It’s a New Year, which means one thing, and one thing only: A new batch of TV shows to dig into. (Ok, it may mean more than one thing.) Emmy winner Lena Waithe debuts her Showtime series about growing up on Chicago’s South Side; J.K. Simmons does Starz double duty in a thriller with a sci-fi hook; Steven Soderbergh casually revolutionizes the television format with a twisty HBO murder mystery; Dakota Fanning tracks down a 19th-century serial killer for TBS. See, there’s something for everyone. Here’s what you need to tune in for over the next month. (You can check out our picks for the best streaming options in January here.)
The Alienist (TNT, Jan. 22nd)
At the turn of the century, those grim souls specializing in study of psychological aberrations – people alienated from their truer nature – were known as “alienists.” Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) used his understanding of abnormal mental conditions to aid in special investigations for serial killers. (Think Mindhunter, minus a 100 years or so.) And in his pursuit of a murderer preying on underage male prostitutes, the good doctor gets a helping hand from a newspaper illustrator (Luke Evans), as well as the first woman employed by the New York Police Department (Dakota Fanning). The modern homicidal-psychopath procedural begins here.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX, Jan. 17th)
After the runaway success of the first ACS season’s inquest into the O.J. Simpson case, the true-crime anthology series returns to the Nineties to dramatize the Italian fashion visionary’s already-sensational murder. In the thriving gay culture of Miami Beach, Versace (Édgar Ramirez) and his longtime lover Antonio D’Amico (Ricky Martin) were regarded as minor deities. The designer also attracted the attentions of wealth-obsessed serial killer Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) and became the fifth victim in his scandalizing spree. Meanwhile, D’Amico and Versace’s sister Donatella (Penelope Cruz) must ensure that the empire around them doesn’t come crumbling down. This should be juicy.
Black Lightning (CW, Jan. 16th)
Meet the latest addition to the CW’s ever-expanding universe of DC properties: Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), a retired superhero-turned-high-school-principal capable of bending electricity to his will. After swearing off the vigilante lifestyle, he’s compelled to slap on the spandex once again when the nefarious 100 Gang threatens his city. Cue costumes, an almost entirely African-American cast, thrills, spills and the restoration order one block at a time.
The Chi (Showtime, Jan. 7th)
After picking up an Emmy for her standout Master of None, Lena Waithe goes back to Chicago’s famed South Side, drawing from her own coming-of-age for this slice-of-life drama about dreamers, hustlers and everyday people (including Jason Mitchell, Jacob Latimore and Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine). It’s a look at folks working to secure their own little corner of the city amid gang activity and self-doubt – in other words, the American dream in full bloom.
Counterpart (Starz, Jan. 21st)
You get two, two, two J.K. Simmons-es for the price of one! The actor plays Howard Silk, a sad-sack desk jockey in an obscure branch of the U.N. who stumbles upon a hidden portal to – of course – a parallel Earth. He must join forces with his doppelgänger from the adjacent universe join forces to unravel an elaborate mystery. But what he really wants to know is how his other-self could have turned out confident and capable. Lofty sci-fi meditations on regret, predestination and personal identity are abound here, along with an impressive double-lead performance from the Oscar-winner. This is totally our tempo.
David Bowie: The Last Five Years (HBO, Jan. 8th)
After nearly a decade of radio silence following a heart attack in 2004, Bowie returned to the public eye with renewed purpose – and produced some of his finest work. In his final five years of life, he cranked out comeback album The Next Day, the jazz-prog opus Blackstar, and a musical based on his character from The Man Who Fell to Earth titled Lazarus. Francis Whately’s documentary studiously covers this remarkable period, with collaborators such as regular producer Tony Visconti and Johan Renck (director of the chilling and elegiac “Lazarus” music video) weighing in on the former Thin White Duke’s long goodbye.
High Maintenance, Season 2 (HBO, Jan. 19th)
Never mind that skunky smell wafting through downtown Brooklyn – it’s just another season of Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld’s superlative stoner dramedy, potent as ever. The cannabis courier known only as “The Guy” makes his deliveries to a new assortment of neurotic New Yorkers and the song remains the same: He takes off, leaving the camera to observe the miniature dramas of his client’s oddball lives. This season, he falls in with some clowns, reckons with Trump’s America and has a memorable encounter with the local Hasidic community. There will be beards.
Mosaic (HBO, Jan. 22nd)
Back in November, Steven Soderbergh released his latest project in app form: a po-mo murder mystery allowing the viewer to choose which character’s perspective to share. This six-episode TV series completes the puzzle, shedding some long-awaited light on the slaying of children’s book author Olivia Lake (Sharon Stone). The resolution, however, won’t be quite so simple, since Olivia’s most widely-read storybook frames a conflict between a bear and a hunter from both points of view, and likewise, every suspect in the investigation considers themselves a victim in their own way. Time to bust the TV form wide open.
Portlandia, The Final Season (IFC, Jan. 18th)
Please, a moment of silence for all the friendly Oregonian faces soon to depart into the great beyond of syndication. Goodbye, feminist bookshop proprietors Toni and Candace. So long, gender-swapped couple Nina and Lance. We hardly knew ye, gauged-ear bicycling guy. Over the past eight years, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein have mapped alt culture in an alternate dimension where any lovable weirdo alienated from the mainstream can set up shop and do their thing. The catchphrases and in-jokes will still be regularly quoted a decade from now (cacao!). Hail, Portlandia!
Waco (Paramount Network, Jan. 24th)
For the persnickety among us: yeah, yeah, the historic 51-day standoff between FBI agents and the heavily armed Branch Davidians technically took place in Axtell, a rural Texan town about 13 miles east of Waco. Misnomer titles notwithstanding, this miniseries faithfully re-stages the volatile showdown that claimed upwards of 70 lives and gripped the nation. Megalomaniac David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch) assured his followers that the federal troopers at their front door had been sent by God to test their faith. FBI flack Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) led the raid, though this series wonders if he doesn’t have moral failings of his own to answer for as well. The result is explosive, in every sense of the word.