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The best TV of early 2024: Here's what to watch in January

After two long strikes and the pandemic disruption, 2024 is the year everything comes back.<em>  </em>Above, Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in<em> Echo.</em>
Chuck Zlotnick
Marvel Studios
After two long strikes and the pandemic disruption, 2024 is the year everything comes back. Above, Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Echo.

This is the year everything comes back.

That's the sentiment you can practically feel bursting from show business, as we start a new year freed from the shackles of two Hollywood strikes, easing away from compensation conflicts that threatened to hobble most of the country's film and TV industry permanently.

Given everything that's happened so far, it feels like a miracle to note that there are still a fair number of interesting, powerful and compelling TV shows headed our way in 2024 — from the return of one of the most creatively ambitious crime dramas in recent memory, now set in Alaska, to a Marvel series mostly shorn of superheroes that may demonstrate exactly how the MCU should do TV from now on.

Here's a list ticking off the best stuff coming to the small screen in the next few weeks. You can't say you weren't warned.

Echo, Disney+, Jan. 9

Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin and Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios' <em>Echo.</em>
Chuck Zlotnick / Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios
Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin and Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios' Echo.

I know. I'm the one who was optimistic enough to say that dud of a Nick Fury series Secret Invasion might be the answer to Marvel's problems with streaming. But it turns out, Echo's violent, back-to-basics story, starring Alaqua Cox is just what the TV critic ordered.

Here, Cox plays Maya Lopez, also known as Echo, a skilled fighter and gang leader who debuted in Disney+'s Hawkeye series. And this story — in which Lopez is forced to revisit her past after learning Vincent D'Onofrio's Kingpin wanted her father killed – hearkens back to the heyday of Netflix's Daredevil-connected Marvel series, which mostly ditched flying people with capes for a more realistic, gritty style of action. Lopez, like the actor who plays her, is Native American, was born deaf, and wears a prosthetic leg, breaking loads of barriers in representation through one, powerful performance. She has to overcome a lot of assumptions and bridge a lot of different cultures while trying to discover exactly how she is going to make her former mentor pay for orchestrating the death of the person she loved most in the world.

Criminal Record, Apple TV+, Jan. 10

Peter Capaldi and Cush Jumbo in <em>Criminal Record.</em>
/ Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Peter Capaldi and Cush Jumbo in Criminal Record.

Featuring two of my favorite actors – The Good Wife/Good Fight alum Cush Jumbo and former Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi – this series explores in agonizing detail the effort by a young British police detective (Jumbo's June Lenker) to learn if a police task force once led by Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Hegarty (a world-weary Capaldi) may have unfairly imprisoned a Black man years ago for murder. Along the way, we see Lenker forced to question her sensitivities to racism and sexism, while Hegarty fights to protect his legacy and his task force from accusations of corruption and prejudice. Best of all, there are no easy answers in this story, which delivers a delicious cat-and-mouse game between Lenker and Hegarty, with a surprising end.

True Detective: Night Country, HBO and Max, Jan. 14

Kali Reis and Jodie Foster in <em>True Detective: Night Country.</em>
Michele K. Short / HBO
Kali Reis and Jodie Foster in True Detective: Night Country.

Since its groundbreaking first season in 2014 with movie stars Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monaghan, this anthology cop drama has struggled to live up to its potential as a genre shattering, high-end TV show. Fortunately, the new season remedies that problem with a typically excellent Jodie Foster as an irascible chief of police Liz Danvers in remote Ennis, Alaska. She's forced to partner with a state trooper she hates — Evangeline Navarro, an Indigenous woman played by Kali Reis — to solve a mysterious mass murder at a scientific research station.

Series creator Nic Pizzolatto steps aside as showrunner for the first time, allowing Mexican producer and film director Issa Lopez to serve as showrunner, director, and lead writer — crafting a complex, enthralling story centered on women resisting abuse from men, indigenous culture, mental health, mysticism and the odd things which can happen in a town shrouded by darkness for six months.

After Midnight, CBS, Jan. 16

Comic Taylor Tomlinson will host <em>After Midnight.</em>
Ramona Rosales / CBS
Comic Taylor Tomlinson will host After Midnight.

Late night TV stands at a crossroads, with stars like James Corden fleeing the genre as young people increasingly lose interest. I'm not sure if hiringyouthful comic Taylor Tomlinson to host a faux game show centered on Internet culture will help any of that. But this program – a reboot of a former Comedy Central series called @midnight that's replacing Corden's The Late Late Show — might at least offer an alternative. As I write this, critics haven't yet seen the rebooted show, which originally featured a trio of comics joking around while answering a series of questions about Internet culture. With Stephen Colbert and Funny or Die among a lengthy list of executive producers, one thing is certain: they will have few excuses for not bringing the funny.

American Nightmare, Netflix, Jan. 17

Aaron Quinn and Denise Huskins in <em>American Nightmare.</em>
/ Netflix
Aaron Quinn and Denise Huskins in American Nightmare.

This three-episode docuseries is focused on a jarring story: When physical therapist Aaron Quinn called police with a bizarrely outlandish tale, claiming that someone had bound and drugged him and kidnapped his girlfriend Denise Huskins for ransom, the cops assumed what many would – that Quinn was lying to cover up something he had done. But the truth was much darker.

This Netflix docuseries briskly traces the evolution of Quinn's story – including the re-appearance of Huskins a while later, seemingly unharmed – revealing the shocking, terrible consequences when a police department has unacceptable procedures for handling crimes involving relationships and gender violence, choosing easy explanations over believing potential victims.

Masters of the Air, Apple TV+, Jan. 26

Callum Turner and Austin Butler in Masters of the Air.
/ Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Callum Turner and Austin Butler in Masters of the Air.

Between the two of them, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have given us a long list of films and TV shows centered on the valor of American soldiers in World War II. So it makes a certain kind of sense they would return as executive producers on this limited series, which is a kind of Band of Brothers set in the air, depicting the true stories of an American bomber group in the war.

It's a well-produced, at times gorily explicit drama featuring Austin Butler, working a buttery accent only slightly downshifted from his Elvis patois, playing an airman trying to stay alive as U.S. forces face staggering losses while bombing Nazi Germany. At a time when audiences are trying to sort out complicated geopolitical conflicts in real life, Spielberg and Hanks once again offer simpler stories from a time when America was more likely to be considered the unambiguous hero.

Feud: Capote vs. the Swans, FX, Jan. 31

Tom Hollander as Truman Capote in <em>Feud: Capote vs. the Swans.</em>
Pari Dukovic / FX
Tom Hollander as Truman Capote in Feud: Capote vs. the Swans.

It has taken Ryan Murphy nearly seven years to craft a successor to the first season of his Feud anthology series, which debuted in 2017 with a take on the legendary rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. This time, Murphy's taking on author Truman Capote's estrangement from a coterie of wealthy New York City socialites who were his gossipy friends – until he published stories widely recognized to be thinly-veiled accounts of their turbulent personal lives.

The White Lotus alum Tom Hollander excellently reproduces the oddly-thin voice and cheeky mannerisms of mid-1960s-era Capote, who had already written Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood, but was desperate for a new literary triumph while drowning in addictions. With Naomi Watts, Diane Lane, Calista Flockhart and Chloë Sevigny on board, Murphy has packed his cast with big names who are sure to deliver big scenes.

Still catching up on last year? Here's a collection of the best movies and TV of 2023, picked for you by NPR critics.

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<strong><a href="">The best movies and TV of 2023, picked for you by NPR critics</a></strong>
/ Paramount Pictures; MUBI; Sony Pictures; Jour2Fête; Hulu; Apple TV+
Paramount Pictures; MUBI; Sony Pictures; Jour2Fête; Hulu; Apple TV+
The best movies and TV of 2023, picked for you by NPR critics

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.