Welcome to a somewhat light month for traditional new TV programming – all the better to pay attention to the noteworthy broadcasts emerging from more unlikely sources. (There are a few interesting, big-name shows dropping on Netflix and Amazon this month as well, of course – check our Best Things to Stream feature tomorrow for those.) Sure, there's prestige-lite TV like Showtime's temporally tweaked soap opera The Affair, returning for its third season. But how about an autobiographical, Christianity-infused holiday special from Dolly Parton, who cameos as a “working girl”? Or perhaps two off-beat comedies that tease the horror and detective genres with deadpan wit. Or simply enjoy the thrill of getting away from it all – like really, really far away, to the distant refuge of Mars, with National Geographic’s first foray into scripted programming. Here's what you'll be tuning in to throughout November.
The Affair, Season 3 (Showtime, Nov. 20th)
It began with a single transgression and rippled out from there: Frustrated novelist Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson), a young waitress still mourning the death of her child, share a little fling in Montauk. The first season told the story of their infidelity from both perspectives; the second split incorporated the viewpoints of their spouses (Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson) as well; and now the upcoming third season will bring in a fifth narrator in a new love interest, played by The Double Life of Veronique's Irene Jacob. Sudsy intrigue plus razor-sharp scripting equals a guilty pleasure without any of the guilt.
Dolly Parton's Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love (NBC, Nov. 30th)
Last December, country superstar Dolly Parton generated spectacular ratings for NBC with a autobiographical special detailing her youth in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Now Her Dolliness returns with the follow-up, another look back at faith, family, and the power of music – as well as a great blizzard that threatens the Partons as they raise cash to buy Mama a replacement wedding ring. Dolly herself has announced that she’ll appear in the special as the prostitute that inspired her sense of style as a girl, completing the cycle and hopefully, inspiring some other apple-cheeked little girl in middle America to find fame and fortune in the country-western biz.
Ice (DirecTV, Nov. 16th)
Hot off the positive notices for his recent down-and-dirty remake of The Magnificent Seven, filmmaker Antoine Fuqua heads to TV as co-creator of this crime drama with Empire producer Robert Munic. Instead of a record label, this dysfunctional family of hot-tempered hustlers run a diamond-trading business in Los Angeles, with the expected criminal side operation. But the Green clan ends up in hot water when the in-house loose cannon (Jeremy Sisto) kills a rival and his half-brother (Cam Gigandet) has to bail him out. In a matter of days, the bodies have begun to pile up – these diamonds are blood diamonds, people.
Incorporated (Syfy, Nov. 30th)
In the distant future of 2074, megacorporations have eaten up the globe like locusts and exert unprecedented control over their employees. On a mission to rescue the woman he loves (Kings’ Alison Miller) from the clutches of one such company, Ben Larson (Reign’s Sean Teale) poses as just another drone and infiltrates the operation. Dennis Haysbert, Julia Ormond, and Eddie Ramos also star; Matt Damon and Ben Affleck lend their celebrity to this future-shock thriller as executive producers. Bring on the highly relevant techno-panic!
Mars (Nat Geo, Nov 14th)
National Geographic dares to venture into the final frontier of scripted programming with this fusion of fiction, computer-generated imagery, and documentary footage. The year is 2033; humankind has successfully launched their first manned mission to the red planet. The crew of the Daedalus has begin the process of establishing life in an alien world over the course of these six episodes, with talking-head interviews from actual space experts interspersed to keep up the scientific bona fides. Don’t expect the second coming of The Martian, but if you're a viewer in search of a hard-science approach to terraforming our next home, step right out.
Search Party (TBS, Nov. 21st)
This SXSW-feted comedy series tracks the dogged efforts of a passive post-grad twentysomething (Alia Shawkat, so great in the recent Green Room) and her pals, including an ultrahip dude (John Early) and bubbleheaded best friend (Meredith Hagner), to track down a missing former classmate. But the show is as more about why these folks take on this quixotic mission – they're searching for their own direction in addition to the girl they hardly knew. The trailer promises plenty of deadpan laughs, and Early in particular is a comic talent destined for greater recognition. Comedy geeks, take notice.
Shooter (USA, Nov. 15th)
A series-length extension of the 2007 Mark Wahlberg film (itself an adaptation of Stephen Hunter’s potboiler novel Point of Impact), this thriller reintroduces the well-named marksman Bob Lee Swagger. A former military sniper living in exile, Bob returns to the fold when he catches wind of an attempt on the President's life; naturally, he's only scratched the surface of a larger, more sinister plot. Ryan Philippe takes on the lead role, and House's Omar Epps plays his Marine ex-commanding officer. Expect lots of dramatic running and intense stare-offs between well-armed men.
Stan Against Evil (IFC, Nov. 2nd)
After a long career of keeping his sleepy New England hamlet safe, gruff sheriff Stan Miller (John C. McGinley) has passed the badge down to tough cookie Evie Barret (Janet Varney). But just as the widower kicks his feet up to enjoy his leisure years, exactly 127 restless demons descend on their town to settle scores for some 17th-century witch burnings. Along with simple-minded deputy Leon Drinkwater (Nate Mooney), they battle Buffy-quality ghouls of every shape and size in this horror-comedy from stand-up veteran Dana Gould. Personally, our money is on Stan.
Stephen Colbert’s Live Election Night Democracy’s Series Finale: Who’s Going To Clean Up This Shi*t? (Showtime, Nov. 8th)
As the smoldering wreckage of what was once the American electoral process clears, Stephen Colbert and his lethal arched eyebrow will be there to sort through the rubble. If Hillary Clinton does indeed win the Presidency, the host will be on the front lines to lead the national sigh of relief. If Trump somehow pulls it out and emerges with a win, the comedian will presumably conclude his broadcast remotely while booking it to the Canadian border. Either way, Colbert's choice to go to Showtime with this special means he's off the network leash; "Vote" will be but one of many four-letter words.
Vikings, Season 4.5 (History, Nov. 30th)
The first 10 episodes of this historical epic's fourth season ran earlier this year – now the show returns to dish out the grimy, brutal back half to close the season out. When we last checked in with our merry band of pillagers, the once-heroic Ragnar had lost some of his fight and looked like he might succumb to the enemies encircling him on all sides. Having challenged his sons to kill him in order to take the crown, the rest of the season will track his bitter tooth-and-nail fight to stay alive and on top. Best enjoyed with a tall stein of mead.