriving in September.
Worth a Look: The Good Place Season 4 (NBC, September 26), The Politician (Netflix, September 27), Undone (Amazon Prime, September 13)
While The Good Place’s third season was a bit of a step down from the first two seasons, it remains one of the most fascinating shows on TV—the rare sitcom that relies on shocking twists and a mystery-box framework. It’s also, compared with most hyped shows arriving this fall, an extremely modest commitment: You can definitely find time to watch one 23-odd minute episode each week. If you’ve made it this far with The Good Place, you owe it to yourself to see how this pun-loving series ends; and if its characters eventually make their way to, well, the Good Place.
Undone and The Politician will be heavier lifts, but both should be worth the investment. Undone comes from two alums of Netflix’s beloved animated series BoJack Horseman—Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg—following a young woman who attempts to travel through space and time to reverse her father’s death. The visuals, becoming the first ongoing series to use rotoscope animation, are unique, and star Rosa Salazar—she of the googly eyes of Alita, noted Battle Angel—is nothing if not used to conveying emotion through distinct visual mediums. The Politician, meanwhile, is the first Ryan Murphy series to arrive on Netflix after the streamer broke the bank to acquire his über-popular services. The Politician’s first trailer’s got a real Election vibe, with Ben Platt playing a Tracy Flick stand-in, if you’re into that sort of thing.
If You’ve Got the Time: American Horror Story: 1984 (FX, September 18), Evil (CBS, September 26), Emergence (ABC, September 24)
Like a cockroach, the American Horror Story franchise survived the apocalypse, and it seems liable to continue dropping seasons until the Earth’s oceans envelop us all. AHS hasn’t had a legitimately good season in years, but 1984 offers a glimmer of hope by ostensibly satirizing the slasher genre. Anyone with a touch of nostalgia for the Friday the 13ths and Halloweens of the world (read: me) is willing to give this anthology series another chance.
The two most promising network shows, meanwhile, arrive within days of one another. Emergence seems to be ABC’s answer to everyone’s undying love of Stranger Things—the show even has its very own version of Eleven. ABC has already released the opening nine minutes of Emergence online. And CBS’s Evil, about a skeptical psychologist and a priest-in-training trying to discern the supernatural from the psychological, looks like The Exorcist with a splash of The X-Files, and [Captain Obvious voice] those two things happen to be quite good. (Of course, if Evil is compelling, it’s destined to be abruptly canceled. Sorry, I’m still not over the untimely death of my goofy son Whiskey Cavalier.)
Satan Compels You: The Masked Singer (Fox, September 25)
Resistance is futile.
Worth a Look: Watchmen (HBO, October 20), Back to Life (Showtime, October 6), Modern Love (Amazon Prime, October 18), Mr. Robot (USA, October 6)
We have enough comic book adaptations in 2019, but Damon Lindelof’s take on Watchmen at least promises something original. Instead of adapting Alan Moore’s comic like Zack Snyder’s 2009 film—that’s a pretty dope movie, don’t @ me!—the new series aims to be a sequel, moving the action to an alternate version of the present day. (A present day when Robert Redford has been president since the ’90s, among other distinct flourishes.) We’re definitely watching the Watchmen.
Mr. Robot will return for a fourth season, and though the show has seen its fan base shrink after a zeitgeist-grabbing first installment, its remaining devotees are … really devoted. (No, really, they solved Morse code on a character’s tie to find the link to a trailer.)
Over on Showtime, Back to Life is a British transport that looks extremely Fleabag-core. The series focuses on a woman returning to her hometown after serving a prison sentence for nearly two decades. (Much like Fleabag’s inciting incident with the eponymous character’s best friend Boo, the reason behind her incarceration isn’t exactly clear at the onset.) Finding something to fill the Fleabag-shaped hole in one’s heart doesn’t sound like an awful way to spend one’s TV viewing time.
On a slightly less melancholic note, Amazon will unveil Modern Love, an anthology series based on the New York Times column of the same name. With a stacked cast that includes Tina Fey, John Slattery, Dev Patel, Anne Hathaway, Catherine Keener, and Cristin Milioti, the allure of Modern Love is as much about its pedigree as any of its tales about, well, modern love. The episodes are also, at around half an hour, mercifully short, so at the very least, you can rest easy that this won’t be an exhausting retread of The Romanoffs.
If You’ve Got Time: Nancy Drew (The CW, October 9), Limetown (Facebook Watch, October 16), Living With Yourself (Netflix, October 18)
From the network behind Archie Who Fucks comes an adaptation of Nancy Drew that appears to combine the teen drama of Riverdale with the noir-adjacent aesthetic of Veronica Mars. Riverdale has, especially in its last two seasons, become certifiably batshit—but that doesn’t make it any less fun to watch. If Nancy Drew is slightly more coherent than its CW forebear, it could become another big hit among the teens when they aren’t watching TikTok videos or doing whatever it is the youths are up to these days.
Limetown, based on the hit 2015 podcast, is an intriguing series from Facebook Watch—the issue is, will anybody actually view it? (No, seriously: Anecdotally, I don’t know a single person who’s used Facebook Watch who isn’t a Ringer employee who needed to watch it to do their job.) Hopefully the star power of Jessica Biel, who plays a public radio reporter investigating the mysterious disappearance of subjects from a research facility in small-town Tennessee, will provide some heft. Getting some serious Homecoming vibes from this one.
Living With Yourself is here to cater to the Paul Rudd crowd by offering not just one lead Rudd performance, but two. Rudd’s playing two interacting versions of the show’s main character is a gimmick that’s sure to give Living With Yourself a fair bit of attention; what remains to be seen is how much the show will provide beyond Rudd’s innate and infectious charisma. (Alternatively, we’d settle for an explanation as to why the actor hasn’t aged over the course of three decades!)
Worth a Look: The Mandalorian (Disney+, November 12), The Crown Season 3 (Netflix, November 17)
I could talk about the fact that Disney is expanding the Star Wars universe with a live-action series, a perfect flex to launch its streaming service. Or the fact that it’s focused on a bounty hunter with more than a passing resemblance to Boba Fett. (Our Mandalorian fella is almost certainly not Boba Fett, but it’s obviously looking to capitalize on his aesthetic.) But no, the absolute best part about The Mandalorian is that the show’s galaxy-brain cast includes, for whatever reason, Carl Weathers(!), Nick Nolte(!!), and Werner Herzog(!!!). It appears the series’ casting director was sent back to 1985 in a time machine; these are inspired, and frankly iconic, casting choices. The Mandalorian isn’t just Star Wars; it’s a tribute to the weird and washed. Long may it reign.
The Crown, the crown jewel—GET IT?!—of Netflix, finally returns for a highly awaited third season in November. In place of Claire Foy (as Queen Elizabeth), Matt Smith (as Prince Philip), and [Borat voice] my wife Vanessa Kirby (as Princess Margaret) come Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, and Helena Bonham Carter, respectively. Gillian Anderson will also show up as Margaret Thatcher. Monarchy shit is gonna happen. It will inhale all the Emmys that Game of Thrones once held.
If You’re a Masochist: High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (Disney+, November 12)
These colons: They’re so bad: You can’t convince me this thing is going to be watchable. It will, however, be available on Disney+ the day of the service’s release alongside The Mandalorian. But only one of those shows stars Nick Nolte and Werner Herzog in 2019.
Release Dates TBD
Worth a Look: The New Pope (HBO), Rick and Morty Season 4 (Adult Swim/Cartoon Network), The Morning Show (Apple TV+)
The New Pope, a follow-up series to The Young Pope, does not have a release date, but here’s what we know: There is a new pope (played by John Malkovich); the yung pope (Jude Law) is haunting the show in a speedo; Marilyn Manson(!) has a supporting role; it will be the greatest season of television ever made. Get out your rosary beads and take a shot of holy water every time Jude Law says something supremely sacrilegious. Keep watching this trailer until your eyes begin to bleed:
Rick and Morty returns for a fourth season sometime at the tail end of 2019. The show itself has been overshadowed by elements of a toxic fandom that take away from the fact it’s one of the most consistently hilarious shows on TV. But if you’re a fan, stay the course, even if you don’t harass McDonald’s employees for Szechuan sauce.
And while Disney+ has The Mandalorian, Apple TV+ (sidenote: What’s with plus fetish?) boasts The Morning Show. This is a different kind of prestige signifier: Instead of flaunting cherished IP, the show hopes to pull you in with A-list stars like Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell. It seems somewhat reminiscent of The Newsroom, and it might be worth the investment—if only to see what Apple might be about as a streaming service.
If You’ve Got Time: Dickinson (Apple TV+), For All Mankind (Apple TV+), The Witcher (Netflix)
The Morning Show isn’t the only series Apple will be dishing out upon its fall release. Landing on very different ends of the spectrum are Dickinson and For All Mankind. Dickinson imagines Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) as young and horny, eschewing a self-serious period piece vibe for something with a little more levity. For All Mankind, coming from Battlestar Galactica showrunner Ronald D. Moore, envisions an alternate history where the USSR won the space race. Both shows could also be worth a bingeing investment.
The Witcher, meanwhile, is one of Netflix’s biggest and most lucrative dives into fantasy: the streamer’s solution to finding its own Game of Thrones. Fresh off having his lip garishly CGI’d in Justice League, Henry Cavill plays the title character from a best-selling video game series that, to the best of my knowledge, is pro-bath propaganda. (Sorry, I only play FIFA and NBA 2K!) Video game adaptations haven’t yet translated to success on the big-screen; Netflix is hoping it can find the proper formula.
Sorry, I’m Fully Convinced This Will Be Bad, and It Upsets Me to No End: His Dark Materials (HBO)
Philip Pullman’s trilogy is my single favorite fantasy series on the planet, but hear me out! Tom Hooper is directing. Does his name not ring a bell? I’ll give you a hint: He’s got a movie coming out this Christmas. That movie is CATS!
You’re telling me the guy behind this atrocity is going to handle giant CGI polar bears and shape-shifting daemons effectively? But CGI notwithstanding, he’s the directorial equivalent of vanilla ice cream. The person you want helming an adaptation should have some visual flair to go along with its extremely pointed views against organized religion. (Even if the stars are too cowardly to even admit that’s what the series is about.) In other words, Hooper is the not the guy you want in charge of this series’ aesthetic; and frankly, the footage released thus far hasn’t been particularly inspiring. (They also want to adapt three books into just two seasons, what the hell?!) I’m not happy about this!
Wait, So How Much Would Being a Conscientious Binge-Watcher Actually Cost?
As much as we want to cater this guide to every individual, this is a subjective exercise—all the way down to the shows I’ve deemed worth checking out. But in the interest of imagining you’re somebody who’d watch most, if not all, of the shows that we’ve stated are worth a look, let’s figure how much being a conscientious binge-watcher would end up costing you.
Between the (again, subjective!) “must-watch” shows, traditional networks (ie. NBC, CBS), Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Showtime, Disney+, Apple TV+, cable channels (ie. USA, Adult Swim), and Facebook Watch are all represented. If you were to subscribe to all of these things—and because Apple TV doesn’t have a subscription price yet, let’s just assume it will be $9.99 and that you’d pay for a standard cable package costing around 50 bucks—your total cost would be approximately $119 a month! (On the bright side: Facebook Watch is free so long as you have a Facebook account!)
That’s … more than just a little drop in the bucket, and it speaks to the dilemma facing the modern television consumer. Unless you’re willing to fork over a big chunk of money for various streaming services along with traditional cable, such an arrangement probably won’t work. I mean, we didn’t even include Hulu in this exercise: a popular service lots of people use whose ad-free plan begins at $12 a month. If you’re adding that subscription, you’re looking at a bill over $130—to say nothing of HBO Max, another forthcoming streaming service separate from the existing HBO streaming services that will, among other things, feature HBO shows and the entirety of Friends. Did I forget to mention NBC is working on its own streaming service, and that Hollywood is obsessed with something called Quibi?
Even the most ardent TV viewers are going to have to cut costs and make some compromises. Until there’s a piece of monoculture that rivals peak Thrones—if that day ever comes—the ideal solution is finding a way to make the most out of paying the least, even if it means missing out on a few potential “must-watch” shows. For example, if you paid $48 subscribing to standard-HD Netflix, HBO, Disney+, and Amazon Prime, you’d get access to Watchmen, The Politician, The Mandalorian, The New Pope, Undone, The Crown, and Modern Love this fall, which would account for many of the “must-watch” shows determined by these subjective rankings, along with intriguing entries such as The Witcher. (It’s a little trickier to determine just how you’d find time to schedule watching all of these shows while maintaining a normal life, since many of them don’t currently have a release date.)
If all of this seems complicated and chaotic, well, welcome to television in the streaming era. It’s as hard as it’s ever been to stay up-to-date on the biggest shows of the year. Aside from making a bingeing budget to limit the amount of money you’re forking over every month, I’d also suggest picking up a book and putting all this stuff behind you. But also, you should really check out Succession.