The Most Anticipated TV of 2020
The new year will bring with it quite a few new content platforms, from HBO Max to Peacock and Quibi. With so many emerging players developing scripted series by the dozens, there is still a lot to be announced about exactly when some of this new content will come. But one thing is for sure: the volume of original series shows no sign of slowing down.
Here, Variety previews some of the most anticipated scripted television of 2020 — both new and returning.
AJ and the Queen (premieres Jan. 10)
RuPaul steps into his first series regular scripted role since 2017 and his first lead small screen performance as the titular queen, a man named Robert by day who performs in drag under the name Ruby by night. Robert thinks he has it all when the show begins, but he soon gains new perspective as he embarks on a cross-country road trip with a street-smart tween (the titular AJ, played by Izzy G.) at his side.
Awkwafina is Nora From Queens (premieres Jan. 22)
Awkwafina’s star has certainly been on the rise, and the last two years were banner years for her film work from 2018’s “Crazy Rich Asians” to 2019’s “The Farewell.” But in the new year she invites her expanding audience to get to know her in a deeper way in the semi-autobiographical half-hour comedy in which she plays a 20-something slacker navigating life and family in New York City. Bowen Yang, who has recently made headlines as a “Saturday Night Live” breakout, also stars.
Black Excellence (coming soon)
Kenya Barris is attached to “Astronomy Club: The Sketch Show,” which already launched, but this is the first comedy project he set under his Netflix deal. The uber-producer is also stepping in front of the camera for this one, starring opposite Rashida Jones, in a sitcom based on Barris’ real-life approach to parenting and thoughts about race, religion and politics.
Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 10 (premieres Jan. 19)
All eyes are on Larry David, as the premium cable network has repeatedly said it will let him turn in new seasons of his semi-autobiographical improv comedy as long as he wants and whenever he wants. After a two year hiatus, David has more to say, and the new season promises more great guest stars around him, too, such as Kaitlin Olson, Laverne Cox and Jon Hamm.
Genius: Aretha (coming soon)
The third biopic limited series in the cabler’s anthology is the first for a woman. Working with the real life Queen of Soul’s estate, no stone in Aretha Franklin (played by Cynthia Erivo)’s life will be left unturned — from her tough childhood and young pregnancy, to how she created some of her biggest hits.
The Good Lord Bird (premieres Feb. 16)
The National Book Award winning period novel by James McBride gets the prestige limited series treatment at the premium cabler. The show stars and is executive produced by Ethan Hawke, which is a big get for TV, but the story is actually centered on a teenage slave (played by Joshua Caleb Johnson) who joins Hawke’s character’s family during the time of Bleeding Kansas. The show explores pivotal points in history, including what kickstarted the Civil War.
Hollywood (coming soon)
Darren Criss reteams with Ryan Murphy in this limited series sendup of the titular tinseltown. This is Murphy’s first Netflix-produced series (“The Politician” was for Netflix but still produced under his previous deal with 20th Century Fox Television). The period piece set in the 1940s will weave multiple characters’ perspectives on the business and town and also stars David Corenswet, Jim Parsons, Dylan McDermott, Holland Taylor and Patti LuPone (to name a few).
Homeland Season 8 (premieres Feb. 9)
The final 12 episodes of the awards-bait terrorism drama promise to be just as tense as the ones that came before, as Saul (Mandy Patinkin), tasked with negotiating peach with the Taliban in Afghanistan, wants to bring in Carrie (Claire Danes), who is still recovering from the trauma of being a Russian prisoner.
Hunters (coming soon)
Amazon Prime Video
Al Pacino and Logan Lerman star in David Weil’s Nazi-hunting series that feels both historical and extremely timely right now. The show is actually set in the past — in 1970s New York City — when it is learned that hundreds of high-ranking Nazis are conspiring to bring their ideology and methods of genocide to the United States.
Katy Keene (premieres Feb. 6)
Lucy Hale returns to the CW as the titular character in the third series expansion of the Archie Comics-verse on television. Set a few years in the future from “Riverdale,” the show follows wannabe fashion designer Katy as she lives and loves in New York City. She is joined by new roommate and aspiring singer Josie (Ashleigh Murray) and a number of other artists from multiple mediums, mixing a story about passion, following one’s dreams and the importance of friendship.
Kimmy Vs. The Reverend (coming soon)
Robert Carlock and Tina Fey will be back with one more story about the unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper), and this time it’s interactive. Mixing their unique brand of humor with their streaming service’s special technology, viewers will be able to choose their own adventure for characters such as Kimmy, Titus (Tituss Burgess) and the titular reverend (Jon Hamm).
Little America (premieres Jan. 17)
Apple TV Plus
From Alan Yang, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, the new streamer’s latest offering is a series that endeavors to go beyond the headlines about immigrants in order to paint full, emotional portraits of humanity. Based on the Epic Magazine collection of stories of the same name, the ones depicted in the show will range from tales of family and romance to chasing the American dream.
Little Fires Everywhere (premieres Mar. 18)
The streaming adaptation of Celeste Ng’s novel of the same name has major star power behind it, coming executive producers Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, who will also star in the show, and showrunner Liz Tigelaar. The show mixes female-focused storytelling, family drama, and just enough secrets to include a bit of mystery.
Locke & Key (premieres Feb. 7)
After an approximate eight-year adaptation journey, the small-screen graphic novel adaptation is finally arriving. Carlton Cuse and Meredith Averill co-showrun the fantasy drama centered on the three Locke siblings who find a surreal mystery in their ancestral family home. A mix of the grounded reality of grieving a patriarch and unexplainable actions, such as the ability to travel anywhere with the twist of a key, the show is full of adventure and emotion.
Madam CJ Walker (coming soon)
Octavia Spencer moves from one streamer to another with this limited series about the titular hair care pioneer. Exploring how the real-life woman overcame racism during the turn of the century, as well as complicated business rivalries and tumultuous personal relationships, it won’t shy away from hardships, but as she rises to become a mogul, it has an aspirational message, too.
Mrs. America (coming soon)
A stacked cast such as Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Uzo Aduba, Rose Byrne and Margo Martindale is certainly enough reason to get excited for this new cable limited series. But the importance of the story it is telling — about the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, including unexpected backlash by a female conservative — makes it poignant, too.
The New Pope (premieres Jan. 13)
Four years after “The Young Pope” comes its followup, seeing the return of Jude Law to the small screen. He is joined by John Malkovich as the titular “new” Pope John Paul III. The nine episodes of the prestige drama promise to deliver intelligent discussion about complicated religious conflict, but also some surprises. After all, Marilyn Manson is set to guest star.
Normal People (coming soon)
Sally Rooney’s novel was much beloved when it was first published — so much so that the streamer ordered a series adaptation, rather than sending it to pilot first. The story is centered on a complicated school-age relationship that then twists as the couple finds themselves in a new place and new social circles. There is commentary on class at play in the story, in addition to the usual “will they or won’t they” conflict.
The Outsider (premieres Jan. 12)
Stephen King’s novel was published in May 2018 and a month later the rights were optioned and Richard Price was aboard to adapt the story for the small screen. Here, King’s rich work about a detective (played by Ben Mendelsohn) who thinks he has an open-and-shut case of child murder, only to then be introduced to the world of supernatural evil, gets the small-screen treatment. Cynthia Erivo, Jason Bateman, Bill Camp and Julianne Nicholson also star.
Party of Five (premieres Jan. 8)
The 1994-2000 series gets a modern-day reboot by centering the story on a Latinx family whose parents are picked up by ICE and deported, leaving the five kids of various ages to take care of themselves and each other. The show comes from the original series creators (Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman) but and explores traditional familial themes while also reaching into the concerns of today’s kids, including social media. It also keeps the parents very much a part of the story, just from afar, to add an extra layer of emotion.
Ratched (coming soon)
Sarah Paulson and Ryan Murphy are back together again, but this time for a different kind of horror. Paulson stars as the titular Nurse Mildred Ratched, who pop culture fans know from “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” But this series is a prequel, set in the late-1940s, and designed to offer insight into what turned her into the monster depicted in Miloš Forman’s movie. Joining Paulson are Hunter Parrish, Cynthia Nixon, Judy Davis, Corey Stoll, Sharon Stone and a couple of Murphy’s regular repertory players, Jon Jon Briones and Finn Wittrock.
Russian Doll Season 2 (coming soon)
The first season of the Natasha Lyonne-starrer that she also co-created, writes, produces and directs seemed like a perfect close-ended story. Her Nadia relived her death over and over again until she connected with Alan (Charlie Barnett) and helped him through his own death. What more is there to say about those characters’ journeys? To be honest, the answer still isn’t known, although both are returning for the second season. The existential series submitted in comedy for awards categories, but that doesn’t rule out it becoming an anthological story in Year 2, with its cast taking on new characters or a new setting (although New York City is so ingrained in the DNA, it seems impossible to imagine it elsewhere). All of the lingering questions only add to the intrigue and excitement to see what Lyonne and Co. do deliver, though.
Schitt’s Creek Season 6 (premieres Jan. 7)
The final season of the quirky Canadian comedy is going to be the most emotional one to date. Yes, the Rose family and their small town cohorts never fail to make the audience laugh, but with characters looking to expand their horizons in new locales and professions, as well as with planning David’s (Daniel Levy) wedding and just the general idea of having to say goodbye to this family of which you want to be a part, there are bound to be lots of tears, too.
Selena: The Series (coming soon)
Mexican singer-songwriter icon Selena Quintanilla gets the biopic treatment, with six episodes starring Christian Serratos coming sometime in the new year. A mix of her personal and professional life the show will shine a light on her singular talent and just why she was so beloved in her unfortunately short time. (She was killed by a friend and colleague in 1995).
Snowpiercer (coming soon)
The small-screen version of the 2013 film of the same name has had quite a journey to make it on-air, first being put in development in 2015, with showrunner switches and shifts to and from different networks, as well. But it looks like all of the ducks are finally in a row to debut the futuristic dystopian drama that is set on a speeding train. In this world, climate change has wracked Earth so terribly, it is a literal frozen tundra, and the human who survived are packed into a train that is a disaster of class warfare as it circles the globe.