Welcome to a month full of an eclectic mishmash of new material: Selma's tackles the question of race in America, the Black Mirror creators return with unnerving new episodes (and bring an older Brit-zombie gem with them); Justin Timberlake turns Netflix into his biggest arena concert ever; and Christopher Guest gets the gang back together for another improv-a-thon. Throw in a couple of pilots, and October's shaping up to be a real grab bag. Enjoy your pumpkin-spiced recommendations.
The 13th — Netflix, 10/7
How about something light – like, say, the history of racism in America. Ava DuVernay (Selma) focuses on the prison-industrial complex that has wrongfully ensnared scores of men and women of color, but her project attempts nothing less than to chronicle the birth and evolution of American inequality. The title refers to the 13th Amendment, which ostensibly freed the slaves and kept black men and women out of servitude — bitterly ironic, considering just how far the documentary indicates we still have left to go.
Black Mirror, Season 3 — Netflix, 10/21
This sleek, 21st-century Twilight Zone returns with six (out of an eventual 12) new tales of futures gone awry, now making a home on Netflix instead of Britain's Channel 4. With a focus on the pervasive influence of new technology, the anthology sci-fi series has brought intelligence and style to unsettling, alienating thought experiments about where body-cameras or social media might be headed, to name a couple examples. Parks and Recreation creator Mike Schur scripted one episode with his former star Rashida Jones; Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Alice Eve also show up for good measure. Bonus points if you can binge-watch them on your laptop without becoming intensely suspicious of your computer.
Chance, Season 1 — Hulu, 10/19
Ready for a bout of deja vu? Hugh Laurie plays a prickly professional who uses unorthodox methods to solve tricky puzzles, the sort of guy so damn good at his job that he can get away with not playing by the rules. Also, the show takes its title from the character's last name, which is just a noun. Unlike House, however, this one takes place in San Francisco, and Dr. Eldon Chance happens to be a forensic neuropsychiatrist. We wonder if Massive Attack was free for the theme music.
Dead Set — Netflix, 10/1
"Big Brother, but with zombies" could've been all there was to Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker's lesser-known horror miniseries, and he's undoubtedly a skilled enough showrunner to have gotten away with it. Maybe it's the diligent verisimilitude — the undead attack the certified Big Brother house instead of a knockoff program, and Brooker nails some pretty minute specifics of the program's British iteration — or the creativity the writer brings to a perilously overexposed mini-genre. But there's more going on here than a literalization of reality TV's bloodthirstiness, to be sure, and while Black Mirror fans count down the seconds until the new episodes, his earlier work will make for a gruesomely delicious appetizer.
Goliath, Season 1 — Amazon, 10/14
Amazon turns the grit dial all the way up for this pitch-black legal thriller, with Billy Bob Thornton as the best damn trial lawyer this here county's ever seen. After years of drinkin' and general dissolution, however, he's lost sight of himself. With the lure of a wrongful death lawsuit against the soul-sucking law firm he helped create, he'll have to pick up the pieces of his life and get back on the prosecutor's bench. Naturally, the case will uncover a more sweeping web of lies and wrongdoing than anyone could have guessed. It's a potboiler all right.
Good Girls Revolt, Season 1 — Amazon, 10/28
Following in the hippie-dippie footsteps of Mad Men and Masters of Sex, Amazon's newspaper-set ensemble piece is the latest program to track the ascendance of women in the workplace during the Sixties. They took over the ad agencies and hospital research facilities; now the Fourth Estate will be reluctantly dragged into the future by a band of women with good ideas and zero patience for the men frightened and scornful of them. Based on a real-life crusade taken up by a young Nora Ephron, this socially-conscious period piece will satisfy the public's demands for both feminist programming and bouffant hairdos.
I Saw the Devil — Amazon, 10/1
The premise for Kim Jee-woon's cold-blooded serial killer thriller isn't especially novel — an agent from the Korean equivalent of the CIA loses her fiancée to a psychopathic murderer and vows not to rest until he's avenged her. Then you see the blunt, brutal poetry in it, and you realize what a difference a K-pulp auteur makes. One shot of the killer dragging his latest conquest through freshly fallen snow is both ugly and beautiful; another murder is disturbing right up until it becomes blackly hysterical. It's not for the faint-hearted. You've been warned.
Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids — Netflix, 10/12
"It's both a performance film but also a portrait of an artist at a certain moment in the arc of his career" is how Jonathan Demme described his Justin-Timberlake-in-Vegas concert movie in a recent interview. In more concise language: it's a hell of a good time. Armed with a battalion of high-def cameras, Demme bottles all the spectacle of the pop star's super-slick 20/20 Experience Tour. Demme himself urged viewers to get up and boogie their way through the film — expect living room dance parties to crop up all over America.
Mascots — Netflix, 10/13
After finding improvised insanity in the dog-show circuit, behind the scenes of a regional theatre production, and on the set of an Oscar-bait prestige picture, Christopher Guest moves to another weirdo-friendly milieu for his latest mockumentary: An industry-wide competition for professional mascots. His usual company of repertory players – Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, and Jennifer Coolidge – are back; newcomers Chris O'Dowd (technically a former Guest collaborator on the short-lived show Family Tree) and Silicon Valley's Zach Woods join the fold.
The Mindy Project, Season 5 — Hulu, 10/14
In case you're not up to speed on the spaghetti-like network of love connections on Mindy Kaling's witty, bighearted romantic comedy: eternally frustrated OB/GYN Mindy Lahiri was on the outs with her true love Danny (Chris Messina); there's also lingering sexual tension between her off-on beau, bearded hunk Jody (Garret Dillahunt). The fifth season picks up with Mindy's re-entry to the world of dating, with predictably disastrous results to follow. Whether she intends on making the fifth season her show's last is still up in the air — she's made some vague suggestions, but nothing firm — the writer has made it clear that she knows how Mindy's story ends.