1. Life & Culture

16 new winter TV shows to get excited about in 2016

Cuba Gooding Jr. gives a riveting performance as O.J. Simpson in this 10-part miniseries about the infamous murder trial.
Cuba Gooding Jr. gives a riveting performance as O.J. Simpson in this 10-part miniseries about the infamous murder trial.
Published Jan. 6, 2016

Midseason has come with reinforcements.

While parts of America are held captive in their homes by Jack Frost, networks are dealing out their new shows, hoping against hope that one of the cards they've held close to their vest will be the next Empire or Fresh Off the Boat.

Once upon a time, TV execs could send out anything in the winter because climes made sure ratings would be high. But competition is too stiff in the days of "Peak TV" to expect the country's tryptophan coma to last until April. The New York Times reports that 409 scripted TV series aired in 2015, and two dozen more are on their way to replace the utter failures (ahem, ABC's Wicked City) of the fall season.

There is nothing truly new on the winter TV slate, with science fiction reigning supreme for the second season in a row and tense family dramas trying to make a comeback. Our picks for the 16 shows you should give a shot in 2016 combine good casting and directing to bring familiar stories and tropes to likable places.

Beloved network veterans (Josh Holloway, Rashida Jones, Josh Radnor) make the jump to edgier projects, and film actors (Jennifer Lopez, James Franco, Joan Allen) come to the small screen, bringing star power to hokey concepts.

There is something on this list for everyone, but only time will tell if we'll be able to cozy up to these midseason newbies next winter.

The Shannara Chronicles
MTV, Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

Leave it to MTV to take a relic of the 1980s and make it relevant again. Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara fantasy novels follow the journey of elves and druids trying to preserve the world's peace and protect it from havoc-creating demons. In a smart and very 2016 choice, director Nicholas Gyeney splits the focus between the novel's hero, half-elf Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler), and a heroic elf princess, Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton). The series begins in the trilogy's second book, when a elvish tree used to imprison the demons starts to wilt — threatening to unleash hell on earth. It'll be up to our two beautiful, pouty-lipped leads to save the planet while also fending off all manner of fantasy creatures, from trolls to hot guys who are also smart. It might all read a little too YA friendly for Lord of the Rings enthusiasts, but for the MTV demo and fans of Teen Wolf, it's fantasy without the mandatory Ren Fair capes.

NBC, Mondays at 8:30 p.m.

In an NBC winter slate filled with Latina lead actors, Telenovela stands out as the most stereotypical in the bunch, set on the set of a Spanish-language soap opera. Not that it isn't funny to have a handsome, gay, hard-bodied actor (Jose Moreno Brooks) cry and stress eat after being usurped of his position as hottest man on the show, but it's also a little too easy — all that's missing is a laugh track. Still, like Jane the Virgin before it, Eva Longoria's Telenovela manages to mine a few culturally specific tropes for some genuinely universal laughs. Anyone who has ever had divorced co-workers will appreciate the bickering will-they-or-won't-they of Longoria's Ana Sofia and Xavier's (Jencarlos Canela) love/hate relationship. Bonus points for working in some regular telenovela plotlines — including evil twins, cheating spouses and young women pushing out their older counterparts. Fans missing breezy sitcoms can relax in this soap bubble until spring brings back their faves.

Shades of Blue
NBC, Thursdays at 10 p.m.

If you loved Jennifer Lopez in 1998's Out Of Sight, then make sure you tune into NBC's newest crime drama. (Really, how many of these do we need?) The title alone obviously suggests the premise of the show: Cops can be shady, and they're just trying to use the flawed court system to their advantage. Lopez plays Harlee Santos, a single mom and dirty cop who becomes an FBI informant. Her ethics are rather shaky, and who knows where her loyalty lies. It's refreshing to watch female antiheroes, and Lopez plays gritty surprisingly well. Ray Liotta is the bad guy, yet again, but he may not be what he seems, either. The show walks a blurry line to make the audience question every shade of right and wrong. It's not all that original a premise, but Lopez turns her successful box office appeal to the small screen. Jenny from the block is just so enjoyable to watch.

USA, premieres Jan. 14 at 10 p.m.

Sawyer's back and he's stranded again! This time Lost's Carlton Cuse drops Josh Holloway into occupied Los Angeles. Hoping to succeed where CBS' Jericho failed, Colony's creator has an enemy force take over the city and erect 300-foot walls around it, dividing the sprawling Metropolis into heavily controlled blocs patrolled by science fiction drones and black-clad military personnel dubbed collaborators. Holloway stars as Will Bowman, a former FBI fugitive hunter who went underground after the takeover. His wife, Katie (The Walking Dead's Sarah Wayne Callies), does her best to maintain normalcy for their two remaining children while privately grieving for a third child who was separated from the family when the occupation began. Spectacularly, the series isn't set in some faroff future L.A. but in the present. Academy Award winner Juan Campanella directed the pilot with a documentary style to make viewers feel like observers in this new reality where a dictatorship has taken hold on American soil. It's the slightly removed quality that will make you ask yourself, "Is this really possible in this country?" That nagging question plus the deft hands of the team that wrought 2015 breakout Mr. Robot is enough to make this show a watercooler talker.

Angie Tribeca
TBS, premieres Jan. 17 at 9 p.m.

From the wacky and wonderful minds of Steve and Nancy Carell comes a refreshing procedural parody starring Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) as Angie Tribeca, a detective working for the Los Angeles Police Department's Really Heinous Crimes Unit. Her hot-headed boss (the very scary-looking Jere Burns) pairs her with Jay Geils (the dapper Hayes MacArthur), and there are immediate Olivia Benson-Elliot Stabler levels of chemistry. Tribeca spoofs every police procedural you've satisfyingly, and guiltily, devoured. And the best part: The characters are not in on the joke; they're all taking this very seriously, much like Airplane! and Naked Gun. In fact, one of the characters is a dog, but no one knows/cares/acknowledges that it's a dog. So if this sounds like something you'd like, be prepared for lots of it. Beginning Jan. 17, you'll be able to binge-watch the entire first season five times over. After that 25-hour marathon (no commercials!) of its complete first season, TBS will air 10 more episodes of the show, one per week starting Jan. 25 at 9:30 p.m., pairing each one with an encore of one of the 10 already aired. If you're exhausted just reading that, you can watch the show at your own pace, whenever you want, on and On Demand.

Showtime, premieres Jan. 17 at 10 p.m.

Damian Lewis (Homeland) returns to Showtime starring as Bobby "Axe" Axelrod, a successful hedge fund manager. Paul Giamatti plays U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades, Axelrod's rival in this financial drama about power politics on Wall Street. Money and ego run high in the exciting battle between Axelrod and Rhoades. And it's just amazing how much swagger Lewis has in a hoodie. Billions is written and produced by showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Ocean's Thirteen) and financial journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin (Too Big to Fail). The first episode is now available to stream for free online.

Mercy Street
PBS, premieres Jan. 17 at 10 p.m.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead finally gets some costuming to match that name in PBS' Mercy Street, a miniseries about a Union hospital during the Civil War. Winstead's Mary Phinney arrives in Washington, D.C., after the passing of her husband, a German baron, to help with the war effort as a nurse. She's shipped off to Alexandria, Va., in short order, where she'll have to contend with sexist surgeons (A Most Violent Year's Peter Gerety), racist doctors (How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor), scared young soldiers (Shameless' Cameron Monaghan), and her own prejudices to make a difference. It's her prejudices as an abolitionist that pose the biggest problem — the Union hospital has orders to treat all injured men, including Confederates. Her unwillingness to aid those men will be directly challenged by Radnor's Baltimore-raised surgeon, who believes all men deserve equal treatment if they're white. Of course, they'll also have crackling chemistry to offset their ideological rift. What's a Civil War story without a handsome racist or two to steal your heart?

DC's Legends of Tomorrow
CW, premieres Jan. 21 at 8 p.m.

Saving the world has been keeping the CW in the ratings game for a decade now, so adding a cavalcade of new superheroes seems par for the course. Legends is another DC Universe expansion and a companion to Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl. These lesser-known heroes are given their moment in the sun, Guardians of the Galaxy style, by coming together as a time-traveling team bent on catching a villain who aims to destroy the future. Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) creates the team from heroes and villains in the aforementioned shows. With awful names like Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell), the Atom (Brandon Routh) and White Canary (Caity Lotz), it'd be easy to dismiss this as live-action kiddie TV. But one can't underestimate the team that made us care about Oliver Queen dressing up in leather and shooting his bow at wacky villains. A cast featuring veteran actors (Victor Garber, Wentworth Miller) ought to be able to take on the shortcomings of some of our newbie heroes, too. And it's also great to see Routh, who played Superman in the abysmally reviewed Superman Returns, take his Arrow guest appearances as the Atom full time. It's a lesson for kids everywhere. Just because you have one bad experience doesn't mean they'll all be cringeworthy religious allegories.

Chelsea Does
Netflix, premieres Jan. 23

Chelsea Handler (Chelsea Lately) made her millions being an outspoken queen of the unimpressed. So when the comedian and bestselling author left a huge contract deal at E! last year, we can't say we were surprised. Would she move to a network, replace David Letterman and become the queen of family late night? Absolutely not. Instead, she moved to Netflix to work on several new projects, including this series, which is four feature-length documentaries: Chelsea Does Marriage, Chelsea Does Racism, Chelsea Does Silicon Valley and Chelsea Does Drugs. Her no-filter brand of comedy is perfect for each topic. "I don't mean to be judgmental, but I am," Handler says. So she uses this docuseries as a vehicle to hilariously explore and confront new things that make her uncomfortable. Handler's reactions throughout the series are priceless. She's intriguing, and a little bit inappropriate. Okay, a lot inappropriate. Handler serves as the executive producer alongside documentary film veterans Eddie Schmidt (Twist of Fate) and Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom). Expect Handler's talk show later this year on Netflix.

The X-Files
Fox, premieres Jan. 24 at 10 p.m.

Hopes (and stakes) are high for this six-episode reboot of the sci-fi classic, which seems in capable hands with creator Chris Carter back at the helm and evidently fully aware that the show is timely and has to produce its best episodes ever. He noted in online featurette "Re-Opened" that these days we're living in "the world Mulder warned us about," with higher distrust in the government (hi, NSA!) than when The X-Files originally wrapped just post-9/11. Pretty much the entire original cast has returned, including David Duchovny as Mulder, Gillian Anderson as Scully, Mitch Pileggi as Skinner and William B. Davis as the Cigarette Smoking Man (yes, alive again). Joel McHale (The Soup) and Annet Mahendru (The Americans) are among the new faces. Carter has kept mum on what's to come in the long-running alien conspiracy arc, but the six episodes will feature both that "mythology" and monster-of-the-week standalones, with a dose of Mulder and Scully's personal lives. (They're no longer a couple … or partners.) Other than that sad last bit, it seems an awful lot like the paranormal escapades we know and love. Caitlin E. O'Conner, Times staff writer

Fox, premieres Jan. 25 at 9 p.m.

In yet another DC adaptation, Lucifer stars Tom Ellis as Lucifer Morningstar, Lord of Hell, who left the underworld … to own a nightclub in Los Angeles. Yep, folks, the devil is in L.A. What did you expect? But God has given us a gift in Ellis, who is clearly having lots of fun playing this role. Lucifer's party trick is getting people to unwillingly admit their deepest desires. (At the altar, a woman confesses to only marrying the man standing before her for his money. We know: shocking.) In the pilot, our favorite fallen angel pairs up with homicide detective Chloe Dancer (Lauren German) to solve his pop star friend's murder. But somehow, Chloe isn't charmed with Lucifer's schtick. And neither are we — yet. Lucifer is ABC's Castle plus the CW's Supernatural, and that's okay. Both shows are lots of fun and extremely popular. But for a show oozing with sexual subtext, it's amazing everyone keeps their clothes on. Lucifer, a character created by Neil Gaiman in his Sandman series and spun off into its own comic series later, deserves racier stories and funnier dialogue on his show.

MUST WATCH: Outsiders
WGN America, premieres Jan. 26 at 9 p.m.

Sons of Anarchy fans missing your biker heroes and villains of yore, meet the Farrell clan of Kentucky's Shay Mountain. Lawless, incestuous and downright unhygienic, the Farrells have had an uneasy truce with the townsfolk for 200 years that allows them to go and occasionally rob the big box store of yeast and other necessities in exchange for staying away from town for everything else. Big Coal hopes to break that truce by evicting the clan to get at their land. That alone would be a compelling enough story, but it gets the added conflicts of a prodigal Farrell (Hannibal's Joe Anderson) returned home and a spoiled leader-in-training (Treme's David Morse) vying to seize control of the family and lead them in a dangerous direction that could force the townsfolk to fight back for the first time in decades. With Paul Giamatti executive producing and Christina Jackson interestingly cast as the insider to Hasil Farrell's (Kyle Gallner) outsider, the show could be the sleeper hit of the season.

MUST WATCH: The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
FX, premieres Feb. 2 at 10 p.m.

It comes as no surprise that FX's 10-part series about the O.J. Simpson saga will captivate us just like the trial itself two decades ago. The show, from executive producer Ryan Murphy (Scream Queens, American Horror Story), is based on Jeffrey Toobin's book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson. It re-examines the infamous story from the perspective of the prosecution and O.J.'s high-profile dream team of lawyers. The cast is a long list of familiar faces, playing, well, familiar faces. Strong performances from Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson, Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story) as Marcia Clark and Courtney B. Vance (Law and Order: Criminal Intent) as Johnnie Cochran shine. The best surprise, however, is David Schwimmer as a worried Robert Kardashian. And yes, the entire Kardashian clan is represented, but they don't get in the way of the strong storytelling. You'll just need to get past John Travolta's face (he plays Robert Shapiro) to truly relish this compelling drama. And even though the story is 20 years old, American Crime Story is as relevant as ever. It echoes today's ongoing multitude of racial controversies that go viral and our love for true-crime documentaries (most recently Netflix's Making a Murderer) that shine light on injustice in the court systems.

HBO, premieres Feb. 14 at 9 p.m.

A team of experts has put its heads together to come up with a new show about the excesses of the 1970s music business. Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter cast Bobby Cannavale to play a drug-addicted, idealistic record label exec and Olivia Wilde as his had-it-up-to-here, fabulous '70s wife. Cannavale's Richie Finestra is on a mission to save his near-bankrupt label from obscurity by finding new talent in a landscape of music that's changing from hard rock to disco and eventually hip-hop. (We're sure it would also be easier to work if he could kick the womanizing and cocaine habits.) HBO churns out another cinematic series with antiheroes and an award pedigree in the hopes of sucking viewers into another decade due for a comeback.

Hulu, premieres Feb. 15

If you can stomach James Franco's smug mug and the cheesiest TV score since Dynasty, you'll appreciate what Stephen King and J.J. Abrams are putting down. Franco plays a high school teacher who suddenly inherits a crazy mission: saving John F. Kennedy from assassination. The logic goes that if he saves JFK, then Vietnam doesn't escalate and thousands of lives will be saved. Rules of past changing and time travel are all very kooky per the usual with King's writing. But the compelling notes come with the idea that every time you try to change something in the past, the past pushes back, as in hurtling 3,000-pound Cadillacs at your head or setting you on fire outside Tex-Mex restaurants. That's enough to get our ticket for admission right there. Come for the plot points, stay for the constant life-threatening danger for James Franco.

MUST WATCH: The Family
ABC, premieres March 3 at 9 p.m.

Joan Allen stars in this dark and twisty drama about a political family torn apart after the youngest son disappears and is presumed dead. When the boy returns 10 years later, the Warren family comes together to welcome Adam (played by an impressive Liam James, from 2013's The Way Way Back) back into a normal life. But is it really him? Allen's powerhouse performance as matriarch and city mayor anchors the show, and the surrounding cast shows promise. Good boy Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights) plays against character as the troubled older son, and Alison Pill (The Newsroom) is the control-freak daughter. The most exciting casting is Andrew McCarthy as the man wrongfully put away for the boy's murder. Everyone is holding onto secrets and regrets while the show goes back and forth between the child's disappearance 10 years ago and present day. It's gripping from start to finish; you don't want to miss the first episode.