Remember when September was the big month for new TV programming? (Gather ’round, children, and let Grandpa tell you about the days when there were only three networks!) Yes, the traditional pilot season is once upon us, which means laugh-tracked comedies, curious cop shows and Lost-like mysteries are once again upon us. Also on deck: Ken Burns delves into an august tradition of American music; a documentary looks at an icon’s impact on sport and culture; and an under-seen triumph returns to HBO with meticulous period recreations intact. Here are the sitcoms, procedurals, and other future I’ll-binge-this-once-it’s-on-a-streaming-service favorites hitting the tube this month.
American Horror Story: 1984 (FX, Sep. 18th)
Jocks in crop-tops, hair several stories high, New Wave synth music on the soundtrack — it must be the Eighties on Ryan Murphy’s unstoppable horror anthology. He pays homage to cabin-in-the-woods slasher movies with the latest season, with the summer camp setting specifying the pool of references to Sleepaway Camp and its ilk. A cast of unsuspecting, nubile teens, including Murphy regulars Emma Roberts and Billie Lourd (along with Ryan TV newcomers DeRon Horton and Olympic skier-turned-actor Gus Kenworthy), will get hacked to bits by a masked assailant, but this being American Horror Story, there has to be more to it than that. Though “taut midriffs and intermittent stabbings” is, to be fair, plenty.
Country Music (PBS, Sep. 15th)
America’s preeminent longform-doc historian covered jazz in 2001; now Kens Burns is turning his sights on the other purely American genre of music. Country gets the full Burns approach with a top-to-bottom account of its formation, its social import, and its legacy in the present day. With an avalanche of rare preserved footage, exhaustive research, and color commentary from such luminaries as Garth Brooks, Loretta Lynn, and Willie Nelson, Burns has accomplished another herculean feat of posterity-building. He establishes a public record of all that his chosen topic means to the people at its center — joy, heartbreak, hope, and everything in between.
The Deuce, Season 3 (HBO, Sep. 9th)
David Simon and George Pelecanos’ porn epic jumps ahead into the Eighties for its final season, when videotape revolutionized the industry by slicing production costs. Rising director Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) continues to gain in legitimacy, while sleazeball brothers Vincent and Frankie Martino (James Franco and James Franco, respectively) do the opposite as their business enterprises grow shadier and shadier. Porn starlet Lori (Emily Meade) goes mainstream as a video vixen on the hair metal scene, and the cops launch a new plan to clean up Times Square once and for all at the behest of Mayor Ed Koch. Times change, buildings rise and fall, but the one constant throughout everything: Sex sells.
Diego Maradona (HBO, Sep. 24th)
Diego Maradona has a solid claim to the title of history’s greatest soccer player. (Fine, fine, football player.) This documentary goes one step further to posit him as one of the most fascinating figures in all of sport, exposing the agony and ecstasy of an unparalleled talent. From his childhood in the slums of Argentina, to his rise to stardom and the frenzied media spectacle surrounding it, to later-in-life scandals involving cocaine and La Cosa Nostra, it’s another comprehensive portrait from director Asif Kapadia, i.e. the man behind Senna, the jaw-dropping Formula-One-champ profile, and Amy, the Oscar-winning chronicle of Amy Winehouse’s life and times. In other words, audiences are expecting a gooooooooooal.
Emergence (ABC, Sep. 24th)
An airplane falls out of the sky and crashes on the Peconic Bay in Long Island. Out from the smithereens crawls a girl (Alexa Skye Swinton) with no memory of who she is or where she’s come from. There’s a mystery afoot, probably related to the unexplainable electrical flares and odd lights in the nighttime sky, and local police chief Jo Evans (Fargo breakout Allison Tolman) wants to be the one to unravel it. Trouble is, she’s taken a shine to the young survivor and offered her a home, tying some emotional knots into her deductive efforts. Uh-oh.
Prodigal Son (Fox, Sep. 23rd)
What if Hannibal Lecter was your dad? That’s the jumping-off point for this new crime procedural, in which ex-FBI profiler Malcolm Bright (Walking Dead alum Tom Payne) returns to the job when a new serial killer appears to be copycatting the murders Malcolm’s father (Michael Sheen) committed years earlier. He’ll have to confront his mental demons and go face-to-face with his long-estranged, homicidal pop-pop if he wants to solve the case before the killer strikes again. But Malcolm can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that his father may somehow be orchestrating all this from behind bars, and more troubling still, that he may be one of the pawns.
Room 104, Season 3 (HBO, Sep. 13th)
Sam Richardson, Luke Wilson, Arturo Castro, Paul F. Tompkins, and June Squibb number among the guests checking in at HBO’s anything-goes anthology series this year. The show sticks to its one guiding principle — all action takes place within a single suite at a singularly strange hotel — but that parameter leaves a lot of space for flights of fantasy. This season’s trailer teases a growhouse FDA bust, multiple openings of the third eye, and at least one encounter with a well-renowned monster. Oh, and lots of bloodshed. The drama appears to be drifting towards the realm of horror, a fittingly unlikely pivot for a show that’s thrived on its own unpredictability.
Stumptown (ABC, Sep. 25th)
The title refers to the nickname of Portland, Oregon, the city that down-on-her-luck veteran Dex Parios (Cobie Smulders) calls home. Unemployed and deep in debt, she gets the bright idea to scrape together some scratch as a private eye, using her skills learned from the military to pay the bills and support her brother (Cole Sibus) with Down Syndrome. One lowlife at a time, she cleans up the streets and dispenses sardonic one-liners; the project hasn’t strayed far from its graphic novel origins. She’s a far cry from HIMYM‘s Robin Sparkles, in other words.
Sunnyside (NBC, Sep. 26th)
Kal Penn draws on his background as an entertainer, a political operator, and an Indian-American man for this sitcom about the red tape wrapped around the American dream. The show’s creator also leads as Garrett Modi, a former New York City councilman booted from office due to drug charges. (To think: Kumar himself, getting high!) He finds his second act in a group of immigrants preparing to take their citizenship exams; they need help getting a leg up on the test, and he needs to do something meaningful. Do you think they’ll end up teaching him as much as he teaches them? Have you ever watched a half-hour television comedy before?
The Unicorn (CBS, Sep. 26th)
For the record: Series lead Walton Goggins does not portray the snow-white one-horned horse of legend in this new comedy series. Rather, his character Wade is a comparably rare phenomenon in the adult dating world: handsome, a good father, gainfully employed and, after the tragic death of his wife, single. And this sitcom picks up at the point where the widower decides to get back in the game. Yes, he may have caught the eye of every single mom within a ten-mile radius. No, he’s not done processing his own grief or figured out how to introduce a new woman to his youngsters. Who doesn’t pine for a weekly dose of Walty G. once more?