‘Fall TV’ isn’t what it used to be, but here are 10 shows to watch now

‘House of the Dragon,’ ‘Abbott Elementary’ and ‘The Patient’ are some of the shows worth obsessing over this season

Matt Smith and Milly Alcock as Daemon Targaryen and young Rhaenyra Targaryen in “House of the Dragon.” (Ollie Upton/HBO)

In just the 16 months since I took over the television critic post, the TV industry has undergone several seismic shifts. Netflix lost at least half of its market value, forcing entertainment executives everywhere to question the conventional wisdom that streaming is the only ticket to the future. CNN Plus launched and folded within a month. HBO Max, formerly considered by many to be the “best” streaming service, was swallowed up in scandal and uncertainty after an optics-blind corporate merger. Somehow, network TV proved it’s not dead. And if television has irreparably poisoned and cheapened national politics, the televising of the Jan. 6 hearings may help vindicate the ubiquitous role that screens and images play in our lives.

Those shifts have trickled down to “Fall TV,” which has traditionally referred to the flood of new shows on the broadcast networks around September. But with so many cable and streaming series premiering at the same time, it no longer makes sense to focus on those programs (especially when they’re called things like “So Help Me Todd”). So here are my recommendations for this “fall season” — 10 series that debuted in August and September, many of which I wish I’d had the time to cover in greater depth.

But before I launch into the list: It’s a particularly exciting time to cover television, which is why I’ve loved doing it for The Washington Post, and am sad to say goodbye to readers. As I move on, I’m grateful to have had such a well-informed readership, and I hope I led you to some great shows (or saved you from some bad ones).

‘Abbott Elementary’

In a media landscape full of niche programming, creator-star Quinta Brunson aimed for mass appeal with her school-set mockumentary sitcom — and created a show with something for everyone. An earnest salute to teachers with a stacked cast and jokes for days, “Abbott Elementary” won three Emmys for its quietly innovative freshman year, including a richly deserved trophy for supporting actress Sheryl Lee Ralph. Though the network comedy pays tribute to its Philadelphia setting, there’s no question that it conveys truths about the educational system across the country — and how instructors find the heart to care year after year. (Airs on ABC; streams on ABC.com and Hulu)


After a wandering (and ultimately unsatisfying) third season, “Atlanta” has returned to its roots. The fourth and final season of Donald Glover’s existential yet larkish meditation on success and stuck-ness is off to an auspicious start, with music manager Earn (Glover) and his rapper client-cousin Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) disillusioned after, or by the process of, “making it.” The half-hour dramedy’s racial satire is as sharp as ever, as illustrated by a recent storyline that finds Paper Boi channeling his energies into finding the next White viral hip-hop star — in the estimation of cynical Black colleagues, the most readily monetizable kind of rap act. Since its launch in 2016, “Atlanta” has inspired countless copycats, but at its best, the FX series is still in a class of its own. (Airs on FX; streams on Hulu)

‘The Conners’

“The Conners” will never be as revolutionary as its mother series, “Roseanne,” was in its heyday. But jettisoning the face and original creative force of the franchise hasn’t made the occasionally daring multi-cam comedy, about a working-class Midwestern family forced back into a multigenerational housing arrangement, any less enjoyable. The series’ trademark sardonic humor — delivered by a first-rate comedy ensemble — is as consistent and vital as ever, as is the show’s keen interest in the ways that former generations’ routes to economic mobility have largely disappeared. (Airs on ABC; streams on ABC.com and Hulu)

‘House of the Dragon’

Sorry, it might be time to return to Westeros. To the holdouts: I understand the skepticism, especially after the godawful conclusion of “Game of Thrones.” The bumpy start to the prequel series, “House of the Dragon,” doesn’t help. But the Targaryen court drama shows much promise after its big time jump forward, which takes us to the medieval fantasy epic’s “present,” as a succession crisis threatens a civil war among the dragon-riding dynasty. And let’s face it: If you love TV as monoculture — as something that brings people together and gives us something to discuss (or argue about) with friends and strangers alike — there’s still nothing like George R.R. Martin’s visions of a cruel (and yet not entirely unrelatable) world in which women are too often reduced to their reproductive capabilities and the struggle for power assumed with too little consideration of the consequences. (Airs on HBO; streams on HBO Max)


There’s no shortage of semi-autobiographical comedies, but “Mo,” from comedians Mo Amer and Ramy Youssef (“Ramy”), reminds us what the genre can accomplish when firing on all cylinders. Amer suffuses his titular protagonist with details from his own life: his trilingualism; his chatty easiness in a multicultural Houston and perpetual unease as a refugee waiting for years to be granted the right to work; his family’s unresolved traumas fleeing first Palestine, then an invaded Kuwait. (And yes, it’s funny!) Full of incidents and wrenching twists, “Mo” is never better as a portrait of a guy who crafted an armor of noncommittal affability to deal with the many frustrations in his life — and what happens when his loved ones realize they don’t know him as well as they’d been led to believe. (Streams on Netflix)

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‘The Murdochs: Empire of Influence’

Thanks to “Succession,” the fate of Rupert Murdoch’s global empire after his death has become a cultural obsession. CNN’s six-part docuseries “The Murdochs” dramatizes the real-life soap opera that helped shape the HBO series, while providing an excellent (and often disturbing) overview of the Australian paterfamilias’s international sway. It’s a well-told yarn — and an even better explanation of how Murdoch has helped create our current media and political ecosphere. (Airs on CNN; available on demand via CNN.com)

‘The Patient’

A novel premise is only the first of the many boastworthy elements of FX on Hulu’s serial killer-cum-therapy drama. Starring Steve Carell as a psychotherapist forced to treat his captor, a compulsive murderer (played by Domhnall Gleeson) struggling to give up violence, the series dishes up distinctive characters and plenty of mordant wit. A cat-and-mouse game in which the mouse is already at the mercy of the cat, the show continues to ratchet up the stakes for Carell’s counselor, who soon finds himself more sympathetic toward his capricious patient than he could have ever imagined. (Streams on Hulu)

‘Reservation Dogs’

FX on Hulu’s Native American comedy, about four teens and their impoverished but culturally rich Oklahoma small town, made a relatively quiet return this summer. But don’t let the muted response fool you; Season 2 is an undeniable improvement upon its predecessor, with its winsome young cast maturing into their performances and a streak of melancholy stemming from the core quartet’s dead friend, Daniel, serving as the emotional throughline. A standout funeral episode ironically injects the season with warmth, while chapters set at a group home and a prison, respectively, hint at the darker crevices into which the characters could fall when their community falters. (Streams on Hulu)

‘Sheng Wang: Sweet and Juicy’

It’s likely that no comedy special this year will be as remarkable as Jerrod Carmichael’s “Rothaniel.” But if you’re just looking for solid laughs — and maybe a new comedian to follow — Sheng Wang’s “Sweet and Juicy” is an outrageously fun hour, filled with clean jokes, writerly observations and more than a hint of a Texas drawl. Directed by Ali Wong, the special takes on familiar or mundane topics — aging, office work, buying pants at Costco — and gives them a loopy but relatable spin. In his confidence and command of the audience, Wang’s experience on the stage is more than evident, and it’s heartwarming to see someone so talented finally get the spotlight they deserve. (Streams on Netflix)

‘This Fool’

A gang-rehabilitation center for recent parolees is the unlikely — and rather inspired — setting for one of the year’s best comedies. Co-creator Chris Estrada’s overly sincere nonprofit dweeb, Julio, has his altruism questioned and his daily life turned upside down when his former gang-member cousin, Luis (Frankie Quiñones), is released from prison, joins the program and comes to live with him in Julio’s multigenerational childhood home in South Central Los Angeles. The episodes are full of affectionate satires of Mexican American culture and the nonprofit world, while the budding bromance between the particular Julio and the freewheeling Luis gives the series a much-welcome tenderness. (Streams on Hulu)