Fall TV 2020
Your Watercooler Talking Points

The Undoing - Nicole Kidman Hugh Grant
Disney+ The Right Stuff
Star Trek Season 1
Big Sky Ryan Phillipe
Mandalorian's Baby Yoda

While the television landscape is always in flux, it’s fair to say there’s never been a fall season like this one. Back in the spring, when film and TV productions shut down due to Covid-19 safety measures, there was enough content in the pipeline to keep audiences entertained for some time. But after a summer of continued lockdown, and platforms burning through that content faster than they can replenish it, entertainment providers in all sectors of the business have had had to take a different approach to rolling out new offerings.

Even with all these changes, though, one thing remains the same. Keeping track of all the new stuff can be overwhelming. With that in mind, The Watercooler put together a list of the shows we think will be worth talking about in the coming months. Whatever your mood, taste, or preferred method of watching, we’re sure you’ll find something here to take your mind off everything else, at least for a little while. — Cindy White

Sept. 14

Conversation-worthy
The Third Day (HBO)
The Third Day copyright HBO

Why it’s worth checking out:

Think Lost meets Midsommar, with a generous helping of The Wicker Man thrown in for good measure. Needless to say, the creep factor is high here. The story is divided into two three-episode segments — “Summer” and “Winter” — both of which center around an island off the coast of Britain and its mysterious inhabitants. Jude Law stars in “Summer” as a man with a painful past who is drawn to the island and begins to lose his grip on reality as he discovers its dark secrets. Then, in “Winter,” Naomi Harris takes the spotlight as a mom who travels there with her daughters on holiday and lands in the middle of an intense clash between two factions of locals

HBO's The Third Day

Watercooler Talk:

Spooky towns filled with secrets may be nothing new in media, but there’s one aspect of The Third Day that is unprecedented. In between the two segments, a special theatrical event titled “Autumn,” is set to be filmed in real time, one single take for 12 hours straight. It will feature members of the show’s cast, including Law, as well as guest stars like Florence Welch, of Florence and the Machine. The recorded event will be released online Oct.3, not long after the final episode of “Summer” airs.   — CW

Sept 24th

Stump Me
The Masked Singer & I Can See Your Voice (FOX)

Why they’re they’re worth checking out:

The bonkers singing competition known as The Masked Singer enters its fourth season this fall as a double act alongside newcomer I Can See Your Voice. With the two musical spectacles airing back to back and sharing the same kind of wacky energy, we figured we might as well combine them into one entry. After all, FOX is essentially aiming for the same audience with both shows. The network even pushed back the premiere of Masterchef Junior, filmed over the summer in its entirety, just to pair up these two for maximum impact.

Masked Singer new season
The key to the success of The Masked Singer is the outrageous costumes and outlandish personas adopted by the incognito celebrity performers and the fun of deciphering the inscrutable clues to their identities. You’ll be hearing about 16 new contestants with names like Mushroom, Popcorn, Seahorse, Dragon, Sun, and more. Production began during the August lockdown, so a live audience has been replaced by a virtual audience of “superfans” who will, for the first time, get to vote for their favorite singers to remain in the competition.
FOX's I Can See Your Voice

Meanwhile, I Can See Your Voice, another Americanized import of a Korean show, flips the script of its lead-in. Instead of the singers’ faces being hidden, it’s their voices that aren’t revealed until the end. With the help of a panel of judges, including Masked Singer alum Ken Jeong and a rotating roster of guest celebrity vocalists, contestants will have to guess which of the performers presented on stage can actually carry a tune.

Watercooler Talk:

FOX has always understood that creating watercooler moments is what these types of shows are all about. Expect some some epic reveals and plenty of surprising moments this season. Whether anything will manage to top the surreal display of Sarah Palin singing “Baby Got Back” in a pastel bear costume remains to be seen, but we have hope.  – CW

Sept 24th

Transport Me
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 & 3 (CBS)

Why it’s worth checking out:

Three years to the day after its initial premiere on CBS All Access, soon to be rebranded as Paramount+, the entire first season of Star Trek: Discovery is finally arriving on broadcast TV. If you missed it the first time around, now is a great time to check out this darker, more morally nuanced take on the Trek-verse, no subscription required.

Set about a decade before the events of the original series, Star Trek: Discovery introduces new ships and a diverse cast of characters in the midst of a war between the newly united Klingons and the Federation. Breakout star Sonequa Martin-Green earned critical praise in the lead role of Michael Burnham, a science officer turned mutineer, who becomes a pivotal figure in the conflict. Discovery stands out from other Trek series by embracing a more serialized storytelling model and incorporating mature themes like the harm of colonialism and the tension between the pursuit of science and the promotion of militarism within the Federation itself.

In further good news for fans, those who do have All Access/Paramount+ will be getting a third season this fall, premiering exclusively on the streaming service beginning Oct. 15.

Watercooler Talk:

Headed by showrunners Bryan Fuller, the creative force behind some of TV’s most imaginative series (Pushing Daisies, Hannibal), and Star Trek (film) screenwriter Alex Kurtzman, this incarnation continues the trend of the last decade to make the franchise more relevant to modern audiences. The first season was especially characterized by shocking twists, including a wild trip to the original series’ infamous Mirror Universe, which have made for fun post-episode deconstruction among fans and casual viewers alike.  – CW

Sept 25th

Grip Me
Utopia (Prime)

Why it’s worth checking out:

When quarantined in your house, in the middle of a pandemic, looking for something to watch, you could go in two vastly different directions. You might want to find something uplifting and optimistic to take your mind off the world outside for a little while. Or you could lean into the existential dread of it all. In the second case, Utopia is a great choice. The premise is based around a group of comic book fans who discover that the events depicted in a comic book, also called Utopia, are all coming true and leading to an apocalypse due to — wait for it — a global flu pandemic.

Before you go accusing the show of pandering to the current zeitgeist, it’s worth pointing out that this is a long-in-gestation remake of a British show that first debuted in the UK back in 2013. It’s an eerie case of art imitating life, but it’s not all doom and gloom. The show is filled with the same dark humor and stylish visuals that earned its predecessor critical acclaim, though fine-tuned for American sensibilities by showrunner Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects). Flynn has described her approach to the show as “The Goonies meets Marathon Man.”

Rainn Wilson in Utopia

Watercooler Talk:

Besides the relevancy of the show’s premise and pedigree of the source material, the involvement of Flynn as well as the nostalgic appeal of John Cusack (in his first ongoing TV role) and The Office‘s Rainn Wilson are major draws. The conspiracy and thriller elements ought to keep audiences guessing, but it’s also comforting to know that the answers to the mysteries at its core have already been sorted out by the writers before the first episode even begins and, assuming it stays true to the British version, all will be revealed by the end.  — CW

Oct 1st

Find Me Light
Connecting (NBC)
NBC's Connecting


Why it’s worth checking out:

One of the few new scripted comedies on broadcast TV this fall, Connecting tackles the lighter side of life in lockdown. Like much of our current existence, the series is a bit of an experiment; it was shot entirely on iPhones by actors in their homes, inspired by the actual lives and stories of the cast and the crew. 

With seven leads each facing their own set of issues, the idea is that a wide range of audiences “will have their experiences represented in television in a cathartic way,” show creator Martin Gero explains.

Watercooler Talk:

The show begins soon after shelter-in-place orders and follows the characters to today — just before the election.  So the comedy promises to be fresh and topical. This is NBC, of course, so expect the laughs to be broad but relatable – the rare “comfort food” pandemic show that can be watched with a cooped-up household of mixed ages and stages.

As show producer Brandon Gill explained to TV critics in August, “This is the furthest thing from feeling isolated.” — MR

October 4th

Show Me Gore
The Walking Dead - The World Beyond (AMC)

Why it’s worth checking out:

Yes, it’s another Walking Dead spinoff. Yes, it seems AMC is determined to milk that zombie cow for all she’s worth. But what are the differences that set this one apart from the others? For one thing, the overall theme is more hopeful and forward looking. Which is appropriate, given its focus on the next generation of survivors.

The show takes place 10 years after the zombie outbreak. Groups of survivors have settled down in the relative safety of protected communities, but the dead still roam freely outside the walls. When two sisters learn that their father may be in trouble a long way from home, they set out on a cross-country journey along with some friends to track him down. These teens have no memory of a pre-apocalyptic society, but still long to find their place in the world, such as it is. It’s basically a dystopian YA novel come to life.

Watercooler Talk:

The rescheduling scramble this spring affected the airdates of all of the Walking Dead shows and keeping up with the changes hasn’t been easy. So here’s where everything stands right now: World Beyond, billed as a “two season limited event,” will begin its first 10-episode season on Oct. 4, following the season 10 finale of The Walking Dead (both were originally slated to air last April). Then, on Oct. 11, Fear the Walking Dead, returns with the premiere of its sixth season. A third spinoff, featuring fan favorites Daryl and Carol, is due in 2023. So even with the show that started it all ending with season 11, it doesn’t look like the franchise is dying out any time soon (see what we did there?).

Oct. 30th

Otherwordly Escape
Mandalorian - Season 2 (Disney+)

Why it’s worth checking out:

Do you need another reason besides more Baby Yoda (or “the Child,” if you prefer the official nomenclature)? Thanks to this adorable little chip off the old green block, The Mandalorian became a must-watch show for the fledgling Disney+ streaming service when it launched nearly a year ago. But if you need more reasons to tune in to season two, here they are:

 

Though Disney hasn’t been super forthcoming with the details, we do know a few things so far. After deciding to rescue the Child rather than collect the bounty on him in the first season, Mando became a target of the scattered remnants of the Imperial army still reeling from its defeat at the end of Return of the Jedi. Now that he’s has decided to keep the little green guy around, season two will follow them on a quest to find out more about the Child’s origins. The answer may lie with a legendary religious sect that was once the enemy of the Mandalorian’s people — the Jedi.

Many of the characters from season one are set to return, but the new additions are even more highly anticipated. None more so than Temuera Morrison, who played Jango Fett in the Star Wars movie prequels. His role is as yet unspecified, but the possibility that a Fett in some form, perhaps even Boba himself, might make an appearance has fans buzzing.

Watercooler Talk:

If the notoriously fractious Star Wars fandom can agree that The Mandalorian is a worthy torchbearer as the franchise heads into an uncertain future, it’s got to be worth checking out. If you happen lose track of the premiere date, just look for the influx of adorable new Baby Yoda memes in your social media feed. That should be your first clue that it’s out. – CW