The 5 Best New TV Shows of January 2024

5 minute read

It doesn’t take long, anymore, for the TV schedule to heat up after the tinsel-strewn Hallmarkfest that is the holiday season. While 2024 has, to my mind, only produced one truly excellent new title—Lulu Wang’s Expats—there were plenty of other respectable premieres to enjoy. Long-awaited seasons of the 2010s anthologies True Detective and Feud (which I’m counting as new shows because they’re essentially standalone miniseries) improved upon their predecessors. Australia offered up yet another standout program. And Michelle Yeoh makes a less-than-perfect family crime drama well worth watching. 

Boy Swallows Universe (Netflix)

“Life is really different when you grow up in a family of outlaws,” explains 13-year-old Eli Bell (Felix Cameron) in the premiere of this Australian miniseries adapted from the novel by Trent Dalton. And he knows what he’s talking about. Growing up in a dusty Brisbane suburb in 1985, Eli watches his loving stepdad Lyle (Travis Fimmel), a factory worker who deals heroin on the side, try and fail to appease some intimidating thugs. His kind mother Frances (Phoebe Tonkin) struggles with addiction. And his older brother Gus (Lee Tiger Halley) doesn’t speak, though he does trace cryptic phrases in the air with a finger, presumably due to some past trauma. Eli’s male role models are all criminals. Stability remains elusive, and violence is an everyday reality.

Australia’s TV industry is having an international moment; last year brought smart, charming dramedies like Colin From Accounts, Deadloch, and Class of ’07. Boy Swallows Universe is darker and grittier than those shows. (If you can’t stand the sight of violence against children, it might not be for you.) But it features similarly punchy dialogue and endearing performances. What makes the whole thing work so effectively is the care with which Lyle and Frances’ dangerous world is filtered through Eli’s dreamy, alternately curious and terrified perspective, neither sanitizing the constant threats his family faces nor reducing his existence to a condescending sob story.

The Brothers Sun (Netflix)

The Brothers Sun is a tale of two halves of one nuclear family living oceans apart. In a modest Los Angeles home, Michelle Yeoh’s canny matriarch Eileen dotes on her son Bruce (Sam Song Li), a dorky medical student. What she doesn’t know is that he’s been using her tuition checks to finance his true passion: improv. What he doesn’t know is that his estranged father, known in the Taiwanese criminal demimonde as Big Sun (Johnny Kou), runs a powerful triad, the Jade Dragons—and has groomed a brother Bruce hasn’t seen since childhood, Charles (Justin Chien), to be a deadly assassin. Years ago, the Suns split up as a safety measure. Their mantra: “Protect the family.” [Read the full review.]

Expats (Amazon)

The Farewell filmmaker Lulu Wang’s stunning Amazon drama Expats, a six-episode adaptation of Janice Y.K. Lee’s novel The Expatriates, follows three women whose families become intertwined by tragedy. Each is an American living abroad in Hong Kong. And each seems to be approaching an emotional breaking point. What elevates the series beyond a potentially maudlin plot is the nuanced sense of connectedness Wang conjures, not just among central characters plucked from their home countries, but also between the expats and the diverse, teeming, politically precarious urban island they’ve chosen to inhabit. [Read the full review.]

Feud: Capote vs. the Swans (FX)

Half a century ago, the Andy Cohen of the Upper East Side was Truman Capote, and the women whose world he insinuated himself into were A-list socialites. For two decades, the author of In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s heard their confessions and dried their tears. Then, in 1975, he published a story in Esquire that exposed their deepest humiliations. FX’s Feud: Capote vs. the Swans, the long-awaited second season of a Ryan Murphy anthology that began with 2017’s Bette and Joan, traces the friendships and eventual schism. It’s a messy rendering that, at times, reverts to cliché. But beneath the distracting artifice is a psychologically rich, wonderfully acted portrait of an artist torn between his work and the life that fueled it. [Read the full review.]

True Detective: Night Country (HBO)

Grotesque murders. Jaded yet obsessive cops. A vast, majestic, but terrifyingly extreme rural landscape. The suggestion of a malevolent occult or supernatural presence. Dialogue that is both cryptically philosophical and profane: “It’s a long f-ckin’ night. Even the dead get bored.” 

Yes, it’s another season of HBO’s True Detective—one that, in many ways, feels closer than ever before to the anthology’s blockbuster debut. But this fourth installment, returning after a five-year hiatus, is also a reinvention, a reawakening, maybe even a rejoinder to everything that preceded it. Subtitled Night Country and directed by the Mexican filmmaker Issa López (Tigers Are Not Afraid), who wrote or co-wrote every episode, it is the first season helmed by a showrunner other than series creator Nic Pizzolatto. While not without its flaws, López’s gorgeously realized story grounds its hardboiled mystery in multidimensional characters, believably immerses viewers in a unique community, and makes a strong case for the continuation of the franchise. [Read the full review.]

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