The TV calendar resets itself this month, with networks getting their dependable properties out of mothballs and shining up their brand-new programming for a grand debut. As students sullenly trudge back into classes, TV starts to get good again, following a long, blistering summer with a cavalcade of series premieres from well-pedigreed creators. While some of cable’s edgiest returning programming turns up the sex and violence once again, budding visionaries such as hip-hop polymath Donald Glover, Selma director Ava DuVernay, and frequent Louis C.K. collaborator Pamela Adlon all get their chance to take the steering wheel. Meanwhile, HBO plants the seedlings of a new cult hit; FOX attempts to resurrect some evil spirits from the Seventies; and NBC makes a bid to regain its former sitcom glory in a promising month for TV. Pencil a few new weekly commitments into your planner.
Atlanta (FX, 9/6)
He helped make 30 Rock the most riotously-written show of its decade, blew up as the MVP of Community‘s off-kilter ensemble, and then took an extended break to conquer the world of hip-hop as Childish Gambino. (Except for that clutch guest spot in Magic Mike XXL.) For his next trick, Donald Glover will plant his flag on TV with this low-key dramedy about neighborhood dude “Earn” Marks, grinding and hustling to launch his cousin Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) into rap stardom. All the while, he’s gotta keep up with his baby’s mother, evade gang warfare around the ATL, and keep a roof over his own head. It’s a stylish, assured new project for a hyphenate with no shortage of vision.
Queen Sugar (OWN, 9/6)
Speaking of brilliant African-American creators finally getting their moment to shine — after getting unaccountably cold-shouldered for an Oscar nomination for Selma, Ava DuVernay now gets the last laugh. Not only is she scheduled to helm a $200 million A Wrinkle in Time adaptation, she’s got the reins of new show, co-signed by none other than God, a.k.a. Oprah. Rutina Wesley stars as a New Orleans journalist and Dawn-Lyen Gardner is her sister, who relocates from L.A. to LA (Louisiana, that is) after inheriting an 800-acre sugarcane farm. Most impressively, DuVernay produced the 13-episode series with a crew made up entirely of people of color — the show’s already a thunderous political statement, down to its very DNA.
Better Things (FX, 9/8)
Louis C.K. gave the definitive modern take on single fatherhood with his FX sitcom Louie; now, his costar/frequent writing partner Pamela Adlon is tackling the other side of the coin. She plays Sam, a divorced actress scrambling to keep her life from falling apart while raising three daughters and allowing herself the occasional hookup. Expect lacerating humor about the trials and embarrassments of middle age, from finding a free second to furtively cruise porn to handling your teenager’s polite, formal request to smoke weed.
Masters of Sex (Showtime, 9/11)
Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan return to put the “swinging” in the Swinging Sixties in the fourth season of Showtime’s steamy period drama. Pioneering sex researchers/sex partners Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson have dragged modern medicine into the present kicking and screaming, singlehandedly legitimizing study of the libido. But now they’ve got to get the hang of being celebrities in the wake of a flashy Time profile, not to mention selecting new “test subjects” for themselves to “gather data” with. Think Mad Men‘s loosy-goosier, raunchier cousin.
American Horror Story (FX, 9/14)
Who knows what the sixth season of Ryan Murphy’s endlessly regenerating horror anthology will be about? Not us! He’s torn through a haunted house, a mental asylum, a witch coven, a deranged sideshow and one spooky-ass hotel, but Murphy’s been uncharacteristically mum about what the theme will be this time around, offering six creepy-as-hell teasers and warning that five of them will be revealed as red herrings. Judging from those, then, the new season will either revolve around: murderous hillbillies, basements, botched surgical staples, a millipede, a demon baby (see below) or a smoke-belching farmhouse. For now, your guess is as good as anyone’s!
Documentary Now! (IFC, 9/14)
Certified cinephiles Fred Armisen and Bill Hader are back with a new batch of parodies, and for thier sophomore season, an even more eclectic selection of major-doc mockery: Armisen plays a chicken-and-rice cook in a Jiro Dreams of Sushi send-up and shreds guitar as the frontman of a Stop Making Sense knockoff; Hader takes the lead in a two-part spoof of The Kid Stays in the Picture. And the early word on the street is that The Bunker, their take on election doc The War Room, is the best of the bunch. After all, we already know Hader’s got that killer James Carville impression in his back pocket.
High Maintenance (HBO, 9/16)
What began as a short-form Vimeo comedy about an NYC weed dealer peddling his wares (literally, as he bikes all over the five boroughs) is now poised to be HBO’s newest programming gem. Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld’s half-hour extension of their shorts favors quietly observational character work as the Sinclair-played entrepreneur known only as “the Guy” passes through his eccentric clients’ lives — he may encounter a young Muslim teen chafing against old-world expectations, or an actor making unusual preparations for a role. Ditch any expectations of Cheechian or Chongesque stoner humor, though; High Maintenance keeps it a lot mellower.
The Good Place (NBC, 9/19)
Mike Schur guided The Office through its early seasons, built Parks and Recreation into one of TV’s great sitcoms, and currently keeps standards for network comedy high with Nine-Nine. He now returns to NBC as the creator of a higher-concept sitcom, in which slacker Kristen Bell is shocked to find that she has died — and even more surprised to learn that a clerical error has mistakenly sent her to heaven. While she decides whether to willingly give up paradise, her mentor (Ted Danson) gets her acclimated with the squeaky-clean afterlife, a realm where people are physically incapable of cursing and everything is nice.
This is Us (NBC, 9/20)
This unorthodox ensemble drama follows disparate characters united by having been born on the same day, and tracks how their lives intersect with one another in unlikely ways. Mandy Moore, Heroes‘ Milo Ventimiglia, Smallville‘s Justin Hartley and American Crime Story‘s Sterling K. Brown all star in this survey of human experience, touching on a son reuniting with his estranged father, an obese woman undertaking the arduous journey to slim down, a couple grappling with the challenges of raising newborn twins, and an actor taking a principled stand for once in his life.
The Exorcist (Fox, 9/23)
Drawing both from William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel and William Friedkin’s stomach-turning film adaptation, this show polishes up the story of two Catholic priests doing battle with an ancient demon who’s set up shop in a teenage girl. Talk about your dark omens — the show was created by Jeremy Slater, the scribe responsible for the last year’s unfathomably lame Fantastic Four flop. (Though Slater has gone on record that most of his script had been given the heave-ho by the picture’s final print, and understandably wishes to remain unaffiliated with its toxic badness.) Friedkin’s film won’t be an easy act to follow up, so here’s hoping that Slater has the hot-pink, projectile-vomited guts to get the job done. The power of Christ compels you to watch this!