7 New Netflix Shows in October 2020, and the Best Reasons to Watch

1. “The Haunting of Bly Manor” (available Friday, October 9)

Why Should I Watch? After racking up a horror resume filled with films like “Absentia,” “Hush,” and “Before I Wake,” Mike Flanagan’s brand of fright broke out in a big way with “The Haunting of Hill House,” a character-driven spin on haunted house stories that spread its spooky tale over 10 unnerving episodes. Netflix subscribers lit up for the eerie tale (even before Flanagan’s “Shining” sequel “Doctor Sleep” hit theaters), and now Flanagan & Co. are back with a pseudo-sequel: “The Haunting of Bly Manor” tells its own story with many of the same cast members from “Hill House” returning in new roles. Saying too much would risk spoiling the slow-burn discovery inherent to Flanagan’s storytelling, but for those wanting a framework, “Bly Manor” is loosely inspired by Henry James’ 1898 novella “The Turn of the Screw.” For more…

Bonus Reason: Per Netflix, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” is set in 1980s England and picks up after an au pair’s tragic death, when Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) hires a young American nanny (Victoria Pedretti) to care for his orphaned niece and nephew (Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who reside at Bly Manor with the estate’s chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve) and housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller). Of course, this is no ordinary manor. Centuries old and filled with ghosts, Bly Manor starts to bring out secrets old and new as the Wingrave family attempt to settle in. The official synopsis calls the new season “a chilling gothic romance,” so plan your Halloween viewing accordingly.

2. “The Queen’s Gambit” (available Friday, October 23)

Anya Taylor-Joy in “The Queen’s Gambit”

Phil Bray / Netflix

Why Should I Watch? There are three primary reasons to watch “The Queen’s Gambit,” a limited series based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel, and we’ll start with what’s arguably the most obvious: Anya Taylor-Joy. Starring as an orphaned chess prodigy who becomes addicted to tranquilizers, the actress best known for “Split” and “Peaky Blinders” (but whose best work appears in “The Witch” and “Thoroughbreds”) is reason enough to watch just about anything this side of “The New Mutants.” (Stay at home, people.) But her leading role here is filled with juicy challenges, and watching her ’50s outcast go knight-to-rook with rich boys should be an easy source of entertainment — even via literal chess matches.

Bonus Reason: Reason No. 2 arrives in writer-director Scott Frank, whose last Netflix limited series was the excellent western “Godless.” As the screenwriter behind “Logan,” “Out of Sight,” “Minority Report,” and “Get Shorty” before that, Frank’s wide-ranging resume speaks for itself, and seeing the engaging flourishes he put on his TV western — which, in the wrong hands, can prove quite stuffy — gives reason to believe he can make an equally lively romp out of two people sitting stationary save for the intermittent movement of tiny wooden objects. OK, OK, so what’s Reason No. 3? Simple: Bill Camp. Bill Camp is great. Bill Camp makes everything he does better. Bill Camp is in “The Queen’s Gambit,” so now I shall watch to see what wonderful little chuckles, glares, and turns of phrase he’ll create this time.

3. “The Unicorn” (available now)

The Unicorn cast CBS Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins , Omar Miller, Maya Lynne Robinson

Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Omar Miller, and Maya Lynne Robinson in “The Unicorn”

Michael Yarish/CBS

Why Should I Watch? As the age of Comfort TV overtakes the Prestige TV era, now is the time to look for simple pleasures. So may I steer you toward one of the few good comedies to come out of CBS? “The Unicorn,” an unfortunately titled but thoroughly enjoyable half-hour sitcom, focuses on Wade Felton (Walton Goggins), a widower with two daughters who’s trying to get his life back on track with the help of his amiable friends, Forrest (Rob Corddry), Ben (Omar Benson Miller), Delia (Michaela Watkins), and Michelle (Maya Lynne Robinson). (The title comes from an early description of his appeal to potential partners: Wade is a “unicorn” because he’s over 40, handsome, and not divorced.) Like many easygoing, low-stakes series, “The Unicorn” relies on its cast to provide much of the laid back charm necessary to keep audiences hooked, and this cast has charm to spare. Speaking of…

Bonus Reason: Honestly, there were more than a few moments during Season 1 when I wished “The Unicorn” was even more of a traditional sitcom, where Rob Corddry and Michaela Watkins were the lead couple and Goggins showed up in support as their manic, needy neighbor. Not only would that better utilize the “Righteous Gemstones” star’s oddball comic stylings, but it would give Watkins and Corddry more time to shine. Now, it’s natural to want bigger story arcs for supporting stars, and often that’s just a result of them doing their jobs really, really well (rather than spotting characters who are built to carry a show). But the former “Casual” lead proved she’s more than capable of handling A-story duties, Corddry has long been a key supporting cast member who’s ready for more, and their couple’s Season 1 arcs could easily be slightly repositioned to carry the show. This is just one idea. “The Unicorn” has the cast chemistry needed to last another season or two, but it needs a few tweaks to the structure and tone if it’s going to meet its full potential: Is this a show for the full family, or a show for adults with kids? If Wade is the “good guy” straight man, then should his friends be up to crazier shenanigans than setting him up on dates and learning how to have a constructive argument? Don’t get me wrong: “The Unicorn” is a good, easy binge. But that doesn’t mean it can’t sharpen a few edges and form something truly unique.

4. “Schitt’s Creek” Season 6 (available now)

"Schitt's Creek"

Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy in “Schitt’s Creek”

Pop TV

Why Should I Watch? Speaking of Comfort TV, here’s the prime example of airy comedies’ newfound TV dominance: “Schitt’s Creek.” Fresh off its Primetime Emmys sweep of the Comedy categories, the final season of PopTV’s Canadian import is set to debut on the platform that elevated it from Unknownsville denizen to Hollywood titan. Yes, Eugene Levy and Son’s “rich folks in a poor town” tale is exemplary for a number of things — mainly, exploiting the world’s love for Catherine O’Hara and reminding everyone that nepotism in entertainment knows no border — but it’s most notable skill is being bland. The pace is meandering, the jokes are repetitious, and the subject matter pushes as few buttons as possible (unless you count offending anyone who’s proud of their small town roots, which no one does). “Schitt’s Creek” isn’t trying to evoke significant reactions, whether that means howling laughter or reassessing one’s outlook on the wealthy. It’s simply there, on Netflix, ready to be consumed after a single click. Twenty-eight hours of light comedy is not without value; in fact, in a time of ever-mounting stress, it could be more valuable than ever — more valuable, even, than shows that stand for something.

Bonus Reason: Catherine O’Hara really does deserve all our love, and as the wig-touting, high-voiced Moira Rose, she manages to toe the line between a farcical sketch and muted mother figure with her typical agility. Is this her best character? No. Is it deft acting? Absolutely.

5. “Social Distance” (available Thursday, October 15)

SOCIAL DISTANCE (L to R) BECKY ANN BAKER as CAROLYN CURRIER, RAYMOND ANTHONY THOMAS as PETER, MARCIA DEBONIS as LINDA, and DYLAN BAKER as NEIL CURRIER in episode 106 of SOCIAL DISTANCE Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2020

“Social Distance”

Courtesy of Netflix

Why Should I Watch? Hoo boy, great question. “Social Distance” is an episodic anthology series set in the initial months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and each episode will tell a new story of the struggle to stay connected despite being physically isolated. Episodes were produced remotely, so many scenes are based around characters talking direct-to-camera, via Zoom calls or Facetime conversations, and here’s where the series’ real hook lies: Before shooting standards were agreed upon and safety measures implemented, Hollywood was desperately trying to figure out new ways to produce TV under lockdown. Shows like “Social Distance,” HBO’s “Coastal Elites,” and NBC’s “Connecting…” all test the limits of what audiences demand from their scripted TV: Do they need dynamic direction? Grand scale? Large ensembles in the same room? Or, more simply put, can people stomach watching scripted Zoom calls as entertainment, during a time when we’re all on too many Zoom calls already? With more traditional production ramping back up, odds are we won’t see too many more shows like this one — but if they hit, at least Hollywood has an “in case of emergency” option at the ready.

Bonus Reason: Considering “Social Distance” is essentially trying to capture the essence of a global event as it’s happening, rather than waiting to gain any perspective after the fact, odds of gleaning new, relevant catharsis from the eight upcoming episodes seems low. But Mike Colter is in this. And Mike Colter is a good dude. In fact, let’s just skip to the next show on the list.

6. “Evil” Season 1 (available now)

Why Should I Watch? Preeminent IndieWire “Evil” scholar Steve Greene has assured me that, despite a less than inspiring premise, the latest CBS procedural from Robert and Michelle King is much more in line with the Kings’ great work than their network’s otherwise bland fare. Like a gritty, modern “X-Files” reboot, “Evil” follows a scientific skeptic and faith-fueled seminarian who join forces to investigate supernatural incidents. But what could easily be silly or redundant instead proves to be chilling and thoughtful, as the Kings guide their episodic exploration of evil itself through a tonal minefield and come out more than unscathed; it’s got depth, charm, and it’s, you know, all-around pretty darn good. Really. A show called “Evil.” I know, I know, but we must keep the faith in Mr. Greene.

Bonus Reason: Mike Colter! Yes, Netflix subscribers are getting double the dose of their favorite former Luke Cage, which is something to be thankful for right there! But “Evil” also stars the great, too-oft-unsung Katja Herbers. The Dutch actor is perhaps best known for key roles in WGN America’s “Manhattan” and HBO’s “Westworld,” but she has literally elevated everything she’s been in — and that’s saying something considering she’s in two of the 21st century’s Top 10 dramas, “The Leftovers” and “The Americans.” Herbers is a nuanced and precise performer, able to make difficult tonal pivots appear effortless, and that skill is critical to making something like “Evil” come together so well. Watch for her! Watch for him! Watch for the Kings! But this “Halloween,” try out “Evil.” It’s got something for everyone.

7. “Grand Army” (available Friday, October 16)

GRAND ARMY (L to R) AMALIA YOO as LEILA ZIMMER in episode 101 of GRAND ARMY. Cr. JASPER SAVAGE/NETFLIX © 2020

Amalia Yoo in “Grand Army”

Jasper Savage / Netflix

Why Should I Watch? The verdict is still out on this one, so we’re going to change up the format a bit. Instead of giving you two reasons to consider “Grand Army,” I’m going to give you what you need to know about the show itself, and what you should probably know about its behind-the-scenes creation. “Grand Army” is based on Katie Cappiello’s 2013 play simply titled “Slut: The Play.” While the play primarily focused on one 16-year-old girl’s traumatizing experience with slut-shaming, slut culture, and rape culture, the series expands its focus to include issues of racial justice, school shootings, and more problems facing modern teenagers. It also sees an expanded cast, now featuring five lead characters who all attend the largest public high school in Brooklyn.

Why Should I Not Watch? On the day Netflix dropped the first trailer for “Grand Army,” writer Ming Peiffer posted on Twitter that she and two other writers of color on the series were forced to quit “due to racist exploitation and abuse.” Peiffer stated in follow-up posts that Netflix was aware of the issues in the writers’ room, which stemmed from the series’ showrunner refusing to listen to writers of color voicing concerns about how characters of color were being represented in the series. Complaints targeted an unidentified Black writer on the show, who was asked to turn one Black character’s storyline into “poverty porn” and was later reported to Netflix HR for getting a haircut (all per Peiffer’s tweets). IndieWire has reached out to Peiffer and Netflix for further comment, but until further clarity can be provided, it’s only fair to approach the series with caution. Shows meant to educate audiences over cultural prejudices do not typically exhibit those prejudices in real life.

The Rest of Incoming TV

“Bakugan: Armored Alliance” Season 2 (available on October 1)
“Carmen Sandiego” Season 3 (available now)
“Code Lyoke” Seasons 1-4 (available now)
“Familiar Wife” Season 1 (available now)
“Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma: The Second Plate” (available now)
“Good Morning, Veronica” Season 1 (available now)
“Oktoberfest: Beer & Blood” (available now)
“The Parkers” Seasons 1-5 (available now)
“The Worst Witch” Season 4 (available now)
“You Cannot Hide” Season 1 (available now)
“Emily in Paris” Season 1 (available now)
“Song Exploder” (available now)
“Deaf U” (available October 9)
“Fast and Furious Spy Racers: Rio” Season 2 (available October 9)
“Kipo and the Age of the Wilderbeasts” Season 3 (available October 12)
“Half & Half” Seasons 1-4 (available October 15)
“One on One” Seasons 1-5 (available October 15)
“Power Rangers Beast Morphers” Season 2, Part 1 (available October 15)
“La Revolution” Season 1 (available October 16)
“The Last Kids on Earth” Book 3 (available October 16)
“Unsolved Mysteries” Volume 2 (available October 19)
“My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman” Season 3 (available October 21)
“Somebody Feed Phil” Season 4 (available October 30)
“Suburra” Season 3 (available October 30)

[ more ]