Well folks — we made it! The fever dream that was 2020 came and went, and while we found plenty of new shows to fill our — excessive — amounts of free time, 2021 is shaping up to be an even more exciting year across the television landscape. Not only are long-delayed new seasons of Emmy winners including “Atlanta,” “Barry” and “Succession” anticipated to arrive soon, but a whole crop of new shows from streamers and networks alike are expected to debut sometime in the coming months. While few release dates are formally known thanks to this pesky virus, here are some new titles to keep an eye on as we embark upon yet another strange semester.
WandaVision (Disney+) - coming on January 15
After changing movies with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) over a decade ago, Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios are set to make their first official — sorry “Daredevil” — foray into streaming later this week after a nearly 18-month absence from screens. Elizabeth Olson (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlett Witch) and Paul Bettany (Vision) are set to reprise their roles from previous MCU installments in “WandaVision,” which follows the couple as they attempt to conceal their vast powers and live a simple suburban life in the town of Westview after the events of 2019’s “Avengers Endgame”. Described by Feige as a mixture of “classic sitcom” and “Marvel epic” in previous interviews, it remains to be seen how the franchise will make the transition to a weekly format after their initial launch plan was stalled by COVID. Yet, with an intriguing concept, teaser filled with dozens of fun callbacks and always anticipated supporting turns from various friends (and foes) from across the MCU, here’s hoping that Marvel’s most powerful couple can find a way to fill the Mandalorian-sized hole in our weekly schedules.
The Old Man (FX on Hulu) – release date unknown
The Dude takes on … prestige television? Set to star in an FX adaptation of Thomas Perry’s 2017 spy thriller novel, Oscar-winner and six-time nominee Jeff Bridges (“The Big Lebowski”) plays retired intelligence officer Dan Chase, a man who gets pulled back into a dangerous world of espionage after several years of living off the grid entirely. With a stellar supporting cast that features John Lithgow (“Perry Mason”), Amy Brenneman (“The Leftovers”) and Alia Shawkhat (“Search Party”), whether or not “The Old Man” and its 2021 release will be impacted following Bridges’ cancer diagnosis in October is unknown, but given FX’s award-winning pedigree with the genre in the past will be gladly welcomed whenever it arrives. Throw in a pilot episode helmed by MCU “Spiderman” director Jon Watts, and Mr. Lebowski may need to make more room above his new rug and beside the bowling trophies on his shelf come next Emmy season.
Foundation (Apple TV+) – release date unknown
With Amazon’s “Lord of the Rings” prequel delayed until 2022 and HBO’s “House of The Dragon” up in the air, Apple TV is betting big on Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction novels to be the next big thing for fans of expansive world building and lore. “Foundation” follows futuristic scientist and mathematician Hari Seldon, played by Jared Harris (“Sherlock Holmes”), whose invention of “psychohistory” leads a group from the Galactic Empire on a thousand-year journey to save the collective knowledge and ensure the survival of their society following its inevitable collapse in the future. Despite some concerns I have from executive producer David Goyer’s prior struggles to translate DC into a cohesive film universe, the teaser released in July was visually stunning, and the source material is often regarded as one of the best science fiction works of all time. If correctly paced and following the book-per-season formula that “Game of Thrones” once mastered, “Foundation” could be what Apple needs to dethrone HBO.
Station Eleven (HBO Max) – release date unknown
From the far futuristic to — slightly more realistic — fiction comes “Station Eleven” a 10-episode miniseries from HBO Max set to hopefully appear in late 2021. Based on Emily St. John Mandel’s award-winning 2014 dystopian novel, the story follows a band of classical actors and musicians who journey across America following a flu pandemic that wipes out a majority of the world’s population, all of whom hope to keep the artistic and cultural influences of previous generations alive and discover what remains of humanity in the wake of devastation. This one could hit just a little too close to home following the events of the past nine months, but with Mackenzie Davis (“Happiest Season”) and Himesh Patel (“Yesterday”) in leading roles and seasoned veterans like Patrick Somerville (“Maniac”) and Hiro Murai (“Atlanta," "Barry”) writing and directing, it may be the best — and sadly relevant — thing to come out in the months ahead.
Nine Perfect Strangers (Hulu) – release date unknown
Death, taxes and Nicole Kidman in a new limited series — all but certain. Reteaming with David E. Kelley (“The Undoing”) and tackling another novel from “Big Little Lies” author Liane Moriarty, Kidman sheds her damsel in distress identity as Masha in “Strangers”, the director of a wellness resort who welcomes nine stressed-out visitors for a 10-day retreat full of rest, relaxation and reinvigoration. As we’ve come to expect whenever Kidman is on small screens – the events that unfold are far from coincidental, and all nine of these “special” guests, including heavy-hitters like Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”), Michael Shannon (“Knives Out”), Luke Evans (“Beauty and the Beast”) and Samara Weaving (“Ready Or Not”), are in for much more than what they initially thought. While I felt “Undoing” was a bit of a regress for Kidman/Kelley following the massive success that was “Lies," a switch to a new network and even larger ensemble cast may be necessary to keep the plug and play formula they’ve developed from going completely stale. Can lightning and critical success strike twice? We’ll have to find out.
Young Rock (NBC) – release date unknown
Perhaps the strangest inclusion on this list — NBC’s “Young Rock” is based upon the early years of former pro wrestler and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, featuring the mega movie star at 10, 15 and 18 years old and played by three separate actors at each point. Created by Nahnatchka Khan, the showrunner behind the short-lived “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23” and star-making “Fresh Off The Boat” for ABC, “Young Rock” at its best could have the potential to be something like comedian Chris Rock’s prequel series “Everybody Hates Chris”, one of the most criminally underrated comedies of the early 2000s and a hilarious look into the early experiences of an incredibly funny and famous person. At its worst, it could end up being NBC’s version of “Young Sheldon”. Whatever Dwayne is cooking here, I just hope it smells good.
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers (Disney+) – release date for “early 2021”
I read somewhere that nostalgia is helpful in times of great stress, and clearly the people at Disney feel the same way. Digging back into the 90’s vault and bringing on former “Gilmore Girls” lead Lauren Graham as concerned mom Alex, “Game Changers” serves as a continuation of the “Mighty Ducks” film franchise and brings original writer and producer Steven Brill and Jordan Kerner back to the rink. The twist? This time the Ducks are the powerhouse who won’t let everyone play with them, and when Alex’s 12-year-old son Evan gets kicked off the squad – they decide to form their own team with the help — and return — of Emilio Estevez as legendary coach Gordon Bombay. I think I watched these movies at least 20 times growing up, and while I was never a hockey player by any means — you can’t help but get sucked into a great underdog story regardless. With the NHL season on thin ice, “Ducks” may help fill the hockey fix you need.
Schmigadoon! (allegedly) (Apple TV+) – release date unknown
Apple showed in 2020 that where they floundered with dramas, they more than made up for in hearty laughs, with half-hour comedies like Bill Lawrence’s “Ted Lasso” and Rob McElhenny’s “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet” sitting atop many bests of the year lists in December. Lucky for us, the steamer added another heavy hitter in this Lorne Michaels-produced — and not yet formally named — comedy series set to arrive at some point in 2021. “Saturday Night Live” fan favorite Cecily Strong and always entertaining Keegan Michael-Key star as a couple who take a backpacking trip to reinvigorate their struggling relationship and soon discovering a town filled with people who act as if they exist in a 1940s musical, quickly learning they must find true love if they ever want to leave this magical place. Catchwords ranging from “Groundhog Day” and “Enchanted” have been tossed around when describing this show from “Despicable Me” co-writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, and thanks to a cast full of comedians including Fred Armisen, Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming as music-loving townsfolk sounds like great fun. There’s very little I could find beyond what I saw here, but the logline alone has me hooked.
Underground Railroad (Amazon Studios) – release date unknown
With a Best Picture Oscar win and nomination to show for his last two films, “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins turns his attention towards television for only the second time — choosing to adapt Colson Whitehead’s 2016 alternate-timeline novel “The Underground Railroad” for Amazon Studios in what may be the most anticipated new show of the year. Set in a world where the Underground Railroad is a literal train system filled with engineers, conductors and tunnels housed underneath the southern soil, the story follows a young Georgia runaway named Cora who begins to travel this secret passage — enlisting the help of many along the way in a bid to reach freedom. While the Devil works hard and Jeff Bezos works harder, Amazon is an interesting place for a project of this magnitude to wind up — but with source material that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017, Jenkins directing all 11 episodes and Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment producing, it seems all but inevitable that “Underground Railroad” will be a hit.
The Dropout (Hulu) – release date unknown
The story of Elizabeth Holmes and her deception of Silicon Valley and the healthcare industry with faux-blood testing startup Theranos is fascinating and little known among larger audiences, and who better to bring that story to life than Kate McKinnon? Known for her comedic chops thanks to years’ worth of hilarious “Saturday Night Live” impersonations, McKinnon is set to executive produce and take on the lead role of the eponymous college dropout Holmes in yet another limited series coming to Hulu sometime in 2021 — an interesting choice for a comedian who’s largely struggled to turn her late-night laughs into leading film success in recent years. While we know she can play deadpan better than almost anyone in show business, I’ll be curious to see how she inhabits the truly strange persona that Holmes possessed in nearly every appearance — especially given that a film-adaptation of the story starring Jennifer Lawrence and directed by Adam McKay seems to be on the back-burner for now. I haven’t seen her tackle anything more serious than a supporting role in 2019’s “Bombshell”, but this could very well be the vehicle that leads Kate towards bigger and better.