The Buzzy TV Performances Actors Should Watch in the New Year

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Photo Source: Courtesy Apple TV+

Television doesn’t sleep. Backstage is breaking down, month by month, the buzzy shows and performances that merit attention from awards voters and couch potatoes in the ever-growing landscape of the small screen.

New year, new TV schedule. This January, long-awaited series “Dickinson” and “Cobra Kai” return to the small screen, while new projects (featuring some familiar faces) make their debuts. Backstage is here to point actors and creators toward the buzziest, most skillful performances to catch in 2021—from streaming giants and traditional networks alike.

Below, we’ve highlighted four series actors should tune into this month: for their strong on-screen performances, potential inclusion on upcoming TV award shortlists, and pure entertainment value.

“WandaVision”
Even those who don’t consider themselves fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may find themselves drawn into the small-screen debut of Wanda Maximoff—a.k.a. Scarlet Witch—and Vision. The first of many superhero franchises planned by Disney+, “Wandavision” promises an intriguing blend of suburban sitcom aesthetics and trippy science fiction twists. Check it out:

Sure, they can save the world—but leads Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany can also be counted on to bring genuine pathos or comedy chops to their superhuman roles. Even more marvelous (pun intended) is their supporting cast, including Teyonah Parris, Kat Dennings, Randall Park, Kathryn Hahn, Fred Melamed, and Debra Jo Ruppand.

“Dickinson”
If you didn’t catch Season 1 of producer-star Hailee Steinfeld and creator Alena Smith’s irreverent take on poet Emily Dickinson on Apple TV+ last year, you’re in for a wild ride. The conceit of this Peabody Award-winning comedy—yes, it’s a comedy—is as tricky to explain as its wistful yet uproarious tone (which shouldn’t work, but always does).

Steinfeld charts Dickinson’s coming-of-age journey as a young woman and a masterful poet, while having the time of her life playing off of supporters Toby Huss, Anna Baryshnikov, Ella Hunt, Adrian Enscoe, and comedic legend Jane Krakowski. You cannot put her fire out.

“Mr. Mayor”
Anytime Tina Fey and Robert Carlock make their way back to TV, it’s time to mark the calendar. Same goes for Ted Danson, whose Emmy-nominated performance on NBC’s “The Good Place” concluded exactly one year ago. But thanks to Fey and Carlock, the legendary actor has already returned to our small screens—this time as an unscrupulous businessman who ends up the mayor of Los Angeles. Making this Jan. 7 comedy premiere even more promising: Bobby Moynihan, Vella Lovell, and award-winning actor Holly Hunter co-star.

“Cobra Kai”
Originally launched on YouTube Red, this martial arts-infused comedy-drama moves to Netflix for its highly anticipated third season. (A fourth has already been promised!) Based on the beloved “Karate Kid” film series, “Cobra Kai” is set 34 years after its first installment. Bona fide stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka—also executive producers—reprise their roles, joined by a (literally) kickass group of younger actors: Courtney Henggeler, Xolo Maridueña, Tanner Buchanan, Mary Mouser, and more.

See the full list of January 2021 returning and debut TV premieres below.

ABC
Jan. 3 – “The Rookie” Season 3
Jan. 26 – “mixed-ish” Season 2

Apple TV+
Jan. 8 – “Dickinson” Season 2
Jan. 15 – “Servant” Season 2
Jan. 22 – “Losing Alice” premiere

BBC America
Jan. 3 – “The Watch” premiere

CBS & CBS All Access
Jan. 7 – “Coyote” premiere

The CW
Jan. 17 – “Batwoman” Season 2
Jan. 18 – “All American” Season 3
Jan. 20 – “Nancy Drew” Season 2
Jan. 20 – “Riverdale” Season 5
Jan. 21 – “Legacies” Season 3
Jan. 21 – “Walker” premiere
Jan. 23 – “Charmed” Season 3

Disney+
Jan. 15 – “Wandavision” premiere

Epix
Jan. 24 – “Bridge and Tunnel” premiere

Fox
Jan. 3 – “Call Me Kat” premiere
Jan. 3 – “The Great North” premiere
Jan. 3 – “Last Man Standing” Season 9
Jan. 12 – “Prodigal Son” Season 2
Jan. 12 – “The Resident” Season 4
Jan. 18 – “9-1-1” Season 4
Jan. 18 – “9-1-1 Lone Star” Season 2

HBO & HBO Max
Jan. 4 – “30 Coins” premiere
Jan. 14 – “Search Party” Season 4
Jan. 21 – “Gomorrah” Season 3

Hulu
Jan. 13 – “Everyone Is Doing Great” premiere
Jan. 22 – “The Sister” premiere

NBC
Jan. 5 – “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” Season 2
Jan. 7 – “Mr. Mayor” premiere

Netflix
Jan. 1 – “Cobra Kai” Season 3
Jan. 1 – “Monarca” Season 2
Jan. 8 – “Lupin” premiere
Jan. 15 – “Disenchantment” Season 3
Jan. 22 – “Fate: The Winx Saga” premiere

Starz
Jan. 10 – “American Gods” Season 3

Sundance Now & Shudder
Jan. 9 – “A Discovery of Witches” Season 2

Syfy
Jan. 27 – “Resident Alien” premiere

TNT
Jan. 25 – “Snowpiercer” Season 2

Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!

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Jack Smart
Jack Smart is the awards editor at Backstage, where he covers all things Emmy, SAG, Oscar, and Tony Awards. He also produces and hosts Backstage’s awards podcast “In the Envelope” and has interviewed some of the biggest stars of stage and screen.
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