Several years ago, I used to run a column here called Don’t Touch That Dial, where I’d talk about new or returning shows. Mostly it ran over the fall and spring premiere seasons and covered speculative broadcast and cable TV shows. And then came the tidal wave of streaming shows. I tapped out of the column in 2016, mostly because I couldn’t keep up with all the new shows. That year alone, more than 450 scripted shows aired in the US. Trying to cover even just the speculative ones became an impossible task.
It’s now 2024 and peak streaming has crashed. With the rapid cancellations and killing off shows before they get the chance to premiere, I decided to (temporarily) resurrect my old column. There are plenty of speculative and adjacent gems out there but finding out about them before they end up on the chopping block is another matter. To help you out, I’ve pulled together one returning and six new shows that premiered either at the end of last year or the beginning of this one. Clear your schedule.
The Brothers Sun
After his father is gravely injured in a violent attack, Charles Sun leaves Taipei for Los Angeles to protect his mother, Eileen, and little brother, Bruce. Years ago she fled with her youngest son, a goofy, placid child, to the San Gabriel Valley for reasons unknown, but never let her espionage and subterfuge skills go to waste. Did the killers follow Charles to the states or did he walk right into their trap? All Bruce knows is that his brother and father’s crime business is getting in the way of his faltering attempts at medical school and his improv classes. Bruce likes being soft, Charles likes being tough, and they both learn a lesson about being a little more like the other.
The Brothers Sun is a great mix of tight fight choreography and crackling dark humor. The show is all over the place in terms of tone but somehow it all blends together. However, the action and black comedy elements are way more developed than the mystery portion. Most of the time the mystery of who is at the top of the masked assassin gang feels like an afterthought. It’s fun, frothy entertainment. Don’t look too closely or the plot holes will seem like black holes. We’re aiming for broadcast TV with slightly more violence rather than plausibility and realism. Justin Chien and Sam Song Li bounce well off each other as the titular brothers, Jon Xue Zhang is my new favorite actor, and Michelle Yeoh is a goddess divine. If I had one wish, it would be no more fat jokes. There are several every episode and each time I hear one, my soul dies a little.
TL;DR: Michelle. Yeoh. Enough said.
Where to watch: Netflix; series premiere Thursday January 4, 2024—8 episode season, full season release.
Yeah, I know, copaganda is bad. But also, look, few types of media make me feel more cozy than a good old fashioned cop show. Procedurals are, for whatever reason, soothing, especially when it’s a loner loose cannon versus a wave of bad apples. Our hero is DS June Lenker, a London cop who stumbles into what seems like a corruption case a decade in the making that landed a possibly innocent man in jail for murder. She’s up against DCI Daniel Hegarty, a veteran officer several rungs up the ladder. Each time she digs deeper to get to the truth, he hurls another obstacle in her way, from red herrings to actively discrediting her as a professional. The twist is expected but does the job.
I appreciated the nuance brought to the topic of race, specifically of being a biracial Black and white person living and working in predominantly white spaces. June benefits from her proximity to whiteness while also experiencing anti-Blackness and racism, and Cush Jumbo walks that tightrope brilliantly. And as much as I liked him as the Twelfth Doctor, it’s nice to see Peter Capaldi being a dick again. He plays charming assholes so well.
TL;DR: Procedural girlies, Doctor Who stans, and people who love watching other people do paperwork, this is the show for you.
Where to watch: AppleTV+; series premiere Wednesday January 10, 2024—8 episode season, weekly release.
Death and Other Details
When her mother is murdered, Imogene is taken in by ultra-rich family friends. They hire “the world’s greatest detective,” Rufus Cotesworth, but even he fails to solve the case. Years later, Imogene and Rufus reunite over yet another murder. Her new family has rented out a gloriously extravagant cruise ship owned by banker-turned-boatmaker Sunil to win over potential investors in their failing company. A loudmouth is murdered, and Imogene is the prime suspect. She and Rufus must uncover the real killer—and figure out the connection to her mother’s murder—before Interpol arrests her.
I adore any media about a crotchety old loner genius and their charming companion who everyone underestimates, so looking past this show’s myriad flaws is pretty easy for me. The CGI is rough at best, but the set design and costuming are soap opera lavish. Each episode is its own little mystery that feeds into the bigger one, a gimmick that succeeds as often as it fails. Keeping track of the ever-expanding cast gets complicated the further into the season you get, and the pacing of the episodes could use some work. It tries too hard to have Something To Say, and what it’s saying so far is neither new nor all that interesting.
Regardless, this marks a nice dip back into the blue sky dramas era of television. Vibes-wise, it should scratch your Knives Out itch. Mandy Patinkin is as great as always, Violett Beane is intriguing, and somehow Rahul Kohli gets hotter every time I see him. The costume designer who decided to put him in a cable knit sweater deserves a Nobel Prize. Good lord.
TL;DR: I cannot tell you how vital it is you hear Mandy Patinkin doing the world’s most ridiculous accent. It comes and goes like the tide. I want whoever develops the next virtual assistant to have it be him doing the Rufus voice. Absolutely incredible. A pure delight.
Where to watch: Hulu; series premiere Tuesday January 16, 2024—10 episode season, weekly release.
After Maya’s father is murdered by Kingpin and she, in turn, shoots Kingpin in the face (uh, spoilers for Hawkeye, I guess), Maya returns to her hometown of Tamaha, Oklahoma. She has one goal: take Fisk’s crime empire for herself. Along the way, she learns a lesson about listening to your ancestors and protecting your community. Also, super powers. She has them, she uses them, they’re pretty cool. In terms of tone and violence, this is closer to the more mature outings Netflix offered than the family-friendly ones from Disney+.
Echo gets that diversity is more than just dropping people with marginalized identities into a scene but actually thinking about how those identities impact the story and how the characters move through it. Having so much of the show revolve around Maya’s identities as being Deaf, Choctaw, and an amputee was what turned this from a middling superhero show into something wholly compelling. Alaqua Cox shines as Maya, and I’m excited to see her eventually step outside the limitations of a Marvel joint and stretch her acting skills.
Structurally, what hampers this show is what hampers most streamers: its short runtime. Five episodes totalling under four hours is both too much and not enough. The whole first episode is mostly catching up viewers who didn’t watch Hawkeye or forgot that Clint spent the five years post-Snap murdering BIPOC instead of going to fucking therapy. Echo needed either a longer season where the side characters could have something substantial to do or it needed to be a much shorter made-for-tv movie.
TL;DR: Is it Marvel’s best television show? Eh. But it’s about as unique and creative as you can get under the MCU’s strict guidelines. A solid start for the new Spotlight line of shows.
Where to watch: Disney+; series premiere Tuesday January 9, 2024—5 episode season, full season release.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters
This show jumps between the mid 20th century and shortly after G-Day, when San Francisco was destroyed by Godzilla in 2014. One of the survivors of G-Day is Cate, the daughter of Hiro Randa, a secretive member of Monarch. After his apparent death, she returns to Japan to clear out his apartment, only to learn he had a secret second family. She, her half-brother, Kentaro, and his ex-girlfriend May, track down Lee, an American soldier who was like an uncle to Hiro. The more about Monarch they uncover, the more Monarch tries to silence them. Meanwhile in the flashbacks, we meet Hiro’s mother, stepfather, and a younger version of Lee as they encounter MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism).
I’m gonna watch anything in the Godzilla universe, and I’m gonna love it. Much like the recent Godzilla Minus One movie (which is incredible, by the way, and easily the best Godzilla movie I’ve ever seen), monsters take a backseat to human drama. Godzilla and his ilk drive the action, but the show is more concerned with the people who sacrificed everything for science and discovery only to be punished for their hubris and the loved ones left behind to pick up the pieces. I preferred the 1950s flashbacks to the present, mostly because those characters were more interesting and complicated than their contemporary counterparts. Kurt Russell and his son Wyatt play the same character at different stages in his life, an clever bit of casting. The Russell men are that particular breed of charming we used to see in action romance movies of yore, all-American tough guys who win over the reluctant woman with a wink, a lopsided smile, and a loaded gun.
Where things stalled out for me was how routine everything was. Instead of doing something new with the MonsterVerse or leaning into the television format, it runs through a checklist of stale tropes, shots, and scenarios. I didn’t entirely mind, mostly because I just plain enjoy being in this world, but it’s also frustrating to see the writers consistently choose the easiest option when it comes to the plot.
TL;DR: The show has monsters, mayhem, and folks fucking around and finding out. What more could you want from a monster movie prequel-slash-sequel?
Where to watch: AppleTV+; series premiere Friday November 17, 2023—10 episode season, weekly release.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
John and Jane Smith are two outcasts who stumble into jobs as spies. As part of their cover, they’re paired up as husband and wife, complete with an ostentatious brownstone and real marriage certificate. The couple quickly fall for each other, but the stress of the job wears on their relationship until they’re literally at each other’s throats. The connection back to the original movie is so light, I genuinely don’t understand what the point of buying the IP was in the first place. It’s not like millions of people were clamoring for a remake of a nearly decade-old movie, especially one known more for the surrounding relationship chaos involving its leads than the actual plot.
The TV version of Mr. & Mrs. Smith is basically just Atlanta with some action and romance rather than a true action romcom. Meaning a show about people talking to each other in interesting locales. Two people in a destructive marriage emotionally (and physically) hurt each other, plus the occasional burst of gunfire, fight scenes, and kissing. Once I readjusted my expectations, I enjoyed myself more. On the other hand, I have already forgotten most of what happened. Each episode is more or less in the same format: lots of talking about whatever issue is bothering John and Jane that day, then a chunk of intense action, followed by a denouement of gallows humor or suspenseful cliffhanger. The show’s greatest crime is that Donald Glover and Maya Erskine, while fine actors, have absolutely no chemistry with each other. The second worst crime is skipping past the romance. The show jumps from the meet-cute to sex to declarations of love without building the relationship in front of the audience. I keep saying this, but streamers really need to start making longer seasons so the audience can get to know the characters and their world.
TL;DR: Come for the premise, stay for the great stunt guest actor casting.
Where to watch: Prime; series premiere Friday February 2, 2024—8 episode season, full season release.
True Detective: Night Country
Ennis, Alaska, is a town that exists largely to provide workers for a massive mining company. A group of reclusive scientists at a research facility turn up dead, their bodies frozen in terror on the ice. Solving the case falls to lead detective Liz Danvers, a drunken misanthrope, and her ragtag department. When the scientists are tied to a cold case of a murdered Iñupiaq activist, agent Evangeline Navarro, Danvers’ former colleague, joins the team. Mystical, surreal events unfold around the women, compounded by traumas old and new.
I’m meh on the first three seasons of True Detective. Seasons two and three felt like attempts to make up for some of the worst choices in the first, but I mostly kept watching because I liked the actors and the seasons were short. The fourth is the first without creator Nic Pizzolatto involved; Issa López takes the reins as showrunner, director, and writer. Not coincidentally, this is also the first season I’m excited to watch. This season is weirder in terms of pacing, tone, and content. Don’t come in expecting a procedural formula. López is more interested in pushing her characters to the breaking point and seeing what happens next. It’s meditative and melancholy, an entire town full of miserable people barely hanging on because there’s nothing else left. As nice as it is to have Jodie Foster and John Hawkes back on my television screen, Kali Reis is the real star here. As Navarro, she’s propulsive and riveting. She deserves a long and busy acting career.
What worries me is the potential for a bait-and-switch in terms of the speculative stuff. Right now, it feels like the characters are in a rural fantasy story, but don’t know it yet. However, the script keeps dropping hints that whatever is behind the mystery will be something mundane. If it turns out that the whole town is affected by a gas leak or something, I’ll be pissed.
TL;DR: More! Indigenous! Stories! Also, this season reminds me a lot of Ramona Emerson’s supernatural thriller Shutter, which I cannot recommend highly enough.
Where to watch: Max; series premiere Sunday January 14, 2024—6 episode season, weekly release.