1. The Deuce
Premiered on HBO on September 10. David Simon and George Pelecanos (The Wire, Treme) return with a provocative eight-episode drama tracing the rise of the sex industry, starting with Times Square at its sleaziest in 1971.
James Franco is okay in dual roles as bar manager Vincent and his good-for-nothin’ twin brother, Frankie, while Maggie Gyllenhaal shines as Eileen (aka Candy), a prostitute who takes an entrepreneurial interest in pornographic film-making. But it’s a supporting cast of pimps, prostitutes, cops and others who give the show a vital and appealing electricity.
The story and its subjects can be unsettlingly frank, but The Deuce excels at examining corruption and sin as innately human instincts - and as business propositions.
2. The Brave
(Premiering on NBC at 10pm on Monday. Some broadcast networks have retreated to the politically safe territory while President Donald Trump is in office with gung-ho dramas about elite soldiers battling terrorists.
CBS has one called SEAL Team and the CW offers Valor. But it’s The Brave (from Israeli producer Avi Nir, who shepherded Homeland to American TV) that busts in with the smoothest operation skills, as Anne Heche plays a hard-driven intelligence agency head who gives orders to a special-ops team headed by Captain Adam Dalton (Under the Dome’s Mike Vogel).
Netflix streaming from October 13. There are three new, heavily hyped shows this season that networks didn’t screen in time for this the US autumn preview, including NBC’s Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders and CBS All Access’s Star Trek: Discovery.
But the one I’m most eager to get a look at is Mindhunter, which brings film director David Fincher (Zodiac,The Social Network) back to Netflix, after he lent some needed cachet to its first hit, House of Cards.
Based on former FBI agent John E Douglas’s book, the series is set in 1979 and follows two agents - played by Jonathan Groff (Looking) and Holt McCallany — who get the idea to interview imprisoned serial killers as a way to better understand their methods and predilections. Despite their superiors’ doubts, the agents begin to work up profiles that could help solve other cases. It looks dark andlet’s say Fincher-esque.
4. White Famous
Premiering on Showtime at 10pm, on October 15. Somewhat underused during his run on Saturday Night Live, Jay Pharoah makes a nice landing in this sharply written dramedy as Floyd Mooney, a comedian who’s a hit with predominantly black audiences.
But his agent (Utkarsh Ambudkar) and baby mama (Cleopatra Coleman) keep pushing Floyd to reach for mainstream movies and TV pilots that will, as the title of the show bluntly suggests, broaden his brand.
Floyd’s encounters with Industry elites - from Jamie Foxx, who plays a crazier version of himself (and serves as one of the show’s producers), to Michael Rapaport as a producer with an insane commitment to method-acting - aren’t here only to lambaste Hollywood for its racism.
The microaggressions follow Floyd beyond showbiz, and the show deftly weaves them into a comically effective story.
5. Alias Grace
Netflix streaming on November 3. After The Handmaid’s Tale, author Margaret Atwood’s big year in TV continues with this quietly mesmerising adaptation of her 1996 novel, which was based on the true story of a 19th century Canadian housekeeper convicted of a double murder after a sensational trial.
This six-episode series, written and produced by Sarah Polley and directed by Mary Harron, begins in 1866 as an American psychiatrist (Edward Holcroft) travels to Toronto to re-evaluate Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon) 15 years into her prison sentence.
The story comes to the viewer in complex chunks and unsettling layers, as Grace reluctantly recounts her dirt-poor immigrant childhood and the circumstances that led to her fate.
Premiering on Fox at 8.30pm on October 1) In concept this show might have worked: Take Craig Robinson (The Office) and Adam Scott (Parks & Recreation) and have them play a couple of those devotedly delusional ghost (and/or Bigfoot) hunters who pervade cable television.
Alas, the pilot episode makes things way more complicated than they ought to be — a secret government agency brings together the two men (Robinson plays a sceptical ex-cop, and Scott is a college professor who got kicked off the tenure track for his wacky beliefs in the paranormal) and forces them to chase some kind of alien terrorist from another dimension.
The jokes are flat (or absent), and the chemistry between the two men is regrettably nonexistent. Needs more Scooby-Doo and less X-Files, perhaps.