For viewers, the start of a new fall TV season can be like wrangling with a dating app.
You weed through what seems like an endless barrage of prospects — most of which don’t have the traits that get your heart racing. The sitcoms look lame, the dramas too unappealing. Frustration sets in. You swipe left and move on. Again and again and again.
But every fall crop contains at least a few gems — extraordinary offerings that you might overlook in the mad rush.
That’s where we come in. We’ve tiptoed our way through the TV minefield and discovered some shows that could make for a great match. Here are the 12 we’re most excited to see:
Is there anything new to learn about the highly celebrated heavyweight champ and American icon known as “The Greatest”? Prolific filmmaker Ken Burns promises some fresh angles and “mind-blowing moments” in this four-part, eight-hour documentary series that does a deep dive into Ali’s extraordinary life and examines how it intersected with sports, politics, civil rights, culture and religion. The sweeping “warts and all” film follows its subject from his youth in segregated Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1940s, to his death by Parkinson’s in 2016.
Details: Premieres Sept. 19; PBS.
James Wolk (“Mad Men,” “Watchmen”) has his work cut out for him as the star of this “what if” drama in which he plays three versions — whew! — of the same character. Through parallel stories, we’ll watch Joe Kimbreau live out the different paths he could have taken after graduating from college. What would have happened had he become a nurse, a cop or a rock star? And how do those choices shape him? This could be a really fun cinematic experiment — or a mind-numbing mess.
Details: Premiers Sept. 20; NBC.
Come for the crime stories, stay for the scenery. “NCIS,” TV’s top-rated drama series, branches off once again (just wait, one will surely come to your town soon). But this time it will feature the franchise’s first female lead — Vanessa Lachey. She plays special agent Jane Tennant, the big kahuna who runs things from the Pearl Harbor headquarters and takes charge when there’s trouble in paradise. The show is sure to lure “NCIS” fans and anyone missing “Hawaii Five-0.”
Details: Premieres Sept. 20; CBS.
‘The Wonder Years’
If you’re fed up enough to start a petition calling for a moratorium on TV reboots/revivals/remakes, we’ll be among the first to sign. But we have a soft spot for this fresh take on the beloved coming-of-age dramedy, even though Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper are nowhere to be found. Here, the focus is on a shy Black 12-year-old named Dean (Elisha “EJ” Williams) growing up in Alabama in the ’60s with his middle-class family. The narration by an adult Dean is provided by Don Cheadle. Parts of the show feel comfortable and familiar, but much of it is wonderfully fresh.
Details: Premieres Sept. 22; ABC.
Isaac Asimov’s iconic trilogy of sci-fi novels about a slowly dying galactic empire finally gets an ambitious screen adaptation and the preview footage we’ve seen looks jaw-droppingly gorgeous. “Foundation” follows brilliant mathematician Dr. Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) who claims he can predict the future. Unfortunately, that future looks ultra bleak. Enter a band of exiles who embark on an epic journey to save humanity. Along the way, they must determine which “essential” pieces of civilization they’ll preserve to pass on to their descendants.
Details: Premieres Sept. 24; Apple TV+.
Every fall TV list needs at least one creepy-spooky kind of saga, so here we go. From horror maestro Mike Flanagan (“The Haunting of Hill House”; “The Haunting of Bly Manor”), this seven-episode series tells the story of a secluded island community where miraculous events and terrifying omens begin to happen after the return of a disgraced young local (Zach Gilford) and the arrival of a mysterious priest (Hamish Linklater). Our advice: Say your prayers and keep the lights on.
Details: Premieres Sept. 24; Netflix.
The birth of the opioid crisis is the focus of this compelling — and infuriating — fact-based drama series starring Michael Keaton. Via intertwining stories, viewers are taken to the epicenter of America’s struggle with opioid addiction, from the boardrooms of Big Pharma to a distressed Virginia mining community, to the hallways of the DEA. Keaton plays a doctor who becomes an early adopter of OxyContin and eventually is embroiled in what executive producer Danny Strong calls a “horrible nightmare.” The cast also includes Peter Sarsgaard, Kaitlyn Dever and Rosario Dawson.
Details: Premieres Oct. 13; Hulu.
This soapy series looks like loads of fun. It focuses on members of a legendary all-female ‘90s hip-hop group called the Nasty Bitches who haven’t performed together in 20 years. Time for a comeback, right? Singer/actress Brandy stars as Naomi, who reunites her partners — played by Eve, Naturi Naughton and Nadine Velazquez. But before they get back on stage, they’ve got plenty of baggage to unpack. Can the Queens, now in their 40s, regain their crowns?
Details: Premieres Oct. 19; ABC.
‘Colin in Black & White’
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and filmmaker Ava DuVernay team up to tell the story of Kaepernick’s formative years in Turlock and his path to activism. Kaepernick sparked a national conversation about racial injustice when he kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality. The series explores his early life as a child of white adoptive parents, his athletic career, and the quest to find his voice and identity. Jaden Michael stars as young Colin opposite Nick Offerman and Mary-Louise Parker, who play his parents. Kaepernick appears as the present-day narrator.
Details: Premiers Oct. 29, Netflix.
‘The Shrink Next Door’
Here’s a cautionary tale about power, control and manipulation. “Anchorman” alums Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd reunite in this dark comedy series based on the true-crime podcast of the same name. Rudd plays a charming but scheming celebrity psychiatrist who inserts himself into the lives of his patients and exploits them for his own gain. Ferrell stars as one of his unwitting victims. The impressive cast includes Kathryn Hahn and Casey Wilson.
Details: Premieres Nov. 12; Apple TV+.
Surely there will come a day when the world tires (at least slightly) of Marvel superhero stories. But until then, we’re stoked for this funny, action-packed, six-episode series about the wise-cracking Avengers archer Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and the young female warrior Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), who yearns to be just like him. The cast includes Florence Pugh reprising her “Back Widow” role as Yelena, the woman who blames Hawkeye for her sister’s death.
Details: Premieres Nov. 24; Disney+.
‘The Beatles: Get Back’
It’s a Thanksgiving feast for fans of the Fab Four: A three-part, six-hour documentary culled by Peter Jackson from the raw footage of the notoriously morose 1970 film “Let It Be.” This production is said to be a much lighter take — one that follows the Beatles as they worked on material that ultimately became their last album. The series also includes, for the first time in its entirety, their final performance at London’s Savile Row. Details: Premieres Nov. 25, Disney+.
Contact Chuck Barney at [email protected] Follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney and Facebook.com/bayareanewsgroup.chuckbarney.