Fall 2017 TV Rookies To Watch

It’s that time of year again! Kids are going back to school, and we’re going back to our regularly scheduled programming. Well, new programming that is.

Every year, we break down which fairly new actors in new shows you should pay attention to (see: Chrissy Metz, Bryan Tyree Henry, Donna Lynne Champlin and Priyanka Chopra). This year’s talent is no different, and we can’t wait to see them at work. Which rookies are you most excited to see?

Brandon Micheal Hall {The Mayor}

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Previous Work: Search Party, Broad City

Why You Should Watch Him: Brandon Micheal Hall plays young rapper Courtney Rose, who decides to run for public office as a publicity stunt. Except he ends up winning and becomes The Mayor. Brandon is charming and charismatic both as the character and as an actor – it’s no wonder why he won the popular vote. He’s also got a strong bench on the screen with Yvette Nicole Brown as his mom and Lea Michele as a rival campaign manager, but also off – one of the executive producers is Hamilton’s own Daveed Diggs.

When You Can Watch Him: Tuesdays @ 9:30pm on ABC (watch the trailer here)

Iain Armitage {Young Sheldon}

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Previous Work: Big Little Lies, The internet

Why You Should Watch Him: Speaking of Hamilton and Daveed, enter nine-year-old Iain Armitage, who Broadway nerds might know as his online persona, Iain Loves Theatre. Don’t know him as that? Watch him rapping at a #Ham4Ham with an assist from Daveed. Or you might know him as Shailene Woodley’s son on Big Little Lies. He’s only nine but going from BLL to a starring role in a network spinoff show of one of the most popular sitcoms ever, yeah, Iain’s not doing too bad. And he deserves all of it.

When You Can Watch Him: Mondays @ 8:30pm on CBS (watch the trailer here)

Bobby Moynihan {Me, Myself and I }

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Previous Work: Saturday Night Live, Sisters, When In Rome

Why You Should Watch Him: Not gonna lie I was pretty sad when one of my fave cast members left SNL, but like the Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader before him, he had to leave in order to get the proper stardom he deserved. In Bibby’s first starring TV role, he plays the middle aged version of Alex, a character we see at 9, 40, and 65 years old. Of course we all known Bobby’s hilarious, but he’s also got a ~sensitive side too, and that comes through just in the first look. While CBS comedies usually have a bad track record in my book, I’m hoping this one sticks around.

When You Can Watch Him: Mondays @ 9:30pm on CBS (watch the trailer here)

Anthony Ramos {She’s Gotta Have It}

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Previous Work: Hamilton, Younger, Law & Order: SVU, my dreams

Why You Should Watch Him: Never forget this tweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2014: “This is Anthony Ramos. You don’t know him yet, but boy, will you. Kid’s a star.” Cut to a life-changing role in Hamilton, a role in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born remake, and a new (old?) Spike Lee joint, all making this kid from Brooklyn a true star. The trailer that’s out now isn’t that good, but Anthony’s scene made me smile obnoxiously to myself, and if he can make me do that in 45 seconds, he’s bound to do that for all of us with an entire TV series.

When You Can Watch Him: The entire season comes out on Thursday, November 23rd on Netflix (watch the trailer here)

Josh Hutcherson {Future Man}

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Previous Work: The Hunger Games franchise, Journey to the Center of the Earth franchise, The Kids Are All Right

Why You Should Watch Him: The movie stars just keep coming over to TV. And for the bread boy, he opted to go with a reliable streaming service in Hulu with an even more reliable premise: he plays a time-travelling janitor who’s attempting to change the future without messing up the past. Does this mean it’s an alternate dystopia and he WON’T act like a lil bitch in The Hunger Games?

When You Can Watch Him: The entire season comes out on Thursday, November 13th on Netflix (watch the trailer here)

Sarah Gadon {Alias Grace}

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Previous Work: 11.22.63, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Belle

Why You Should Watch Her: I don’t think I’ve ever seen this talented woman on screen before, but judging by the trailer for this show, I am all freaking in. Margaret Atwood (who wrote the novel Alias Grace is based from) is having a great year.

When You Can Watch Him: The entire season comes out on Friday, November 3rd on Netflix (watch the trailer here)

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Show You Should Be Watching If You Aren’t Already: The Handmaid’s Tale

This weekend you could turn on your TV  to watch a totalitarian regime use self-serving but ostensibly biblical rationale to oppress women, the LGBT community, intellectuals and others – or you could turn the news off, flip over to Hulu and watch the first five episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. We suggest the latter.

If you aren’t familiar with Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, you won’t need to know much before you watch the Hulu series. Creator Bruce Miller wonderfully establishes the setting and reveals information at a pace that will answer all your questions in time. The Handmaid’s Tale depicts life in Gilead, a quasi-biblical military dictatorship established in the former United States after the constitution was suspended sometime in the near future. With the birth rate drastically low, low-status fertile women are assigned to Commanders as “Handmaids” to bear their children if the commander’s wife is unable to conceive. There’s no real choice in the matter: the other option is to get shipped off to the “colonies” and clean up nuclear waste. The Handmaid’s Tale focuses on Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and her experiences with her commander (Joseph Fiennes), his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) and fellow Handmaids (Alexis Bledel [Ofglen], Madeline Brewer [Janine], Samira Wiley [Moira]).

The Handmaid’s Tale Is So Timely It Will Scare You

Since Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985, it’s always had unsettling echoes of reality … but sometimes it’s extra prescient. In 1985 America was experiencing the rise of the Moral Majority – a far-right backlash to developments both negative (the rise of street drugs, the growth of the AIDS epidemic) and positive (the gains made by the ’70s Gay Liberation Movement and the reproductive rights developments in Griswold v. Connecticut  and Roe vs. Wade). The back-and-forth between periods of social progress and reactionary periods of regression are familiar to anyone who’s opened a history book. An adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale probably would have been well-received in the 90s or early 2000s, but the Hulu adaptation feels almost necessary now. With news stories about an Oklahoma bill requiring a man’s permission to get an abortion, the commodification of children in unethical surrogacy and adoption contracts, and gay men being rounded up into camps in Chechnya, it’s not hard to envision a future like Gilead.

In the novel The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood makes it clear that not long has passed between its 1980s publication and the establishment of Gilead– she refers to cassette tapes, 1950s military surplus and 1970s magazines all still in existence. Likewise, the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in the near future: in flashbacks to Offred and Moira’s recent past, there are references to Tinder, Uber and Craigslist. If Gilead looks familiar it’s because it should – Atwood has commented that everything that happens in The Handmaid’s Tale has already happened somewhere in the world. Even smaller details are accurate, such as the Handmaids’, wives’ and Marthas’ (housekeeper/cook/maid) old-timey outfits —  they’re spot-on when you look deep into the trenches of some Christian Fundamentalist movements or the FLDS church, where womens’ wardrobes are a kind of Little House throwback.

The Handmaid’s Tale Is Probably Going To Win All The Acting Awards

… or at least it should. If you watched Mad Men you already know that Elisabeth Moss can do everything, but if not we’re letting you know: Elisabeth Moss can do everything. She seamlessly switches from young, carefree Offred, to Offred as a Handmaid concealing her distaste for the regime, at once defiant and compliant. Moss excels both in scenes without dialogue and in voice-overs (I especially enjoyed the voiceovers after re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale and getting to the epilogue — no spoilers, but I forgot about that part). Joseph Fiennes is just as the Commander should be: he’s clearly part of the regime, but you can’t help but have some questions about him. Yvonne Strahovski is delightfully icy as Serena Joy. I admit that when I read The Handmaid’s Tale I was expecting something a little more Tammy Faye Bakker, but she’s actually perfect for a 2017 version. I can just picture Serena Joy as the Pinterest-perfect upper-class housewife before Gilead.

The real revelation, though, is Alexis Bledel as Ofglen. We’re both longtime, reunion-panel-attending Gilmore Girls fans, but having only seen Alexis as Rory I didn’t really know what range she is capable of. In one instant you can see why Offred believes that Ofglen is totally sold on the Gilead lifestyle, and in the next you understand that Ofglen is a rebel. Ofglen is both unbreakable and quietly devastated, and Alexis’s innocent appearance is used to better end here than it is in Gilmore Girls; as Vanity Fair noted, “she’s less Bambi here and more trapped bird.”

For what it’s worth, in my notes I wrote “somebody should have told me Samira Wiley was in this,” so I’m telling you now. If Poussey was one of your favorites in Orange Is The New Black, you’ll absolutely love Samira as the ebullient Moira in The Handmaid’s Tale. If Moira’s character in the Hulu series has the same outcome as Moira in the novel, I can’t wait to see it, but at least through episode 5 she is seen only in flashbacks.

The Handmaid’s Tale Works Really, Really Well As A Show

Many books suffer in film adaptations, and I think even more suffer in television adaptations. However, the Hulu limited series is the perfect way to adapt The Handmaid’s Tale. The format has allowed for expanded stories of some of the characters — for instance, Ofglen has a bigger backstory and a different fate in the show; we have filled in Moira and Offred’s history, but there is still more of Moira’s future to come as of episode 5. Although some characters have been altered or expanded on a bit, every change preserves the spirit of the book. Bruce Miller also made the wise choice of adding in details to show that we aren’t too far off from 2017. Now that The Handmaid’s Tale has been renewed for a second season, I do wonder how the comparison to the book will pan out. Does the first season encapsulate the whole novel, or will the season end partway through? If you have read the book, you’ll know that the Epilogue gives fodder for how the show could continue if season one does end with the book.

Still, I’d argue that all of the best adaptations succeed because they can be enjoyed on their own merits, and that’s my belief of The Handmaid’s Tale. The whitewashed lighting and beautiful set and costume design lend a real cinematic feel, and the writing includes plenty of time for suspense and speculation — but it doesn’t go full Lost and add a ton of elements that the viewer doesn’t have time to make sense of. Even the songs at the end of each episode are perfect. It’s dystopian fiction without any teens being sorted, and it’s grounded enough in reality that you won’t feel like it’s set on a different planet. The Handmaid’s Tale is a series so gripping that when I remember it’s Wednesday and a new episode is up, I’m more than happy to switch off the news. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches.

Show You Should Be Watching If You Aren’t Already: Difficult People

Tomorrow the second season of Hulu’s Difficult People premieres which means you have 24 hours or less to catch up (or at least start the first season if you haven’t already). If you haven’t heard of it, let me introduce you to a show about the most ridiculous human beings who you love and dislike greatly at the same time.

Basic Plot

As best friends living in New York City, Billy and Julie’s typical, irreverent behavior lands them in some very awkward situations.

It’s obviously not high concept, so it’s nothing like your Orphan Blacks or Mr. Robots. Think of it like Will & Grace meets… a less boring version of Seinfeld? But you know what else isn’t high concept? The reasons why you should start watching and catch up to ALL 8 EPISODES FROM THE FIRST SEASON (!) just in time for season two.

Queen Amy Poehler Is Responsible For This Gem

If you trust Queen Poehler’s comedic chops, then you should probably at least give this show a try. Game recognize game, ya feel me? Amy is an executive producer of the show, and had known both Billy and Julie pre-Difficult People. She obviously had known Billy from Parks and Rec, and Julie was a performer at UCB, the improv company Amy co-founded. We know Amy has already hit it out of the ballpark as an executive producer of Broad City, and while I admittedly don’t think Difficult People is as strong as Abbi & Ilana’s masterpiece, Amy still stands behind the show 100%. So I do too. She’s said of Difficult People, “I would binge-watch the shit out of this show if I weren’t involved with it.”

For A Dollar…

Billy Eichner first came into the comedy world with a Funny or Die webseries called Billy on the Street, which eventually led to his TV show on TruTV. At some point during his TV show, he got hired as the boisterous (and not too far off from his Billy on the Street character) Craig Middlebrooks on Parks and Rec. His alter ego Billy on Difficult People is somewhere in between Billy on the Street and Billy Eichner IRL, but all equally hilarious.

Hulu’s 30 Rock of Cameos

The recurring characters on the show are worth it alone – Gabourey Sidibe as a waitress at the restaurant Billy works at, Rachel Dratch as a customer at said restaurant, and the glorious Andrea Martin as Julie’s psychologist mother. Then there’s the season one guest stars who you are pleased to see come across your screen, such as a weird Seth Meyers and magician Kate McKinnon. For the second season, they got some pretty heavy hitters, including Tina Fey and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Need I say more?

Pop Culture Refs

I love a good pop culture reference. It’s 90% of my daily conversation. There are enough pop culture references in Difficult People that would rival Gilmore Girls. And Gilmore Girls had literal booklets in their DVD sets explaining what all the refs were. Julie (a Real Housewives of New York recapper – a job she really had for Vulture) and Billy (an aspiring actor) are the same, and their interactions with each other are based on their love for celebrities. At one point, Julie tells Billy at an Oscars party, “There was a small earthquake in L.A., but don’t worry: Emmy Rossum is fine.” I mean, thank GOD.

Your Emotions On Screen

One point of contention not all people may enjoy about the show is that Billy and Julie aren’t afraid to speak their minds and ruffle some feathers. They are at times brash, a little too honest, but entirely self-aware. Is this a good thing? Who knows. Is it what you’re probably thinking inside but too afraid to say outloud? Yes.

Shows You Should Be Watching If You Aren’t Already: Moone Boy

As we’ve mentioned, summer is the perfect time to start up a new tv series, since you have plenty of time to catch up on episodes before the new season starts. I just wrapped up Orphan Black (watch it!) and Hulu was promo-ing the heck out of Moone Boy, so I figured why not?

If you’re not already, you should be watching this show. It’s the perfect light summer tv fare – like the sitcom version of strawberry shortcake, but made with more of a biscuit base so it’s not TOO sweet. Let’s review:

This show is about Martin (David Rawle), a 12-year-old boy growing up in Ireland with his parents, older sisters, and imaginary friend. Yes, an imaginary friend, who actually appears on screen and is an adult man. This sounds horribly twee, but it really isn’t. The reason? Kids having imaginary friends isn’t cute to begin with. It’s weird and kind of creepy. One of my nephews has a whole gaggle of imaginary friends. He can tell you their birth dates, the age they were at any given year, their eerily realistic-sounding life stories (Sara got married when she was 17, but got divorced in 1979). None of the details ever waver.

Guys, I think my nephew sees ghosts.

At any rate, the imaginary friend thing isn’t too cutesy, which was my main concern.

Imaginary man aside, this show is refreshingly realistic, and that’s what I like about it. If you watch a lot of shows from Ireland or the UK, you already know that the actors are a lot more … plausible-looking than they are in US television. The kid looks like a regular awkward kid and his sisters look like regular, awkward teens:

The family interactions are lifelike, too – thanks to a great cast and solid writing. Like, Martin’s dad Liam confronts the school bullies’ dad. In most shows, he’d this big hulking dude who would intimidate Liam. Instead, this man instantly agrees that his kids are the worst, and the dads commiserate about how they can’t stand their own children sometimes. When the local women campaign for Mary Robinson’s presidential race, they have feminist motives but also just really like her haircut.

If the Mary Robinson reference didn’t tip you off, Moone Boy is an early ’90s period piece. It’s odd that my childhood is now distant yesteryear in TV-land, but it’s pretty fun to see the fashions and home furnishings of the day. Granted, I’m American, so my main point of reference for the Ireland of 1990 is this kid Paul who used to stay with my cousins every summer. It was some kind of American family/ child of NRA prisoner exchange program. Nice kid.

The really embarrassing thing is it took until the second episode for me to realize that the show was set 23 years ago. With God as my witness, I just thought that maybe people abroad were still really into Dynasty. Sorry, Ireland — it’s not that I think that you’re permanently stuck in 1990. It’s that I am.

Maybe you still aren’t sold, so I’ll pull out the last big draw. The imaginary friend, Sean Murphy? He’s played by the wonderful Chris O’Dowd, who you’ll know from Bridesmaids, Friends With Kids, and Girls. Also apparently Monsters vs Aliens, but we don’t need to dwell on that.

But we CAN dwell on Chris O’Dowd, who is kind of oddly appealing.

If you’re looking for a funny but not too fluffy show to add to your summer schedule, this is it. New episodes are posted on hulu.com every Wednesday, and the first two are up now, unless you have Hulu plus – you lucky folks can watch the whole series. However, like imaginary friends, Hulu Plus users may not actually exist, because I’ve never met one yet.