Winter TV Preview: From 'The Young Pope' to 'Riverdale' to '24: Legacy,' 17 shows to watch in 2017

Tom Hardy in "Taboo." (FX)
Tom Hardy in "Taboo." (FX)
Published Jan. 4, 2017

There is more TV than ever before.

A whopping 455 scripted series aired in 2016, according to recent data compiled by FX. That's an increase of 8 percent from last year, which had 421 shows. You could literally spend a day a year bingeing one series and still not make it through all of them.

That number includes shows from streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Crackle, which had twice as many series premieres as in 2015.

The glut of TV is in part due to shows becoming shorter, usually labeled as a limited series or a miniseries, like HBO's The Night Of, AMC's The Night Manager, History's Roots and Netflix's Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. These shorter series have a predetermined number of episodes and tell an entire story within a season. They're easy to follow and viewers won't feel overwhelmed coming to a series late.

Similar to miniseries, anthologies also had a hot year on the small screen. FX's American Horror Story returned for a sixth season with an ultra secret theme and shortened season, with creator Ryan Murphy cramming 13 episodes worth of gore and scares into 10. Netflix took on Black Mirror's third season and doubled the episodes to include more mind-bending speculative fiction about modern technology and culture.

And in its second iteration, ABC's American Crime delivered another raw, emotional story that delved into the intimacy of its characters before exploding into nail-biting chaos. Its third season is set to premiere early in 2017, tackling more relevant political, cultural and race issues.

And coming in the early 2017 season, ABC premieres When We Rise, a miniseries that traces LGBTQ rights over several decades. Fox also premieres Shots Fired, a fictional drama that chronicles the fallout from two police shootings in a small town.

2016's best portrait of American tragedy was The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story from FX, which is coming off its best year ever. O.J. snagged five Primetime Emmy awards, and The Americans finally got the nominations it deserves. And the network's fall series Atlanta is at the top of every critic's best-of list. How will FX start off 2017 after a stellar year? With vengeful Tom Hardy in the new Taboo, of course.

The new winter season of television will be filled with literary-inspired series, more superhero spinoffs and plenty of familiar faces. Archie Andrews leaps off the pages of Archie Comics in the CW's Riverdale. PBS fills the Downton Abbey-sized hole in our hearts with Victoria. There's a new Jack Bauer in town with Fox's 24: Legacy. And Netflix and Hulu take on streamable adaptations of beloved books A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Handmaid's Tale, With so many options, you're going to have to focus on shows that feel worth your time. While you get your snacks and comfy pants ready, we are here to help. Here's our must-watch list for 2017, in order of premiere date.

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READ MORE: Premiere dates for new and returning shows.

There's just something about a man in a top hat. No? Just us? Well, you'll be on our side after watching Tom Hardy don this year's hottest fashion trend. (Trust us.) Hardy plays James Delaney, a mysterious man who returns home to 19th century London after 10 years in Africa. Thought to be dead but now covered in tribal tattoos under his trench coat, Delaney is back to take over the family shipping business and avenge his father's death. It's an intriguing story, especially when you know that Hardy and his father (Chips Hardy) created it together. This isn't your mom's period drama, or at least not one she wants to tell you she's watching. Trade in the genre's typical snarky romance for political conspiracies and possible-supernatural murder; and the fancy dresses and hairdos for tattered frocks and patchy mutton chops. Still, it's a family drama, albeit dark and gritty, and it's a shame we only get eight episodes. Even though it's 2017's first big premiere, we expect Hardy's project and performance to be one of the year's best. (Jan. 10, 10 p.m.)

When Netflix first announced it was recreating the beloved macabre children's books as a television show, fans were ecstatic but hesitant. The 2004 film starring Jim Carrey as Count Olaf was … okay. Not terrible, but not great either. The same cannot be said for the streaming giant's adaptation. Neil Patrick Harris shines as Count Olaf, the sinister guardian of the orphaned Baudelaire children who wishes to claim their inheritance. And the cunning three, Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes) and Sunny (various infants, probably), are a package deal, yet each brings his or her own superhuman craftiness to the table. Where the film had to cram two books into 108 minutes, the show has the advantage of episodes to draw out scenes and add details book lovers will eat up. It's as if the words of Lemony Snicket's 13 books were lifted from the page to the screen. Makes sense, since the author, real name Daniel Handler, is an executive producer. The first season has eight episodes; here's hoping Netflix continues the series until the end. (Jan. 13, 3 a.m.)

This show should be renamed The Sassy Pope. Jude Law plays Lenny Belardo, elected Pope Pius XIII: a right-wing, chain-smoking, highly political and self-serving orphan. He reeks of Machiavellian ambitions. Pope Pius is not only young for a pope, he's also the first American pontiff. He doesn't really care for ancient tradition; he only wants a Cherry Coke Zero for breakfast. Diane Keaton plays wonderful Sister Mary, Pope Pius' most trusted friend and right-hand woman in a male-dominated world. Directed and written by Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty), The Young Pope is as glamorous and sumptuous as it is hilarious and unsettling. Sorrentino's vision doesn't poke fun or scoff at the leadership traditions of the Catholic church. The behind-the-scenes dealings, gossip and secrets that consume the Vatican play out like a political drama a la House of Cards. Don't be alarmed if you forget you're watching a show about the leader of the Catholic church. The series was a hit when it premiered in Europe, though Pope Francis has remained mum. Come on, Your Holiness, we know you watched and we know you loved it. (Jan. 15, 9 p.m.)

Already a ratings smash across the pond, Victoria arrives in the United States with much of what we want in a period piece: gorgeous costumes (don't miss the Elizabethan ball period costumes within period costumes), drama of epic proportions and creative licenses taken with real history in the name of good television. The last comes mostly in the form of a hugely dramatized relationship between young Victoria (Doctor Who's Jenna Coleman) and her first prime minister, Lord Melbourne (The Man in the High Castle's Rufus Sewell). While he's most widely seen as a father figure given the 40-year age gap and Victoria's own diary writings, that doesn't stop this show playing up an infatuation, swooning over Sewell or electric moments of forbidden romance. No, you'll just have to wait on the dramatic arrival of Prince Albert (Tom Hughes). You know where it goes after that, but along the way distract yourself from several repetitive plots (questions about Victoria's fitness to rule, pressure to marry, her hatred of her mother) with the beauty of the costumes and Victoria's regal moments of self-empowerment. (Jan. 15, 9 p.m., two-episode premiere)

With more than seven decades of Archie comics, the CW has plenty of stories to pack into its new Riverdale series. The show follows titular character Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa) along with his friends Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) and Jughead Jones (The Suite Life of Zack & Cody's Cole Sprouse) and the mysterious goings-on in their small town and high school. There's a tragic death of a classmate in the first episode, and the arrival of the raven-haired Veronica shakes up the social scene at Riverdale High. The CW needed something to fill the hole in die-hard Vampire Diaries fans' hearts when the series ends this year. They've succeeded with Riverdale. It's full of pretty teenagers, terrible parents and a murder mystery right from the start. The Archie comics are bright, bubbly and a little weird. Riverdale is a darker, less wholesome take. (Jan. 26, 9 p.m.)

In another role tailor-made for Christina Ricci, 1920s socialite Zelda Fitzgerald is the subject of Amazon's latest project. No one personifies the American Jazz Age quite like Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. This 10-episode drama showcases the brilliant and beautiful woman whose intoxicating wild antics were used in lots of F. Scott's work. We meet the pair in 1918 when they first meet in Alabama — before they became the tumultuous celebrity couple we know them as (and before that was even a thing). It's a delicious story made for our entertainment: Their turbulent lives were plagued with adultery, alcoholism and mental illness that led to their tragic demises. Reportedly Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson are part of two separate Zelda movie projects. No disrespect to those blondes, but Ricci is best at playing difficult women, most recently starring in Lifetime's The Lizzie Borden Chronicles. (Jan. 27, midnight, first episode already available.)

A sitcom set in the DC universe following a woman's work for a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises? We have to see this. The first sitcom comedy set in the comic book world of DC comes from executive producers Justin Halpern (author of $#*! My Dad Says), Patrick Schumacker (Surviving Jack) and Dean Lorey (Arrested Development). Vanessa Hudgens (Spring Breakers, High School Musical) stars as Emily Locke, the new director of research and development for Wayne Security. As in Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman. Wayne Security creates products that help keep innocent bystanders safe in a world full of superheroes and villains. Locke is described as being confident and full of big ideas and quickly learns she expects more from her employees and the company than her boss (Alan Tudyk). It will be up to Locke to prove to her company that you don't need superpowers to be a hero. (Feb. 2, 8:30 p.m.)

The original 24 mastered the action-packed twists and thrills 16 years ago, mostly thanks to Kiefer Sutherland's embodiment of the antihero we've seen replicated over the years. So will this spinoff with no returning characters excite both its original and a new audience? Well, Fox sure is embracing diversity. It's refreshing to see them replace Jack Bauer with Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton), who plays an ex-Army Ranger struggling to adjust to civilian life, and who gets caught up in a terrorist plot. We're rooting for him; however, political power couple played by Miranda Otto and Jimmy Smits are my favorite. The pilot is full of familiar action: guns, tension and questionable allegiances. (After the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, moves to Mondays at 8 p.m.)

As far as superhero recognition goes, Legion is a more obscure character. He's a mutant, for one, and is the son of Charles Xavier — Professor X in the X-Men series and films. In the comics, Haller is an exceptionally powerful mutant who inherits telepathy from his father, but also the ability to absorb personalities into his own. One of his key characteristics is his multiple personalities, with each wielding different powers. FX and creator Noah Hawley (Bones) give the character a series of his own in February with Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as David Haller, a troubled man who's been institutionalized all his life. Diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age, he's been in and out of hospitals numbing himself with controlled routines of meals, therapy, medication and sleep. A startling encounter with a new patient sends David on a journey where he may find out the voices in his head are actually real. The series also stars Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza and Jean Smart. (Feb. 8, 10 p.m.)

Katherine Heigl returns to our TV screens yet again, but this time as a whip-smart defense lawyer who not-so-smartly falls in love with her client (played by Steven Pasquale). He's on trial after new evidence suggests he may have brutally killed his college girlfriend some years ago. This poses so many problems for a budding relationship (and feminism everywhere). Pasquale has that smarmy charm and even though he's hell-bent on proving he's innocent, the audience, and Heigl's character, Sadie, aren't so sure he is. Sadie may be at the top of her professional game, but this girl's got some family baggage we won't unload for you yet. Plus, she rides her bike to work, which is as believable as one of us dating Tom Hardy. Doubt is classic CBS procedural, but thankfully with some Good Wife vibes. And like that law show, the supporting cast and their B plots are strong. Coworkers Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black) and Dulé Hill (The West Wing, Psych) are charming, especially when they discuss the musical Hamilton and what it'd be like to defend Aaron Burr. (Feb. 15, 10 p.m.)

Everyone wants in on this TV thing, including A-list movie stars. Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman join Laura Dern, Alexander Skarsgard, Shailene Woodley and your boyfriend Adam Scott in this seven-part limited series based on Liane Moriarty's bestselling novel of the same name. Beginning with a murder mystery that unfolds throughout the series, Big Little Lies revolves around a gaggle of rich and vicious California mothers who will do anything to protect their children — and their secrets. The dark dramedy comes from one of TV's most prolific producers and writers David E. Kelley (L.A. Law, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal), who is embracing this new television era of short projects. We loved the book, and Witherspoon and Kidman are perfectly cast as nasty mama bears Madeline Martha Mackenzie and Celeste Wright, respectively. But we're sure Woodley (Secret Life of the American Teenager, Divergent series), who plays single mom Jane, will steal scenes from those Oscar winners. (Feb. 19, 9 p.m.)

Written by Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk), this eight-hour, seven-episode miniseries chronicles the LGBTQ rights movement across several decades, beginning with the Stonewall Riots in 1969 to the recent push for marriage equality. The project aims to illuminate and humanize a political issue that continues to be especially contentious. with the current rise of a presidential administration whose members have a history of supporting anti-gay policies. It's an important reminder of how we got here in order to keep fighting today. The large cast portraying real-life civil rights activists include: Guy Pearce as Cleve Jones, whose memoir of the same name inspired the miniseries; David Hyde Pierce as Cleve's father; Whoopi Goldberg as Pat Norman, the first openly gay employee of the San Francisco Health Department; Rosie O'Donnell as Del Martin, one of the founders of the nation's first lesbian organization; and Mary Louise Parker as women's rights champion Roma Guy; Rachel Griffiths as her wife Diane; Michael K. Williams as African-American community organizer Ken Jones; Denis O'Hare as Jim Foster, an openly gay Democratic party organizer; and Ivory Aquino as transgender-activist Cecelia Chung. (February, TBD)

If you're looking for a sweeping Western epic to hold you over until Westworld comes back, The Son is the show for you. Based on the novel of the same name by Philipp Meyer, the drama follows three generations of the McCullough family from patriarch Eli (Pierce Brosnan) to his son Pete (Henry Garrett) and granddaughter Jeanne (Sydney Lucas). Brosnan is James Bond no more. He traded in his sleek suits for a salt and pepper beard and a rifle to portray a man whose decisions are directly influenced by his kidnapping by Comanche raiders when he was a teenager. The bloody rise and fall of the McCullough family oil empire through the generations parallels the America's rise as a superpower. The novel was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, so here's hoping executive producers Meyer, Lee Shipman, Brian McGreevy and showrunner Kevin Murphy do the South Texas story justice. (March, TBD)

Honestly, we are surprised this adaptation didn't happen sooner. Creator and executive producer Bruce Miller (The 100) with executive producers Fran Sears and Warren Littlefield help bring Margaret Atwood's novel to life on the small screen. Following a massive terror attack, the United States is taken over by a theocratic dictatorship and renamed the Republic of Gilead. Women are quickly relieved of their rights and are subjugated into classes of mothers, wives, prostitutes and servants. All that matters in Gilead is complete submissiveness, repopulation and religious servitude. The series is told from the point of view of Offred (Elizabeth Moss, Mad Men), a member of the "handmaids" class, who live to produce offspring for a dying country. The series also stars Joseph Fiennes (American Horror Story) as the Commander, the man whom Offred serves, and Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black) as Moira, Offred's closest friend. The series reportedly will closely follow the original source material, which will please fans of the novel, while feeling relevant to newcomers with its themes of misogyny and religious extremism. (April 26, midnight)

Set in motion after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Shots Fired is Fox's attempt to be part of the cultural discussion about race tensions in America. And the topic unfortunately continues to be timely and relevant. This limited series revolves around the fallout in a North Carolina town from two police shootings, one by a white cop and one by a black cop. The small-town community is divided on the seemingly black-and-white issue, but special prosecutors (played by Sanaa Lathan and Stephan James) investigate the gray areas surrounding both cases. The series is loaded with other talented actors like Helen Hunt, Richard Dreyfuss, Stephen Moyer, Aisha Hinds and Tristan Wilds. And the lives of the individuals are just as compelling as the major story. Hunt plays the North Carolina governor who wants the cases solved tactfully, but swift. Moyer (True Blood) brings back his Southern accent as the town's Sheriff and high school football coach, whose daughter is on the team. But the standout star is Hinds as a pastor and a Black Lives Matter activist. (Spring, TBD)

ABC, why do you do this to us? Trophy Wife, Selfie and now this. Both of those sitcoms couldn't grab the audiences to warrant a second season, and it's not because they were bad. Those titles did not live up to how funny they were. So please don't let this title fool you: Downward Dog is very good. But, yes, it has a talking dog. Before you groan, hear us out: Allison Tolman (Fargo) plays Nan, owner of Martin, our canine narrator, who gives a perpetual side-eye to life. Nan's life idles after she and her boyfriend break up, and Martin is taking the life change just as hard. And while there are lots of takes on the millennial romance on TV these days, we love this original love story about woman's best friend. (TBD)

After more than 25 years, fans get to return to Twin Peaks. Even better, original creators David Lynch and Mark Frost are steering this surreal ship. The original's two season chronicled the death of homecoming queen Laura Palmer and the investigation of her murder and of the mysterious goings-on in dreamy Twin Peaks. Aside from a few announcements about returning characters like Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), Showtime has been tight-lipped on specifics. Not coincidentally, Frost released his Secret History of Twin Peaks book in October, which is a dossier of letters, reports and documents related to the case of Laura Palmer and the history of the community. The book claims the dossier was found 25 years after Palmer's murder. Is Frost's book a synopsis of what's to come in the new show? What happened to Dale Cooper and his doppelganger? Did anyone else discover the mysteries of the Black Lodge and the White Lodge? Will there still be plenty of cherry pie and damn good coffee? We have just as many questions as you. (TBD)

Caitlin E. O'Conner and Jay Cridlin contributed to this report.