My suggested marketing slogan for this fall’s TV season: Not as bleak as you expected!

While the prime-time broadcast schedules must wait for a safe return to normal shooting schedules, the premium cable networks and streaming services are meeting the prolonged pandemic moment with several shows that I’d have been happy to recommend in any season. If you parse out all the episodes of the 25 shows I’ve picked here, it ought to last you through the holidays. What we’ll be watching beyond that is anyone’s guess.


(Now streaming on Hulu; premiered Sept. 9) Lamorne Morris stars as Keef, a Black cartoonist who draws a humorously benign comic strip called “Toast and Butter.” On the verge of a big syndication deal, a racist encounter with San Francisco cops opens Keef’s eyes to systemic issues, while inanimate objects (especially his Sharpie) come to life and start telling him to speak out against the injustices he’d spent so much of his life trying to ignore. This comedy is inspired by the work of cartoonist Keith Knight.

We Are Who We Are

(HBO at 10 p.m., Monday, Sept. 14) Oscar-nominated director Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”) makes his TV debut with this stylishly absorbing, eight-episode drama about a teenage boy, Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer), who must move to an Army base in Veneto, Italy, where his mother (Chloë Sevigny) is the new commander and her wife (Alice Braga) is a medic. Acting out his anger, Fraser tests boundaries that are physical (beyond the base confines) and emotional — a little like a mash-up of “Euphoria” and “My Brilliant Friend.


(Netflix, Friday, Sept. 18) What made Nurse Ratched evil? The cruelly stern psych ward nurse from Ken Kesey’s novelOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (whom Louise Fletcher brought so memorably to life in the 1975 film) gets an elaborate, eight-episode prequel treatment from Ryan Murphy and company, with Sarah Paulson as a younger Mildred Ratched, who proffers her services at a seaside asylum in 1947 where all manner of ill-considered treatments are taking place. Come for the trepanning, stay for Judy Davis’s performance as Ratched’s bitter rival, Nurse Bucket. (Sharon Stone, too, as a disgruntled client.)


(Peacock, Friday, Sept. 18) Comedy Central’s cancellation of Larry Wilmore’s “Nightly Show” in 2016 (which lasted 18 months in the spot vacated by “The Colbert Report”) seems only more erroneous in hindsight, given the state of the world and that nothing else has worked in that time slot. Wilmore stays plenty busy as a writer, producer and performer, but it’s good to see him back with a weekly talk show, where he and his guests will deconstruct the week’s election news and try to “keep it 100,” which, during his absence, hasn’t gotten any easier to do.

The Amber Ruffin Show

(Peacock, Friday, Sept. 25) Fans of Seth Meyers’s “Late Night” show already know Amber Ruffin’s freewheeling social and political commentaries are one of the best things about it. The universe has overheard us wondering aloud why she doesn’t have her own show — so here it is, launching on NBCUniversal’s streaming network in less-than-ideal pandemic conditions. But Ruffin and her peeps are raring to go: “We can’t wait to write sketches, songs and jokes about this terrible time we call now!” she said when the show was announced in August.


(Apple TV Plus, Friday, Sept. 25) More counterterrorism/international intensity, in which real-world enemies express their mutual disdain through streaming TV dramas: This Israeli-made series, from head “Fauda” writer Moshe Zonder, has already been condemned in the Iranian press, which you might as well take as a glowing review. Niv Sultan stars as Tamar Rabinyan, a Mossad agent who was born in Iran but raised in Israel, sent on a high-risk mission to sneak into Iran and disable a nuclear reactor. When that effort fails, she must draw on her childhood roots to hide from the Revolutionary Guard.


(Amazon Prime, Friday, Sept. 25) Best-selling author Gillian Flynn serves as writer and showrunner on this instantly absorbing drama about a group of hardcore fans of a graphic novel called “Dystopia,” the intricate drawings of which they believe predict a series of world-ending crises. When the original pages of a long-awaited sequel (“Utopia”) surface and are put up for auction at a comic-book convention, the desire to obtain the pages turns deadly, and the mystery of the book’s meaning deepens, setting up this geeky but brutally cool thriller. (Disclosure: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

A Wilderness of Error

(FX at 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 25) Either you’re the kind of person who still cares whether Jeffrey MacDonald murdered his wife and daughters in 1970 or you aren’t — but the sensational details of the case have ensnared some fine writers and filmmakers in the past, including Errol Morris, whose book about it provides a launching point for Marc Smerling’s five-part docuseries. There are hints of new leads that might show MacDonald (still serving time at 76) didn’t do it. “It’s a case that resists definitive explanations,” Morris says, by way of a huge understatement. Consider yourself warned.


(FX at 9 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 27) After a protracted wait, creator/writer Noah Hawley resumes his excellent, ever-expanding saga about crime syndicates of the American Midwest with a fourth season of “Fargo” that’s set in Kansas City in 1950, where successive immigrant gangs (European Jews, the Irish, the Italians) fought to control their shady business interests for decades, rivaled now by a Black gang from the Jim Crow South, headed by Loy Cannon (Chris Rock). Hawley’s wholly original “Fargo” vibe is very much intact in the first episode — it’s hard to remember how we used to wonder whether the TV series would be as good as the movie.

Emily in Paris

(Netflix, Friday, Oct. 2) Consider this 10-episode dramedy from Darren Star (“Sex and the City”; “Younger”) to be the decadent little treat among a lot of dark and downbeat dramas lately. This puff pastry stars Lily Collins as Emily Cooper, an extra-confident millennial marketing executive in Chicago whose boss (Kate Walsh) comes down with a case of the pregnants and sends Emily to Paris to beef up the social marketing strategy of a reluctant but stalwart luxury brand. It’s girl-in-Paris on hyperdrive — actually filmed there and filled with fashion nods.


(Hulu, Friday, Oct. 2) Based on Nathan Ballingrud’s book “North American Lake Monsters,” this psycho-horror, eight-episode anthology series explores the different sorts of monsters that show up in people’s lives, often in the form of other people. Kaitlyn Dever (“Unbelievable”) starts things off with the story of a struggling single mom in rural Louisiana whose encounter with a creepy stranger in the diner where she works as a waitress leads to a surprising decision. Other episodes feature Taylor Schilling (“Orange Is the New Black”) and Kelly Marie Tran from the recent round of Star Wars.

Flesh and Blood

(PBS at 9 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 4) This four-part “Masterpiece” series, a little more adult-themed than usual, stars Imelda Staunton as Mary, the nosy but friendly next-door neighbor to recently widowed Vivien (Francesca Annis), who has found new love with a gentleman (Stephen Rea) that her adult children (Claudie Blakley, Russell Tovey and Lydia Leonard) don’t exactly trust. The show is built around a tragic event that’s being investigated by a detective (David Bamber), dragging some family secrets out into the light of day.


(AMC at 10 p.m., Monday, Oct. 5) Another unsettling if fascinating anthology series, sort of in the “Black Mirror” mode, set in the near future after the debut of a flawless analytical process that matches people up with their perfect soul mate. Messy complications abound, particularly for people (such as the vaguely unhappy wife played by “Succession’s” Sarah Snook) who’ve already married the person they thought they’d spend the rest of their lives with. Other episodes (six in all) explore the shortcomings of these precise pairings, including impostor matches and an outmoded construct we used to call fate.


(Fox at 9 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 6) “Mad Men’s” John Slattery stars in this 10-episode, techno-paranoia crime thriller as Paul LeBlanc, the arrogant founder of a high-tech firm that recently fired him as CEO. An FBI cybersecurity agent, Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade), enlists LeBlanc to look into the mysterious death of a computer scientist who feared he was being chased by an all-seeing artificial-intelligence program — and, yeah, that’s exactly what’s going on, all right, as LeBlanc’s invention threatens to outsmart humanity by taking over all our precious devices.

Deaf U

(Netflix, Friday, Oct. 9) Even if you live in Washington, the goings-on at Gallaudet University, the nation’s top college for the deaf and hard of hearing, can still seem to be taking place in a different world. Not anymore, as this fast-moving, all-access, “Cheer”-like docuseries bursts forth with an intimate look at the lives of a group of students among the school’s 1,100 undergrads who are busy with academics and a tangle of personal relationships, parties and some social customs that are unique to the deaf experience.

The Haunting of Bly Manor

(Netflix, Friday, Oct. 9) I’m eager to see whether creator Mike Flanagan’s follow-up to 2018’s “The Haunting of Hill House” can get the juices jumping as well as the first one did — and maybe even with a less sappy ending this time. This new chapter, inspired by Henry James’s supernatural stories, starts off in 1980s England, where an American nanny (Victoria Pedretti) is hired to look after two orphaned kids who live at an old family estate called Bly Manor, where the ghost stories go back centuries.

The Right Stuff

(Disney Plus, Friday, Oct. 9) Originally destined for National Geographic and now set to launch at Disney Plus, this eight-episode adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s classic book about the first American astronauts will have to work extra hard to reach the heights of the 1983 film version. Critics haven’t seen the series yet, but I’ll give it points for taking on a difficult mission. Cast includes Jake McDorman (“Limitless”) as Alan Shepard, Patrick J. Adams (“Suits”) as John Glenn and Aaron Staton (“Mad Men”) as Wally Schirra.

Driving While Black

(PBS at 9 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 13; check local listings) Historian Gretchen Sorin and filmmaker Ric Burns take viewers on an immersive two-hour journey through the story of Black Americans and the elusive dream of free mobility, beginning with the enslaved people who grew up seldom traveling farther than a mile from their White owners’ homes and the slave-catching origins of the nation’s earliest police forces. In the 20th century, as White Americans fell in love with the automobile and the liberating joy of road trips, Black Americans again found danger, fraught with Jim Crow restrictions and a straight route to present-day racism.

The Undoing

(HBO at 9 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 25) HBO wisely bumped this prestige six-part mystery from David E. Kelley (based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel “You Should Have Known” and directed by Susanne Bier) from its spring schedule to the fall. Nicole Kidman stars as a successful Manhattan therapist married to an oncologist (Hugh Grant), whose seemingly perfect life is upended by a disturbing event that happens after a fundraiser for her son’s private school. The vibe is less frothy than Kelley and Kidman’s hit series “Big Little Lies,” but the refrain is similar: Perfection is a fragile state of being.


(PBS at 9 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 1) This four-part “Masterpiece” drama from David Hare (“The Hours,” “The Reader,” PBS’s Worricker trilogy) stars Hugh Laurie (“House,” “Veep”) as a former furniture salesman — “untroubled by guilt or remorse,” according to PBS’s character description — who rises to British political prominence on a populist reform agenda, dodging one political scandal while working to hide others. His world is tangled up in marital infidelity, scheming rivals and disloyal subordinates. Screeners were not available for this preview, but “Roadkill” looks messy and mesmerizing.

A Teacher

(FX on Hulu, Tuesday, Nov. 10) Hannah Fidell’s indie film of the same name came and went in 2013; here, Fidell has given “A Teacher” an extensive workover as a 10-episode miniseries, starring Kate Mara (“House of Cards”) as Claire, an English teacher at an Austin high school who has a sexual relationship with one of her students, Eric (“Love Simon’s” Nick Robinson). The series doesn’t set out to glorify or sympathize with Claire’s wrongdoing, nor does it take the tone of a lurid Lifetime movie. It’s a portrait of a person in the midst of making a very bad decision.

The Crown

(Netflix, Sunday, Nov. 15) Knowing “The Crown” is the most precious bauble left in a dry season, Netfix is sharing very little about the eagerly anticipated fourth season of its captivating series about Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman). I know only what others know — mainly that the series covers a period from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, including the 1981 royal wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. Emma Corrin (“Pennyworth”) has been cast in that plum part, and, like the real-life princess, surely has some scenes to steal.

No Man's Land

(Hulu, Wednesday, Nov. 18) In this tense, eight-episode war drama from the creators of the Israeli show “False Flag” and the original version of “Euphoria,” a man named Antoine (Felix Moati) catches a glimpse of a woman in a TV news clip from the Syrian war and is convinced it’s his estranged sister, who disappeared years ago. Driven to solve the mystery of what happened to her, Antoine travels from his home in Paris to Syria and encounters a band of Kurdish female fighters who are headed to battle in ISIS-occupied territory.

The Flight Attendant

(HBO Max, expected this fall) Kaley Cuoco wins the prize for most interesting swerve after “The Big Bang Theory” in this smart, suspenseful adaptation of Chris Bohjalian’s best-selling novel about a party-girl flight attendant who has a Bangkok fling with a hot first-class passenger (Michiel Huisman), drinks her way to unconsciousness and wakes up to a gruesome surprise — and makes a series of panicked decisions from there. (Folks, we’re experiencing a bit of a high-anxiety caper, so please check that your seat belts are fastened.) The strong supporting cast includes Rosie Perez and Zosia Mamet.


(Netflix, premiere date to be announced) A crunchy-gravel British period drama from producer Shonda Rhimes? You bet. Inspired by Julia Quinn’s best-selling novels, this fast-paced series is set in early 19th-century London, smack in the middle of debutante season, where future marriages hang in the balance — all of it sharply observed by the pseudonymous Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews), who writes a high-society gossip column. Worth noting: a refreshing degree of casting diversity, once unheard of in this genre.