Best of Fall TV 2021

Although we may be living in an age of non-stop new streaming content releases, there’s still something special about the fall TV season. Just as you can count on leaves changing colors, the air turning cooler, and pumpkin spice appearing in everything, you can look forward to fall as a time for a fresh wave of new shows and new seasons of returning favorites. If content overload is a problem the rest of the year, it’s especially daunting in the fall. Fortunately, that’s what The Watercooler is here for. Below, you’ll find our curated “short list” of picks for the best of fall TV and streaming shows.

Y: The Last Man

Premieres Sept. 13 on FX | Trailer

Based on the popular DC comic series of the same name, Y: The Last Man follows the stories of a handful of survivors in the aftermath of a plague that kills every person on the planet with a Y chromosome…except one. Women aren’t given the choice to take over, they have to. The “Last Man” in the title is Yorick (the “Y” isn’t just for the chromosome, you know), an aspiring magician and the son of a congresswoman who happens to be the highest-ranking female in the chain of command. Yorick is kind of a tool, but he’s self-aware enough to realize that he’s not up to the responsibility of being the last man on the planet. He is so, so right.

In keeping with the show’s theme, all of the episodes were written and directed by women. Showrunner Eliza Clark has also set out to take on issues of gender and equality that weren’t explored in the comic. It’s a captivating, possibly triggering story, from the first minute — when you start counting the men who are about to die, and caring about the women who love them. Strong storylines, characters, and acting make this a great binge now, or a must-see every week. —Liz Coopersmith

Sex Education

Premieres Sept. 17 | Trailer

Season three of this fascinating, well-written series returns with more dry British wit and frank conversations. In season one, socially awkward teen Owen took advantage of his absorbed knowledge (thanks to his sex therapist mum, played by Gillian Anderson) and teamed up with fellow student Maeve to launch a sex clinic at their high school.  Since then, the focus of the show has expanded to follow other characters and their relationship struggles. It’s won praise and awards for its honest and blunt approach to sensitive issues, from virginity, to LGBTQIA+ romance, to sexually transmitted diseases, and more.

In the third season Owen continues to face challenges in his relationships, but also his mother’s pregnancy and the prospect of a baby in the family. A new headmistress at the school and continuing romantic complications are sure to keep things fresh. —Cindy White

Star Wars: Visions

Premieres Sept. 22 on Disney+ | Trailer

It’s well-known Star Wars lore that George Lucas was heavily influenced by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa when creating the iconic original trilogy. Now, the franchise has come full circle in embracing those inspirational origins. The new animated anthology series Star Wars: Visions offers nine shorts from several popular Japanese anime studios. This is Star Wars like you’ve never seen it before.

The stories take place all across the galaxy, in the past, present, and future of the timeline the encompasses the films, and each episode has its own aesthetic and tone. From the light side to the dark side, and everything in between, it’s a heady mixture of world building and a return to familiar places with new perspectives. The stellar voice cast includes Lucy Liu, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Neil Patrick Harris, Alison Brie, Simu Liu, Kyle Chandler, David Harbour, and George Takei. This series may be made for the not-insignificant Venn diagram segment where Star Wars and anime fans overlap, but anyone who enjoys an intriguing and artistically told story should find something appealing in it. —Cindy White

The Wonder Years

Premieres Sept. 22 on ABC | Trailer

A new spin on an old classic, The Wonder Years is a reboot of the beloved 1980s coming-of-age comedy. In a world of remakes and reboots, The Wonder Years stands out as a fresh reimagining of an old show. Honestly, aside from the name and the very general premise of a young boy coming-of-age narrated by his older self, the show is wholly original and should be judged as such.

What makes this iteration of The Wonder Years so compelling is that, though it takes place more than 50 years ago, it is grappling with topics as timely as ever. This is something the show winks at by having narrator Don Cheadle point out the similarities–racial tensions, political turmoil, a pandemic–between the late 1960s and today. The show asks us to examine whether we’ve truly healed as much as we think we have by telling the story of American history through the eyes of a young Black boy. The Wonder Years provides an important counter to the push to figuratively and literally whitewash history. It reminds us that the past we’re taught is not necessarily the past as experienced by every American. —Skylar Baker-Jordan

CSI: Vegas

Premieres Oct. 6 on CBS | Trailer

CSI used to be one of the biggest shows in the world—the early 2000s you couldn’t turn on the TV without hearing Pete Townshend ask who you were—but it’s been six years since the original series wrapped its 15-year run and five since the cancellation of CSI: Cyber ended the franchise. Since then, crime procedural shows like CSI have become increasingly rare and disreputable as Netflix has transformed the typical TV drama into a dystopian fantasy series that’s structured like a ten-hour movie. This is the dominant form, even though millions of people still watch an episode of Criminal Minds on Netflix before bed every night.

Into this changed landscape CSI reenters. It’s now called CSI: Vegas, but Gil Grissom (William Peterson) and Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) are back and using forensic techniques to investigate crime scenes like it’s 2003 again. CBS is betting that people want to return to the simpler time when they could just turn on their TV and watch some people use jargon to solve a gruesome murder. And they’re absolutely right! Procedural dramas like CSI are a huge part of television’s past, and revivals like CSI: Vegas—which in addition to airing Wednesdays at 10/9c will also be available to stream on Paramount+ —are trying to figure out how to make them survive into the future, with shorter episode orders and less problematic content, without changing too much about what works. It’ll be worth watching just as an interesting experiment. —Liam Mathews

Legends of the Hidden Temple 

Premieres Oct. 10 on The CW | Trailer

Legends of the Hidden Temple is the ‘90s kid game show. Sure, there technically were other game shows kids watched back then, like Double Dare or Figure It Out, but Legends of the Hidden Temple is the one that people still talk about. Ask anyone born between 1984 and 1991 if they’re a Purple Parrot or a Blue Barracuda and they’ll have a passionate answer for you. That’s why Legends of the Hidden Temple is the ‘90s kids’ game show that’s being rebooted for adults.

The original show aired on Nickelodeon between 1993 and 1995 with preteen contestants. The new show will air on the CW with contestants who were kids back then. The challenges–the Moat, the Steps of Knowledge, and the Temple Run–are all back, but will presumably be a little more difficult. Comedian Cristela Alonzo hosts. It will air Sundays on the CW and stream for free on the CW app. —Liam Mathews


Premieres Oct, 7 on CBS | Trailer

​​Let’s just get this out of the way first, because it’s the most important thing you need to know about the new CBS series Ghosts: it’s based on a successful BBC comedy that’s already on its third season in the UK (and which you can currently find on HBO Max). If you’ve seen the promos and wondered what CBS was thinking with this bizarre premise, that fact may help put it into context. As well as the assurance that the original Ghosts series is legitimately funny and charming. American remakes of British shows don’t always work, but when they do they’re pretty great (I’m looking at you, The Office) and the potential is certainly there.

Both shows are set in a large estate home haunted by ghosts from several different time periods (the house has been there a long time). In the CBS version there’s a native American, a Viking, a Revolutionary soldier, a Victorian lady, a scout master, a hippy, a Wall Street bro, and more. The lineup has been changed somewhat from the original, but the familial bickering among this motley crew who are stuck together in confined quarters remains the same (and shouldn’t be hard to identify with after the past year and a half). Enter Samantha (iZombie‘s delightful Rose McIver), who inherits the house, and her husband, Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar from Never Have I Ever). Much to the ghosts’ dismay, the couple plans to turn the place into a bed and breakfast, but when a near-death experience gives Samantha the ability to see them, everything changes. —Cindy White


Premieres Oct. 13 on Hulu | Trailer

This heavyweight limited series is taking on one of America’s most pressing social problems that doesn’t get talked about enough. There are few families and no communities the opioid crisis hasn’t touched, and this sprawling miniseries tries to show how it happened by zooming in and dramatizing individual stories within the larger, devastating system. It’s the kind of “all the pieces matter” storytelling about institutional failure perfected by The Wire. (We’re not saying Dopesick is as good as The Wire, just that it has similar ambitions.)

Dopesick has a large ensemble cast representing every link in the chain of opioid misery, from Michael Stuhlbarg as Richard Sackler, the former chairman and president of Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, down to Kaitlyn Dever as a miner in Appalachia who gets addicted to painkillers she’s prescribed and spirals downward. Other links in the chain include Michael Keaton as a doctor writing Oxycontin scripts to his patients against his better judgement, Will Poulter as a drug rep pushing Oxycontin to doctors based on the lie that it’s not addictive, and Rosario Dawson as a DEA agent with a front row seat to how bad things are getting. —Liam Mathews

The Bachelorette 

Premieres Oct. 19 on ABC | Trailer

The Bachelor franchise has been in a bit of a slump lately. There hasn’t been a great season of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette since Hannah Brown’s, and Matt James’ season of The Bachelor was an unmitigated disaster of the sort the franchise hasn’t seen in years. So hopes are high for Michelle Young’s upcoming season of The Bachelorette.

And word on the street is it’s going to be good. According to Variety, Michelle’s season is being talked about internally within the franchise as “one of the best seasons in recent memory.” The next Bachelor has reportedly already been chosen from Michelle’s season, which must mean they have a lot of faith in him. And fans on Reddit have noticed an apparent discrepancy in the promotional budget given to Michelle versus previous Bachelorette Katie Thurston, which they take to mean that the powers that be have a lot more faith in Michelle. If you’ve stopped watching, it may be time to pop back in for this season. —Liam Mathews

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