New year, new TV — that’s what we always say! And with these 11 fresh returning series this month, there’s plenty of it to go around. Whether you feel like scratching that nostalgia itch with Cobra Kai, singing along with Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, or watching your latest binge through your fingers with Servant, January 2021 has all that and more.
What it is: Considering Doctor Who is about nothing less than fantastical adventures through the space-time continuum, it’s difficult to sum up in a sentence or two. Suffice it to say that it follows an alien Time Lord known as the Doctor (who’s been inhabited by a number of actors over the years, and now, for the first time, a woman) and their companions — in the two newest seasons known as “friends.”
Why you should watch it: Doctor Who is making a case for being one of those timeless sci-fi properties that’s earned a devout following akin to Star Wars or Star Trek. The decades-spanning series always finds ways to one-up itself, and with Jodie Whittaker making her grand debut on season 11 as the first female Doctor, there’s never been a better time to jump aboard. Season 12 wrapped after 10 episodes in March 2020, but it’s got one more installment up its sleeve by way of a New Years special (which airs Jan. 1 on BBC America), in which one of the Doctor’s most fearsome enemies is slated to return. Before you watch that, though, we recommend you begin your binge with the 2006 relaunch.
Commitment: Approx. 110 hours (for the first 12 seasons of the relaunch)
What it is: A routine MRI goes awry for the titular Zoey Clarke (Jane Levy) when an earthquake shakes her mind beyond repair. She exits the clinic with the ability to hear people’s innermost thoughts, all communicated through music.
Why you should watch it: Actors don’t come packaged much more charming than Levy, and her skills are put to fabulous use on creator Austin Winsberg’s Emmy-winning series. Flanked by musically gifted co-stars like Pitch Perfect vet Skylar Astin and Glee-turned-Broadway wunderkind Alex Newell — not to mention industry vets Mary Steenburgen, Lauren Graham, and Peter Gallagher — this showstopping series hits all the right notes. Season 2 premieres Jan. 5 on NBC.
Commitment: Approx. 9 hours (for the first season)
What it is: Cobra Kai charts the reopening of The Karate Kid’s infamous Cobra Kai dojo by none other than Johnny Lawrence himself. It makes for a modern-day twist on the classic 1980s film franchise, and now with its new home on Netflix (after an original launch on YouTube Premium), it’s become a runaway hit with fans new and old.
Why you should watch it: Nostalgia has been the name of the game through what has otherwise been an insurmountably difficult year. Luckily, Cobra Kai, from creator Robert Mark Kamen, has it in spades. Featuring committed performances from Karate Kid original players Ralph Macchio as Daniel and William Zabka as Johnny, this reboot feels as comfortable and entertaining as ever, and it’s further brought to life by an ensemble of young actors finding their own footing in the discipline of karate. Season 3 premieres Jan. 1 on Netflix.
Commitment: Approx. 10 hours (for the first two seasons)
What it is: A teen Emily Dickinson was a rebel with gifts and intelligence well beyond her years; Dickinson is the story of how she set out to be the world’s best living poet in ways both unexpected and engrossing.
Why you should watch it: Creator Alena Smith’s hit flagship series with Apple TV+ left us wanting more the minute it started. Why? Well, Dickinson is herself a subject of intrigue, and played by an Oscar nominee like Hailee Steinfeld (who’s also attached as an executive producer), she’s certainly a compelling character. But set to a contemporary soundtrack, sprinkled with millennial-tinged dialogue, and boasting a fast-paced, fantastical, feminist aesthetic that leaves period dramas of yesteryear in its dust, Dickinson is simply unlike anything we’ve seen before — and that’s a good thing. Season 2 premieres Jan. 8 on Apple TV+.
Where to watch it: Apple TV+
Commitment: Approx. 5 hours (for the first season)
What it is: The gods are out to play — and out for blood — in this cult favorite series on Starz. Based on the fantasy novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, American Gods begins by following recently released convict Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), who’s employed by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) as a bodyguard. Diving into a world of dark magic, it is soon revealed that Mr. Wednesday is on a mission to unite the Old Gods against the rise of the New. Now entering its third season, you’ll just have to catch up to learn of their riveting successes and failures in that journey along the way.
Why you should watch it: Few series are quite as engrossingly strange and ambitious as American Gods, and that’s what has us hooked. It’s a timely commentary on the world we live in today, but set against the backdrop of a lurid fantasy epic. And to that we say: more please! Season 3 premieres Jan. 10 on Starz.
Commitment: Approx. 16 hours (for the first two seasons)
What it is: A relationship drama turned coming-of-age comedy turned noir-esque murder mystery thriller turned courtroom procedural, Search Party is everything but definable — and that’s exactly what makes it so good. It’s the story of Dory (Alia Shawkat), Drew (John Reynolds), Elliot (John Early), and Portia (Meredith Hagner), who, on account of their own self-interest and general aimlessness, entangle themselves in the potentially sinister disappearance of their college classmate.
Why you should watch it: Brooklyn-dwelling millennials have been beguiling subjects for many a film and TV creator since Lena Dunham’s Girls, but never before have they been so exactingly (and excruciatingly) brought to life than in Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter’s incisive satire-crime mystery cocktail. And how lucky are we to have two new seasons in a matter of months? Season 4 premieres Jan. 14 on HBO Max.
Commitment: Approx. 12 hours (for the first three seasons)
What it is: Sean (Toby Kebbell) and Dorothy’s (Lauren Ambrose) life is turned upside down when a mindless tragedy leads to the death of their newborn. To help aid his despondent wife through her grief, Sean hires a nanny named Leanne (Nell Tiger-Free), against the better judgement of his brother-in-law (Rupert Grint). And it soon enough becomes clear that Leanne has a twisted agenda of her own.
Why you should watch it: Nothing is as it seems in this heady half-hour horror from creator Tony Basgallop and director-producer M. Night Shyamalan. And while Syamalan’s ambitions as a filmmaker at times get the best of him, everything here clicks to make for a taut, stunning freshman series that will leave you on the edge of your seat. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Season 2, which premieres Jan. 15 on Apple TV+.
Where to watch: Apple TV+
Commitment: Approx. 5 hours (for the first season)
What it is: Like Batman before her, Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) is an ultra-wealthy heiress who decides to take justice into her own hands on Season 1 of Caroline Dries’ DC Comics series. Rose exited after those first 20 episodes, though, and Season 2 will hand the reins to Javicia Leslie as Ryan Wilder and our titular heroine.
Why you should watch it: With a Season 2 premiere episode titled “Whatever Happened to Kate Kane?” Batwoman knows the main question fans will have going in, and it’s ready to answer it. But as DC’s first-ever black Batwoman, Leslie is making history while kicking some butt in only the way the franchise’s famed caped crusaders can. Season 2 premieres Jan. 17 on the CW.
Commitment: Approx. 15 hours (for the first season)
What it is: With Riverdale, the beloved Archie comics of yore get the CW treatment as a live-action murder mystery-thriller with intense high schoolers played by KJ Apa, Camila Mendes, Lili Reinhart, and Cole Sprouse. In other words, this is not your mom and dad’s heroic redhead.
Why you should watch it: We’ll say it: Riverdale ranks among the best teen dramas to come out of primetime since Gossip Girl, and the viewership and brand ubiquity it has garnered over the years is well deserved. As the classic Archie we know with a heaping serving of sex appeal and a dash of True Detective, what’s not to love? Season 5 premieres Jan. 20 on the CW.
Commitment: Approx. 56 hours (for the first four seasons)
What it is: Euphoria charts the lives of a group of diverse, troubled high schoolers and their rainbow of experiences living in the 21st century — experiences befitting the series title, yes, but others all the more tragic.
Why you should watch it: This dark, gritty, hallucinatory hit from creator Sam Levinson not only marks a career-best, attention-grabbing turn from its Emmy-winning star Zendaya, but it introduces us to a whole new class of Young Hollywood along the way, among them model and actor Hunter Schafer. Mining real-world ailments of drug addiction, sexual abuse, online harassment, and more, it’s not always an easy watch, but it’s a worthwhile one. The long-awaited Season 2 teased its premiere last month with a Christmas special centered on Zendaya’s Rue; part of the special, which centers on Schafer’s Jules, airs Jan. 24 on HBO.
Commitment: Approx. 9 hours (for the first season and holiday special)
What it is: Set seven years after the world has frozen over and become uninhabitable, Snowpiercer charts life on a luxury train as it continues an endless journey around the globe and the social unrest between its upper and lower classes boils to the point of uprising.
Why you should watch it: Much like the train on which it’s centered, Snowpiercer never lets up. Propulsive and pulse-pounding while leaning into its various sociopolitical commentaries, it succeeds in expanding the word so brilliantly captured in Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 feature film of the same name (which itself was based on a trilogy of French graphic novels from the 1980s) while introducing us to new characters and more. Season 2 premieres Jan. 25 on TNT.
Commitment: Approx. 7.5 hours (for the first season)