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The 7 best new TV dramas of the fall

From sugar plantations to Wild West theme parks, the fall’s best dramas are a wide-ranging lot.

Queen Sugar
Queen Sugar is our pick for the best new drama of the fall.
OWN

It’s the best fall for new TV shows in years, packed with loads of promising series that offer up new twists on old formulas, wildly inventive ideas, and breakout stars in the making.

But that’s a little more true of comedy than drama. When we ranked all of the new shows this season, our top 10 was dominated by comedies, with just three dramas cracking the top 10. And yet all three are worth adding to your DVR or streaming queue. And if you look beyond the top 10, you’ll find even more intriguing series worth watching. Here are our top seven new dramas of the year.

(You can check out our full rankings of 43 new fall TV shows here.)

7) Westworld (HBO)

Debuts: Sunday, October 2, at 9 pm on HBO

Some of the folks who brought you CBS’ criminally underrated Person of Interest revamp the early ’70s sci-fi film about a theme park overrun with killer robots. Only they’re telling the story from the point of view of the robots — which are slowly awakening to the fact that they are essentially created to be used and abused by the theme park’s visitors.

The series’ first two episodes feel a bit as if they’re waiting for the real fun to begin, but as a robot slowly waking up to herself, Evan Rachel Wood is tremendous.

6) This Is Us (NBC)

Debuted: Tuesday, September 20, at 10 pm on NBC. Moves to Tuesdays at 9 pm on October 11.

Four people who share the same birthday — in that they’re all turning 36 on the same day — share a surprising connection (no spoilers!) in a series that aims for warm and winning and occasionally gets there.

The rest of the time it’s corny as hell, but thanks to a solid cast and good writing, it should find its way to its best self if given enough time. A low-key drama like this hasn’t really been a big hit in … ever, but the series’ trailer has been viewed 64 million times on Facebook — and the ratings for its pilot were promising — so maybe this is the one.

5) Luke Cage (Netflix)

Debuts: Friday, September 30, on Netflix

The next entry in Netflix’s rapidly expanding corner of the Marvel universe throws Luke Cage (Mike Colter) into his own distinctive story, after his introduction on 2015’s Jessica Jones. As helmed by Southland’s Cheo Hodari Coker, Luke Cage dives into Luke’s side of the story by way of its Harlem setting, from its barbershops and jazz clubs to the dark alleyways where the bulletproof vigilante corners bad guys.

The show is slow going at first, but its distinctive gold-drenched lighting, commitment to telling a story about a specifically black superhero, and strong performances from Colter as Cage and Alfre Woodard as a morally ambiguous local politician help set it apart from anything else Marvel’s put out so far.

4) Designated Survivor (ABC)

Debuted: Wednesday, September 21, at 10 pm on ABC

Kiefer Sutherland — he of action hero stardom on 24 — sets down the guns and puts on a pair of glasses to play an unlikely president; surprisingly, it works, thanks to Sutherland’s underrated acting talents.

On Designated Survivor, he’s the secretary of housing and urban development who is thrust into the presidency when a bomb hits the US Capitol during the State of the Union address, killing almost the entire government. The stuff where the Kief cosplays The West Wing is riveting; the investigation into who was behind the bombing is less so.

3) The Crown (Netflix)

Debuts: Friday, November 4, on Netflix

Queen Elizabeth II has had quite the life, and this new series from acclaimed screenwriter Peter Morgan (who checked in on her earlier in the Oscar-winning film The Queen) attempts to trace her life from shortly before she became queen to the present.

It’s an ambitious plan, but in The Crown’s earliest hours, the series offers the sort of sumptuous visuals and restrained performances that films made from Morgan’s scripts are often known for. It’s too early to tell, but this feels like something that could win every Emmy in existence. (This is both a good and bad thing.)

2) Pitch (Fox)

Debuted: Thursday, September 22, at 9 pm on Fox

The best broadcast network drama pilot of the fall opens this cheesy series about the first woman to join Major League Baseball, as a pitcher with a wicked screwball.

Cheese would normally be a demerit, but a few genres can tolerate high levels of it, and the sports drama is absolutely one of them. As the pitcher, Kylie Bunbury nails every aspect of a tricky situation, while Mark Paul Gosselaar is terrific as the industry vet you just know will take the kid under his wing. Feel-good TV sometimes gets a bad rap; hopefully, Pitch will change that.

1) Queen Sugar (OWN)

Debuted: Tuesday, September 6, on OWN

TV doesn’t get much more lush than Queen Sugar, OWN’s sweeping new drama from Selma director Ava DuVernay. Inspired by Natalie Baszile’s novel of the same name, the series tells the story of a Louisiana family struggling to not only keep itself together after the death of the patriarch, but also maintain the endangered sugar plantation he left behind.

DuVernay — who directed the first two episodes — has a keen eye for both atmosphere and talent, and the combination of her direction and incredible performances from Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, and Kofi Siriboe as the three siblings make Queen Sugar one of the fall’s most promising new offerings.

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