Tune in to the best of 2015 TV

Alternate England: Magic is real in the BBC series 'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell'

Alternate England: Magic is real in the BBC series 'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell'

There was an abundance of great television productions in 2014, including newcomers and new seasons of True Detective, Orange is the New Black and Homeland, among others. But there’s always the promise of something better on the horizon, and there are some fascinating new shows in store for this year — from comedies to historical dramas, and even a Western-themed sci-fi thriller. Here are a few shows viewers can look forward to:

Marco Polo (Netflix)  
For centuries, Westerners have been writing stories about encounters between their own societies and the exotic Far East.
The latest example is Marco Polo, a new original series that will tell the story of the famous Venetian explorer and his exploits in the imperial court of Kublai Khan.

With its combination of sex, violence and palace politics, Marco Polo clearly wants to be thought of as a Chinese-themed version of Game of Thrones — except, of course, that it’s nominally based on true events. Judging from the trailers, the series looks to be impressively detailed and huge in scope. If it avoids the temptations of crude Orientalism and treats its subject matter with subtlety, it could be extremely good.

Better Call Saul (AMC) 
Television spin-offs — even spin-offs of shows that are brilliant and critically acclaimed — tend to be disappointing. (Does anyone remember Caprica? I certainly hope not.) Still, if anyone deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt, it is surely the creators of Breaking Bad, which is considered by many smart and serious cultural critics to be the best television series ever made.

Better Call Saul takes place six years prior to the events of Breaking Bad, and will tell the original story of that show’s archetypal sleazy lawyer, Saul Goodman. The biggest question is whether the series will be able to transcend the source material and develop its own identity, but it seems foolish to bet against it.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) 
There are many good reasons to look forward to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but all of them ultimately come down to the fact that Tina Fey is awesome. Over the past decade, Fey has built up a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most perceptive comedians of her generation. Her newest series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, stars Ellie Kemper as a young woman who is rescued from an ascetic religious cult and introduced to modern society. The series was originally created for NBC, but was sold to Netflix after executives presumably decided it was too weird for free-to-air television. That can only be a good sign.

Westworld (HBO) 
If I were in charge of programming for a cash-rich cable channel that was looking for old movies to remake, I’m not sure my first choice would be Westworld. The 1978 film, directed by Michael Crichton, tells the story of a futuristic theme park that goes haywire and starts killing its guests. (Crichton later plagiarised himself when he wrote Jurassic Park.) The original film is scary and cool, but the storyline is simple and not obviously suited to television. Nevertheless, HBO has decided to remake it, and the amount of money and talent they’ve attached to the project is staggering.

Jonathan Nolan, who wrote the screenplay for Interstellar, has created the pilot, and the series will star Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris. Everything we’ve heard about Westworld so far sounds incredibly promising; it could easily emerge as this year’s equivalent of True Detective.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (BBC) 
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a coming BBC adaption of the best-selling book by Susanna Clarke. The book is dense and meandering, but also strangely delightful. It is set in an alternate version of 19th-century England, in which magic is real,and magicians are full participants in the dusty nationalism and political squabbling of the era. 

The BBC’s version should be well positioned to capture the best thing about the book, which is the way that it combines magic and fantasy with Austenesque reflections on the absurdities of everyday life. If it goes well, the series could play out like an alternative-universe version of Downton Abbey that is more fantastical and more political. That could be a wonderful thing indeed.

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