Skip to main content

A naked woman emerges from a duffel bag in the middle of Times Square fully covered in tattoos. She has no memory of who she is. Or the tattoos.

You've seen the promos. A lot of them. So now you know – the new fall TV season is here. There will be about 400 scripted series airing this year on U.S. network, cable and streaming services. While the idea of a "Fall TV season" seems archaic, it's still going strong for reasons of business, habit and the public's appetite for new content.

Across U.S. networks, cable and streaming services – the focus of this precision TV guide – there are dozens of new shows and countless returning series. Many of the network series are duds. But conventional TV hasn't lost is power to grip the audience and illuminate the culture with insights into obsessions, fears and dreams.

Each new TV season brings shows that can become compass-points for getting our bearings on a society's neuroses. If there are themes this season, they are the expected ones. Fear of government and institutional conspiracy. Fear of terrorism. And fear of individual identity being lost or abused by larger forces. These obsessions are there in such conventional series as Blindspot and Quantico, escapist as they are.

Our understanding of the culture is enhanced by dissecting the entertainment that appeals to a mass audience. Sociological truths emerge. Last year, in what also seemed a dull network season, Fox's Empire (returning Wednesday) emerged as hit. A huge hit, eventually. As a portrait of the hip-hop culture that is both a massive industry and a way of life, it was a stunner. It's not so much about the male posturing of hip-hop as about the dynamic of family when great wealth is within reach. Network TV can still shock you, beguile you or rock you gently to sleep.

Strong women are everywhere this season, from the light take on Supergirl on CBS and the wacky, driven lawyer on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on CW to the impatient, high-strung dancers on Flesh and Bone. Superficial, status-obsessed women are mocked, too, especially the small-minded narcissists on Fox's fabulous Scream Queens.

All the pressures of living in a culture that sometimes seems to be coming apart at the seams can be gleaned from several new series. There's the longing for protection that comes from mystic sources. There's suspicion of authority, especially the police, and, notably, not so many new network cops shows this season. There's something for everybody. And here's 10 that are definitely worth a look.

Ten To Watch

Quantico (Sundays, ABC, CTV, starts Sept. 27)

The promos don't do justice to this ridiculous blend of sex, espionage and terrorist thriller. It's also ridiculously entertaining. A new class of FBI recruits go through training at Quantico to become the next top agents. The thing is, one of them is a terrorist responsible for a brutal attack on the United States. How do we know this? Flash-forwards abound. The star, much promoted by ABC, is Indian actress, singer and former Miss World Priyanka Chopra. In an ensemble cast, she's the obvious standout. While it's a grim puzzle about finding a terrorist hiding in plain sight, there's sex and hijinks, with copious scenes of comely men and women in their underwear. Has to be seen to be believed. Not that its believable at all.

Blindspot (Mondays, NBC, CTV, starts tonight)

This is the story of Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander), the woman coming out of the duffel bag covered in tattoos. Those tattoos offer clues to upcoming crimes. But why? Also, the name of an FBI agent (played by Sullivan Stapleton) is part of the map of clues on her body. Paranoid as all get-out, it's visually sumptuous and wildly watchable based on the pilot. As it turns out, this Jane Doe is a sort of bad-ass superhero. The show's a variation on The Blacklist, with less sombre musings on evil conspiracies.

American Horror Story: Hotel (Wednesdays, FX, FX Canada, starts Oct. 7)

The fifth season of Ryan Murphy's and Brad Falchuk's horror anthology series lacks Jessica Lange, but it does have Lady Gaga. She plays The Countess, owner and operator of the Hotel Cortez, a place saturated in weirdness, with guests who are the definition of perversity, played by the show's usual crew – Sarah Paulson, Denis O'Hare, Lily Rabe, Kathy Bates, Emma Roberts, Angela Bassett and Chloë Sevigny. As infuriating as it is fascinating, the American Horror Story anthologies are always startling and mind-bending. This one swerves from camp to grotesque often.

Fargo (Mondays, FX, FX Canada, starts Oct. 12)

Back to rural Minnesota with the same sophistication of storytelling that earned the first season a 2014 Emmy for Best Miniseries. This one's set 1979 with a mainly revised cast and characters. Patrick Wilson plays the man at the centre of the story, a Vietnam veteran and state trooper caught up in a murder investigation that reveals a battle among crime bosses in the Midwest. In the drollery of the deadpan drama you'll find Kirsten Dunst, Ted Danson and Jeffrey Donovan. Ronald Reagan is a key figure too. The first two hours suggest brilliance.

Indian Summers (Sundays, starts most PBS stations Sept. 27)

It's Masterpiece Theatre, but not the soppy British exercise in nostalgia that a crude summary suggests. Set in the Himalayan hill town of Shimla in the 1930s, in a place where those who run India go on holiday, there is a brooding quality to it and it defies expectations. Julie Walters plays Cynthia, who runs a hotel. But this is no lovable Julie Walters character familiar to audiences – a cunning schemer and racist, she's the worst of British oppression in India. As the action unfolds, Mahatma Gandhi and his followers have begun their long fight against colonial rule, and all the Brits are aware. This drama is a soaper that turns deftly into a political thriller.

Flesh and Bone (Sundays, SuperChannel, starts Nov. 8)

Created by Moira Walley-Beckett – one of the main Breaking Bad writers – for the Starz channel, this intense and smart drama is set in the world of ballet. We follow Claire (Sarah Hay), an emotionally damaged but brilliant ballerina, as she tries to rise through the ranks of a New York City ballet company. Dark and intense, this is no fantasy about ballet. It's about pain, mainly, and is exquisitely done.

Into The Badlands (Sundays, AMC, starts Nov. 15)

Indescribable. Into the Badlands is a genre-bending martial arts series and a post-apocalypse drama. Loosely based on a Chinese tale Journey to the West, it features variations on feudal warriors who operate in a world that is simultaneously modern and ancient. There's a lot of martial arts fighting, sword-fighting and blood. Much of it is about the opium trade. In the midst of male warriors fighting each other, the most fascinating character is a widow (Emily Beecham, fabulous here) whose use of stiletto heels as weapons is going to be legendary. A strange, trippy show and odd that AMC goes from Mad Men and Breaking Bad to this. But it's gloriously crazy.

Scream Queens (Tuesdays, Fox, City, starts Sept. 22)

After Glee and along with American Horror Story, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk also offer this homage to slasher B-movies that's also a vicious, demented satire. And very, very funny. There's a college, there are rich, pretty young women who are haughty and uncaring. There's a monster on the loose. There's one particular rich, pretty young woman, an aspiring TV anchor, who wants to be the next Megyn Kelly. Murphy's acid humour about politics and pop culture pervades the show, which zaps just about everything. Total fun and done with smarts.

Supergirl (Mondays, CBS, Global, starts Oct. 26)

Heavily hyped, it must be seen at least once. A young woman, Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), lives in National City and works as the dorky assistant of a demanding media magnate, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart). A millennial, Kara wonders what to do with her life and her potential. As it turns out, of course, she has super-powers and can save a burning jetliner if she feels moved to do it. Naturally, they are villains out to stop her, and then there's work and the tribulations of the day job. The show's no masterpiece, obviously, but strange enough to grip a large and youthful audience.

Master of None (Netflix, starts streaming Nov. 6)

From the little material that's available, it appears Netflix made a shrewd decision to ask Aziz Ansari to expand his stand-up routine into scripted comedy. Ansari will play Dev, a 30-year-old actor in New York who "has trouble deciding what he wants to eat, much less the pathway for the rest of life." Working with some of the Parks and Recreation team, Ansari is aiming for deadpan and smart social commentary. He plans to dwell lightly in everything from the situation of the elderly to the immigrant experience. If the promise is sustained, this is Seinfeld for the 21st century.

Interact with The Globe