The hottest TV shows of autumn 2015

Lady Gaga sends shivers through the schedules, Dickens goes soap, it’s goodbye to Peep Show and Downton – and the Muppets get a makeover

Peep Show muppets Dresser Chewing Gum
Coming soon … David Mitchell and Robert Webb in Peep Show; the return of the Muppets; Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins in The Dresser; Michaela Coel adds some Hackney reality in Chewing Gum
Coming soon … David Mitchell and Robert Webb in Peep Show; the return of the Muppets; Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins in The Dresser; Michaela Coel adds some Hackney reality in Chewing Gum

Last modified on Wed 1 Jul 2020 13.11 EDT

Hand of God

Hand of God is Amazon’s biggest new launch since Transparent, but it’s a much harder sell. A drama about a corrupt judge who responds to a loved one’s suicide attempt by convincing himself that God wants him to become a violent vigilante sounds new, but the marketplace is already saturated with dark dramas about troubled male antiheroes, and people have a finite amount of time to watch them.

  • Amazon, showing now

Downton Abbey

And now, the end is near. We’ve had five glorious years of sumptuous period water-treading, but Downton Abbey is preparing to bow out. If the trailers for the sixth and final series are any indication, the whole thing is going to be comprised of nothing but endless weeping and John Lewis ballad covers. But this matters little to the Downton faithful. Will the posh one ever find happiness? Will the sad butler ever find happiness? Will Maggie Smith burst out of her skin and reveal herself to have been Kenneth Williams all along? These are the questions they want answered.

  • ITV, from 20 September

The Last Man on EarthThis half-hour show stars Will Forte and Kristen Schaal as survivors in a post-apocalyptic world, and it feels like the apex of golden age TV. It’s taken all the tropes of a prestige drama – the high-concept premise, the serialised plot, the unlikable male lead – and seamlessly transplanted them into a comedy. It also helps that Last Man is one of the funniest shows in years. Dave seems to know what a hit it has on its hands: after holding on to the first series for far too long, the new run will air less than 24 hours after its US broadcast.

  • Dave, 28 September


At this stage, you’d be stupid to get excited about a new season of Homeland. For all anyone knows, it might end up being a lumpen 24 clone about a wayward teenager like the second and third runs were. It might be a flaccid letdown like the fourth. It might literally contain no story whatsoever, like the last episode of the fourth run. And yet, the new season has a trailer full of action and gorgeous shots of Berlin. Best of all, it’s full of Saul.

Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde gets a slick update.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde gets a slick update.

Jekyll and Hyde

On the surface, this is ITV transparently doing a Sherlock: taking a well-loved – and much-adapted – piece of popular literature and sexing it up something rotten. However, Jekyll and Hyde looks like it might be one of autumn’s biggest highlights. It promises to be an intriguing mix of mystery, fantasy, sci-fi and horror. It stars Tom Bateman and Richard E Grant. And, most excitingly of all, it’s by Charlie Higson, who’s barely put a foot wrong in his entire career.

  • ITV, October

Eternal Glory

This Brit-spin on a format already successful on several European networks will prompt memories for UK viewers of Superstars. Richard Bacon hosts a location-based (Croatia) game show, in which eight “champion” athletes compete in a series of physical and mental challenges, with one going home each week. It would be a surprise if cycles don’t feature in one challenge but whether or not the show can become The Great Croatian Bike-Off will depend on the level of competitors it can attract. Ominously, an attempt to revive Superstars failed because the top rank of sports stars proved uninsurable for trivial TV.

  • ITV, October
Watch the 10-minute preview of The Muppets that ‘was never meant to be seen by the public’ – video

The Muppets

If nothing else, the return of the Muppets deserves to go down in history as the show that gave you the most angst since Better Call Saul was announced. On the one hand, it’s great that our fuzzy friends are back where they belong. On the other, the 10-minute teaser released in July made the whole thing look like a shameless Modern Family rip-off.

  • Sky 1, October

The Dresser

The stand-out item in a BBC season devoted to theatre is the pairing of Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins (long lost to movies) in a new version of Ronald Harwood’s play, which features the dressing-room conversations between an ageing Shakespearean actor of the old school (based on Donald Wolfit) and the backstage assistant who tends to his wigs, costumes and ego. Directed by former National Theatre boss Richard Eyre, the project might as well be subtitled “keep the licence fee”, but promises rich pleasures.

  • BBC2, October
Will series two of The Leftovers come in from the dark?
Will series two of The Leftovers step in from the dark? Photograph: HBO

The Leftovers

To call the first season of Damon Lindelof’s grief-stricken rapture drama a hard watch would be an understatement – it began with a teenage girl crying as her friend joylessly masturbated next to her, and then got darker – which is why some are calling this year’s series a reboot. The cast has been overhauled, and the whole thing will now take place in Texas. Whether it will work is anyone’s guess. Let’s just hope The Guilty Remnant understand the mechanics of interstate travel.

  • Sky Atlantic, October


A classy crime drama remains every network’s must-have autumn accessory, and this dark six-part detective story boasts talent that gives it the potential to become this season’s Happy Valley or Broadchurch. Written by Abi Morgan (The Hour), it gives Nicola Walker (Last Tango in Halifax) the lead role she has long deserved. And importing Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård acknowledges the Scandi-envy from which UK mystery fiction currently suffers. The stand-out cast also includes Eddie Marsan as a killer who eludes the cops.

• BBC1, mid-October

American Horror Story: Hotel

American Horror Story hasn’t been scary for years. Weird? Yes. Creepy? Sometimes. Camp? Unbelievably. But the anthology hasn’t tapped into its all-out sense of suffocating fear since the Asylum series. Will this new incarnation, set in a hotel built by a serial killer, manage to recapture old glories? Some of the details released so far (there will be packs of creepy children and people sewn into mattresses) sound promising. Others (the magisterial Jessica Lange has been replaced by Lady Gaga) much less so.

  • FOX, 20 October
Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar star in Unforgotten
Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar star in Unforgotten Photograph: PR


The previously underrated Nicola Walker gets a deserved double promotion to top-billing by leading this ITV crime drama as well as the BBC’s River. Scripted by a reliable 9pm-suspense writer Chris Lang (Undeniable, A Mother’s Son), Unforgotten begins with the discovery during building work of the bones of a murder victim who has lain undetected for 40 years. The cold-case investigation, led by Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar, is helped with its inquiries by a cast that includes Trevor Eve and Tom Courtenay, an actor rarely sighted on TV.

  • ITV, October

Chewing Gum

Last year, young Hackney-born actor-writer Michaela Coel made a strong impact at the National Theatre with Chewing Gum Dreams, a monologue about a young black woman’s experience of education, music, sex, religion and politics in London. Minus the last word of the title, Coel’s six-part comedy drama takes a version to the small screen. .

  • E4, October

Brett: A Life With No Arms

One of TV’s most distinguished documentarians, Roger Graef, revisits, 50 years on, the subject of his first-ever film, One of Them Is Brett. The name of the sequel perhaps illustrates a shift in the medium’s idea of what makes a good title. The subject, Brett Nielsen, was born without upper limbs as a result of the antenatal drug thalidomide. The first film recorded his rejection of prosthetic arms; the new report shows the life he has managed without them, including an impressive range of careers and relationships.

  • BBC1, October

The Fear

The latest TV talent show is a sort of Britain’s Got Zombies, in which aspiring makers of horror films compete to convince expert judges they should win the prize of making a 30-minute shiver flick.

  • BBC3, late October
Robert Webb, left, and David Mitchell in Peep Show
Robert Webb, left, and David Mitchell in Peep Show Photograph: PR

Peep Show

One of C4’s longest-running hits, this radical take on the flat-share sitcom has featured intermittently in the schedules in recent years due to the other commitments of actors David Mitchell and Robert Webb, as well as writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, whose student drama Fresh Meat is another C4 hit. This ninth series is billed as the last, and fans will be fascinated by whether the scripts contrive to leave Mark and Jeremy separately or together – and whether Olivia Colman, as the original love interest, might reappear.

  • Channel 4, November

First Cut

There have been many documentaries about lives transformed by medical emergency but film-maker Leonardo Machado explores for C4’s impressive factual strand a particularly horrifying example: Alex Lewis was given a 3% chance of survival after developing septicemia that could be halted only by removal of his limbs and part of his face. Following Lewis from hospital to his attempt to rebuild a life at home, the film - though raising questions of visual tact in what the viewer is shown - promises to be a memorable examination of resilience.

  • Channel 4, date TBC

The Frankenstein Chronicles

Sean Bean stars in The Frankenstein Chronicles
Sean Bean stars in The Frankenstein Chronicles Photograph: Rainmark Films / ITV

ITV’s post-Downton drama strategy seems to include a detour into the 19th century fiction library that has previously been most visited by the BBC. With a new Jekyll and Hyde adaptation elsewhere in the schedules, The Frankenstein Chronicles is a six-parter that plays with Mary Shelley’s original in the way that Showtime’s Penny Dreadful used literary archetypes. Sean Bean plays a Peeler in 1837 London who is called to a body washed up from the Thames that turns out to be a pseudo-human stitched together from cadaver parts. The show aims to tie together the audiences for crime and horror.

  • ITV Encore, November

TransparentAs one of the first hits of Amazon’s streamed TV service, Jill Soloway’s domestic drama rapidly stood out for the quality of writing and acting (Jeffrey Tambor getting the role of his career, very late into it). There is also the freshness of its central premise: the impact on an American family when a 70-year-old retired professor begins transgender reassignment. Its second season comes with a promise of more focus on the supporting cast, and it rivals House of Cards for the title of best TV series never shown on TV.

  • Amazon, 4 December


In his pioneering of serial form and exaggerated characters, Charles Dickens has been an obvious influence on TV soap. Now Tony Jordan, a key writer on the Albert Square show, has reversed the circuit with a project that approaches the work of the BBC’s house novelist in a more original way than the traditional rotating adaptations of the canonical novels. In the 20 half-hour episodes, characters such as Mr Micawber, Scrooge and Oliver Twist break free from their books and run into each other.

  • BBC1, Christmas
Bringing glamour back … War and Peace is the BBC's next flagship costume drama
Bringing glamour back … War and Peace is the BBC’s next flagship costume drama Photograph: BBC

War and Peace

One strand of the BBC’s charter renewal policy this time around seems to be reassuring remakes of the sort of thing it did when the licence fee and the BBC’s future were shoo-ins: Poldark has already come back, a Civilisation remake has been mooted, and now the corporation offers a new adaptation of the 1869 Tolstoy novel that made people feel good about the BBC in 1972. Some have already muttered that the new version has been given only 360 minutes of airtime rather than the 900 minutes back in the day, but drama moves faster and sharper than it used to. A bigger question is whether a mix of American (Paul Dano, Gillian Anderson) and British (Jim Broadbent, Brian Cox) actors playing Russians can find a convincing overall idiom.

  • BBC1, January

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