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The Top Five of Fall 2019 According to David Hinckley
September 5, 2019  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

The same way television directors often complain about the difficulty of paring down an episode down to 21 or 42 minutes, it's a challenge to identify only five shows as particularly promising for the upcoming TV season. 

It is, remember, the platinum age. 

It would be easy to fill virtually a whole list with just returning British imports: Poldark Sept. 29 on PBS, The Crown Nov. 17 on Netflix, Doc Martin in September on Acorn and the Downton Abbey movie on Sept. 20. 

Okay, the Downton Abbey movie is a theatrical release. But that's just a logistical technicality. To us real fans, it will always be a TV show. 

It would also be critical malfeasance not to note that NBC's The Good Place (above) starts its, alas, final season on Sept. 26. Or, on the other end of the somber scale, that Amazon Prime's Man in the High Castle also launches a final season, on Nov. 15. 

But if only to illustrate the breadth of television programming these days, let's cite these five shows as excellent reasons to settle down in front of the flat screen or even the iPad this fall. In chronological order:

1. Mr. Inbetween (top), FX, Sept. 12. The first season of this unassuming six-episode series obliterated all lines between comedy and drama, slapstick and violence, sweet affection and pathological indifference. Scott Ryan, the Australian who wrote and stars as Ray Shoesmith, would be one of TV's all-time great schizophrenics except that he’s not just torn two ways. He’s schizophrenic to the third or fourth power. 

As if being a hitman isn’t tough enough, Ray is also trying to figure out dating as Season 2 begins. Can’t wait.

2. Country Music, PBS, Sept. 15. Ken Burns returns with a new epic eight-parter. Just as you didn’t have to love or even know jazz to appreciate Burns’s last musical exploration, a working knowledge of Hank Williams or Brad Paisley isn’t mandatory to get hooked on the roots and evolution of what started as back-porch hillbilly music and became an industry.

For country fans, just hearing the music might be most of the fun. But it also doesn’t take more than an episode or two to realize Burns isn’t only using these tunes to tell the story of country, the music. He’s also tracking the story of America, the country. 

3. Criminal, Netflix, Sept. 20. At a time when TV creators often try to distinguish their work by going big, a few shows have taken the opposite tack and gone small. That’s the path Criminal has chosen, and it sounds both intriguing and promising. 

In a broad sense, Criminal is a police procedural. Its twelve episodes deal with twelve separate criminal cases, over four countries. But it doesn’t follow investigations or show detectives bending over bodies. It takes place entirely in interrogation rooms, where we see the dance between interrogators and suspects.

That is to say, Criminal relies on words – and the fact TV is so much a visual medium makes the words, when they are well-chosen, all the more striking. 

Plus it has David Tennant and Hayley Atwell. 

4. Stumptown (left), ABC, Sept. 26. The waters remain troubled for broadcast network programmers these days, with many of them gambling that fantasy and graphic novel stuff is the way to catch a wave. 

Stumptown doesn’t go that route, though it shares the dark side of those productions. 

Cobie Smulders stars as an ex-Marine with a load of debt and a brother who needs to be cared for. She becomes a private investigator, and while she’s about 10,000th TV PI to wrestle with personal demons in between outthinking perps, there’s always room for a new good one. 

5. Catherine the Great, HBO, Oct. 21. Not the first series on this extraordinary ruler, but the fact Helen Mirren plays the title role automatically should set this one above. 

It’s a four-part series, which provides enough time to spin a good yarn, and while our steady stream of recent historical dramas has had highlights and lowlights, anticipating Catherine and Mirren doesn’t feel like Russian to judgment.  

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SM in SF
Agree with Mr Inbetween recommendation. Enjoyed the very brief (6 episode) Season 1. Can't wait for next week Thursday's S2 premiere.
Sep 6, 2019   |  Reply
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