(Clockwise from upper left) Joshua Caleb Johnson in<em> The Good Lord Bird,</em> Rafe Spall in<em> The Salisbury Poisonings,</em> Whoopi Goldberg in<em> The Stand, </em>Nicole Kidman in<em> The Undoing, </em>Joseph Gordon-Levitt in <em>The Trial of the Chicago 7 </em>and Amelie Smith in <em>The Haunting of Bly Manor</em>
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(Clockwise from upper left) Joshua Caleb Johnson in The Good Lord Bird, Rafe Spall in The Salisbury Poisonings, Whoopi Goldberg in The Stand, Nicole Kidman in The Undoing, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Amelie Smith in The Haunting of Bly Manor

Does it even matter that it's fall? We're stuck inside much of the time, anyway, and new TV shows come at us all year round. Well, yes, there's reason to celebrate precisely because of how the pandemic disrupted things. Broadcasters couldn't develop new material, thanks to production being halted. So, viewers watched more streaming services. Even HBO, FX and Showtime were forced to push back some of their best material to ensure they could get through the long summer.

It feels like a minor miracle that there are still so many high-quality shows coming to the small screen this season. Almost all of them are on premium cable channels and streaming — a few have been imported from overseas — with some shows completing episodes under tight testing and social distancing rules.

The quality of this year's fall season is something of a tribute to Hollywood's ingenuity — keeping the world entertained through this challenging year. Here are picks from NPR critics Eric Deggans, Aisha Harris, Linda Holmes and Glen Weldon for the best shows coming this season.

The Amber Ruffin Show and Wilmore (both on Peacock) Now airing; new episodes Fridays

It was something of a tragedy when Comedy Central canceled Larry Wilmore's The Nightly Show right before the 2016 elections; now he has a chance to bring his acerbic wit to bear on 2020's balloting. And writer/performer Amber Ruffin has always been a highlight of Late Night with Seth Meyers (see her take on "What Trump has done for Black America" for delightful proof); it was just a matter of time before she got her own showcase. I'm not sure why Peacock is calling talk shows on a streaming service "late night" shows, but I'm confident they'll be funny whenever you watch them. — Eric Deggans

Fargo (FX) Sunday, Sept. 27

"Chris Rock plays an enterprising 1950s mob boss in Kansas City, Missouri" is a logline you probably didn't expect to read, but so it is with the fourth season of the anthology series. Rock is not exactly known for his acting chops, and the last time he took a "dramatic" turn was in a perhaps unintentionally goofy guest-starring role as a menacing drug kingpin on Empire. His casting here alone is intriguing enough — but throw in an impressive ensemble that includes Timothy Olyphant, Jason Schwartzman and Jessie Buckley (as a nurse who might be up to something sinister), and you've got a crime tale worth checking out. — Aisha Harris

Jim Parsons as Michael and Matt Bomer as Donald in <em>The Boys in the Band, </em>out on Netflix on Sept. 30.
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Jim Parsons as Michael and Matt Bomer as Donald in The Boys in the Band, out on Netflix on Sept. 30.

The Boys in the Band (Netflix) Wednesday, Sept. 30

Since its Off-Broadway premiere in 1968, Matt Crowley's groundbreaking, often caustically funny play about a group of gay men at a birthday party that goes sour has been turned into a 1970 film and re-staged many times, most recently in a brief, 50th-anniversary run on Broadway in 2018. Now, that production — which took home the Tony in 2019 for Best Revival — has itself been made into a film, along with its entire cast — all of whom, notably, are gay themselves (Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Zachary Quinto and others). Over the years, reception to the play has cycled through acclaim to disdain (some found its depiction of bitchy, self-loathing gay men insulting) and back again. But Crowley's decision to center a play on the lives of gay men, and to do so with such unapologetic honesty a year before Stonewall, remains remarkable. — Glen Weldon

Rafe Spall as Nick Bailey in <em>The Salisbury Poisonings</em> out on AMC on Oct 1.
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Rafe Spall as Nick Bailey in The Salisbury Poisonings out on AMC on Oct 1.

The Salisbury Poisonings (AMC+) Thursday, Oct. 1

It may sound like masochism recommending a TV series about health officials rushing to identify a mystery illness while the audience is living through an actual pandemic. But that real-life resonance only adds potency to this well-crafted, suspenseful British series which dramatizes the crisis back in 2018 when a former Russian military intelligence officer and his daughter collapsed in the center of Salisbury, England. I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't realize the extent of the emergency when this actually happened, as local authorities feared mass casualties might result from the town's exposure to one of the most deadly synthetic substances on the planet. — Eric Deggans

Sope Dirisu as Elliot Finch in <em>Gangs of London</em> out on AMC on Oct 1.
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Sope Dirisu as Elliot Finch in Gangs of London out on AMC on Oct 1.

Gangs of London (AMC+) Thursday, Oct. 1

The central story here moves slowly; the patriarch of a powerful crime family in London is murdered by a couple of small-fry hoodlums, and his bloodthirsty son is on a tear to learn who was behind it. But there's a mole inside his organization — I can't spoil who or why — and this character commands the most compelling parts of the story. Be warned: This show, which originally aired on Sky TV in England, is an explicitly gory, super-violent series. But it also features some of the best fight scenes I have ever seen on television, choreographed by director and Indonesian action film auteur Gareth Evans and featuring rising star Sope Dirisu. — Eric Deggans

Emily In Paris (Netflix) Friday, Oct. 2

Lily Collins stars in this series about an American dispatched to a Parisian adventure by her employer, even though she speaks no French. Sudsy and upbeat, it feels like TV Land's Younger for people who like France. And although it hits a lot of familiar social media and relationship-related story beats, there's something very watchable about its flawed protagonist, even if you find yourself siding with the French people who find it appalling that she expects everyone to speak English. — Linda Holmes

Joshua Caleb Johnson as Onion in <em>The Good Lord Bird, </em>out on Showtime on Oct 4.
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Joshua Caleb Johnson as Onion in The Good Lord Bird, out on Showtime on Oct 4.

The Good Lord Bird (Showtime) Sunday, Oct. 4

In the last few months many white Americans have taken an interest in confronting anti-Black racism, which makes the timing of this seven-part limited series dramatizing the exploits of the white abolitionist John Brown, particularly apt. Based on James McBride's award-winning historical novel of the same name, it's narrated through the eyes of a fictional enslaved boy named Onion (Joshua Caleb Johnson) who joins the tempestuous Brown's (an enigmatic Ethan Hawke) ragtag camp of followers leading up to the 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. At times humorous, action-packed and suspenseful, the show doesn't shy away from the erratic behavior and violent tendencies that have made Brown such a polarizing figure. — Aisha Harris

Iliza Shlesinger in <em>The Comedy Store,</em> out<em> </em>on Showtime on Oct. 4.
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Iliza Shlesinger in The Comedy Store, out on Showtime on Oct. 4.

The Comedy Store (Showtime) Sunday, Oct. 4

As the stand-up industry struggles to adjust to a Zoom-focused world, this five-part documentary series about the Comedy Store night club arrives to stoke nostalgia for one of Los Angeles' legendary cultural fixtures. The list of famous talking heads expounding on the history of the club and its renowned owner and career-maker, the late Mitzi Shore, is long: David Letterman, Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Carrey, Whitney Cummings, Damon Wayans, Bill Burr, Michael Keaton and more. Directed by filmmaker Mike Binder (himself a former comic), it won't replace the in-person experience of late-night comedy sets, but it might bring you a little joy. — Aisha Harris

Evan Whitten (left) and Gerardo Celasco in <em>NEXT,</em> airing Oct. 6 on Fox.
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Evan Whitten (left) and Gerardo Celasco in NEXT, airing Oct. 6 on Fox.

NEXT (Fox) Tuesday, Oct. 6

In this sci-fi miniseries, John Slattery plays a tech billionaire who experiences a change of heart and blows the whistle on an artificial intelligence that, he says, has become sentient and infiltrated "cameras, cellphones — anything with a lens or a mic or a sensor." The world thinks he's crazy, but he's soon recruited by a cybercrime-fighting agency because people have started getting murdered by their tech. Slattery is always fun to watch, but it remains to be seen if, at this precise cultural moment, audiences are clamoring to admit even more paranoia into their daily lives. — Glen Weldon

The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix) Friday, Oct. 9

Netflix follows up the success of its 2018 mini-series The Haunting of Hill House with this mini-series about another spooky old domicile. This time out, however, creator and showrunner Mike Flanagan won't be adapting a Shirley Jackson novel, but a handful of stories by Henry James. Several Hill House cast members return, albeit in new roles. Hill House was legitimately unsettling, and the Bly Manor trailer starts right off with a sweet-voiced little girl singing tunelessly (which, let's stipulate, isn't playing fair), so it's a safe bet the series will be there for you, and your need to get seriously creeped out, this Halloween season. — Glen Weldon

This 1940 photo shows Granville Clarke, a Florida migratory agricultural worker, studying a road map before leaving Elizabeth City, N.C., en route to Bridgeville, Del., to work in a cannery. <em>Driving While Black </em>premieres on PBS on Oct. 13.
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This 1940 photo shows Granville Clarke, a Florida migratory agricultural worker, studying a road map before leaving Elizabeth City, N.C., en route to Bridgeville, Del., to work in a cannery. Driving While Black premieres on PBS on Oct. 13.

Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America (PBS) Tuesday, Oct. 13

This documentary makes the compelling case that much of America's struggle with race and oppression — including the Civil War — can be traced to the fight over controlling Black people by policing their mobility. A string of insightful academics connects Black motorists unfairly stopped by police with the legacy of slave catchers in the Deep South — volunteers who terrorized Black people by demanding travelers show papers from their owners giving permission for their movements. This revealing film charts how, from the slavery era until modern times, little compares to the "gut-wrenching horror that is driving in a racist society." — Eric Deggans

Social Distance (Netflix) Thursday, Oct. 15

I know. You're tired of half-baked monologues and thinly-disguised, one-person theater pieces made into TV programs by people on lockdown. But this eight-part anthology series is different, featuring stories about life in isolation that would have been compelling in any setting. The tales include a Latinx family whose conflicts burst open during a memorial service by Zoom call (master character actor Miguel Sandoval is this episode's ace) and a relentlessly energetic child who spends her days at home alone while her mother works as a quarantined caregiver. Producers chose the stories here with care, focusing on how humanity struggles — and occasionally thrives — in the face of an unparalleled, global exercise in social distance. — Eric Deggans

<em>The Trial of the Chicago 7 </em>premieres on Netflix on Oct. 16.
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The Trial of the Chicago 7 premieres on Netflix on Oct. 16.

The Trial of The Chicago 7 (Netflix) Friday, Oct.16

Aaron Sorkin's stuff tends to be really good (The West Wing) or really annoying (The Newsroom). His latest is a film about the trial of the "Chicago Seven" after the 1968 Democratic National Convention. With a fascinating cast (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and ... Sacha Baron Cohen?), it's a project Sorkin has apparently been working on for years, and because of the pandemic, it's landing on Netflix instead of in theaters. — Linda Holmes

<em></em>Spike Lee directed <em>David Byrne's American Utopia, </em>which debuts Oct. 17 on HBO.
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Spike Lee directed David Byrne's American Utopia, which debuts Oct. 17 on HBO.

David Byrne's American Utopia (HBO) Saturday, Oct. 17

Far too few of us got the chance to catch Byrne's joyous, exultant and expansive smash hit theatrical concert during its too-brief Broadway run, and the pandemic has indefinitely delayed a planned return engagement and touring show. But in October, HBO's bringing you Spike Lee's film of the show, in which Byrne and a troupe of 11 musicians, singers and dancers – all barefoot, all clad in gray suits – perform new Byrne tunes and classic Talking Heads songs while executing Anne-B Parson's astonishing choreography with the exacting precision of a color guard. Yes, sure: They'll be gyrating and hopping, twisting and running, and you'll be sitting on your couch scarfing Funyuns. But don't feel guilty about that. Because by the time they launch into "Once in a Lifetime," you'll be dancing around your living room alongside them. - Glen Weldon

Rebecca (Netflix) Wednesday, Oct. 21

Netflix is dreaming of going to Manderley again: This adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's swoonily gothic novel will have a tough time stepping out of the long shadow of Hitchcock's classic 1940 film, but the cast is intriguing. Lily James stars as Mrs. de Winter, whose new, impetuous marriage to the dashing Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer) is threatened by the memory of his first wife — and the forbidding housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), who continually attempts to undermine her employer's new, too-impressionable wife. — Glen Weldon

Hugh Grant as Jonathan and Nicole Kidman as Grace in <em>The Undoing, </em>which comes out Oct. 25 on HBO.
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Hugh Grant as Jonathan and Nicole Kidman as Grace in The Undoing, which comes out Oct. 25 on HBO.

The Undoing (HBO) Sunday, Oct. 25

If you like sudsy David E. Kelley dramas (Ally McBeal, Big Little Lies), this is probably for you. And if you'll watch pretty much anything Nicole Kidman and/or Hugh Grant are in, this is probably for you, too. A limited series adapted from Jean Hanff Korelitz's psychological thriller You Should Have Known, Kidman and Grant play Grace and Jonathan, a wealthy New York City couple with a son in private school. When Jonathan disappears, Grace is left to pick up the pieces — so viewers can expect yet another arresting performance from the actor amidst the murder, scandal and intrigue this premise promises. — Aisha Harris

The Wallace-Griner family on <em>That Animal Rescue Show,</em> <em></em>which premieres Oct. 29 on CBS All Access.
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The Wallace-Griner family on That Animal Rescue Show, which premieres Oct. 29 on CBS All Access.

That Animal Rescue Show (CBS All Access) Thursday, Oct. 29

Beloved filmmaker Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise) made this documentary series about rescue animals around Austin, Texas. There are episodes about dogs, horses, goats and more, many of which feature the close and special relationships between people and the animals they love and rely on. Linklater has a feel for Texas and for elemental human feelings, and a series that comes with a strong pedigree about one of the world's most popular subjects might turn out to be just what a stressed-out audience needs. — Linda Holmes

<em>The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special</em> comes out Nov. 17 on Disney+.
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The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special comes out Nov. 17 on Disney+.

The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special (Disney+) Tuesday, Nov. 17

The jaw-droppingly weird 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special -- which was so awe-inspiring in its arrant cheesiness that George Lucas insisted it never be re-aired or released to home video — has become a cult favorite thanks to fans who shared grainy bootleg videotapes of it and uploaded it to sites like YouTube. Now, at last, the mess that was hotter than Mustafarian lava is getting embraced by the keepers of the Star Wars franchise. LEGO versions of characters from the most recent Star Wars trilogy will interact with characters and settings from the 1978 special. No word yet on whether it will feature a LEGO Bea Arthur belting lyrics to the Mos Eisley cantina song, but we live in hope. — Glen Weldon

Animaniacs (Hulu) Friday, Nov. 20

Because nothing in Hollywood is ever really new anymore, it was only a matter of time before this beloved '90s cartoon series would be rebooted like so many other franchises of its era. What makes this particular resurrection feel a little more justified than most: The series' "zany to the max" pop culture-stuffed humor has basically become one of the primary languages of social media in the '00s. And luckily for nostalgic millennials — presumably this remake's primary audience — all of the main players from the original cast have returned, including Rob Paulsen as Pinky and Maurice LaMarche as The Brain. — Aisha Harris

The Prom (Netflix) Friday, Dec. 11

This sudsy, knowingly funny musical ran for less than a year on Broadway, but it's getting a Netflix adaptation that's certain to endear it to a wider audience. Unlike The Boys in the Band — Netflix's other Broadway adaptation this fall — producer/director Ryan Murphy has ditched the entire (outstanding) Broadway cast in favor of big names like Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Awkwafina and, inevitably, James Corden. That's unfortunate, but the story (a group of faded, self-important New York theater actors descend on a small town to help a young lesbian take her girlfriend to the high school prom) is strong, the songs are insanely catchy, and the script is loaded with jokes that poke laser-targeted fun at Theater People. — Glen Weldon

Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood and Heather Graham as Rita Blakemoor in <em>The Stand,</em> out<em> </em>Dec. 17 on CBS All Access.
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Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood and Heather Graham as Rita Blakemoor in The Stand, out Dec. 17 on CBS All Access.

The Stand (CBS All Access) Thursday, Dec. 17

This event series, based on Stephen King's classic dystopian novel, gets the Worst Timing Ever Award. Centered on the battle for good and evil after a plague (in the book, it was a killer flu, no less) wipes out most of the world's population. Whoopi Goldberg, who seems an embodiment of the "magical negro" trope playing Mother Abagail, King's manifestation of good — opposing Alexander Skarsgård's evil Randall Flagg — also raises a few, um, red flags. Still, I have hope for this project, which has whipped up an eclectic cast that includes X-Men alum James Marsden, Aquaman's Amber Heard and rocker Marilyn Manson. Honestly, I'd watch a TV show that featured this group arguing over what to have for dinner. — Eric Deggans

Your Honor (Showtime) Dec. TBA

Forget about meth-making high school teacher Walter White; Bryan Cranston is now playing another corrupted authority figure in Showtime's limited series based on an Israeli crime thriller. This time, Cranston is Michael Desiato, a respected judge in New Orleans who fakes evidence and worse to disguise his son's culpability in a hit and run accident that kills someone. When the victim turns out to be the son of a vicious crime boss — played by another ace character actor, Boardwalk Empire alum Michael Stuhlbarg — you can guess how complicated everything becomes. And how awesome the acting will be. — Eric Deggans

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