The Great Fall TV Cram, 2013 Edition: 10 Shows to Catch Up On Now
Grab your remote and bring up your DVR's list of "scheduled recordings" real quick—what's on it? 'Cause ours is looking pretty barren these days. Seriously, late August is one of the only times of the year where that magic little time-shifting device isn't at 99 percent capacity. Sure, we've still got Breaking Bad, Dexter, and a few other shows, but right now, the best thing about the current TV schedule is that its lack of enticing programming is really getting us jazzed about the fall. In just a few short weeks, we'll fondly recall the freewheeling, leisurely summer days when the DVR could go as long as a week—a week!—without cannibalizing its own hard drive space. Just wait. You'll see.
Point is, now's the perfect time to prepare yourself for the impending onslaught of fall TV, especially with regard to newer shows you might've missed out on last year. We've compiled a checklist of 10 young'uns that deserve your immediate attention, so fluff up the sofa pillows, pour yourself an iced tea, and start cramming!
Season 2 premieres Wednesday, October 9 at 8pm on The CW
COMMITMENT: 23 hour-long episodes full of people getting arrow'd, origin story flashbacks, snarky not-sidekicks, interpersonal melodrama, and Stephen Amell's abs (pictured, above).
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: While Arrow was never one of last season's best new shows, it was one of its only legitimate hits (admittedly, by The CW's more cable-esque ratings standards). However, I'm optimistic about Season 2's prospects (the whole Flash spin-off thing aside). Summer Glau is on board as the new Big Bad, Isabel Rochev—who I already have plenty of theories about!—and the show is set to introduce a not-Dinah Laurel Lance Black Canary played by Caity Lotz. Plus, executive producer Marc Guggenheim recently acknowledged that some Season 1 episodes were just too damn busy, so hopefully there won't be too many show-within-a-show feelings as the series enters its sophomore year. But even more interesting than the promise to streamline and the impending influx of guest-stars and comic characters entering the mix—including Brother Blood, Bronze Tiger, and Sin—is the fact that Season 2 is primed to have Oliver shift away from being a vigilante and more toward becoming a hero, which is the journey the show has been on since Episode 1. I can't wait to see how the events of the season finale have changed Oliver's priorities.
CHEAT SHEET: Arrow's overarching story allows for some dabbling, so skipping around isn't going to hurt your understanding of the main narrative (though not all the character arcs will click into place). You should start with "Pilot" not only because, hey, it's the first episode, but also because it's one of the show's better offerings. Then hit up "Damages" (Episode 5), "Legacies" (Episode 6), "Year's End" (Episode 9), "Vertigo" (Episode 12), "The Odyssey" (Episode 14), and "Dead to Rights" (Episode 16); after that, then you can probably skip ahead to the last three episodes (21, 22, and 23) of the season: "The Undertaking," "Darkness on the Edge of Town," and "Sacrifice."
EXTRA CREDIT: If you've already watched the whole first season (or you plan to follow our cheat sheet), you may also want to read Issues 34 and 35 of the digital comic book (available here for 99 cents apiece). They deal with the aftermath of the season finale, and they set up some dynamics for when Season 2 starts with regard to Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity. —Noel Kirkpatrick
The Carrie Diaries
Season 2 premieres Friday, October 25 at 8pm on The CW
COMMITMENT: 13 one-hour episodes of glorious '80s hair, fashion, and music.
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: Don't let the fact that The Carrie Diaries is a prequel to HBO's Sex and the City scare you off. The show is completely different in a number of ways—the most obvious ones being that it's on The CW and Carrie's a teenager, meaning there's plenty of drama, but also plenty of good-looking faces. It has a sense of naiveté that's actually kind of refreshing, and there's also an awesome soundtrack. When all of that comes together, the result is a series that even the most vocal haters of Sex and the City can watch and fall in love with. It's 1984, and Carrie Bradshaw is a junior in high school. She's living in Connecticut with her father and her younger sister; her mother passed away a few months before the series premiere. After scoring an internship in Manhattan, she's immediately hooked on the city, and the series explores the ensuing adventures of Carrie and her friends as they fumble their way through those awkward teenage years in search of who they really are. And even though The Carrie Diaries is really the story of how its title character grows into the woman we eventually came to know as someone who thinks it's okay to wear tutus in public, the series has developed her friend Walt's story in such a way that it's possible he's the most interesting and well thought-out of them all. And did I mention the fabulous '80s of it all? Plus, in Season 2 we're going to meet Samantha.
CHEAT SHEET: If you can't find time to watch all 13 episodes, definitely catch the pilot and the Halloween-themed "Fright Night" (Episode 4) for insight into who Carrie is at this time in her life. Then consider "Caught" and "Hush Hush" (Episodes 7 and 8) for good old-fashioned teen drama, and wrap things up with "First Time for Everything" and "Kiss Yesterday Goodbye" (Episodes 12 and 13) to make sure you're prepared for where Season 2 will pick up. —Kaitlin Thomas
Season 3 premieres this fall on Adult Swim
COMMITMENT: Two seasons with 12 episodes each, but they're short episodes, so it's more like one season of 12 half-hour episodes or even one six-hour episode.
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: Chris Elliott! The Get a Life star is still bringing his timeless, absurd comedy to television, this time as the cocky and sometimes dim U.S. Marshal Chris Monsanto. As a cop-show spoof, Eagleheart features plenty of cartoonish violence, outrageous villains, and a universe inspired by bongs, but it's the show's willingness to go literally anywhere for a joke that's most impressive. Blimps, creeps, twins, mountain lions, and hermaphrodites all get theirs at the hand of Monsanto's brutal justice. Death Punch! Need more? Come for Elliott, stay for Brett Gelman (Go On's Mr. K) as the idiot deputy Brett.
CHEAT SHEET: There's no need to watch these in a particular order and you won't get lost if you skip an episode, but you should start with the first episode, "Get Worse Soon," to get some backstory. Other winners include "Creeps," "Death Punch," "Bringing Up Beazor," and "Honor Thy Marshal." —Tim Surette
Eastbound & Down
Season 4—the show's "final" run after being canceled in Season 3—premieres Sunday, September 29 at 10pm on HBO
COMMITMENT: Three seasons totaling just 21 half-hour episodes, all of which make for one heck of a marathon.
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: If you often find yourself getting riled up because most of the comedies on pay cable aren't actually comedies (or very funny, for that matter), Eastbound & Down is the show for you. The series is consistently LOL-worthy, even if most of the jokes are crude, tonally inconsistent, and a little weird. The supporting cast is full of electric players like Steve Little, Katy Mixon, and recurring guests like Matthew McConaughey, Craig Robinson, Will Ferrell, and Don Johnson. At the center, Danny McBride's Kenny Powers is one of television's best characters, and not just because of his almost complete lack of self-awareness or his commitment to jet ski culture. Underneath all the bravado and casual racism lies a sad man looking for a family, and each season, he seems to find it in slightly different places.
CHEAT SHEET: If you have an extra 11 hours, you should definitely burn through them all. But if you just want to be sufficiently prepped for the final run, watch the pilot, skip the rest of Season 1, and then start in earnest with Season 2, featuring Kenny's excursion down in Mexico. If your schedule is particularly tight, begin with the fifth episode of Season 2 ("Chapter 11") and go from there. —Cory Barker
The Heart, She Holler
Season 2 premieres Tuesday, September 10 at 12:30am on Adult Swim
COMMITMENT: Six 15-minute episodes.
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: Because Adult Swim is currently making some of the best comedy on TV, and this Southern Gothic soap opera (complete with closeups and organ pipes) from the dudes behind cult favorites Delocated and Wonder Showzen makes that stuff feel safe by comparison. Basically, the wealthy patriarch of a town dies while "working tirelessly on his video will," and his secret son (played by Patton Oswalt) inherits the town, kicking up all sorts of bizarre, sultry secrets, plots, schemes, and rivalries from some very unique characters. Think Twin Peaks plus Passions plus gas-huffing. Also, due to scheduling conflicts, Amy Sedaris is taking over the role originated by the amazing Kristen Schaal. So really, the rest of this paragraph could just be: Amy Sedaris! Amy Sedaris! Amy Sedaris! Amy Sedaris! Amy Sedaris! But beyond that, the show's initial 90 minutes gleefully traffick in mind-reading, incest, and body horror, all of which creators John Lee and Vernon Chatman have promised we'll see more of in the beefed-up, 14-episode second season.
CHEAT SHEET: It’s only an hour and a half of your dang time, but if you only want to get the gist of the show, go ahead and watch the pilot, "And So it Begends," and the season closer, "Dare to Holler." —Ryan Sandoval
Key & Peele
Season 3 premieres Wednesday, September 18 at 10:30pm on Comedy Central
COMMITMENT: 18 episodes, 6,583 characters, and a bazillion laughs spread out over two seasons.
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: Key & Peele still isn't on everyone's radar, but as one of the best sketch shows out there, it should be. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele go through characters like George R.R. Martin at a wedding, mining their unique view of the world, pop culture, and race relations to create comedy that welcomes a huge range of humor. The first two seasons gave us racist zombies, college football All-Stars with ridiculous names, and Obama's anger translator, and if the trailer for Season 3 is any indication, things won't be getting any saner. If anything, watch the show just so you can join the "Key or Peele?" debate. I got Peele by a nose.
The Legend of Korra
Book 2 premieres Friday, September 13 at 7pm on Nickelodeon
COMMITMENT: 12 half-hour episodes of animated awesome.
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: Feeling like you've heard this one before? You have; we expected the The Legend of Korra to return a long time ago, and the wait has been excruciating. The bright side is that you still have time to prepare for the next installment! One of my top shows of last year, Korra takes place 70 years after the also awesome Avatar: The Last Airbender. The titular character is the world's latest incarnation of the Avatar, a spiritual figure who can bend (read: control) all four elements—earth, air, water, and fire—while other people can only bend one element (or no elements at all). Set in a city that's rife with anti-bending rhetoric from a group calling themselves the Equalists, the series has lots of terrifically animated and choreographed action and a dark, twisty, and compelling plot that at its core is about class and politics. It won't be long before you forget you're watching a "kids' show." And you'll be able to follow along just fine even if you've never seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, so don't let that deter you... though checking it out certainly won't hurt.
CHEAT SHEET: It's 12 episodes of a half-hour show! You can watch it in a single Saturday! Oh, like you've never watched twelve episodes of something in a day? Fiiiiiiine. I guess you can sample Episode 6, "And The Winner Is...," to get a sense of the show during one of its best episodes without being totally lost or having too much spoiled. If you like it, go back to Episode 1 and work your way forward to have some plot holes filled in. —Noel
The Mindy Project
Season 2 premieres Tuesday, September 17 at 9:30pm on Fox
COMMITMENT: 24 half-hour episodes' worth of sexual tension, people talking over each other, and Mindy Kaling falling down. Also: Cleverness!
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: If you're one of the people who tried The Mindy Project early but dropped out after a few mediocre and/or rocky episodes, now's the time to come back. Sometime during the middle of the first season, everything coalesced, the cast's chemistry finally hit, and the show found a groove. The series is very much in Kaling's own voice, so it offers a peek into the life of that one friend who seems to remain a consummate professional despite being a complete, almost self-destructive disaster in everything other aspect of life, the one about whom you wonder, "How do they make it through their day in one piece?" (If you don't have a friend like that, congratulations! It's you! How do you do it?) The Mindy Project wholly encompasses a unique voice that makes you—the SLUMP-y you—feel like you could write this show, but the timing and phrasing is so succinct and so precise that you'll settle for being one of Mindy's friends through your screen. Get back into it.
CHEAT SHEET: Hit the high points with "Pilot" (Episode 1), "In the Club" (Episode 3), "Josh and Mindy's Christmas Party" (Episode 9), "Hooking Up Is Hard" (Episode 12), "Harry & Mindy" (Episode 14), "The One That Got Away" (Episode 16), and the finale, "Take Me With You" (Episode 24). That's seven episodes—under three hours of your time. "The One That Got Away" is probably the greatest example of the feel the show spent its first season trying to achieve. And if you need a way to sucker in the sports-loving, rom-com-hating friend or S.O. in your live, add "Santa Fe" (Episode 21) to your short list, featuring Clay Matthews guest-starring as himself. Packers show up in the weirdest places. —Nick Campbell
Season 2 premieres Wednesday, September 25 at 10pm on ABC
COMMITMENT: 21 hour-long episodes brimming with soap, country music, and Connie Britton's flawless hair.
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: You mean besides Connie Britton hair envy? Nashville follows two country music stars, one who's been around the block a few times (Britton's Rayna Jaymes) and one who's a rising starlet (Hayden Panettiere's Juliette Barnes). The two are paired up against their will to go on tour together, courtesy of their record label, and that's where the fun begins. Both Britton and Panettiere turn in great performances throughout the season, as does Charles Esten as Deacon Claybourne, Rayna's ex-boyfriend and on-again/off-again band leader. Rayna resents Juliette's short dresses, bitchy attitude, and country-pop music sound, while Juliette doesn't understand why she's been saddled with an aging performer like Rayna in the first place. Both women have enough personal issues to singlehandedly fill a season—think drug-addicted family members, backdoor politicking, baby daddy drama, and the like—but the series also finds time to focus on several supporting players who are trying to make it in Nashville from the bottom up. Panettiere is the real draw, though, bringing a depth to Juliette that outshines even the Emmy-nominated Britton. And the original music is actually good!
CHEAT SHEET: The trick here is to choose episodes with great storylines, but also great musical moments. So, if you don't want to watch the entire season, I suggest starting with the pilot and "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)" (Episode 2) for some great musical moments; "Lovesick Blues" (Episode 7), "I've Been Down That Road Before" (Episode 12), and "There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight" (Episode 13) for some deeper character development, especially on Panettiere's part; and close it all out with the last four installments of the season—"Take These Chains from My Heart," "Why Don't You Love Me," "A Picture from Life's Other Side," and "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive"—for absolute soap opera goodness.
EXTRA CREDIT: Once you've finished "Why Don't You Love Me," revisit Tim's .GIF tour of Juliette's epic night of drinking to see one of the most out-of-control drunk performances in television history. —Kaitlin Thomas
Season 3 premieres Thursday, October 3 at 10pm on ABC
COMMITMENT: Two seasons, 29 hour-long episodes. That's not the tiniest of workloads, but once you get going, you'll burn through it in a heartbeat.
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: Scandal was the most buzzed-about drama on broadcast TV last season, and with good reason. Shonda Rhimes has been making pulpy, populist shows about women blurring the lines between their professional and personal lives for more than a decade, but Scandal is that to the highest degree. Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope is a D.C. fixer who can't fix her own life, including her relationship with the President of the United States, not to mention the slew of political emergencies and conspiracies that unspool in a rapid succession and involve everything from election-rigging to murder. It's all as ridiculous as it sounds, but also completely enthralling.
CHEAT SHEET: One of the great things about Scandal is that it's broken down into serialized mini-arcs: 7 episodes in the first season, and then two separate stories of thirteen and 9 episodes, respectively, in Season 2. The show is still feeling around in the dark a little in Season 1, so if you're pressed for time, just watch the pilot and the finale and then jump to Season 2. The first half of Season 2 is a riot. You won't be disappointed. —Cory
Which returning fall shows are you most excited about? What should we be catching up on that's not on this list?
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