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Oscar, Emmy and Tony winners. Reboots, sequels, book and podcast adaptations. The 21 most anticipated new scripted TV series coming in 2021 have everything they need to cut through today’s increasingly cluttered landscape as streaming services battle for your subscription dollars (and their own survival).
As 2020 illustrated, there’s no sure thing in the television landscape as a quarter of the shows on last year’s most anticipated list never made it to air after the pandemic threw production into disarray. Others on the 2020 most anticipated list looked great on paper — an HBO comedy from Fleabag duo Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Vicky Jones! — but arrived with a whimper and were swiftly canceled.
Meanwhile, as the TV industry rapidly changes, some things remain the same: Showtime’s Halo and Amazon’s Lord of the Rings are now safe bets to debut in 2022 (though the latter is considered a longshot to air in late 2021).
Here, in a bid to navigate the Peak TV waters, THR picks the 21 most anticipated new scripted TV shows coming in 2021. Some are safe bets (FX’s Impeachment, the lone returning show from last year’s list). Many are based on proven concepts with a fresh twist (Bel-Air, The Mighty Ducks). Others are bold and expensive swings based on beloved books (Pachinko), fascinating people (The Dropout) or the life of a well-known star (Dad, Stop Embarrassing Me). And yes, some are actually original ideas (a new Tina Fey comedy).
Read on for the 21 shows that are likely to be the talk of the town in the year ahead. And remember: While the below are confirmed to air in 2021, anything can change as productions continue to navigate the challenges of filming during a pandemic. They are presented in alphabetical order with premiere details provided where available. Be sure to bookmark THR‘s handy guide for key series premiere (and series finale) dates as most of the offerings below are still awaiting scheduling. (Note: Only new scripted series qualify for this list.)
Peacock may have had a lackluster 2020 launch, but the year ahead looks bright with a slate that includes this fresh (ahem) and dramatic take on the 1990s Will Smith-led family comedy. Based on Morgan Cooper’s viral video that delivered the same swagger and nods to the iconic series, the Fresh Prince joins Quincy Jones and other original producers in the reimagining that dives deeper into the inherent conflicts, emotions and biases of what it means to be a Black man in America today.
Colin in Black and White (Netflix)
The six-episode scripted drama explores the adolescent life of Colin Kaepernick, focusing on his high school years and the acts and experiences that led him to become the activist he is today. Jaden Michael stars as the young quarterback and activist; Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) play his adoptive parents. Kaepernick will appear as himself as the narrator of the drama that counts Ava DuVernay as an exec producer.
Cowboy Bebop (Netflix)
Based on the 1998 Japanese anime TV series from writer Cain Kuga, Cowboy Bebop was a worldwide phenomenon and is wildly considered one of the biggest series in the anime genre. John Cho stars in the live-action space western that was delayed by both the pandemic and after the actor suffered a serious knee injury on set. Mustafa Shakir, Daniella Pineda, Geoff Stults and Tamara Tunie co-star.
Dad, Stop Embarrassing Me (Netflix)
Two decades after his last series regular role, Oscar winner Jamie Foxx returns to television in this scripted comedy inspired by the relationship with his daughter, Corinne. The father-daughter duo exec produce the series, which will see Foxx play multiple characters opposite Kyla-Drew (who plays Corinne). David Alan Grier reunites with his former In Living Color co-star Foxx in the comedy, which is part of the streamer’s push for broad-skewing fare.
Another revival? Yes, but consider this one a chance for Showtime to right the wrongs of one of the most critically panned series finales ever. Original showrunner Clyde Phillips — who steered the first four seasons of the original before bailing — returns alongside series star Michael C. Hall to craft what the former considers “a great opportunity to write a second finale.” (Just please find a f—ing way to bring Jennifer Carpenter’s Deb back from the dead.
The Dropout (Hulu)
Kate McKinnon turns to drama and stars as disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. Based on the ABC News podcast, the limited series traces how Holmes raised hundreds of millions to fund the biotech start-up and became a media darling while hiding the fact that her touted blood-testing machine didn’t really work. It marks the first series regular role for the SNL Emmy winner.
The Friends reunion special (HBO Max)
Could this be any more anticipated? By the time this unscripted special airs, more than a year will have passed since THR exclusively reported it was in the works. Yes, we know, you were on a (pandemic-related filming) break, but the interest in this special and the original series has only grown after the former NBC comedy became a megahit for a second generation as new audiences found the series on Netflix. And yes, we’re aware that this doesn’t technically qualify to be on this list since it’s not a “new scripted series,” but the interest in this is greater than Joey’s love of sandwiches.
Generation (HBO Max)
Yes, HBO Max has updates of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars both coming in 2021, but we’re using this slot to highlight a new voice. Zelda Barnz, 19, co-created and co-wrote the script (alongside her father, Daniel Barnz) for this 10-episode half-hour dramedy that follows a group of high school students whose exploration of modern sexuality (devices and all) tests deeply entrenched beliefs about life, love and the nature of family in their conservative community. Lena Dunham mentored Zelda Barnez and produces the series. Martha Plimpton stars alongside Justice Smith, Sam Trammell and Chase Sui Wonders.
30 Rock creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are getting the band back together for this musical comedy about a former one-hit wonder girl group that takes another shot at stardom. With a cast that includes Grammy- and Tony-winners Sara Bareilles and Hamilton‘s Renée Elise Goldsberry as well as comedy greats Busy Philipps and Paula Pell, we can’t wait to rock out.
Impeachment: American Crime Story (FX)
Originally intended to air before the 2020 presidential election, the third season of the Emmy-winning FX anthology from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk turns its lens on the Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton scandal. Lewinsky produces the season, which is based on Jeffrey Toobin’s best-seller A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President. Sarah Paulson stars as Linda Tripp; Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart) plays Lewinsky; and Annaleigh Ashford (Masters of Sex) is set as Paula Jones. (This is the only show that was on last year’s most anticipated list.)
In Treatment (HBO, fall)
A decade after its third season wrapped, the Emmy-winning drama has been revived for a fourth season with a new cast. Three-time Emmy winner Uzo Aduba steps into the role of the therapist (originally played by Gabriel Byrne) as new showrunners join the original creative team for the reimagined fourth season that will offer a diverse trio of patients in the half-hour drama series.
Inventing Anna (Netflix)
Shonda Rhimes makes her writing and showrunning debut for the streamer with this drama based on a 2018 New York magazine story about a fake German heiress who conned her way into the New York society scene. Yes, Christmas romance breakout Bridgerton was Shondaland’s first scripted foray for Netflix but this limited series starring Ozark Emmy winner Julia Garner as Anna Delvey marks the first episodes Rhimes herself has written since the 2018 series finale of Scandal. Anna Chlumsky, Laverne Cox and frequent Rhimes collaborators Katie Lowes, Jeff Perry and Anna Deavere Smith co-star.
Lisey’s Story (Apple)
Oscar winner Julianne Moore stars in the series, based on Stephen King’s 2006 horror-romance best-seller, about a woman who realizes her late husband wasn’t all that she believed. King, in a rare move, will write all eight episodes of the thriller that sees him reteam with exec producer J.J. Abrams (Hulu’s 11.22.63).
With Showtime’s Shameless ranking as one of Netflix’s most watched acquired series, the streamer hopes creator John Wells can capture lighting in a bottle again with this original dramedy based on Stephanie Land’s best-selling memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. Margaret Qualley (Fosse/Verdon) stars as a single mother who turns to housekeeping to make ends meet in the series that, like Shameless, explores poverty in America. Nick Robinson and Andie MacDowell co-star.
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers (Disney+, early 2021)
Quack! Quack! Quack! One of the greatest sports movie franchises comes to television with this half-hour comedy starring Lauren Graham as a parent who starts her own rag-tag team — and recruits the famed Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) back to the ice to coach them. After the crapshow that was 2020, we could all use an uplifting family comedy. (Disney+ is also bringing Doogie Howser back to life in 2021 with Doogie Kameāloha, M.D., featuring a mixed-race teenage girl from Hawaii.)
Nine Perfect Strangers (Hulu)
Based on the book by Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty, the limited series reunites the team behind the HBO Emmy winner. David E. Kelley reteams with Nicole Kidman, who stars as a woman running a wellness center, on a mission to reinvigorate the minds and bodies of nine strangers. The star-studded cast includes Melissa McCarthy, Luke Evans, Michael Shannon, Manny Jacinto, Regina Hall and Samara Weaving.
Based on Min Jin Lee’s New York Times best-selling novel, the big-budget epic drama begins with a forbidden love and crescendos into a sweeping saga that journeys from Korea to Japan and America to tell the story of war and peace, love and loss, triumph and reckoning. The series will be told in three languages (Korean, Japanese and English) and produced across multiple continents. Lee Min-ho (Boys Over Flowers), Jin Ha (Devs), Anna Sawai (Fast & Furious 9), Minha Kim (After Spring), Soji Arai (Cobra Kai) and Kaho Minami (Angel Dust) star.
Break out the spandex and turn up the Olivia Newton John for this one. The always in-demand Rose Byrne stars as a mother who finds her power through the world of aerobics in this 1980s-set dramedy from creator Annie Weisman (Desperate Housewives). Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) directs the pilot for this series, which counts Sera Gamble (You, The Magicians) as an exec producer.
SNL favorite Cecily Strong reteams with Lorne Michaels for this star-studded comedy that’s described as Groundhog Day meets Enchanted. Strong and Keegan-Michael Key star as a couple who turn to a backpacking trip to reinvigorate their relationship and discover a magical town in which everyone acts as if they’re in a musical from the 1940s. They then discover that they can’t leave until they find “true love.” The star-studded cast also features Alan Cumming, Fred Armisen, Kristen Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Jaime Camil and Jane Krakowski.
Underground Railroad (Amazon)
Moonlight Oscar winner Barry Jenkins adapts Colson Whitehead’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel as a limited series that chronicles a young woman’s journey as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. After escaping her Georgia plantation for the rumored Underground Railroad, she discovers a railroad full of engineers and conductors, along with a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Newcomer Thuso Mbedu stars as Cora. Joel Edgerton and Chase W. Dillon co-star in the series, which reunites Jenkins with Moonlight producers Plan B.
WandaVision (Disney+, Jan. 15)
Following a year without a Marvel feature film or a new series connected to the MCU (with apologies to Agents of SHIELD), 2021 is going to make up for that in a big way with the comic book powerhouse’s roster of spinoffs from the theatrical favorites. Disney+’s Year of Marvel kicks off in January with Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprising their roles as Wanda and Vision, respectively, in a not-so-idyllic suburbia. March brings The Falcon and Winter Soldier, followed in May with Loki, animated What If … in the summer and Hawkeye in the fourth quarter. (Not enough for your inner-fanboy? Don’t fret, there are a few new Star Wars series coming to Disney+ next year, too.)
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