The fall 2020 TV lineup looks as bizarre as you'd expect

'We Are Who We Are' (2020) Photograph by Yannis Drakoulidis/HBO
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Like so many other aspects of 2020, the fall TV lineup is looking much different than usual. Mostly, new and returning shows have been on forced hiatus for the last six months thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. And that means there’s not the regular glut of new content flooding the networks just as kids head back to school.

What are TV networks programming instead? Well, lucky for FOX, the NFL is forging ahead with its season, so there are football games to be watched. Other channels are leaning on “pandemic proof” reality shows like Love Island and Big Brother as well as acquisitions from sibling networks or series already wrapped. Meanwhile, the premieres of beloved shows like This Is Us are optimistically slated for later this fall.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure our viewers know their favorite shows are ‘coming soon,’” Shannon Ryan, marketing president for ABC Entertainment, Disney TV and Hulu Originals, told Variety. “It’s a larger message about the return of television in addition to typical fall launch campaigns. We’re using a lot of tease and early awareness tactics to plant those seeds, and then it will be a hard turn to where and when viewers can find their shows.”

Practically, what the pandemic is doing to network TV is making it behave more like a streaming service. Instead of debuting a whole slate of new shows all at once, programmers will start rolling out new series as they’re ready. And in a lot of ways, this could be a good move for traditional TV, which in the last year gained five new streaming competitors to contend with.

Anyhow, all the upheaval in the world doesn’t mean there’s nothing new to watch this fall. Actually, there’s a whole lot of exciting content coming to our screens in short order. Below, check out our roundup of some of the buzziest TV to make this bizarre fall a little more entertaining.

We Are Who We Are (HBO, 9/14)

I can’t say enough wonderful things about Luca Guadagnino’s first foray into television. Basically, I didn’t know I needed a show about American teenagers figuring out their sexuality on a US military base in Italy until he gave it to me, and now I’m obsessed. The two electrifying young leads (Jack Dylan Grazer and Jordan Kristine Seamón) are buzzy talents to watch; meanwhile, certified legends Chloë Sevigny and Kid Cudi play their complex parents. Bonus: the dreamy show was scored by Dev Hynes, better known as Blood Orange.

Ratched (Netflix, 9/18)

Sarah Paulson plays a young Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in this Ryan Murphy-helmed prequel, which takes place at a psychiatric hospital in northern California in the late 1940s. Cynthia Nixon and Sharon Stone also co-star.

Fargo Season Four (FX, 9/27)

While not a new show, technically, it’s been a looooong wait for a fresh installment of Fargo. The new season of the anthology series stars Chris Rock and Jason Schwartzman in a story about feuding Black and Italian crime families.

The Good Lord Bird (Showtime, 10/4)

Ethan Hawke plays abolitionist John Brown in this adaptation of the National Book Award-winning James McBride novel. Circa the 1850s, the series follows Brown and a young former slave as they lead a group of freedom fighters on a quest to end slavery.

David Byrne’s American Utopia (HBO, 10/17)

One of my biggest regrets of last year was that I never made it to Broadway to catch David Byrne’s electric, inventive musical, American Utopia, based on his music from the album of the same name as well as some Talking Heads hits. The show featured about a dozen dancer/musicians backing Byrne up with infectious joy. Luckily, Spike Lee directed a filmed version of the Broadway show, which is coming to HBO this October.

Supermarket Sweep (ABC, 10/18)

Other people might be excited about the return of The Bachelorette in October (spoiler alert: there may be two bachelorettes this season! Gasp!). But I’m far more stoked for a reality show with an entirely different vibe: the reboot of Supermarket Sweep, hosted by the inimitable Leslie Jones. Can’t wait to watch crazed shoppers rush around a store while being pumped up by the most effusive comedian in the biz.

Animaniacs (Hulu, 11/20)

Will the kids of 2020 appreciate the hijinks of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot? Will they have any frame of reference for the Warner Bros. water tower or the impetus to “take over the world?” The jury is still out, but this millennial is frankly stoked for the reboot of Animaniacs coming to Hulu this fall.