2021 preview

48 TV Shows We Can’t Wait to See in 2021

There’s still a whole lot of TBD ahead but also some definitive promise of great things to come.

Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photos by HBO, Disney+, Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images and Netflix
Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photos by HBO, Disney+, Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images and Netflix

Thanks to a quarantine-friendly distribution system that was already centered on home viewing, and the advent of production bubbles, television had a slightly less chaotic 2020 than film did, but the coronavirus pandemic still wreaked its share of havoc on the small screen. While many of the shows we were looking forward to at the beginning of last year did end up making their way to us, many others were postponed, moved to that mythical date of “TBD 2021.”

As we begin the new year, there’s still plenty of TBD that lies ahead — we’re reasonably sure all of these programs will premiere before 2022 rolls around, but, then again, we were reasonably sure of that this time last year. Shows are still sputtering in and out of production as COVID infections continue seemingly unabated, and while there’s a vaccine-shaped light at the end of the tunnel, just how long and winding that tunnel will be is hard to predict. But the first few months of the year at least offer some definitive promise of new TV to come, and beyond that, there’s plenty more TBD worth staking our hopes on. As television continues its drawn-out return to something resembling normalcy, these are the shows we can’t wait to see this year.

Dickinson season two (Apple TV+, January 8)

The first season of Apple TV+’s irreverent gothic comedy had Hailee Steinfeld playing a young, sexy, headstrong version of Emily Dickinson railing against the constraints of her family, trying desperately to write poetry, and occasionally hanging out with death (Wiz Khalifa). The second takes the same tone on a different walk, with Emily struggling with whether she wants to seek fame as a poet, getting entangled with hotshot newspaper editor Samuel Bowles (Iron Fist’s Finn Jones), and still yearning from afar after her love turned sister-in-law, Sue (Ella Hunt). Expect just as many up-to-the-second pop-music needle drops and deep-cut 19th-century history jokes as last time. —Jackson McHenry

Pretend It’s a City (Netflix, January 8)

Consummate New Yorker Martin Scorsese hangs out with consummate New Yorker Fran Lebowitz in this miniseries that is both a deep dive into Lebowitz’s mind and her Manhattan. —Jen Chaney

All Creatures Great and Small (PBS, January 10)

In the pantheon of British coziness, it’s hard to find a more beloved text than James Herriot’s memoirs about his life as a rural British veterinarian. The book has been adapted over and over, but it returns once again this winter in miniseries form. Get ready to find yourself completely overwhelmed by a scene during which a cow gives birth. —Kathryn VanArendonk

Search Party season 4 (HBO Max, January 14)

Dory may have made it through last season’s murder trial, but Search Party’s fourth season flings her back into peril as she’s immediately kidnapped by a scheming twink who really wants to be her best friend (played with glee and many wigs by Cole Escola). The rest of the show’s gaggle of amoral millennials take the time to focus on themselves while they assume their friend is just off on vacation. There’s a send-up of conservative media as John Early’s Elliott decides to go GOP for the attention, a trip into meta commentary as Meredith Hagner’s Portia takes on a role as Dory in a Dory movie, and, of course, many delightful guest stars, including Ann Dowd, Lillias White, and Susan Sarandon. —J.M.

WandaVision (Disney+, January 15)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe roars to life on Disney+ in the form of … a loving homage to classic sitcoms? It’s hard to know what to expect from this genre experiment, other than that it transports Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), to some sort of suburban alternate reality where goofy neighbor Kathryn Hahn stalks them at every turn. The world-building might get a little intricate for newcomers, but the goofy sitcom plots, which seemingly range across decades, should be very fun. —J.M.

Painting With John (HBO, January 22)

Actor and musician John Lurie paints pictures and tells stories in what looks to be a super-mellow, meditative HBO hang. —J.C.

Euphoria: “Fuck Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob” (HBO, January 24)

The second of Euphoria’s two stand-alone episodes focuses on Jules (Hunter Schafer, who co-wrote this episode with series creator Sam Levinson) and her experiences over the holiday season after her breakup with Zendaya’s Rue. If this is even half as good as the first, Rue-focused special episode, then it will be very much worth your time. —J.C.

The Lady and the Dale (HBO, January 31)

Last winter, HBO aired McMillions, a docuseries about a scam involving the McDonald’s Monopoly contest. This winter, the network brings us The Lady and the Dale, a Duplass brothers–produced series about Liz Carmichael, a woman who started her own car company but was trying to pull off some scams of her own. —J.C.

The Snoopy Show (Apple TV+, February 5)

Yes, some of us were mad when Apple TV+ took over the rights to the Peanuts holiday specials. Still, we’re excited to see this new Snoopy-focused series, arriving in the 70th-anniversary year for Peanuts and created to mirror the animated style of the classic Bill Melendez–Lee Mendelson cartoons. —J.C.

Super Bowl LV (CBS, February 7)

What does a Super Bowl look like in the middle of a pandemic? Apparently it will still involve two teams playing against each other and a halftime performance by the Weeknd. But how many fans will be allowed into Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to watch? How many of the commercials will reference COVID? (Guess: 95 percent of them.) Will the Weeknd wear his signature red suit? (Nearly 100 percent guarantee, but tune in to find out for sure.) —J.C.

Punky Brewster (Peacock, February 25)

Soleil Moon Frye reprises her role as Punky in this apparently inevitable reboot of the ’80s sitcom. Now that she’s all grown up, Punky’s a single mom who meets a child in the foster system that reminds her of her young self, a young self you can see plenty of by watching old Punky Brewster episodes on Peacock. —J.C.

The Great North (Fox, pilot streaming now, series premiere on February 14)

An animated sitcom from Wendy and Lizzie Molyneux, featuring Nick Offerman, Jenny Slate, Dulcé Sloan, Will Forte, Paul Rust, and Aparna Nancherla? (And also Alanis Morissette as an imaginary friend?) I was onboard before I knew Offerman plays a character named Beef Tobin. — K.V.

Superman and Lois (The CW, February 23)

Surely, you’re thinking, surely the CW Arrow-verse already has an entire show dedicated to Superman and Lois Lane? Until this winter, the answer has been no! Just in case you feel like you’ve seen this story already, though, this is not your parents’ Lois and Clark. This is Lois and Clark: Now they’re parents. Because even literal superheroes find it tough to have it all. —K.V.

The 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards (NBC, February 28)

Almost a full year ago, the announcement was made that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler would return to host the 2021 Golden Globe Awards. As of this writing, that plan doesn’t seem to have changed, but it’s unclear whether the annual boozy ceremony honoring the best in film and television will be in person, virtual, or some hybrid of both. Either way, fingers crossed for more James Cameron zingers from Fey and Poehler. —J.C.

The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards (CBS, March 14)

The Grammys were supposed to happen on January 31, but the spread of the pandemic in Los Angeles caused a postponement. Will the ceremony, to be hosted by Trevor Noah, be able to unfold as an in-person event in March? Fingers crossed. —J.C.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney+, March 19)

This particular extension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe features Anthony Mackie as the Falcon and Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier. You can call it a six-hour Marvel movie all you want, but in the world of TV coverage, we all know what that is. Congrats, you made a miniseries! —K.V.

Hemingway (PBS, April 5)

The author of The Sun Also Rises gets the six-hour docuseries treatment in this exploration of the work and personal struggles of Ernest Hemingway, co-directed by frequent collaborators Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Peter Coyote acts as the narrator of Hemingway, which will air on three consecutive nights, with Jeff Daniels providing the voice of the novelist and four fine actresses — Meryl Streep, Keri Russell, Mary-Louise Parker, and Patricia Clarkson — playing the vocal roles of his four wives. —J.C.

The 93rd Annual Academy Awards (ABC, April 21)

The Oscars ceremony, like the Grammys and Golden Globes, is supposed to be an in-person event. Will it actually be an in-person event? I don’t know, you don’t know, they don’t know. No one knows anything at this point. —J.C.

Shadow and Bone (Netflix, April TBD)

If you’re one of the many, many people who just love a YA-fantasy adaptation, Shadow and Bone is one to put on your calendar. Based on the immensely popular books by Leigh Bardugo, it’s got magic and monsters and a big, sprawling fantasy-world map. —K.V.

Loki (Disney+, May TBD)

Yet another entry in the onslaught of Marvel series coming to Disney+, this stars Tom Hiddleston in his ongoing role as Loki, whom we catch up with during events that transpire after Avengers: Endgame. If you want to know more, watch the trailer, although you may not know that much more about the plot even if you do watch it. —J.C.

The Summer Olympics, take two (NBC networks, July 23 through August 8)

Remember how we were supposed to have a Summer Olympics in 2020? Well, that didn’t happen, but elite athletes from all over the world will give it a go again, with a bevy of competitions that will (fingers crossed) be broadcast from Tokyo this summer. —J.C.

Dopesick (Hulu, TBD)

Beth Macy’s book about the opioid crisis provides the basis for this series, developed by Danny Strong, directed by Barry Levinson, and starring Michael Keaton, Kaitlyn Dever, and Peter Sarsgaard, among others. —J.C.

Foundation (Apple TV+, TBD)

Would you like to see Jared Harris, Lou Llobell, and Lee Pace in an Apple TV+ adaptation of one of the most influential works of science fiction of the 20th century? Of course you would. —K.V.

The Gilded Age (HBO, TBD)

This Julian Fellowes drama, like Downton Abbey, is a period piece focused on characters in upper-crust society, but, unlike Downton Abbey, it’s set in New York rather than England. The leads in this ensemble work are Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, and Carrie Coon, and if you think we want to watch these women portray rich ladies who potentially are at each other’s throats, you are absolutely right. —J.C.

Genius: Aretha (National Geographic, TBD)

The latest installment of the biopic series will star Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin, and, honestly, that’s all we needed to hear to have our interest piqued. —J.C.

Gossip Girl (HBO Max, TBD)

Hey, Upper East Siders, we’d be remiss not to mention the second coming of what we ourselves called the “Best. Show. Ever.” The show’s already filming in New York, with a new cast of scheming poreless teens and Tavi Gevinson as, seemingly, a teacher (how are we already so old?). Joshua Safran, a writer and an executive producer on the original run, has promised that the show will feature nonwhite leads and a lot more queer content. Some things never change, though: Kristen Bell will still be back to whisper XOXO.J.M.

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai (HBO Max, TBD)

It’s taken more than three decades, but finally we are getting a Gizmo origin story vis-à-vis this animated series/prequel to Gremlins set in Shanghai. —J.C.

Hawkeye (Disney+, TBD)

There are going to be buckets and buckets of Marvel stuff in the next few years. So much Marvel stuff you’re going to lose your mind! But one of those Marvel things is Hailee Steinfeld taking over the mantle of Hawkeye, a.k.a. Kate Bishop, from Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton, and that does seem like a fun time. —K.V.

Impeachment: American Crime Story (FX, TBD)

Originally slated to run in September 2020, the next installment in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story anthology series focuses on the Clinton impeachment story and includes Beanie Feldstein as Monica Lewinsky, Clive Owen as Bill Clinton, and Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp. Won’t it be nice to be scandalized by a story about a presidential cover-up that doesn’t involve hundreds of thousands of American deaths? —K.V.

Invincible (Amazon, TBD)

Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame is behind this adult animated series about a 17-year-old (voice of Steven Yeun) who discovers his superpowers with the help from his even more powerful father (J.K. Simmons). A superhero series? What a novel idea! —J.C.

Last Chance U: Basketball (Netflix, TBD)

The docuseries about athletics at the junior- and community-college level turns its attention from football to basketball by following the Huskies of East Los Angeles College. —J.C.

The Lord of the Rings (Amazon, TBD)

What little we know about Amazon’s big Lord of the Rings series makes it sound either very cool or a total fool’s errand. The streaming service paid $250 million to acquire the rights to the books from the Tolkien estate but is setting its show not within the timeline you might know from the film series but far before it in Middle-earth’s Second Age, diving deep into more obscure lore. Currently filming in New Zealand (congrats to its continued LOTR economy), the show has a cast lacking any big-name stars, too, seemingly banking on the title to sell things. Could be a fun, new, experimental twist on the universe or one attempt too many to reignite that GoT fire. Only time will tell! —J.M.

John Mulaney’s Sack Lunch Bunch special(s) (Comedy Central, TBD)

We have no idea when exactly Mulaney’s two promised follow-ups to his delightful Netflix special for grown-up children and childish grown-ups will arrive. Apparently one at least is intended to come out around a holiday and reunite Mulaney with the extremely talented kids from the first special. But whenever they do show up, we will welcome them both with open arms and an eagerness to memorize whatever lyrics about white women crying in public they include. —J.M.

MacGruber (Peacock, TBD)

Spread the word, you freakin’ turds. MacGruber is back, this time in TV-show form. —K.V.

Mare of Easttown (HBO, TBD)

A blonde Oscar-winning actress caught in the middle of a murder mystery? Not exactly a groundbreaking limited-series concept for HBO, but this one comes with a primo cast, including Kate Winslet as the detective Mare Sheehan, Julianne Nicholson as her friend, and the eternally great Jean Smart as her mother. Plus, it features an intriguing enough setting: a small Pennsylvania town. Hey, at least it’s not another rich-person enclave. —J.M.

The Morning Show season two (Apple TV+, TBD)

When the first season of one of the marquee shows on Apple TV+ ended, Alex (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) had kick-started a Me Too revolution by blowing the whistle on the sexual misconduct at UBA, the network that broadcasts their morning show. What happens next? Probably a lot more arguing between Alex and Bradley and more of Billy Crudup’s Cory Ellison acting like a charming slimeball, all of which sounds fine to us. —J.C.

Nine Perfect Strangers (Hulu, TBD)

Nicole Kidman and David E. Kelley can’t get enough of each other, apparently. The veterans of Big Little Lies and The Undoing come together again for this limited series, based on a novel by Liane Moriarty, author of the book Big Little Lies. The series, like the novel, focuses on several people who come together for a transformative wellness retreat. In addition to Kidman, the cast includes Melissa McCarthy, Samara Weaving, Michael Shannon, and Regina Hall. —J.C.

PEN15 season two, part two (Hulu, TBD)

The first half of PEN15’s second season ended with Anna (Anna Konkle) crushed by the prospect of her parents separating for real and Maya (Maya Erskine) crushed after being dumped by her first boyfriend. Hopefully better times are ahead for TV’s most relatable 13-year-old girls portrayed by women in their 30s. —J.C.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch (Disney+, TBD)

With an onslaught of new Disney Star Wars stuff advancing toward us at light speed, the animated series The Bad Batch will be one of the first to arrive. It’s an animated show spun off from Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars series that will follow a group of clones in the wake of the events of that show. The key hook: Dave Filoni, who has shown a knack for the details of Star Wars lore through Clone Wars, Rebels, and, recently, The Mandalorian, is also executive-producing this series. —J.M.

Station Eleven (HBO Max, TBD)

HBO Max began developing Station Eleven before 2020, and in 2021 the hope is that a story about a post-pandemic apocalypse will feel uplifting rather than utterly unappealing. Because it stars Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel and is being directed by Hiro Murai, we think there’s a good chance that it could be gloriously cathartic. —K.V.

Succession season 3 (HBO, TBD)

2020 was a year of losing so many things, ranging from trivial to devastating. The loss of a third season of Succession does not rank all that high, considering, but it was painful nonetheless. Succession had begun production again by the end of 2020, so we hope it will be restored to us soon. —K.V.

Tuca & Bertie season two (Adult Swim, TBD)

When Netflix canceled this series about a pair of bird BFFs after one season, fans were bereft. Luckily, Adult Swim came to the rescue, which means Tuca, the now-sober toucan (Tiffany Haddish), and Bertie, the anxiety-riddled song thrush (Ali Wong), will continue dealing with their issues on TV in 2021. —J.C.

Untitled Conan O’Brien variety show (HBO Max, TBD)

TBS recently announced that Conan, Conan O’Brien’s ten-year-old TBS talk show, will end in 2021, with the host turning his attention to a different format: variety show. Given O’Brien’s love of old showbiz, music, and sketch comedy, the switch makes sense. Also, maybe it will give him the opportunity to create a more progressive version of Pimpbot 5000? —J.C.

The Wheel of Time (Amazon, TBD)

I’m not sure if you heard, but Game of Thrones was a very successful TV show, and The Wheel of Time is an incredibly long and beloved series of fantasy novels. Amazon Prime Video is really hoping the combination of those two things is going to be exactly what everyone wants to watch in 2021. —K.V.

The Witcher season two (Netflix, TBD)

It’s truly exciting to imagine what kind of bonkers, magical, elf-eared, muscle-bulging nonsense The Witcher’s second season will present. Maybe a new surprise banger from the troubadour? Perhaps a video-game-inspired story in which Geralt is stripped naked and made to fight his way off a dangerous island? We can all cross our fingers. —K.V.

Women of the Movement (ABC, TBD)

Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of racially targeted murder victim Emmett Till, is the focus of this limited series, produced by, among others, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Jay-Z, and Will Smith. Adrienne Warren, who played Tina Turner on Broadway, will take on the role of Till-Mobley, who turned her outrage over her son’s brutal killing into advocacy for racial justice that helped spark the civil-rights movement. —J.C.

Y: The Last Man (FX on Hulu, TBD)

After several false starts and a change in both showrunners and network, this series, inspired by the comics by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, is slated to finally land on Hulu sometime in 2021. The premise: All the living mammals in possession of Y chromosomes simultaneously drop dead, causing global bedlam. —J.C.

Young Rock (NBC, TBD)

The first time we saw that photo of a young Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in a black turtleneck and a gold chain, we pretty much knew it would inspire a TV series. The Rock himself will reportedly appear in each episode of this sitcom from Nahnatchka Khan (creator of Fresh Off the Boat and Don’t Trust the B - - - - in Apartment 23) that follows him through various stages of his youth before we could smell a whiff of what he was cooking. —J.C.

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48 TV Shows We Can’t Wait to See in 2021