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While pandemic-induced production delays have put numerous much-anticipated series on hold, we needn’t worry about a dearth of new programming this fall. Even better? Plenty of the season’s most intriguing shows take place abroad—which means that, even if you can’t travel right now, you can feel transported. Prestige favorites will return; fans of The Crown, in particular, will delight in the addition of Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher to the palace drama. But among the new offerings, there’s a little something for everyone: German spies, freedom fighters (Kurdish, West Indian)— and even a few British ghost hunters.
No Man’s Land - Hulu
Antoine, a young Frenchman, sees a haunting image on TV: a woman who looks just like his presumed-dead sister, Anna. Desperate to solve the mystery, he flings himself into the heart of the Syrian civil war, where he joins with a unit of female Kurdish fighters in ISIS-occupied territory. Though it might sound like a far-fetched thriller, the story of No Man’s Land is surprisingly grounded in reality. Israeli cocreator/executive producer Maria Feldman (who also cocreated Hulu’s False Flag) lost her father under sudden, mysterious circumstances as a teenager. “For years, I kept having dreams he was reappearing, always with some kind of weird explanation of where he had been or why his death was faked,” she says. Cocreators Amit Cohen and Ron Leshem, meanwhile, drew from their years as journalists in the Middle East. “It was a huge challenge, dealing with a major geopolitical subject like the Syrian civil war,” says Cohen. “But for us, No Man’s Land is a show about characters. The true events exist in the background to serve the characters’ emotional growth and development.” With six different languages spoken on-screen, it’s a narrative told on a truly global scale.
Deutschland 89 - Sundance TV
Five years ago, Anna and Joerg Winger—an American writer married to a German TV producer—brought the first German-language program to a U.S. network: Deutschland 83. Acclaimed for its deeply researched portrayal of life behind the Iron Curtain as seen through the eyes of a young East German intelligence officer (Jonas Nay), it was the first chapter in a trilogy tracking, as the Wingers put it, “the end of something—the GDR—and the beginning of something new: reunified Germany.” The final chapter takes place in 1989 on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nay hopes viewers will come away from this season much as he has: more sharply aware of a time that’s instructive about the value of freedom— “freedom people should be allowed to have in a working democracy, and that we have to fight for every day.”
Small Axe - Amazon Prime
The first realized TV project of writer/ director Steve McQueen (Twelve Years a Slave) is a historical anthology series exploring the racism West Indian immigrants and their descendants faced in London from the 1960s through the ’80s. At the heart of that community was the Mangrove, an all-night restaurant in Notting Hill that attracted the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Diana Ross when they were in town. After local authorities cut back its hours based on bogus charges, activists rallied to protect it—but nine peaceful protesters were arrested and accused of inciting a riot. The story of the Mangrove 9, who ultimately prevailed in their trial after organizing their own defense, sounds like it could have been ripped from today’s headlines. The Mangrove case is the basis for the first two episodes of Small Axe. The show’s name comes from a Bob Marley lyric, “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe”—a testament to the potential of the seemingly powerless.
The Crown - Netflix
With its continuously changing, magnetic cast and expertly drawn narrative, Peter Morgan’s The Crown has for three seasons made the quietly tense, behind-closed-doors lives of Queen Elizabeth II and her family feel like the most high-stakes drama. The fourth season picks up in the 1980s, with a tantalizing new story line and exciting additions to the cast. Though Olivia Colman (Elizabeth), Tobias Menzies (Prince Philip), and Helena Bonham Carter (Princess Margaret) return, they’re joined by Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher and newcomer Emma Corrin as Diana Spencer. Over the course of ten episodes, Corrin will portray Diana from age 16 through her becoming Prince Charles’s wife and a young mother, along the way zeroing in on her strength and vulnerability in the face of a monumental life change. “The Crown has always been so brilliant at exploring in depth the nuances between the public and private lives of the royal family,” says Corrin. “I think in this series in particular, these different roles are brought even more sharply into focus.”
Bridgerton - Netflix, December 25
Shondaland—the TV empire created by writer-producer Shonda Rhimes—has brought audiences into the tryst-ridden closets of hospitals (Grey’s Anatomy), the Oval Office (Scandal), and a particularly eventful fertility clinic (Private Practice), where characters that seem both larger than life and undeniably human live out dramas large and small. Rhimes has set the bar high for herself, but her next television project—the first in her landmark multiyear development deal with Netflix—seems primed to clear it. Based on a series of historical romance novels by best-selling author Julia Quinn, Bridgerton is set in Regency London and follows the romantic exploits of the eight children of the titular family as they circulate through London society. Longtime Rhimes collaborator Chris Van Dusen is the creator and showrunner. He says that, despite the unusual setting, the whole affair is, well, very Shonda. “Shondaland has always been super innovative,” says Van Dusen. “Whether it’s in the way we cast the show, our approach to history, our costumes and set design, our music—we wanted to take everything you love about a period piece and turn it into something fresh.” One particularly enticing detail: The show’s narrator—its tony Gossip Girl of sorts—is none other than Dame Julie Andrews herself.
Truth Seekers - Amazon Prime
With the success of shows like Los Espookys and What We Do in the Shadows, horror-comedy seems to be the prestige television genre du jour. British writer-actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, creators of such classic scary-funny movies as Shaun of the Dead, want in on the TV action. Their new series Truth Seekers (created with James Serafinowicz and Nat Saunders) follows a group of self-appointed part-time paranormal investigators who take it upon themselves to hunt ghosts all over the U.K., document their experiences on their YouTube channel—and, naturally, discover a conspiracy that could bring about Armageddon. “The world is both horrific and laughable,” Frost says. “I don’t think there’s a difference between horror and comedy.” Frost and Pegg have done some ghost hunting themselves and are massive X-Files aficionados. “Being fans of this genre, we could inhabit that world and not seem like we were taking the piss out of the people who are passionate about those things,” Frost explains. Filming involved some enjoyably spooky location scouting—a Tudor house with another house built atop it; an old, “ultra-creepy” hospital—and some delicious cameos, including one by a scenery-devouring Malcolm McDowell.