Documentary fans, you’re going to be one happy lot this month. You’ll be able to check out a two-part profile on a powerhouse country music star; enjoy a long, hard look at an icon of haute couture; get a peek at a peerless athlete; tour the educational system in American prisons; and watch folks pay tribute to a show business temple. Those looking to get lost outside of the real world have plenty of options too, courtesy of another black comedy from Team Fleabag, a new live-musical adaptation of a Disney classic and a big-ticket fantasy adaptation on HBO. All this and much-anticipated return of Rick & Morty. Here’s what you need to tune in to this November. (For your best streaming options, click here.)
The Apollo (HBO, Nov. 6th)
Since 1934, Harlem’s landmark Apollo Theater has been a mecca for black artists — the careers of countless singers, dancers, musicians, and comedians have been made (and broken) by the venue’s notoriously ruthless crowds. This new documentary gets the whole legend down for posterity, toggling between the history of the famed venue and an ambitious new production based on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Luminaries such as Patti LaBelle, Smokey Robinson, Jamie Foxx, and Pharrell Williams also offer their thoughts on the history and significance of this institution, as essential now as it ever has been.
Back to Life (Showtime, Nov. 10th)
It’s another one of those shows about a young adult coming home again to pick up the pieces of their life — no big whoop. Except that Miri (co-creator Daisy Haggard) has been away serving a prison sentence, and when she returns to the English suburb of Hythe, everybody more or less associates her with that pesky murder she committed as a teen. Already a smash during its original run on the BBC back in the spring, it’s another tale of womanhood-in-progress from the producers of Fleabag. Just substitute homicide for hot priest.
College Behind Bars (PBS, Nov. 25th)
For many inmates, getting locked up can feel like the end of the road. This essential new documentary from Lynn Novick (codirector of The Vietnam War) focuses on a dozen men and women who’ve earning their college degrees while incarcerated, thanks to an experimental education program run by Bard College. From their intimately related stories, a larger image of the prison-industrial complex as a battleground between punishment and rehabilitation comes into focus.
Garth Brooks: The Road I’m On (A&E, Nov. 24th)
During the Nineties, Garth Brooks wasn’t just the biggest name in country music — he was one of the most popular entertainers on the face of the Earth. This two-night behind-the-fame special gives Brooks a proper biography, from his heyday through the Chris Gaines era, the temporary retirement, and the comeback. Cal it Garth 360.
His Dark Materials (HBO, Nov. 4th)
Phillip Pullman’s best-selling — and possibly sacrilegious? — series of YA novels comes to the small screen as the sort of generously-budgeted series that HBO hopes will fill the vacuum left by Game of Thrones. In this universe, animal companions called daemons keep a human company as a physical embodiment of their soul; a magical substance called Dust contains a great and untold power. An orphaned university student named Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) learns of her destiny to defeat the villainous Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) and restore order to a world dominated by a draconian church. Yes, the Harry Potter vibes may be strong — but the boy wizard never had an armored polar bear or palled around with Lin-Manuel Miranda in a fedora.
Lindsey Vonn: The Final Season (HBO, Nov. 26th)
Quadruple gold medalist Lindsey Vonn takes the spotlight with this in-depth look at her final skiing World Championship and overall legacy on the sporting world. She’s been racking up Olympic wins since she was a teen, even while battling a recurring knee injury that kept her out of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Directors Steve and Todd Jones watch the 35-year-old prepare for the last ride of her storied career and consider the turns that the next chapter of her life might take. It’s an uncommonly all-access peek at the inner workings of a singularly driven woman, both on and off the slopes.
The Little Mermaid Live! (ABC, Nov. 5th)
Disney’s undersea jubilee gets the live-musical-broadcast treatment! Moana‘s Auli’i Cravalho is the ruby-haired mermaid Ariel; Queen Latifah takes on everyone’s favorite tentacled villainess Ursula; John Stamos (?!?) is the mustache-twiddling French chef Louis; and really, who else could play Sebastian but dancehall legend Shaggy? In a break from standard operating procedure, the animated film will be projected along with the performances of assorted numbers from both the 1989 feature as well as the Broadway adaptation. Early buzz indicates that everything is indeed better down where it’s wetter.
The Preppy Murder: Death in Central Park (Sundance/AMC, Nov. 13th)
Before O.J. Simpson captured the public’s attention, the case of Robert Chambers and Jennifer Levin made headlines: He was a college-aged child of privilege, an avatar of the advantages enjoyed by high-society white men; she was the teenager he murdered in Central Park in 1986. He tried to pass it off as some rough sex gone awry. The judge didn’t buy it, and the trial set off a conversation about class and gender that consumed America. This docu-series covers the whole sordid affair, from the evidence that was originally deemed inadmissible to the impact this case had on the sociopolitical discourse we’re engaged in today.
Rick and Morty, Season 4 (Adult Swim, Nov. 10th)
The hiatus between seasons of the cult-favorite sci-fi cartoon has now stretched past the two-year mark — so to say this fresh batch of episodes has been “much anticipated” would be putting it mildly. Once again, alcoholic mad scientist Rick and his fretful grandson Morty rocket back into the cosmos for another round of irreverent, logic-twisting adventures. The trailer teases an experiment involving a fire-breathing dragon, the revenge of the Meeseeks species, and no fewer than three incidents placing Morty on death’s doorstep. The bad news is that only the five episodes making up this season’s first half will air in 2019; the rest to run at a time to be determined. Enjoy them [pause to belch] while you can, Morty.
Very Ralph (HBO, Nov. 12th)
Ralph Lauren built a multi-billion-dollar fashion empire from the ground up, with the guiding principle being: Everyone can get in on the American dream of looking their best. Susan Lacy, recent cine-biographer of Steven Spielberg and Jane Fonda, profiles the well-tanned style mogul — from his boyhood in the Bronx to his reshaping of his field as a more progressive, optimistic industry. He’ll leave the world a better-dressed place than he found it.