From HBO's Philip Roth Adaption to Amazon's 'Lord of the Rings': What We'll Watch in 2020

Whatever else happens, there will be television to distract and delight us in 2020

Simon Spungin
Simon Spungin
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A scene from HBO's "The Plot Against America."
A scene from HBO's "The Plot Against America."Credit: HBO
Simon Spungin
Simon Spungin

The turn of the decade has provided newspapers and websites with ample opportunity to republish their most popular content of the past 10 years.

Since I have trouble remembering what happened last week, however, I’ve decided that my final column of the decade will be a more forward-looking exercise.

After all, whatever else happens in 2020 – and God knows that the only certainty is that no one can predict anything – there will be television, good and bad, to keep us entertained in the months ahead.

With that in mind, and willfully ignoring all the dark clouds on the horizon, here are just some of the shows that will distract and delight us, entertain and enrage us, in 2020.

‘The Plot Against America,’ HBO, March 16

If you follow David Simon on Twitter, you will know that he is angry with the state in which his country finds itself. He uses the platform to excoriate Donald Trump with the kind of language that the president himself, if his orange skin weren’t so thin, would have to dismiss as “locker room banter.”

So, halfway through the Trump presidency, and at a time when anti-Semitic attacks are being carried out daily in the U.S., it seems only natural that Simon – the creator of arguably the best TV show of the previous decade, “The Wire” – should be at the helm of an adaptation of Philip Roth’s prophetic novel of 2004.

In fact, Simon recently told “Entertainment Weekly” that, when he was approached by HBO in 2012 to work on an adaptation, he turned it down because he felt it wasn’t “relevant to our time.”

Eight years later, the book, which imagines an alternate history in which aviator-hero and xenophobic populist Charles Lindbergh is elected president in 1940 and turns the United States toward fascism, caused him to change his mind. “[With] what’s happened politically in the last few years – not only in America, but throughout the West – the very guts of what Roth was writing about suddenly seemed conceivable.”

Winona Ryder, Zoe Kazan, Morgan Spector and John Turturro will star in this six-part miniseries, which will doubtless provide fodder for countless reviews, think pieces and perhaps even a podcast.

‘Avenue 5,’ HBO, January 19

One of the movie highlights of 2020 will be Armando Iannucci’s foray into Dickens, with the creator of “Veep” and “The Death of Stalin” about to release his retelling of the David Copperfield story.

But Iannucci got his start in television, and it’s for his work on the small screen that he has collected most of his awards. Five years after leaving “Veep” to focus on movies, he’s back with a new TV show, set not in the corridors of power in London or Washington, but in space. Set 40 years in the future, the show stars Hugh Laurie as Ryan Clark, the captain of a luxury space cruise ship, as well as Suzy Nakamura, Rebecca Front, Zach Woods and Josh Gad.

While any offering from master satirist Iannucci is worth checking out in its own right, it will be especially interesting to compare this space-based show with Netflix’s “Space Force,” created by sitcom machines Greg Daniels and Steve Carell. In a worryingly prescient nod to President Donald Trump, who recently announced the establishment of the sixth branch of the U.S. armed services, that is exactly the premise of this show.

‘High Fidelity,’ Hulu, February 14

Hats off to Hulu, to Nick Hornby and to everyone involved in (yet another) remake of “High Fidelity.” The British author penned his laddish tale of lost loves and list-making back in 1995; since then, it has been adapted into a blockbuster movie, starring John Cusack, Jack Black and Lisa Bonet, and a Broadway musical that has had runs in the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom for the past 14 years.

The latest reincarnation of a much-loved novel would normally pass under the radar, but this one is noteworthy for one key reason: it is being rewritten with a female lead. And, for fans of Hollywood genealogy, the lead will be played by Zoë Kravitz, who is, of course, the daughter of Bonet and Lenny Kravitz. Given that the original movie (and, to a lesser degree, the novel) was criticized for the almost negligible character development invested in Bonet’s character, it is deliciously ironic that the tables have now been turned.

In an age when everything, it seems, is fluid, it’s more than fitting that the antagonist Hornby created in the novel – a rather self-pitying and unlikable character – should undergo a much-need metamorphosis.

Originally developed for Disney’s new streaming channel, the show will air on Disney-owned Hulu on, fittingly, Valentine’s Day.

‘Lord of the Rings,’ Amazon Prime Video, TBA

Six movies, 21 Oscars and 23 years after Peter Jackson unleashed his epic “Lord of the Rings” movies on an unsuspecting world, Amazon Prime Video has put its hands deep in its pockets to buy the rights to make a prequel.

According to reports, Amazon paid $250 million to Tolkien’s estate and has budgeted an additional $1 billion for production. That would, of course, make it the most expensive television show of all time – ratcheting up expectations even further.

Unfortunately, despite paying through the nose for the rights, Amazon will not be able to simply remake the main plot of the books; instead, it will focus on a different period in the history of Middle Earth.

Over the next 12 months, our television screens will be showing us far too many reminders of how awful the world is, how cruel people are and how pointless life is. What better way to forget all that than to dive headlong into arguably the greatest work of allegorical fantasy ever written.

Even if, as some predict, the sheer scale of this undertaking means it is not released until 2021, there is no doubt that the hype and expectation will turn it into one of the most talked-about shows this year, too.

Welcome back/good riddance

The reappearance of a beloved show is reason to celebrate. My TV calendar has several dates circled in red, starting with January 19, when Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” returns for a 10th season. Expect to be appalled and entertained in equal measure when the hit HBO show returns.

Similarly reprehensible behavior can be expected from Saul Goodman (played by Bob Odenkirk), the antihero of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” spinoff, “Better Call Saul,” which returns on February 23.

If you’re looking for a more inspiring character to follow, may I suggest Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who is lured out of retirement for a Star Trek reboot on CBS and Amazon Prime. Sir Patrick Stewart will be beaming down onto your screens from January 23.

Last – and definitely least – we have “Homeland,” the long-running adaptation of “Prisoners of War,” the Israeli show that The New York Times called the best international show of the decade. After seven tortuous seasons, the show is finally being put out of its misery. Better late than never.



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