Winter TV Preview: The scoop on 13 new shows

New year, new shows! The start of 2018 brings a wave of fresh dramas and comedies to keep your television warm through the cold winter nights.

They hail from acclaimed creators, including the ubiquitous Ryan Murphy, Parenthood/Friday Night Lights hero Jason Katims, and Emmy-winning Master of None star-writer Lena Waithe. They feature superheroes, first responders, and suburban moms. There’s a remake of a classic ’80s movie, a spinoff of a popular current comedy, and a limited series about 9/11.

Click through this slideshow to get the scoop on 13 new shows from the cast and creators.

‘Grown-ish’ (Freeform, Jan. 3 at 8 p.m.)

The one-sentence pitch: Showrunner Kenya Barris sums up the black-ish spinoff like this: “It’s a show about that time in between being an adult and being a kid, when you’re so close to having it all figured out but you [still] don’t know anything.”

What to expect: Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) is off to Southern California University! A two-episode premiere sets the stage for Zoey’s college life with a cast that includes Trevor Jackson, Chris Parnell, and singing duo Chloe x Halle. Shahidi says the show will mostly address “college culture” — with a side of Dre and Bow (Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross). “Not only do we have flashbacks, but we have moments where of course my parents have to check up on me,” Shahidi notes. “But this is really an independent journey.”

Hughes honor: “In that first episode, as you’ll see, we do sort of a wink-wink at The Breakfast Club, which to me is the ultimate angsty relatable teen narrative,” Barris says. “It’s reflecting what it is to be in this place in between, like the mezzanine of life.” — Victoria Leigh Miller

(Photo: Freeform)

‘9-1-1’ (Fox, Jan. 3 at 9 p.m.)

The one-sentence pitch: “It’s about the intriguing people who run toward danger, their job drama that burns bright and hot, the next emergency that flares up before the first one is completely put out, and their own personal emergencies,” says executive producer Tim Minear. “Part of being a hero is being human, which means they have flaws.”

What to expect: A Ryan Murphy production, meaning big stars: Parenthood’s Peter Krause as a fire chief, American Horror Story’s Angela Bassett as a police sergeant, and Nashville’s Connie Britton as a 911 operator. Though it’s about first responders, Minear wants viewers to know it’s definitely not a procedural. “Those shows are about a dead body and using procedure to figure out how they got dead. Our show has more in common with YouTube and social media,” he says. “We’re finding a lot of inspiration in WTF viral videos or fail compilations.”

Keeping it real: Newborns stuck in toilet pipes and snake hoarders might seem implausible, but consultants (including fireman, tactical police officers, and medical professionals) vet scripts to “keep it within the lines of reality,” says Minear. Krause, who teased upcoming storylines featuring plane crashes and collapsing buildings, can vouch for the realism. “Generally, we carry the heavy packs, climb real ladders, swing a real ax [unless] in proximity of somebody else’s limbs,” says the actor, 52. “I’d love to have played this role half my lifetime ago when it didn’t hurt so much.” — Carrie Bell

(Photo: Mathieu Young/Fox)

‘The Chi’ (Showtime, Jan. 7 at 10 p.m.)

The one-sentence pitch: The Chi follows the lives of a group of Chicagoans — an aspiring chef, grieving parents, a tween in the wrong place at the wrong time, a ladies’ man, and a cop with a conscience — who become linked after the murder of a high school basketball star outside a South Side stash house.

What to expect: “The first and probably only drama I’ll ever write,” jokes Master of None Emmy winner and Chi creator Lena Waithe, who was motivated to step outside her comedy comfort zone by current events. “Black people are still being dehumanized — so much so that people are desensitized to us dying. I wanted to humanize the headlines and tell the story of the neighborhood where I grew up. Black folks are not a monolithic. How each of the characters survives this imperfect world is unique.”

Hat trick: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine (The Knick), who plays the charismatic deadbeat Ronnie, devised a chapeau-centric plan to combat the chill that came with shooting entirely in the Windy City. “It was cold for me coming from L.A.,” he says. “And besides I believe all bald men have a secret hat game that’s making up for something else.” — CB

(Photo: Mathieu Young/Showtime)

‘Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams’ (Amazon Video, Jan. 12)

The one-sentence pitch: American and British writers, directors, and actors adapt sci-fi author Dick’s short stories for this 10-episode anthology series from executive producers Michael Dinner, Ronald Moore, and Bryan Cranston.

What to expect: Ten stand-alone stories meant creating 10 new worlds, including adaptations of “The Hood Maker,” “The Commuter,” “Sales Pitch,” “Human Is” (starring Cranston), and “The Hanging Stranger.” Says Dinner, “Even though they’re wildly disparate, it felt like themes ran throughout the material. … [Everyone] was making [the episodes] for a reason. It wasn’t just an exercise; it was a father-son story, or a son-father story, or a husband-wife story, and even though the canvas was very big, and it could take place 400 years in the future, there are these emotional stories.”

Personal connection: Dinner wrote and directed the “Father Thing” episode, about a boy who sees his dad (Greg Kinnear) replaced by a look-alike monster. Though it’s an intense story, the Wonder Years producer says he’s happy it finally gives him something he can share with his children. “As I’ve gotten older, my joke is that my work has gotten darker and darker. [My kids are] 12 and 14, and over the last 10 years, I can’t show them anything,” says the Sneaky Pete and Justified vet. “They always want so see something, and I’ll think, ‘What can I show them?’ I feel like [“Father Thing”] was kind of a valentine to them.” — Kimberly Potts

(Photo: Amazon Prime)

‘Black Lightning’ (The CW, Jan. 16 at 9 p.m.)

The one-sentence pitch: A retired superhero (Cress Williams) is forced back into action when his daughters are dragged into criminal circles. The show aims to combine action with thoughtfulness and emotional stakes. As showrunner Salim Akil puts it: “I want to hit like rock ’n’ roll, but I want it to feel like jazz.”

What to expect: Before Black Lightning was ever a thing, Akil would ask his children what superpower they would want. “Then,” he says, “we would always ask, ‘What are the consequences of having that power?’” More than anything, this show is about what happens after the bad guy is punched into oblivion, after the adrenaline wears off and the hero has to nurse the bruises. “I always say, ‘Where’s the emotional [and physical] collateral in what’s happening?’” Akil insists.

Can’t stop, won’t stop: Before the CW came to him with its Black Lightning pitch, Akil was already looking to do a TV adaption featuring the African-American superheroes of Milestone — a DC imprint from the ’90s — and if this does well, that may yet happen. “I want ’em all!” he says with a laugh. “I’m going to be narcissistic and say, ‘Nobody should have them but me.’” — Robert Clarke-Chan

(Photo: Bob Mahoney/The CW)

‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story’ (FX, Jan. 17 at 10 p.m.)

The one-sentence pitch: “Like it’s titled, it’s about the murder of Gianni Versace, but what the show is really about is what leads up to that murder,” says ACS executive producer Brad Simpson. “And most people who know about Versace know he was murdered by Andrew Cunanan, but they probably don’t know that he was the final victim in a killing spree.”
What to expect: “This season is a very different flavor. It’s a different mood, it’s a different type of crime, and a different type of storytelling,” Simpson says of the new season, which unfolds Cunanan’s crime in a nonlinear fashion, beginning with Versace’s murder and revealing Cunanan’s other victims in reverse chronological order. “We felt like it was important to not have the audience spend eight episodes waiting for that murder to happen, so we get right to the most famous murder. Then … we’ve all seen stories of the evolution of a killer, where you follow someone as they commit their first murder, climaxing with something bigger. We thought it was more interesting to do it in reverse, tell you the whole story in reverse, go victim by victim into the past and really try to understand not just who these other victims were but also why [Cunanan] ended up on this path.”

Glee-ful cast: Penelope Cruz as Donatella Versace, Edgar Ramirez as Gianni, Ricky Martin as Versace’s boyfriend Antonio, as well as memorable performances from Judith Light, Finn Wittrock, Dascha Polanco, Mike Farrell, Max Greenfield, and newcomer Cody Fern pepper the season, but it’s singer and Glee alum Darren Criss, as Cunanan, who is most mesmerizing as the undeniably charming, and disturbed, serial killer. “Versace and Andrew Cunanan were both born into circumstances in which they were gay men with ambition, with taste, and who people genuinely liked,” Simpson says. “Andrew was very well-liked until a certain age. … We wanted to explore what sets one off on the path to becoming this great creator, and what sets the other on the path to being this destroyer.” — KP
(Photo: FX)

‘Counterpart’ (Starz, Jan. 21 at 8 p.m.)

The one-sentence pitch: It’s double the J.K. Simmons in this espionage tale that unfolds in parallel universes. “It’s a science-fiction spy thriller about two worlds that are in competition with each other, and the people who inhabit those worlds are in competition with themselves,” teases Counterpart creator Justin Marks.

What to expect: “This show is derived from the tradition of a John le Carré-style, Berlin Wall-esque thriller,” Marks explains. “We wanted to do a show where the Berlin Wall wasn’t a physical construct but a metaphysical construct.” On one side of the metaphysical wall partitioning the show’s two worlds, Howard Silk (Simmons) is a bureaucratic worker bee frustrated with his life and career. But the Howard who exists on the other side is noticeably different. “One has developed into much more of an alpha than the other,” Simmons says.

Standup stand-in: Allow us to introduce you to the secret star of Counterpart: Simmons’s stand-in, John Funk, who played one Howard while Simmons played the other. “John ended up being really critical to the success of the work,” says Simmons. “None of his work will be seen by anyone who wasn’t there on set that day, and that’s unfortunate, because I really appreciated what he was giving me every day.” — Ethan Alter

(Photo: Starz)

‘The Alienist’ (TNT, Jan. 22 at 9 p.m.)

The one-sentence pitch: Based on the Caleb Carr bestseller, this dark Gilded Age-set limited series follows a criminal psychologist (Daniel Bruhl), a newspaper illustrator (Luke Moore), and a police department secretary angling to become the first female detective (Dakota Fanning) as they work to solve a series of gruesome murders during one of New York’s grittiest eras.

What to expect: Part period piece, part serial-killer thriller, part procedural historical costume drama. “First, you have the arena of New York at the end of the 19th century,” says executive producer-director Jakob Verbruggen (Black Mirror). “It is about to become one of the most iconic cities in the world, but only if it can get through all of its difficulties of extreme poverty, crime, and corruption. You see real people from history like Theodore Roosevelt. And you have these misfit loners who have to work together and confront their inner demons and catch a killer. Through these characters, the audience witnesses the birth of CSI and profiling.”

Old English: Not only did Bruhl, who grew up in Germany, have to brush up on medical lingo and perfect his American accent, he also worked with a dialect coach to master an antiquated parlance “It gets easier the more time you spend with it,” he says, “but it was difficult to improvise because the danger is you would sound too modern.” — CB

(Photo: TNT)

‘Waco’ (Paramount Network, Jan. 24 at 10 p.m.)

The one-sentence pitch: Formerly Spike TV, the Paramount Network’s first major original drama series stars Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh, the Branch Davidian leader whose religious compound in Texas was seized by the FBI and the ATF in 1993, ending in more than 70 deaths, including nearly two dozen children.

What to expect: The brothers Dowdle (No Escape director John and screenwriter Drew) created the six-part series after reading books by Waco siege survivor David Thibodeau and FBI negotiator Gary Noesner, with the hope of presenting the complicated, controversial story in a way that would shed fresh light on both sides of the tragedy. “It seemed like these events got better when understanding or compassion was employed, and it got worse every time force was employed, so we said, ‘Let’s tell it from that perspective — let’s treat understanding as the protagonist and force as the antagonist, from both sides, and really try to see how that plays out. Let’s do the no-bad-guys version of this,’” John says. “Both sides made mistakes. How does somebody rationally come to a decision to do something that puts human life at risk?”

All-stars: From Oscar nominee Michael Shannon as Noesner and Rory Culkin as Thibodeau to standout performances by Julia Garner, Andrea Riseborough, Paul Sparks, and John Leguizamo, the Waco cast is stellar, and no one, the Dowdles say, was more committed to his role than Friday Night Lights alum Kitsch. “He’s slim anyway, but he lost 30 pounds to get really skinny, and he studied scripture, and he learned to play guitar, [took] vocal lessons,” John says. “He went down the rabbit hole on this, and you feel that.” — KP

(Photo: Paramount Network)

‘Good Girls’ (NBC, Feb. 26 at 10 p.m.)

The one-sentence pitch: “It’s about three normal wives and mothers who have gotten the short end of the stick in life, financially and in relationships, and decide to fight back and turn their lives around,” says creator Jenna Bans.

What to expect: The suburban trio band together to rob their local grocery store. Beth (Christina Hendricks) is the super-organized, efficient mom who discovers her husband has lost everything and is cheating on her. Best friend Ruby (Retta) is dealing huge medical bills for her daughter. And Beth’s sister, Annie (Mae Whitman), is in the midst of a custody battle with her ex. “They’ve reached their wits’ end and are feeling helpless,” Retta explains. They rob the supermarket, but that “brings a whole bag of trouble down upon their heads,” Bans teases. “They’re not only facing the fact that they just robbed a grocery store, but they also owe a street gang in Detroit a lot of money.” Now the trio have to juggle their criminal secret with parenting, complicated relationships, and Bachelorette viewing parties.

Nasty women: Bans got the inspiration for the show from her mom, during last year’s election. “She really wanted to see something on TV that was empowering and fun and entertaining,” the creator says. Good Girls isn’t overtly political, but Retta notes, “if it weren’t for the current political climate, it wouldn’t resonate as well as I think it has.” — Kelly Woo

(Photo: Steve Dietl/NBC)

‘The Looming Tower’ (Hulu, Feb. 28)

The one-sentence pitch: “The show demonstrates the miscommunication between the FBI and the CIA in the lead-up to 9/11,” explains executive producer Dan Futterman.

What to expect: Adapted from New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright’s 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller, the 10-episode series begins in the late ’90s with the bombings of two United States embassies in East Africa, among the first in a series of “signal events” — including the USS Cole bombing in 2000 and the arrival of the 9/11 hijackers in the U.S. — that culminated in the Twin Towers falling. “We have a lot of characters to follow, but there’s a real spine to the story,” Futterman says of how the series depicts the recent past. “It’s also exciting, particularly in this cultural moment, to show [former FBI agent] Ali Soufan, who to my mind is a Muslim-American hero.”

Keeping it real: Futterman says that the writing staff had a full-time researcher, as well as an outside legal counsel, to make sure they didn’t take too many liberties in the name of dramatic storytelling. “It was like writing a rigorous term paper,” he says. “The production also incorporated new research from Wright, who served as an executive producer on the series and published a follow-up book, The Terror Years, in 2016. “Larry was our ‘in’ with everyone,” says Futterman. “Former members of the CIA talked to him on short notice and then sat down with all of us.” — EA

(Photo: JoJo Whilden/Hulu)

‘Rise’ (NBC, March 13 at 10 p.m.)

The one-sentence pitch: “It’s the story of a public high school teacher in small-town Pennsylvania who takes over the theater program and affects the lives of the kids and the community in a profound way and, in doing so, also affects his own life,” says creator Jason Katims, adding, “Do you allow run-on sentences?”

What to expect: Singing! Dancing! Theater! How I Met Your Mother‘s Josh Radnor plays Lou Mazzuchelli, an English teacher looking for a burst of artistic inspiration. He finds it when he decides that what the school really needs is a boisterous production of the Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening. Much like Glee’s Mr. Schue before him, Mr. Mazzu tries to shake up the typical high school ensemble, casting a shrinking violet (Moana‘s Auli’i Cravalho) and the resident football star (Damon J. Gillespie) as the two leads. “I used to play football,” says Gillespie. “It got to the point where I had to make a choice, and I ended up doing theater.”

Broadway bound: While the young theater aficionados in Rise will croon songs from Spring Awakening in Season 1, Gillespie already has a special request for Season 2’s choice of show. “I have a very, very deep love for Next to Normal,” says the actor, who has previously tread the boards in Newsies and Aladdin. “I would be extremely happy, and probably cry every day I came to work.” — EA

(Photo: Peter Kramer/NBC)

‘Heathers’ (Paramount Network, TBD)

The one-sentence pitch: “It’s a very, very dark comedic updating of the original, using the world of high school as a microcosm of satire of our culture today,” says creator Jason Micallef.

What to expect: As with the 1989 movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, fans can expect murder and mayhem — now set against the backdrop of the social media age. The trio of Heathers that rule the school get an extreme makeover: Queen diva Heather Chandler (Melanie Field) is a plus-size, body-positive terror; Heather McNamara (Jasmine Matthews) is a black lesbian; and Heather Duke (Brendan Scannell) is a male who identifies as “gender queer.” As Micallef explains, theirs is “a different form of oppression, and that’s the oppression of individuality.” He doesn’t believe “beautiful blond girls” are the popular kids today, so he wanted the Heathers to be “different and diverse.” Like in the movie, Veronica (Grace Victoria Cox) falls into the orbit of rebel J.D. (James Scully), and they end up killing Heather Chandler. But after that, the show “becomes its own beast,” Micallef says.

Hold the phone: These Heathers, like their real-life peers, will live much of their lives through social media. “I’m fascinated as a millennial in how technology — and social media specifically — change the way we interact with one another and has changed our sense of consequences for our actions,” Field says. Heather Chandler “wants to be in the spotlight. She wants to be a winner. High school is a dog-eat-dog environment and it always has been.” — KW

(Photo: Paramount Network)

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