Sean Penn, Emma Stone and Amy Adams on the Small Screen: 15 Shows to Watch in 2018

TV shows you won’t want to miss in the coming year

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Tim Ahern, Mariya Shukshina, Atul Kale, and James Norton in 'McMafia' (2018).
Tim Ahern, Mariya Shukshina, Atul Kale, and James Norton in 'McMafia' (2018).Credit: IMDb
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan

From the return of Oscar-winning actors such as Sean Penn and Emma Stone to the small screen to series on the first manned space mission to Mars and the end of the Earth, here are some of the TV shows you won’t want to miss in the coming year

1. ‘Altered Carbon

Set over 300 years in the future and with the tagline “No body lives forever,” this Netflix adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s 2002 cyberpunk novel has been dubbed “’Blade Runner’ meets ‘Black Mirror’.” Joel Kinnaman and James Purefoy star in the lavish, 10-part thriller about a world in which the rich live forever by having their consciousnesses saved on a glorified thumb drive and then “rebooted” into a new body. Because that’s just what we need right now – an immortal Donald Trump. (Available from February 2)

2. ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

We’ve had horror anthologies and crime anthologies, but a western anthology? Written and directed by the Coen brothers? Tick that one off as another Netflix first. This six-parter – debuting in late 2018 – stars James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson and Zoe Kazan. And while little is known about the storyline, it reportedly follows a young woman going west on the Oregon Trail in the 19th century. Definitely one to follow.

3. ‘Britannia

Set in 43 C.E., this nine-part co-production between U.K. satellite giant Sky and Amazon Prime Video is eying the vacant “Game of Thrones” seat. Acclaimed playwright Jez Butterworth (“Jerusalem”) created this would-be historical epic, chronicling the war between an invading Roman army (led by David Morrissey) and the mystical druids and warrior women of Britannia (aka Britain). Expect lots of blood, guts, centurions and fur – but no dragons. (Premieres in the U.K. in January)

4. ‘Castle Rock

Inspired by the creepy horror universe of Stephen King (350 million books and counting – that’s how many he’s sold, not written, by the way), this 10-part anthology series from Hulu is one of 2018’s more intriguing shows. It features lots of King alumni – Melanie Lynskey (“Rose Red”), Sissy Spacek (“Carrie”), Bill Skarsgård (“It”) and Terry O’Quinn (“Silver Bullet”) – and is set in the fictional town of Castle Rock. Let’s just pray it doesn’t feature a giant dome.

5. ‘Collateral

This four-part, “state-of-the-nation” thriller by theater legend David Hare stars Carey Mulligan as a British police officer investigating the fatal shooting of a pizza delivery boy – which is either connected to a politician (John Simm) or erroneous anchovies on a pizza. It’s set over four days, and the cast includes Billie Piper and Nicola Walker. Although 70-year-old Hare first worked at the BBC in 1973, this is his first ever TV series.

6. ‘The Crossing

Let’s be honest, it’s foolhardy recommending any U.S. network series sight unseen at the moment (though “Deception” could prove cheesy fun), but this ABC effort looks more promising than most. Steve Zahn and Sandrine Holt play law enforcement officers in a sci-fi thriller that seems to be a mix of the great French show “The Returned” and “Terminator,” dealing as it does with a group of refugees washing up in America from the future. I’m sure they’ll all be fine – unless, of course, they’re Muslim.

7. ‘Dietland

This 10-part comedy-drama from AMC is set in the beauty industry and is based on the best-selling 2015 novel by Sarai Walker. The plot revolves around an obese woman (played by Joy Nash) preparing for weight-loss surgery when her life is upturned by two rival feminist groups. Julianna Margulies, meanwhile, is a go-getting magazine editor whose associates become targeted by a feminist terror organization. I can already picture the pink “Pussyhat” balaclavas.

8. ‘The First

“House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon has gone a long way for his follow-up show: Mars. Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone star in this interplanetary drama about the first manned mission to the red planet. The eight-part series is a coproduction between Hulu and the U.K.’s Channel 4, though plot details are thinner on the ground than Martian potatoes (wash ‘em before you eat ‘em). Penn’s character is believed to be a former NASA astronaut, while McElhone is rumored is play the CEO of the company behind the mission. This is a rare sortie into the world of television for Penn, whose last TV role (not as himself) was on “Friends” in 2001.

9. ‘Hard Sun

Stories about the demise of the sun are as old as, well, the sun, but the future looks bright for this six-parter from the BBC and Hulu. The world’s two most photogenic police officers – Jim Sturgess (“One Day”) and former model Agyness Deyn – are at the heart of this “pre-apocalyptic,” London-set thriller in which, to quote David Bowie, we’ve got five years (that’s all we’ve got) before the world ends. It’s written by Neil Cross, whose Idris Elba-starring “Luther” also returns in 2018 – meaning “Hard Sun” will be only his second bleakest show of the year.

10. ‘Here and Now

Alan Ball (“Six Feet Under,” “True Blood”) returns to HBO in February for what appears to be his take on “This is Us.” Set in Portland, Oregon (let’s hope we can spot the difference between this and “Portlandia”), “Here and Now” is a 10-part dramedy about a multiracial family comprising a couple (Holly Hunter, Tim Robbins) and four children, three of whom are adopted from around the globe (cough, Angelina Jolie). The showrunner needs another hit after ‘True Blood,” and at first glance it looks like this will splice the family drama of “Six Feet Under” with supernatural elements of “True Blood.”

11. ‘Killing Eve

The bad news for fans of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s wonderful “Fleabag” is that it won’t return until 2019. The good news is that she’s showrunning and writing this eight-part BBC America show – a blackly comic thriller based on the “Villanelle” novella by Luke Jennings. Jodie Comer (“Thirteen,” “Doctor Foster”) plays the eponymous Villanelle, an assassin whose enjoyment of the finer things in life is disrupted when security services operative Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) sets off in hot pursuit of her. All killer, no filler? Let’s hope.

12. ‘The Looming Tower

This is the series I’m most looking forward to in 2018. An adaptation of Lawrence Wright’s brilliant 2006 nonfiction book “The Looming Tower: Al-Queda’s Road to 9/11,” this 10-part drama from Hulu depicts the rivalries between the CIA and FBI that prevented them from fully collaborating on the threat of Islamist terror in the lead-up to September 11. The cast includes Jeff Daniels, Peter Sarsgaard and Alec Baldwin, while acclaimed documentarian Alex Gibney is one of the show’s producers. “Homeland” just got real. (Available on Hulu from February 28)

13. ‘McMafia

Based on Misha Glenny’s 2008 nonfiction book tracing the franchising of the Chechen Mafia since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the BBC, AMC and Amazon Prime are hoping this eight-part thriller will be this year’s “The Night Manager.” James Norton (“Happy Valley”) stars as Alex Godman, an Anglo-Russian Jew whose comfortable life as a hedge fund manager is shattered when his family’s Russian mob connections catch up with him. The jet-setting thriller was partly shot in Tel Aviv and also sees David Strathairn playing an Israeli shipping magnate named Semiyon Kleiman. You had me at “Zdravstvuyte.” (Airs on the BBC in January and later in the year on AMC)

14. ‘Maniac

You know the paradigm has shifted when an actor follows up an Oscar-winning performance with a starring role in a 10-part show for Netflix. But that’s what Emma Stone is doing with this dark comedy, a remake of an acclaimed 2014 Norwegian show. Jonah Hill reunites with his “Superbad” co-star as they play a couple of psychiatric patients escaping into a fantasy life where everything is action-packed and dramatic (it’s what the rest of us call “Switching on the TV”). The director is Cary Fukunaga (“True Detective”), so expect the humor to be blacker than Johnny Cash’s wardrobe.

15. ‘Sharp Objects

I first fell in love with Gillian Flynn’s writing when she was TV critic at Entertainment Weekly, so it’s nice to see things coming full circle with this HBO adaptation of her 2006 debut novel. The third adaptation of a Flynn best-seller (“Gone Girl” was the biggest hit), “Sharp Objects” stars Amy Adams as a crime reporter just released from a psych ward after years of self-harm – which is probably not the best time to be returning to your hometown to cover the murder of a young girl. The eight-part adaptation is directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, fresh from his success on another murder mystery, “Big Little Lies.” Both shows, incidentally, were originally envisaged as movies.

Amy Adams in 'Sharp Objects' (2017).Credit: IMDb

And 10 more new shows that look promising

“The Chi” (Showtime), “Disenchantment” (Netflix), “Kiri” (Channel 4), “Lovecraft County (HBO), “Mosaic” (HBO), “Press” (BBC), “Troy: Fall of a City” (BBC-Netflix), “Unsolved” (USA Network), “Vanity Fair” (ITV) and “Watchmen” (HBO).


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