Well, we made it through 2020 though it’s easy to forget that awful year is behind us. It’s cold outside, the vaccine is still making a slow rollout, and movie theaters remain closed in much of the country. Change is coming but it’s not here yet, so the only sensible reaction is to see what’s on TV. Fortunately, January will bring some enticing options. As in a normal year, it’s thinner than the end-of-the-year harvest season, but any month that includes a whole series dedicated to dirty words and features a new Ted Danson series can’t be all bad, right? And Danson’s not the only TV icon making a return. Our first pick for January’s most promising shows and movies includes a familiar face from The Shield.
Coyote (CBS All Access, Jan. 7th)
What does a border patrol officer do after retiring? If he’s Ben Clemons (Michael Chiklis) he starts to use his skill at keeping would-be immigrants out of the United States to escort them to the other side — but not by choice. Ben finds himself compelled to break the law when his family’s threatened after he runs afoul of a drug lord. If Chiklis’ return to the world of gritty crime dramas didn’t already mark this as one to watch, the presence of Michell MacLaren — for many years TV’s go-to director for landmark episodes of series like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones — as executive producer and director of the opening episodes certainly does. Stream here with free trial to CBS All-Access.
The Dig (Netflix, Jan. 29th)
In 1939, England faced an uncertain future thanks to World War II even as it reached a greater understanding of the past thanks to the excavation of Sutton Hoo, an early medieval burial mound filled with Anglo-Saxon treasures. But Sutton Hoo didn’t dig itself up. Located on the property of wealthy widow Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan), it might never have been excavated if Pretty hadn’t hired self-taught archeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to find out what lay beneath the surface. Based on a novel by John Preston, this Simon Stone-directed film dramatizes the events around the discovery, and the competing forces and personal drama that surrounded it.
History of Swear Words (Netflix, Jan. 5th)
Was anyone crying out for a Nicolas Cage-hosted series in which linguistic experts and comics like Sarah Silverman and Joel Kim Booster alternate facts and comedic riffs on our favorite four-letter words? Probably not. The show sounds like a fun, profane way to pass the time in the long, cold month of January.
The Little Things (Theaters/HBO Max, Jan. 29th)
The second Warner Bros. movie to arrive simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max looks quite different from Wonder Woman 1984. Denzel Washington and Rami Malek play cops committed to taking down an elusive serial killer played by Jared Leto in a film written and directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Founder). That’s not exactly a superhero-filled-fun-for-the-whole family premise but it does have the distinction of starring three Academy Award winners playing characters on opposite sides of the law. The film has a long, twisting history, beginning in 1993 as a script Hancock penned for Steven Spielberg that attracted the interest of Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty, and Danny DeVito over the years before Hancock took the opportunity to direct it himself. Stream here on HBO Max.
Pretend It’s A City (Netflix, Jan. 8th)
The trailer for this new documentary may imply it’s little more than scenes of Martin Scorsese talking to essayist, wit, and professional grump Fran Lebowitz in between scenes of Lebowitz wandering New York City and making pointed observations. But what more do you need, really? Scorsese and Lebowitz previously teamed up for the 2010 documentary Public Speaking, making this a reunion of collaborators with a lot of thoughts about New York (and other topics, too).
MLK/FBI (Theaters, Jan. 15th)
As Martin Luther King Jr. fought for civil rights his opponents weren’t always those who stood up to him on the front lines. They included J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, who embarked on a campaign of surveillance and harassment designed to keep King and the movement he spearheaded in check. The latest film from veteran documentarian Sam Pollard (Eyes on the Prize) explores the history of that campaign, which found the most powerful law enforcement organization in the country standing on the wrong side of history.
Mr. Mayor (NBC/Peacock, Jan. 7th)
In the latest from 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, Ted Danson plays Neil Bremer, a wealthy businessman whose late-career decision to dabble in politics lands him the job of Los Angeles’ mayor — a position for which he’s woefully unprepared. Joining that combination of sitcom royalty are Bobby Moynihan and Holly Hunter. Stream here with free trial to Peacock.
Pieces of a Woman (Netflix, Jan. 7th)
The first English-language film from Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó (White God) stars Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf as a young couple whose tragic home birth experience leads to depression, reflection, and litigation. Ellen Burstyn and Sarah Snook round out the cast. Kirby’s, who’s been due for a breakout role after supporting parts in everything from The Crown to Hobbs & Shaw, earned near-universal acclaim as the film made its way through the film festival circuit last fall.
Shadow in the Cloud (Theaters, Jan. 1st)
In a throwback to B-movies of old with a modern twist, pilot Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz) faces two foes when she takes to the skies in the midst of World War II: sexism and monsters. Can she defeat them both in this war movie / horror movie hybrid directed by Roseanne Liang?
WandaVision (Disney+, Jan. 15th)
With The Mandalorian, Disney+ proved that Star Wars could work as well as a television series as it has on the big screen. The first of the streaming service’s spin-offs from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, WandaVision will attempt to do the same. Though the details of the series remain under wraps, it appears to be committing to the medium of TV. In the aftermath of the most-recent Avengers film, Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) attempt to start their life together in the picturesque town of Westview. But why does that life have the look and feel of various classic sitcoms? Our heroes don’t know and viewers will have to turn in to find out. Stream here on Disney+.
The Watch (BBC America, Jan. 3rd)
The beloved British writer Terry Pratchett specialized in fantasy and science fiction books defined by their sharp wit and light touch. Set in the universe of Pratchett’s Discworld novels, The Watch attempts to translate that sensibility into a sort-of police procedural with dragons. That mix of gags and thrills might be tough to pull off, but 2019’s Good Omens miniseries, adapted from a novel Pratchett co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, proved it can be done.
The White Tiger (Netflix, Jan. 22nd)
Aravind Adiga became one of the youngest authors to win the Man Booker prize with this 2008 bestseller about a poor villager’s unlikely rise from rags to riches in modern India — a journey that involves several dark stops along the way. Newcomer Adarsh Gourav stars in a film directed by Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Fahrenheit 451).