Television's Top Awards Contenders That Have Debuted Since Emmy Season

11:30 AM 11/18/2016

by THR staff

If you're looking for something to binge on this Thanksgiving, THR's critics break down 12 strong comedy and drama series that have premiered recently.

Westworld_Atlanta_Fleabag_Split - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of HBO; Courtesy of FX; Courtesy of Amazon
  • Atlanta

    Creator Donald Glover stars with Brian Tyree Henry as cousins trying to pull their families out of poverty via the Georgia capital's music scene in this beautiful existential comedy. The series works its most compelling magic in witnessing the everyday motions of life, as Glover tells his story with great honesty and at a pace that feels miraculously real rather than manufactured for a TV series.

    In so many such ways, Atlanta seems like a movie that is signaling the coming out of a major, unique voice. Glover has conceptualized a world he wants to document and, like Aziz Ansari's Master of None, his show feels fresh and deceptively simple while also being assured. There's something akin to Louie in both Master of None and Atlanta, and perhaps the through-line is each series is centered around idiosyncratic comic actors given a chance to take a larger creative leap for the first time on their own. – Tim Goodman

    Read THR's full review here.

  • Better Things

    Pamela Adlon steps out of the shadows of Louie to create a finely tuned, real and funny portrait of single motherhood. The series is about Sam (Adlon), a working L.A. actress with just enough success to make life easy for her ex, but not enough money or time to make raising her three daughters a breeze. It's a great performance, but the show also is Adlon's coming-out as a creator, a skilled storyteller with a distinctive point of view all her own.

    Better Things is trying new storylines for modern motherhood, femininity, sexual identity, aging, cultural expectations — so many intriguing parts that make the all-too-short episodes of this first season fly by. Adlon is building something insightful and funny (and sad and true, etc.) that bears watching for its own merits. – T.G.

    Read THR's full review here.

  • Chance

    Hugh Laurie and an excellent cast combine with a glorious San Francisco setting to make this erratic drama about a troubled neuropsychiatrist and his very, very bad choices worth a shot, despite several shortcomings. The show flirts consistently with implausibility and cheesiness, but every time a hint of hokey creeps in, there are long, beautiful shots of foggy, menacing San Francisco and moments of genuine fascination. There's also the leading man, who's truly excellent even when the writing falters, helping the story punch its way to some level of success.

    Chance is erratic and sometimes frustrating. But it battles hard to win back approval. And overall the glitches are outweighed by the finer creative points. Who knows how the first season will unfold, but Chance fights hard to at least be given a chance, and that's a rarity these days. – T.G.

    Read THR's full review here.

  • Crisis in Six Scenes

    Woody Allen's highly anticipated foray into television stars Miley Cyrus, Elaine May and Allen himself in the story of a young 1960s radical and the elderly couple (he a not-very-successful author, she a therapist) she moves in with. It feels very much like a protracted big-screen Allen offering, but somehow thinner and not as smart; there are six episodes here, but only enough amusing stuff for about three, tops.

    And, worse, the sum of Crisis in Six Scenes doesn't even come remotely close to what other creators are doing in the medium with the half hours they've been granted. If Amazon was hoping a master filmmaker would use his imagination and skill to attack the most vibrant storytelling platform currently in the culture, it will instead have to satisfy itself with the knowledge that several of its own lesser-profile offerings by lesser-known creators are far superior. – T.G.

    Read THR's full review here.

  • Divorce

    Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church star in Sharon Horgan's admirably dark but hard-to-watch new series about a flailing marriage. The show has its positive qualities — strong acting and writing — but it feels a bit in-between; it needed to be either more sharply funny and withering or warmer and more optimistic to feel like must-watch TV. SJP fans expecting something in the spirit of Sex and the City will be turned off quickly.

    The pilot's outrageous turn of events probably played better on the page than on the screen, but the one thing it does with precision is anchor Divorce as a show that's difficult to watch if you've been through a divorce — and maybe even harder to watch if (like so many people) you're in an unhappy or crumbling marriage. Make no mistake about it — Horgan and director Jesse Peretz have a keen sense of how terrible it is to be unhappy, trapped and hopeless, and Divorce works best mining those difficult areas. – T.G.

    Read THR's full review here.

  • Fleabag

    A truly wonderful comedy in which creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge plays a single woman in London dealing with a variety of relationship, family and financial problems. Waller-Bridge is so intoxicatingly hilarious and lovely — a mixture of wildly inappropriate and devilishly adorable — that you mostly don’t see the onrushing sadness until it’s too late and you’re devastated.

    In many ways, Waller-Bridge, who fills the screen with her lanky frame and expansive and expressive eyes as she talks directly to the camera in various shades of snark, is the ultimate distraction. She's in every scene of Fleabag, based on the play that won her the Fringe First Award at Edinburgh, and she's so ultimately charismatic and in charge of her character and comedy that the short (and eventually longer) flashbacks to the loss of her best friend are like bricks that hit you in the head while you're staring and laughing at her fearless performance.

    And in the end, the devastating bit that haunts Fleabag is the truly central element of the show, heralding a very distinctive new voice on television (the rarity of that feat shouldn't need to be punctuated). – T.G.

    Read THR's full review here.

  • Insecure

    Issa Rae's comedy about a young African-American woman and her best friend in L.A. runs familiar situations through a highly distinctive voice. It's a smart and often funny look at people searching for love and professional satisfaction — about as common a genre as TV has to offer. But Rae's voice is one that wasn't being heard before, and that makes this excellent show even more gratifying.

    HBO originally ordered the series from Rae and co-creator Larry Wilmore back in 2013, and the process of bringing the show to TV hasn't always been speedy. That time has, I assume, given Insecure a chance to develop and evolve. It also allowed the need for a show like Insecure to become even more urgent. Rae's show and voice are a piece of what TV needs, part of a new wave of voices showcased in comedies like Better Things and Atlanta, and I hope both grow only stronger and better. – Daniel J. Fienberg

    Read THR's full review here.

  • Queen Sugar

    Ava DuVernay's satisfying slow-burn of a drama focuses on three siblings from a black Louisiana family: glamorous Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner); journalist Nova (Rutina Wesley); and Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), a volatile ex-con trying to straighten out his life. Glynn Turman plays the aging patriarch Ernest, living on the edge of an 800-acre sugarcane farm that he's struggling to tend. The series opts for visual and narrative sensuousness instead of big twists and turns, giving its characters plenty of room to breathe and its topical themes — police brutality and the struggles of the recently incarcerated, for example — the latitude to emerge organically.

    On Queen Sugar, there's more overt politics in juxtaposing what it means to be a wealthy black woman in Los Angeles versus the systematic adversity of being a black land owner in rural Louisiana, or in the sheer diversity of black and minority faces and experiences featured on the show, sometimes just in passing. This isn't the swanky, touristy, jazzy New Orleans of Bourbon Street or the perpetually haunted post-Katrina city, but a city where people live varied lives, whether at farmers' meetings or selling seafood out of coolers by the side of the road, and young and old, worn and smooth, it looks like a slice of the real world and not a movie casting call. – D.F.

    Read THR's full review here.

  • Stranger Things

    This '80s-set supernatural thriller/coming-of-age drama about a small-town kid who disappears was made by the Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross, veterans of Wayward Pines), and it's more than an exercise in nostalgia. A rich, spooky and carefully crafted sci-fi mystery buoyed by unexpectedly strong juvenile performances, the show also features a welcome comeback from Winona Ryder as the frazzled mother of the missing child

    Geeking out over shared pop culture experiences is part of why Stranger Things works, but it also weaves a good yarn that keeps you guessing on the nature of the unfolding phenomena, gives answers efficiently and if the answers don't always make sense or if they push the show off into a genre that you maybe didn't expect, it avoids becoming trapped or bogged down in mythology. While never exactly scary, it's generally eerie and unsettling and the Duffers work around their clear budgetary limitations with great ingenuity. – D.F.

    Read THR's full review here.

  • The Good Place

    Michael Schur’s delightfully breezy new comedy stars Kristen Bell as a terrible person who mistakenly ends up in heaven. Co-starring Ted Danson as the blundering architect of “the good place,” the show is sunny, funny and delivers immediately even if, over the long haul, it still has to prove that it’s got jokes other than variations on the main one.

    Schur is pretty brilliant at everything he does and The Good Place has some intriguing supporting characters (and no doubt more coming) who can take the show to the next level. In the meantime, it's a comedy unlike anything else on TV right now and part of that is because it seems so effortlessly fun. Jokes are plentiful and original and the show hums along delivering a lot of welcome joy. It might not be fall-on-the-ground funny, but you can definitely see a strong hand here in the creative writing and spot-on performances, which could prompt the old "season pass" from DVRs across the nation. – T.G.

    Read THR's full review here.

  • This Is Us

    Less a family drama than an interconnected-people-with-commonalities series, This Is Us focuses on fairly normal people — parents and their triplet sons and daughter, seen at different phases of their lives — with a Nancy Meyers level of privilege. That's probably why creator Dan Fogelman has built the series as a bit of an interlocking riddle, with reveals and a twist ending. The narrative trickery at work in the show is an unnecessary distraction, but if its structure gives audiences a reason to stick around for a series that's full of heart, humor and great performances (by Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Gerald McRaney and others), it's worth it.

    In the story with the pilot's highest stakes, Moore and Ventimiglia immediately establish a very sweet and funny chemistry, but they also both deliver the set-jawed intensity necessary for their hospital scenes, boosted by a performance by McRaney that includes hard-edged gruffness, humor and several terrific monologues. – D.F.

    Read THR's full review here.

  • Westworld

    HBO's ambitious expansion of Michael Crichton's 1973 film imagines what humans would do once they plunk down $40,000 a day to play in a futuristic Wild West-themed park that encourages illicit behavior. The twist is that the incredibly lifelike androids called "hosts" that populate the park have recently started glitching out. Early episodes are adept at setting up a sense of confusion about the motives behind the park's creation and operation, and there's much to delight the senses and fuel interest — including a sprawling, top-notch cast of performers like Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood. It's a big series that tackles more mythology than it likely can handle, but that's OK; it's better to be challenging than flimsy and easy to figure out.

    The series benefits from a number of standout performances, including those from Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores, a Western host whose life seems to be endless torment; James Marsden as Teddy, who comes to the park to play gunslinger but clearly loves Dolores; Thandie Newton as Maeve, the madame who runs the brothel in the bar; and a host of other, emerging characters that pop up in episodes three and four in particular, adding new wrinkles to what's real and what's not, what's gone astray and exactly how far astray. – T.G.

    Read THR's full review here.