By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com January 9, 2014 at 3:08PM
Synopsis: The lives and loves of a group of young gay men in San Francisco.
What You Need To Know: Since "Queer As Folk" ended nine years ago, it's been hard to find a drama series that takes gay life in America seriously (there was "The L Word," but that never really took anything seriously...), but HBO are stepping up with this new half-hour comedy-drama, billed by some as the male, non-heterosexual answer to "Girls" (a comparison no doubt aided by the fact that the two shows are airing together). It's been written by relative newcomer Michael Lannan (who's worked as an assistant producer on "Sons Of Anarchy" and "Rubicon," and collaborated with James Franco on "Cruising" homage "Interior. Leather Bar"), adapted from his short film "Lorimer," with Lannan sharing a co-creator credit with director Andrew Haigh ("Weekend"), who has helmed the pilot here. "Glee" and "Frozen" star Jonathan Groff takes the lead role, along with Australian actor Murray Bartlett and newcomer Frankie J. Alvarez, while Scott Bakula and U.K. stars Russell Tovey ("Him & Her," "Being Human") and O.T. Fagbenle ("Doctor Who") will have recurring parts.
Why It's Anticipated: There's definitely been a gap in the market for a show like this, and it'll be interesting if airing on HBO will help the series cross over to a mainstream audience in a way that "Queer As Folk" never quite managed. Having Haigh on board certainly helps: the Criterion-approved "Weekend" was one of the best films of 2011, a gorgeous, beautifully-acted "Before Sunrise"-style romance that broke out of the niche some tried to put it in. Haigh directed the bulk of the episodes, but there's some top talent stepping in for the ones he didn't: both "Half Nelson" co-director Ryan Fleck and "Drinking Buddies"' filmmaker Joe Swanberg helmed episodes as well. Trailers have been very promising to date, and if nothing else, it should look gorgeous; the great DoP Reed Morano ("Frozen River," "Kill Your Darlings") shot the whole series.
Airdate: The eight-part first season begins airing at 10:30 after "True Detective" and "Girls" on HBO on Sunday, January 19th.
14. "Penny Dreadful"
Synopsis: A number of horror's most famous creations, including Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and Dracula, cross paths in Victorian London.
What You Need To Know: Horror is big on TV right now, thanks to "The Walking Dead" and "American Horror Story," and the next big show could be this Showtime project, which has some huge names involved. From the duo behind billion-dollar Bond flick “Skyfall,” Sam Mendes and John Logan, and with a pilot directed by “The Impossible” and “The Orphanage” helmer Juan Antonio Bayona (after Mendes pulled out of directing due to stage commitments), this is a psychosexual horror set in Victorian London that seems to be a boobs and blood-friendly take on something like “The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” with Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll & Hyde, Dorian Gray and other out-of-copyright favorites crossing paths. The cast is toplined by Josh Hartnett and Eva Green, with Billie Piper, Rory Kinnear, Harry Treadaway, Timothy Dalton, Helen McCrory and Simon Russell Beale among the supporting players.
Why It's Anticipated: The potential is obviously here for this to be a campy mess like "True Blood" or "American Horror Story," but in theory this should be something classier. John Logan has been careful to emphasize the literary roots of his idea here, taking the characters back to their origins, and Bayona and Mendes make for a fairly prestigious pair. There's something innately appealing about watching these characters cross paths, especially when played by actors of this caliber (and uh, Josh Hartnett): the chance to see people like Kinnear, Treadaway, Dalton and McCrory chew the scenery should be near-irresistible.
Airdate: Filming of the eight-part series commenced in October—our guess is that Showtime will make this their replacement for "Dexter" in the summer, but it could end up airing much sooner than that.
Synopsis; A local police detective and an out-of-towner are paired after a young boy is found murdered in a small town.
What You Need To Know: Last year in the U.K. saw "Broadchurch" become a water-cooler thriller hit like the country hadn't seen for years, gripping an entire nation for months as guesses flew as to who was the culprit of the central murder case. With the show also proving a success on BBC America, it's no wonder that Fox snapped up the rights to the series for a remake. Original creator Chris Chibnall returned to pen the pilot, but "Homicide" and "In Treatment" writer Anya Epstein is serving as showrunner along with her husband, "Capote" and "Foxcatcher" writer Dan Futterman. And the cast is pretty remarkable: David Tennant reprises his ailing copper from "Broadchurch" (though with an American accent), with "Breaking Bad" star Anna Gunn taking over from Olivia Colman as his co-investigator, while Michael Peña, Nick Nolte, Jacki Weaver and Josh Hamilton are among the impressive names assembled as the townspeople. James Strong, who helmed much of the original, including the first episode, will perform the same duty here.
Why It's Anticipated: It had its flaws (way too much slow-motion, the traditional saggy middle), but the original "Broadchurch" was for the most part an atmospheric and beautifully acted show that, unusually for this type of one-case procedural, managed to reach a satisfying wrap-up. Which isn't to say that there isn't room for improvement, with the excellent Epstein and Futterman in charge, and award-winning names like Gunn, Nolte, Weaver and Peña in the cast, there's every reason to think that this could end up surpassing the original, though we hope it has the stones to do its own thing, rather than simply Xeroxing the U.K. version (though fans of the original should be pleased to learn that a sequel series, with Colman and Tennant both returning, will arrive this year too).
Airdate: Starts filming on Vancouver Island this month, though is apparently being held for next season, so expect it in the fall, unless Fox decide to go with it in the summer months.
12. "The Leftovers"
Synopsis: A drama focusing on those in a suburban community left behind after The Rapture summons most of humanity up to heaven (or did it?...)
What You Need To Know: The return of “Lost” mastermind Damon Lindelof to television, this adapts the 2011 novel by Tom Perotta, whose books previously made it to the big screen to great success as “Election” and “Little Children.” It’s another post-apocalyptic tale, which have proved popular of late with "The Walking Dead" and "Under The Dome," but with a fascinating twist. Justin Theroux leads a solid and starry ensemble that also includes Liv Tyler, Christopher Eccleston, Amy Brenneman, Michael Gaston and Ann Dowd, and after a pilot directed by "Lone Survivor" and "Friday Night Lights" helmer Peter Berg, HBO picked it up to a ten-episode full series which will land later in the year.
Why It's Anticipated: The end-of-the-world has been reaching sitcoms-about-white-people-in-coffee-shops-during-the-1990s level of saturation on TV of late, but we're hopeful that "The Leftovers" can be something different. For one, it's unlikely to be a pure genre piece: the literary subject matter from the excellent Perotta promises something more satirical and provocative. We're sure there'll be a mystery, and early footage promises some action, but it seems more likely that this'll be more of a character piece than, say, "Revolution." And for all the shit he catches on the Internet, Lindelof did a stellar job for much of the run of "Lost," and this seems very much in his wheelhouse. Berg normally does a good job on TV too, and the cast is very strong. In other words, we've got a better feeling about this than most new HBO shows in the last few years.
Airdate: Picked up to series in September, so in theory, this could be ready to air by the summer. Perhaps alongside the final season of "True Blood"?
11. "Halt & Catch Fire"
Synopsis: A look at the personal computing boom in Texas' so-called Silicon Prarie in the 1980s, seen through the eyes of a visionary, an engineer and a prodigy.
What You Need To Know: Remember how we said that 2014 brought two series set in the tech world? After "Silicon Valley," this is the other one. With their nest-eggs “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” coming to an end, and other launches like “Rubicon,” “Hell On Wheels” and “Low Winter Sun” failing to follow the success of “The Walking Dead,” AMC are going big in 2014, and "Halt & Catch Fire" is one of their greatest hopes. Newcomer creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers have assembled a highly promising cast, with Lee Pace (“The Hobbit,” “Lincoln”), Scoot McNairy (“Argo,” “Killing Them Softly”), Kerry Bishe (“Argo”) and Mackenzie Davis (“Breathe In”) as the leads, whose computing start-up sets out to take on the big dogs. Juan Jose Campanella, director of the Oscar-winning “The Secret In Your Eyes,” helmed the pilot.
Why It's Anticipated: We've still got two years of "Mad Men" to go (one season, split into two), but AMC seem to be positioning this as a potential successor: another period workplace drama sure to delve into the personal lives of its characters as much as their professional ones. So long as it doesn't come across as "Mad Men" with microchips, we're certainly intrigued. And while Cantwell and Rogers might be unknown quantities, there must be something here for the network to take a chance on a show that seems so uncommercial on the surface. Campanella should bring a lashing of style to the first episode, and the central quartet of Pace, McNairy, Bishe and Davis are among our favorite breakout performers of the last few years. Could this do for 1980s slacker wear what Jon Hamm did for 1960s suits and smoking?
Airdate: Debuting it alongside "Mad Men" in the spring would be the obvious move, but it risks unflattering comparisons. It might be smarter to hold it for the summer to fill that old "Breaking Bad" slot.