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2017 pop culture preview: Guardians of the Galaxy 2, The Handmaid’s Tale, and 21 more to look forward to

Including the return of Twin Peaks and a musical version of Groundhog Day.

Twin Peaks
Showtime is taking TV fans back to Twin Peaks for the first time since the 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

If you’re like the vast majority of culture fans, you probably still have plenty of 2016 pop culture left to check out.

But look sharp — 2017 is here, and it’s bringing everything from a sequel to one of the biggest movies of all time to a TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale.

Here are 23 projects slated for this year that we can't help but look forward to.

Note: Release dates could shift, so don’t take them as gospel.

Taboo (January 7; January 10 in the US)

Taboo is Tom Hardy’s vanity project, but since this is Tom Hardy we’re talking about, it’s like no other vanity project you’ve ever seen — a weird, gothic, high-profile, star-powered BBC period drama scripted by Hardy’s own father Edward “Chips” Hardy, a writer of repute in the home country. The plot centers on West African blood diamonds, a presumed dead prodigal son returning home, and land grabs by greedy London speculators — and apparently there’s a supernatural element, too. So far, Taboo promises to be a reflection of Tom Hardy himself — which means it’s either going to be one of the most brilliant things we’ve ever seen or one of the most hypnotically, weirdly incoherent. If we’re lucky, it’ll land somewhere in the middle.

Legion (February 8)

Yes, Legion is yet another adaptation of a Marvel comic book, but it’s safe to say that Legion won’t be like any other superhero show or movie out there. This FX spin on an X-Men comic follows the surreal and twisted life of David (Dan Stevens) as he slowly realizes that his schizophrenia diagnosis may have been hiding a powerful mutation — and the superpowers to go with it — all along. In the hands of FX and Fargo creator Noah Hawley, Legion has plenty of potential to go around.

Big Little Lies (February 19)

On the one hand, HBO’s adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s 2014 novel will be another take on the well-worn “picture perfect suburban life has real darkness” trope. On the other, Little Big Lies has enlisted a cadre of ferociously talented actors — including Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Laura Dern — to bring that trope to life. So we’re excited to see what Big Little Lies has to offer; the prospect of watching Kidman, Witherspoon, and Dern rip into rich material alongside each other is just too good to resist.

Get Out (February 24)

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in Stepford hardly sounds like a recipe for quality horror, but as scripted and directed by Key and Peele’s Jordan Peele, Get Out seems like a completely necessary, incisive contribution to the woefully white landscape of modern horror. Daniel Kaluuya plays the main character, a black man fighting for his life in a town full of rich, racist white people who seem to have creepily hypnotized every person of color in the vicinity into a form of robotic servility. The trailer is creepy as hell. We have no idea what’s going on, but we can’t wait to find out.

Whitney Biennial 2017 (March 17 through June 11)

Every other year, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City puts on its Biennial, which acts as a survey of contemporary art in America. The compendium ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, but it’s rarely boring, with artists who work in media ranging from painting and sculpture to soundscapes, film, and performance art. Perhaps what’s most easy to love about the Biennial, however, is how often it picks up and coming participants, making it all the easier to be reminded anew how much vitality and urgency exists in American art.

Untitled Serial spinoff (March)

At November’s Third Coast podcast fest in Chicago, Serial co-creator and executive producer Julie Snyder quietly dropped news of a fascinating new series coming from This American Life in March. The untitled series, as reported by Current and multiple conference attendees, is being hailed as a Serial “spinoff” and will be an “arty” and “novelistic” seven-part podcast reported by TAL producer Brian Reed. The story will follow a small-town Southerner who, according to Snyder, “despises the Alabama town he’s lived in his entire life and tries to do something about it.” The something apparently involves a murder investigation, small-town feuds, parallel stories, and a “hunt for hidden treasure.” Mystery Show’s Starlee Kine consulted on the show’s story structure, but Snyder remained tight-lipped about its final form.

Sylvan Esso’s new album (first quarter 2017)

Since their 2014 self-titled release, Sylvan Esso has mesmerized fans with a combination of sweet and silky vocals and intricate beats crafted around them. Singer Amelia Meath, previously of the pure-folk a cappella group Mountain Man, has the soaring vocal chops to make Sylvan Esso’s strain of pop music feel unique, while her partner Nick Sanborn, of psych-pop band Megafaun, sweats over his synthesizers to make each beat feel intentional. They’ve already released two singles (“Radio” and “Kick Jump Twist”) from their upcoming untitled new album, and, after almost three years since their last release, fans can’t wait for the rest.

The Handmaid’s Tale (April 26)

The Handmaid’s Tale
Elisabeth Moss stars in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Hulu has yet to launch a truly terrible original series — but it also has yet to launch a truly essential original series. That might change with this adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel about an America where birth rates plummet, the old system collapses, and a fundamentalist Christian theocracy rises up to subjugate the handful of fertile women left. The novel has regularly been called “eerily timely!” since it was first published in 1985, but it’s, uh, eerily timely in 2017, and with Elisabeth Moss in the series’ central role, it will at least have the presence of one of today’s finest actors going for it. We’ve seen one episode, and all signs point to the project being one to watch.

American Gods (April)

Starz’s upcoming new series American Gods has an enviable pedigree. It’s based on the sprawling, mythic road trip novel of the same name by geek royalty Neil Gaiman. It’s helmed by Bryan Fuller — who brought us the beautifully dark Hannibal and the darkly beautiful Pushing Daisies and Michael Green, of the little-watched but much-beloved Kings. It stars Deadwood’s Ian McShane. None of that would matter if American Gods didn’t have a good story to tell — but American Gods has a great story, about how centuries’ worth of immigrants have brought their gods to America, and what happens to those gods once they’re abandoned.

Groundhog Day, the musical (April)

Groundhog Day is such a perfect movie that no less a Broadway guru than Stephen Sondheim abandoned his attempts to turn it into a musical. But stepping in to fill Sondheim’s shoes is acclaimed Australian composer/lyricist Tim Minchin, whose adaptation of Matilda turned out to be one of the wittiest, sharpest, and most human musicals Broadway has played host to in decades. With Matilda closing on January 1, Groundhog Day, which received raves when it previewed in London, is set to take its place as the next crowd-pleasing-yet-surprisingly-intellectual adaptation Broadway doesn’t deserve.

The Leftovers final season (April)

The second season of the HBO drama The Leftovers, which finished in December 2015, left more questions open than it answered. The third and final season of the critically acclaimed drama — which is set in a world where a Rapture-like event occurred years earlier and explores grief, belief, and doubt better than any other show currently airing — is set to premiere in April 2017. Once again, this season features a location change, as new and returning cast members decamp for Australia. It seems against the show’s nature to suggest we’ll get all our questions answered, but that won’t keep anyone from hoping and watching.

Jon Latham’s sophomore album, Lifers (April)

For anyone who’s ever wanted to get the hell out of Tennessee, Latham’s 2015 debut country album Real Bad News was a laid back yet longing, wry yet effortlessly sincere reminder that stifling conditions often produce the best art. His sophomore album promises to deliver more of his addictive, poignant songwriting about family ties and the struggle to love the heartland that made his debut a critical success.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5) and Star Wars: Episode VIII (December 15)

Both 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy and 2015’s Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens had fans clamoring for sequels more or less the moment their credits started to roll. That anticipation will be met in 2017 by two space-set sequels that are bound to be among the year’s most-seen (and, we can only hope, most entertaining) movies.

The odds seem good for both: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sees writer-director James Gunn returning to the Marvel property he turned into a surprise blockbuster through a witty screenplay, excellent cast, and visually distinctive (by Marvel standards, anyway) outer-space setting. All the elements that made the first Guardians the biggest and best surprise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe seem to be in place for the sequel, along with a continuation of the “mixtape” musical concept that made the first film so sonically memorable.

Star Wars: Episode VIII, meanwhile, brings in Looper director Rian Johnson to continue what J.J. Abrams began with Force Awakens. Johnson’s a bit of an X-factor here, having never helmed a production of this size or cultural stature. (He did direct some of Breaking Bad’s best episodes, though.) But with the entire Force Awakens cast returning — including the late Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa — and decades of fandom both behind the camera and in the theaters, there’s no galaxy in which Episode VIII won’t count as a major event.

The Refrigerator Monologues (June 6)

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente Saga Press

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the greatest pieces of pop culture of the past 25 years, was born out of the desire to give a voice and agency back to the horror movie archetype of the blonde girl who usually dies first. The Refrigerator Monologues aims to do the same — in graphic novel form — for the archetype of the woman in the refrigerator, who dies to motivate her boyfriend or son or father in superhero stories. (Think Gwen Stacy in Spiderman.) If anyone can rise to this challenge, it’s Catherynne M. Valente, the author of consistently gorgeous, voice-driven fantasy novels like Deathless or Six-Gun Snow White.

The Beguiled (June 30)

Director Sofia Coppola has a way with stories about young women (The Virgin Suicides) and period pieces (Marie Antoinette) alike. Her upcoming The Beguiled looks to play to both of those strengths. Set during the Civil War, The Beguiled is based on a book (and an earlier 1971 film adaptation) about a wounded Union Soldier (played here by Colin Farrell) taken in by the residents of an all-girl boarding school in rural Mississippi. To say emotional complications ensue would be putting it delicately. Coppola’s Beguiled boarding school is populated by some of her regular favorites — Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst — as well as some intriguing up-and-comers (The Nice Guys’ Angourie Rice and Pete’s Dragon’s Oona Laurence). But most exciting might be Nicole Kidman in a role she seems born to play — that of the school’s fearsome headmistress. Expect lots of gorgeous visuals undercut by loads of murky emotional drama.

War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14)

The latest Apes trilogy — begun in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and continuing in 2014 with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — reaches the ultimate battle between man and ape. This series has bucked a number of trends, from prequel series typically being wastes of time to cash-grab revivals of franchises thought to be dead usually falling flat. The first two Apes movies were surprisingly stark, soulful popcorn films about the dawning of a revolutionary. War should see what happens when that revolutionary goes into battle, and it features Woody Harrelson. We have high hopes.

Baby Driver (August 11)

When Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End director Edgar Wright suddenly parted ways with Marvel’s Ant-Man over supposed creative differences back in 2014, lovers of Wright’s irreverent, kinetic style were both dismayed and instantly curious what the director would set his creative lens on once freed from the Marvel machine. The answer turned out to be Baby Driver, a crime thriller starring Ansel Elgort as a getaway-driver-for-hire who works with a variety of presumably colorful and varying degrees of inept bank robbers. Wright has described the film as an action movie “powered by music,” with Elgort’s character depending on a constant soundtrack in his headphones to drown out the tinnitus from which he suffers. Wright is a notorious music-obsessive, so this bodes well for Baby Driver — and if that doesn’t do it for you, maybe the promise of Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx as bank robbers and Kevin Spacey as a crime boss will get you pumped.

Blade Runner 2049 (October 6)

Okay, maybe we don’t need another Blade Runner. But let’s be real, film traditionalists: When faced with the prospect of watching Ryan Gosling streak across the dystopian desert as a bounty hunter under the skilled and watchful lens of Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve, are you really going to be able to look away?

Coco (November 22)

This concept art shows off the style of Coco.

Pixar, one of the most creatively vital forces in the film industry of the 2000s, has mostly spent the 2010s making sequels to its prior hits (five in total, counting the upcoming Cars 3). Some of those sequels have been amazing (Toy Story 3), while some have been Cars 2. But it’s a little sad to watch a studio so renowned for its vibrant, original ideas returning to old wells so often. That’s why it’s so exciting that, in 2017, Pixar will release its fourth original film of the decade with Coco, a story inspired by the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead. Most promising of all is that the film’s director is Toy Story 3 helmer Lee Unkrich.

Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson fashion project (fall)

The last time director Paul Thomas Anderson collaborated with Daniel Day-Lewis, the year was 2007, and the result was There Will Be Blood, an off-the-hook blistering satire about hypocrisy in its myriad forms, especially when it comes to capitalists and clergy. Day-Lewis’s talent for growling scenery-chewing is a perfect match for Anderson’s mix of realism and kookiness. This year, the pair are set to reunite for a drama set in the 1950s London fashion scene. The fact that it’s so hard to even imagine this film means it’s going to be astonishing. We can’t wait.

Fleet Foxes’ new album (no release date)

Fleet Foxes was the will-they, won’t-they band of 2016, with rumors and guesses swirling for months around the impending release of the band’s third full-length LP. The indie folk group dropped off the map after touring 2011’s Helplessness Blues. (DIY has a good roundup of what the band members have been doing since.) But recent Instagram posts by lead singer Robin Pecknold indicate a new album is imminent. The band has several international tour dates this summer, but let’s be real — the tour is immaterial; we’re all really waiting for another beautiful album and more heart-wrenching songs like “Montezuma.” Here’s hoping 2017 will be the year!

Twin Peaks (no release date)

David Lynch and Mark Frost have been teasing the return of their haunting, groundbreaking small-town drama since it was canceled in 1991; for years, the idea of it ever being revived felt like a laughable pipe dream. It felt like even more of one after the 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me disappointed at the box office. Well, in 2017, when everything — and we mean everything — gets its revival sooner or later, Twin Peaks is joining the party. A new miniseries on Showtime boasts Lynch, Frost, and almost all of the show’s entire original cast. TV revivals have a spotty track record, but we’re hopeful this one will at least provide some 100 percent pure-grade weirdness.

Correction: Daniel Kaluuya is the lead of Get Out, not Keith Stanfield. The article has been corrected, and we regret the error.

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