SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Comic-Con 2016 was awash in content. The event is no longer dedicated to comic book-inspired shows dominated by super heroes, science fiction and fantasy. Networks and streaming services employ Comic-Con to roll-out their latest offerings, to tease the next season of police procedurals, emergent mysteries and even comedic reality shows.
What follows are some of the most promising shows for the 2016-17 season, compiled from a visit to this year’s Comic-Con. Some are continuations, some are new. The new shows landed on this list through speculation, and interviews with cast and crew. They may not be as good as hoped; they may be better.
Regardless, these shows should be on the radar of every sci-fi and fantasy fan.
The Expanse – SyFy
As executive producer Naren Shankar said during a Comic-Con interview, “Most science fiction shows skip a lot of the process of colonizing the solar system. We explore that transition period, which no one else has really done, as humankind moves out into the solar system. It’s very hard and society hasn’t yet evolved beyond the politics that started on Earth.”
The Expanse, based on the novels of James S. A. Corey, is beautifully written, employs top-notch special effects and a great attention to the details of living in space. For geeks who want to know what it might really be like to live and work in space, this gritty space opera offers one of the best glimpses available. A second season will air in early 2017.
The Magicians – SyFy
Perhaps the sexiest show on television, The Magicians returns in 2017 after a major cliff-hanger that left a character missing his hands in a world reliant on “hand magic,” and a female lead taking off with the bad guy after making a deal for revenge. The Magicians crosses major lines even for basic cable channel SyFy, which previously crossed a few lines with shows like Battlestar Galactica.
Maiming, rape and magical addiction all played graphic roles in the first season. According to executive producer Sera Gamble, the team received one set of notes from Standards and Practices, followed by a phone call from their “beneficent overlords at SyFy who said not to pay any attention to them.”
Alongside all of this haunting fervor lies a beautiful and innocent erotica that makes this story about Brakebills University, a Hogwarts-like college, everything you would imagine magical higher education to be. The second season places the young magicians into the fantasy land of their childhood, which proves all too real. They must learn how to survive in a world of dark magic as they fight to restore its light, and try to remain alive while doing so.
Describing the next season during a Comic-Con press roundtable, executive producer John McNamara said The Magicians, “are wonderfully unprepared and they find they have much more strength and intelligence than they would have ever thought possible. They are running a planet they are not trained to run. It’s great. It’s really great.”
The Magicians returns in January 2017.
Dark Matter – SyFy
With The Expanse, The Magicians, Dark Matter and Kill Joys, SyFy has created a high-end set of shows that counterbalance their less literate fare like Sharknado and Dinocroc vs. Supergator.
Dark Matter, now running, explores the lives of a band of outlaws awakened on a ship with their memories wiped out. As they attempt to learn who they are, they discover their places in villainy, intrigue and murder — but they aren’t those people anymore. Hardcore sci-fi fans will be hard-pressed to find more intelligently written dramas with great characters, intriguing sets and spectacular effects. Dark Matter is currently airing on SyFy.
In an interview, executive producer Jay Firestone shared that the “audience recording and keeping Dark Matter is huge.”
Game of Thrones – HBO
Winter has finally arrived in Winterfell, and all the forces are aligned to attack Westeros and take back the Iron Throne. We’ve been waiting for this since Season 1, and in 2017 it looks like HBO is going to deliver on an epic scale. No Comic-Con spoilers to report, but given the reported delay of shooting for the southern hemisphere winter, the following blooper reel can at least hold fans over until Season 7 begins.
Game of Thrones returns in Summer 2017.
The CW, led by Supergirl
The CW has laid its DC gauntlet down at the feet of Disney’s ABC and Marvel, moving the majority of its superhero properties to the network, including the very popular Supergirl. Comic-Con introduced the public to the new Superman (Tyler Hoechlin), who will have a recurring role in the weekly drama.
Unlike the movie franchises built around the Man of Steel and Batman — which come off as gloomy and downtrodden — the television series, including The Arrow, The Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, often introduce brighter, funnier and more upbeat lenses into the DC universe. Moving Supergirl to the CW will make it easier to integrate shows that already take pride in their well-watched crossover episodes. Lead actress Melissa Benoist said the new season is geared toward a younger audience, and that the scripts feel, “more vibrant, more rich and fun.”
“What I love on the show is that there is a constant ebb and flow and this movement of scales in Kara’s life,” said Benoist. “When she [is] confident and secure in the Supergirl side of her life, she doesn’t feel so great about her career or her relationship with Miss Grant.” She said it’s a “constant, symbiotic relationship between her [two-halves] that she’s always exploring.”
The Flash on the other hand, fixed everything and completely screwed it up at the same time. Moral ambiguity seems to be a theme running through the early plot hints, where heroes are forced to make tough choices.
The roster of CW shows will launch at various times through the fall of 2016.
American Gods – STARZ
One of the most anticipated new series will come in the form of Mr. Wednesday’s battle between old gods and new in an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s off-kilter American journey story American Gods. The trailer looks very intriguing but so do many other trailers. There are high hopes for this one because the source material is so strong and Gaiman, with his own television background, has a track record of ensuring that his stories make it to the screen in a reasonable fashion. American Gods will air in 2017.
Timeless – NBC
This new NBC drama, which I had the opportunity to screen, looks like a well-produced time-travel show, exploring a butterfly effect on modern history rather than prehistoric history like the similar themed UK show Primeval. The first episode sets the sci-fi stage by introducing concepts and mechanism, along with the accompanying conspiracy. The averted Hindenburg crash changes very subtle but personally significant events and relationships for the time travelers. The combination of new changes, and a cast that looks prepared to deal with them, rather than just get caught in the intrigue, seems to promise a premise that will get it through its first season.
The Walking Dead – AMC
Who’s dead now? Comic-Con did not answer that question, but all the potential corpses arrived dutifully for Hall H interrogation. Nobody is spilling their guts, even if they are the one who spilled their guts. Geeks will want to watch The Walking Dead or risk losing friends who don’t know how to talk to people who don’t watch the show.
The panel teased a new location called “The Kingdom.” Khary Payton will play King Ezekiel, keeper of a pet tiger named Shiva. Walking Dead returns Oct. 23, 2016.
Silicon Valley – HBO
If you work for a startup and you don’t watch Silicon Valley, you probably fail to see the humor in the lack of value in your stock options. The transformation of Pied Piper from a storage company to a video conferencing venture isn’t all that rare in startups. While most startups aren’t this irreverent, or VCs and CEOs this wacky, think of Silicon Valley as a caricature of a process—and that means there is truth beneath its extravagances. Silicon Valley returns in April 2017. No trailers, but the writers promise they are back at work.
The Man in the High Castle – Amazon
This disturbing drama based on the Philip K. Dick novel will stream its second season on Amazon, further exploring the post-World War II alternative reality of an Axis victory, slightly updated for a media world, as The Man in the High Castle focuses on newsreels rather than a book as Dick does in his novel.
The first season created a post-war noir, but offered little insight into how the history-within-history will play out on the screen differently than its literary version. Dick’s 1963 novel explores themes in the book-within-the-book well beyond the allied victory over Germany and Japan. In some ways, the alternative history offers its own fright. It isn’t clear if the show runners will go in that direction, or stay with the subversive spy approach taken so far. The first season was taunt and well executed. No release date is set at this time.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – ABC
It will be interesting to see where Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. goes. Civil War, which revolved tightly around S.H.I.E.L.D. in the comic books, barely mentioned the secretive agency in this summer’s blockbuster. The last couple of seasons have focused on Inhumans, skewing well away from the comic book lore while repurposing its characters. This season introduces Ghost Rider, the comic book character turned reluctant hero played by Nicolas Cage on the big screen. It also seems, according to producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, that the delay of The Inhumans film has opened up S.H.I.E.L.D. to new stories. They not only teased Ghost Rider, but hinted at a connection to the Dr. Strange movie, which releases soon after Season 4 of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins airing Tuesday, Sept. 20, in its new 10 p.m. time slot.
The Netflix Lineup
The partnership between Netflix and Marvel has delivered some of the most extreme, gritty and disturbing views of the Marvel Universe, including the likes of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Next up is the highly anticipated Luke Cage continuation from the hints of his backstory in Jessica Jones. Also coming to Netflix is Ironfist, but much less is known about that show given that the character did not appear in Daredevil or Jessica Jones. Eventually, all of these reluctant heroes end up in the The Defenders. Superheroes for the rest of us. Luke Cage drops its episodes on Sept. 30.
Star Trek: Discovery – CBS All Access
Not much is known about Star Trek: Discovery yet beyond its name and what the ship will look like. This starship, according to Star Trek: Discovery executive producer Bryan Fuller, takes its inspiration from the very early Ralph McQuarrie work for early attempts at a Star Trek movie.
We also know Star Trek: Discovery will be a short-run weekly rather than a movie—and those unwilling to pay for CBS All Access will only be able to see the first episode (which will air on CBS). Discovery is the linch-pin for the CBS effort to attract viewers to new streaming content. While the show may unify Star Trek viewers behind the latest version of the franchise, it may also continue to boldly go on fracturing access to new content that will leave viewers being nickeled-and-dime for subscriptions and still paying for cable or satellite.
Scorpion – CBS
You know, being a geek also means enjoying things that let your mind relax (and I don’t mean video games). At some point, it is hard to imagine Scorpion wasn’t described as Gilligan’s Island meets MacGyver in a pitch meeting. The show certainly plays that way, with harrowing convolutions and comic machinations required to save the world.
As star Katharine McPhee shared, “Friends will say, ‘sometimes the show gets too unbelievable’ — then you probably don’t get the show. You have to accept that there are shows that are ‘out there.’” She continued, “That is why we are at Comic-Con, because there is an element of our show (that’s) comic book-like.”
Other shows to watch
There were several new shows that were only hinted at that looked interesting. Two of them, Damage Control and Powerless, offer up civilian views of superhero universes. Damage Control tells the story of those in the Marvel universe responsible for cleaning up the collateral damage associated with superhero actions in places like New York, Washington DC and Sokovia. Powerless looks at regular humans working at an insurance agency in a universe filled with superheroes. Powerless will star Vanessa Hudgens. Details of Damage Control remain sketchy.
Finally, from the team that created Last Man on Earth, comes Son of Zorn for Fox. The show combines live action with animation as an animated warrior returns home to his family (including his ex played by Cheryl Hines) in Orange Country, Calif. The casting is good and Fox has a great track record of supporting offbeat animation. Catch it early just in case the network puts a sword through its neck before it can find its wings. Son of Zorn premieres Sept 25.