The only aspect of this year that’s felt like business as usual when it comes to entertainment? August was pretty dead. September, however, is another story. Moviegoers willing to risk the trip will finally get to see Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, at least in the parts of the country where theaters have reopened. And those staying home won’t want for options, either, thanks to some ambitious new science fiction and horror series; an extremely of-the-moment TV movie; and new feature Charlie Kaufman, and the long-awaited return of Fargo. Disney is even bringing one blockbuster directly to its Disney Plus subscribers (provided they’re willing to shell out a little extra cash). Summer may be over, but at least our viewing options have started to heat up. Here’s what you need to check out this month.
Antebellum (In theaters, Sep. 18th)
In this horror movie from the producers of Get Out, Janelle Monáe stars as a bestselling author who inexplicably finds herself drawn back into the past. Specifically, she finds herself in the antebellum South, forced to work as a slave on a pre-Civil War plantation (a premise reminiscent of Octavia Butler’s 1979 classic Kindred, though the vague trailers suggests the film will offer some twists on that set-up). Originally slated for release in April, it’s instead arriving in the middle of a renewed, and heated, discussion about the still-unhealed wounds of America’s past.
Away (Netflix, Sep. 4th)
As everyone knows, Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids (thank you, Elton John). But that doesn’t make leaving a daughter behind for three years any easier, as Emma Green (Hilary Swank) discovers in this new sci-fi series. An astronaut with a lifelong dream to be part of the first manned mission to the Red Planet, Green finds herself struggling as the journey grows more perilous and she starts to feel like she’s needed more at home than in the stars. Josh Charles co-stars as Matt, Emma’s understanding, earthbound husband.
Coastal Elites (HBO, Sep. 12th)
Billed as a “a socially distanced satire,” this TV movie — directed by Jay Roach (Bombshell) and scripted by playwright Paul Rudnick — was shot remotely and features Bette Midler, Sarah Paulson, Kaitlyn Dever, Dan Levy, and Issa Rae as New Yorkers and Angelenos speaking directly to the camera about their pandemic experiences. Will the quick turnaround and unusual shooting method give it added timeliness or feel like a celebrity-filled Zoom call? Only one way to find out.
The Comey Rule (Showtime, Sep. 27th)
Only slightly less timely, this two-part limited series adapts James Comey’s memoir about his experiences as FBI director with a focus on the 2016 election and Comey’s abrupt dismissal by President Donald Trump. (You might have heard about that.) Jeff Daniels plays Comey opposite Brendan Gleeson as the Commander-in-Chief, and if nothing else it should be worth watching to see how a pair of great actors define characters we’re going to be seeing over and over again in projects covering the Trump presidency. Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) serves as writer and director.
Departure (Peacock, Sep. 17th)
What’s more mysterious than a plane inexplicably going down over the Atlantic? How about a plane going down over the Atlantic that leaves one survivor floating in the middle of the ocean? That’s the central mystery of this six-part British-Canadian production, in which Archie Panjabi stars as an accident investigator reluctantly drawn into the case by her boss (Christopher Plummer). Together they delve into the accident, uncovering conspiracies and other dark secrets along the way.
The Devil All the Time (Netflix, Sep. 16th)
What happens when married serial killers, a corrupt lawman, and a huckster preacher all end up in the same place? Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name and set in Knockemstiff, Ohio (hometown to author Donald Ray Pollock), this thriller stars Tom Holland as a young man trying to do his best to navigate a corrupt, disturbing, mid-century America as envisioned by director Antonio Campos (Afterschool, Christine). The all-star cast also includes Robert Pattinsoon, Jason Clarke, Riley Keough, and Sebastian Stan.
Fargo, Season 4 (FX, Sep. 27th)
Pushing the title even further away from its North Dakota rots than usual, this fourth season of FX’s Coen brothers-inspired crime series takes place in 1950s Kansas City, home to a crime syndicate headed boy Loy Cannon (Chris Rock), who has an eye on displacing the entrenched Italian crime family that runs the town. Showrunner Noah Hawley, as usual, fills out the cast with notable names, including Jason Schwartzman (as a drug-sniffing mafioso), Jessie Buckley, and Timothy Olyphant.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix, Sep. 4th)
You can also find Buckley over on Netflix in a different sort of story set in the middle of the country. In Charlie Kaufman’s adaptation of Ian Reid’s novel, Buckley plays an unnamed woman who travels with her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to a remote farm where she meets his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) and comes to question the nature of her existence. Making his first return to filmmaking since the animated Anomalisa in 2015, expect Kaufman to put his own mind-bending spend on some already twisty material.
Mulan (Disney Plus, Sep. 4th)
It’s a grandly staged live-action remake of the 1990s Disney animated classic, directed by Niki Caro and filled with sweeping vistas and martial arts action — and it was set to become one of the spring’s biggest movies until the coronavirus pandemic scratched its theatrical release. Rather than risk a second attempt at American theaters, the studio is releasing the film to Disney Plus subscribers, provided they don’t mind paying an extra $30. That’s an unusual, and potentially risky, strategy … but we live in unusual, risky times. (That said, it’s undeniably a shame a film so obviously tailored for the big screen experience will make its debut elsewhere.)
Raised by Wolves (HBO Max, Sep. 3rd)
We’ve had plenty of science fiction stories exploring the implications of humanity creating androids, from Metropolis to Westworld. But what about androids creating humans? That’s the central concept of this new series starring Amanda Collin and Abubakar Salim as, respectively, Mother and Father, A.I.-driven parents who travel to a far-off planet to raise human children and escape from a war-ravaged Earth. If the premise behind Prisoners screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski’s series doesn’t sound intriguing enough, we’d like to point out that the show is executive produced by Ridley Scott, who also directs a pair of episodes. It’s his first television work as a director since the 1960s, and y’know, the man does know a thing or two about science fiction, so….
Ratched (Netflix, Sep. 18th)
Ever wonder what happened to Nurse Ratched, the megalomaniacal nurse of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest before she met up with Randle McMurphy? Probably not, but this Ryan Murphy-produced series is here to supply the answer anyway. If nothing else, the casting of Sarah Paulson as Our Lady of Perpetual Scowling looks promising, as does a supporting cast that includes Cynthia Nixon, Sharon Stone, Judy Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio and Amanda Plummer. The similar-in-concept Bates Motel worked out pretty well, for what that’s worth, so our fingers our crossed here.
Tenet (in theaters, Sep. 3rd)
After much rescheduling, reshuffling, and refusing to rob this time-bending whatsit of a thriller of a big-screen run, Christopher Nolan’s latest mindwarp of a blockbuster is set to debut in North American theaters on September 3rd. Well, some North American theaters anyway. The film’s plot remains under wraps, but we know that John David Washington plays an unnamed CIA-employed protagonist charged with stopping a disaster. Early reviews range from ecstatic to “eh.” The rest will be unveiled very soon (or not, depending on where you live).
The Third Day (HBO, Sep. 14th)
This limited series was set to premiere on HBO in May with a three-episode arc entitled “Summer” starring Jude Law as Sam, a grieving man who travels to a mysterious British island. It’s finally coming to our screens this month, followed in October by a second three-part arc titled “Winter” and starring Naomie Harris as Helen, a woman who travels to the same island. The images of Wicker Man-like pagan rituals glimpsed in the trailer suggest both Sam and Helen should keep their guard up during their stays. Katherine Waterston, Emily Watson and Paddy Considine costar.
We Are Who We Are (HBO, Sep. 14th)
Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino returns to his native Italy for an eight-part series about teens experiencing messy comings of age on American military base. Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam!) stars as a 14-year-old who moves to Veneto from New York to be with his mothers (Chloë Sevigny and Alice Braga). There he befriends Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamon), an army brat who’s been on base for a while, while creating a storm of teen angst and romantic chaos.
Woke (Hulu, Sep. 9th)
Inspired by the work of cartoonist Keith Knight (The K Chronicles, The Knight Life), this half-hour series stars Lamorne Morris (The New Girl) as Keef, the creator of a light-hearted comic who has his world turned upside down after a traumatic experience with racist police. His political awakening starts to reshape his art — and threatens the mainstream success of his previously determinedly non-controversial work.