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MATTHEW GILBERT

These shows are the ones to watch in 2021

The new year brings anticipation — for returning favorites and new series that could excite any cooped-up TV viewer

Lakeith Stanfield (left) and Donald Glover in a scene from "Atlanta." The acclaimed FX comedy returns in 2021 for its third season after a long hiatus.
Lakeith Stanfield (left) and Donald Glover in a scene from "Atlanta." The acclaimed FX comedy returns in 2021 for its third season after a long hiatus.Guy D'Alema/Associated Press

Happy New Year?

Yes indeed, all exclamation points have become question marks since 2020 had its way with us. We can’t be confident or exuberant about anything right now, not least of all about whether 2021 is going be a happy year or not. We also can’t be confident about exactly which shows will make it to TV screens, and when, as the pandemic continues to mess with production and scheduling.

But we can be sure that TV will remain the place where socially distant people can continue to find refuge, and the place where strong series will continue to deluge us, as they have been in recent years. Here is a list of shows that may well be finished and released in 2021 — unless, of course, they’re not.

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YOU’LL LAUGH

“The Afterparty” (Apple TV+) Here’s an eight-episode murder-mystery set at a high school reunion, from Oscar winners Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (”Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”). But it’s a comedy, which the casting — including Tiffany Haddish, Sam Richardson, Ben Schwartz, Ike Barinholtz, Ilana Glazer, and Dave Franco — makes quite clear. It’s a whodun-cracked-it.

“Girls5eva” (Peacock) When a show is executive produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock of “30 Rock” and created by Meredith Scardino of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “The Colbert Report,” there will be promise. It’s about a 1990s girl group hoping to reunite, and the cast includes Busy Philipps, Sara Bareilles, Ashley Park, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Paula Pell.

“Mr. Mayor” (NBC) This one, due Jan. 7, has royal bloodlines that include “30 Rock,” “The Good Place,” “Cheers,” and “Saturday Night Live.” It’s created and written by Fey and Carlock and it stars Ted Danson — perhaps you’ve heard of him? — as an eccentric businessman who’s ambivalent about being elected the new mayor of LA. His staff keeps him on track, while pitching Fey and Carlock’s super-clever punch lines. Holly Hunter and Bobby Moynihan costar.

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“Call Your Mother” (ABC) The description doesn’t much appeal: It’s a multi-cam sitcom about an empty-nest mother who moves cross-country to be near her adult children. But it stars Kyra Sedgwick, and I always root for Her, and I will sample the hell out of it.

YOU’LL CRY

“Maid” (Netflix) Based on Stephanie Land’s memoir, it’s about a single mother (played by Margaret Qualley) who becomes a housekeeper to make ends meet. John Wells, of “Shameless” and “ER,” is among the producers of the show, which also features Andie MacDowell (Qualley’s mother, playing Qualley’s mother), Nick Robinson, and Anika Noni Rose.

Michael Chiklis in the CBS All Access series "Coyote."
Michael Chiklis in the CBS All Access series "Coyote."Cate Cameron/CBS

“Coyote” (CBS All Access) Immigration is just a little bit of a hot-button issue, and here’s a show, due Jan. 7, ready to dive into the middle of it. Our own Michael Chiklis from the great “The Shield” stars as a Border Patrol agent who retires after 32 years — and is then pressured to help people cross into the States illegally.

“Clarice” (CBS) Think of it as having an old friend for dinner. A year after the events of “The Silence of the Lambs,” Clarice Starling — played by Australian actress Rebecca Breeds — is back in the business of catching serial killers. It’s due on Feb. 11.

“The Gilded Age” (HBO) I’m so here for it. Julian Fellowes of “Downton Abbey” takes on New York City during the booming 1880s in a series originally intended for NBC. Look for aristocrats clinging to the old, newcomers trying to break into society, and a servant or two or five. The cast features Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Carrie Coon, and Morgan Spector.

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“The Old Man” (FX on Hulu) A former CIA officer finds himself on the run from people who want to kill him — but it’s the cast, and not the story, that’s gonna get us in the door. Jeff Bridges stars, alongside John Lithgow, Amy Brenneman, and Alia Shawkat. No word on whether Bridges’s cancer diagnosis has slowed up production.

FAMOUS PEOPLE GONNA FAME

The Oscars (ABC) How will the mother of awards shows manage the pandemic — and, more importantly, the lack of theater-going due to the pandemic? Will viewers be familiar with the nominees? The Motion Picture Academy has moved the telecast back two months, to April 25, hoping that the ceremony — as Glenn Close puts it in “Fatal Attraction” — is not going to be IGNORED.

The “Friends” Reunion Special (HBO Max) Think of it as “The One Where All Six Cast Members Finally Gather to Promote the Fact That Their Old Sitcom Is Now Streaming on HBO Max After Their Original 2020 Reunion Plan Was Scuttled by the Pandemic.”

REFLUX

“Dexter” (Showtime) When Michael C. Hall’s antihero survived in the original series finale, we knew this would be our fate: a much-too-soon 10-episode reboot of a drama that had fully worn out its welcome when it was canceled in 2013.

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“Bel-Air” (Peacock) A more serious-minded take on Will Smith’s 1990s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” this one caused a heavy bidding war before Peacock won by paying tons of money and committing to two seasons. The story will look more closely at the race and class aspects of moving from the streets of Philadelphia to the white affluence of Bel-Air.

“Gossip Girl” (HBO Max) Mm-hmm, it’s time for a different generation of super-rich Upper East Siders to act like screwed-up adults. The cast is entirely new, except for the voice of the omniscient Gossip Girl, which will be provided once again by Kristen Bell. And the story lines will also veer into new territory, although in a shared universe with the original, which spawned a few future TV semi-stars including Blake Lively, Penn Badgley, Chace Crawford, and Leighton Meester.

“A League of Their Own” (Amazon) Penny Marshall’s 1992 movie gets a spinoff, starring two of my favorite comic actresses, D’Arcy Carden (Janet from “The Good Place”) and Abbi Jacobson (“Broad City”). It will feature a new set of characters as it takes on gender and race within the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s. Not to be confused with CBS’s reboot effort in 1993, which quickly struck out.

“In Treatment” (HBO) They’re toying with one of TV’s best dramas, which ended in 2010, so they had better toy with the utmost care. I don’t want another “Arrested Development”-like situation, where a great series returns as a meh one, forever tarnished. This time Uzo Aduba, and not Gabriel Byrne, will play the therapist dealing with issues of her own as well as a series of clients.

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“Vikings: Valhalla” (Netflix) Yup, it’s a franchise now. This series is a spinoff of History’s “Vikings,” set about a century after the end of the original. Paging Leif Erikson, please come to the New World ASAP.

CLIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES

“Colin in Black and White” (Netflix) The Colin in question is Colin Kaepernick, but the limited series is not about not standing. Created by Kaepernick and Ava DuVernay, it’s a coming-of-age story about growing up as the Black son in a white family and community — something “This Is Us” has taken on this season. Jaden Michael will play Colin, Mary-Louise Parker and Nick Offerman will play his adoptive parents.

Kate McKinnon of "SNL" will take on a dramatic starring role in Hulu's "The Dropout."
Kate McKinnon of "SNL" will take on a dramatic starring role in Hulu's "The Dropout." Jordan Strauss

“The Dropout” (Hulu) Kate McKinnon, the “Saturday Night Live” all-star, takes on a dramatic role as Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the fraudulent Theranos corporation. What, you need more? It’s based on the podcast of the same name.

“Impeachment: American Crime Story” (FX) Ryan Murphy’s excellent anthology series turns from wise revisions of the O.J. and Versace cases to the scandal that led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Beanie Feldstein is Monica Lewinsky, Clive Owen is Clinton, Sarah Paulson is the late Linda Tripp, and Billy Eichner is Matt Drudge. By the way, Lewinsky is one of the executive producers. It’s based on a book by Jeffrey Toobin, who has been involved in a sex scandal of his very own.

“Inventing Anna” (Netflix) Shonda Rhimes created this limited series about New York City con artist Anna Delvey, who scammed her way into elite circles by posing as an heiress. Julia Garner, from “Ozark” and, recently, the movie “The Assistant,” stars as Delvey, with support from Laverne Cox and Anna Chlumsky.

NOVEL ADAPTATIONS

“Underground Railroad” (Amazon) Train, train, comin’ round the bend. Barry Jenkins, of “Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk,” is the producer-director of this 11-episode limited series version of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of 2016. The alternate history, starring Thuso Mbedu, Chase W. Dillon, and Joel Edgerton, has finished filming, so get on it, Amazon.

“Pachinko” (Apple TV+) Min Jin Lee’s multi-generational 2017 saga about life for Korean immigrants in Japan will get a big-budget TV treatment. The screenplay is from Soo Hugh of “The Terror,” and it moves between Korean, Japanese, and English. The cast includes Lee Min-ho, Anna Sawai, Minha Kim, and Jin Ha of “Devs” and “Love Life.”

“Nine Perfect Strangers” (Hulu) Methinks one of the streaming services is hankering for a hit of “Big Little Lies” action, with David E. Kelley adapting another novel by Liane Moriarty featuring Nicole Kidman in the starring position. About people who meet at an Australian wellness retreat run by a mysterious Russian woman, it also features Bobby Cannavale, Luke Evans, and Melissa McCarthy.

“Lisey’s Story” (Apple TV+) Stephen King adapts his 2006 novel, which he has said is his favorite, into an eight-episode miniseries. Julianne Moore stars in the title role as the widow of a hugely successful novelist, with Clive Owen, Joan Allen, Dane DeHaan, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

“Lord of the Rings” (Amazon) Will this be the year that the TV series based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s books premieres? Amazon wants a “Game of Thrones” of its very own. The big-big-budgeted project will try to avoid comparisons to the Peter Jackson movies by being a prequel with some new characters.

WAITING FOR THEIR CLOSEUP

“Schmigadoon” (Apple TV+) Cecily Strong doesn’t get her due on “Saturday Night Live,” but perhaps this one will provide her with her big break. She and Keegan Michael-Key star as a sour couple who wind up in a town where everyone sings and dances as if they’re in a Broadway musical. Also on hand: Jane Krakowski, Alan Cumming, and Kristin Chenoweth.

Boston native Sam Jay is slated to host an as-yet untitled late-night show on HBO.
Boston native Sam Jay is slated to host an as-yet untitled late-night show on HBO.Marcus Price/Netflix

Sam Jay’s as-yet untitled show (HBO) Fingers crossed for the comic who grew up in the projects of Dorchester and built up her confidence at Boston comedy clubs. Like John Oliver, the first Black lesbian staff writer at “Saturday Night Live” will host a late-night half-hour on HBO.

THE SHOWS WILL GO ON

“Succession” (HBO) The sharks WILL attack this year, thank the lord, after 2020 robbed us of our dose of the “Lear”-esque clashes in the Roy clan.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu) Will it be easier to watch during the Biden-Harris administration? #Resistance June is back for another round.

“Atlanta” (FX) It’s over-overdue. The third season of Donald Glover’s breakthrough series will arrive, finally, this year. Last time we saw it: May 2018.

“Ozark” (Netflix) After the excellence and consistency that was season three, the show will return for one last go-round. Team Linney, always.

“Barry” (HBO) The story of Bill Hader’s hit man is a hit, man, and it will be back with guns blazing.


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.