Now that 37 percent of the population is running cable networks and creating original programming, there's a whole lot of television out there. Obviously you can't watch all of it, and maybe you've been burned by investing lots of eye-time in shows that didn't quite work out, or maybe you skipped some of last season's newbies in favor of old favorites that you already trust. Whatever the case, there are some promising young'uns returning to the small screen this fall, and with a few weeks left before the fall season begins in earnest, you have plenty of time to catch up on any shows you may have missed in their debuts. To that end, we've compiled a list of soon-to-be-sophomore series that merit your attention before they return for Season 2. And because we're nice, we've attempted to trim the fat by telling you exactly which episodes you'll need to watch if to stay abreast of the story and fool people into thinking you were a fan from Day 1. Crack open a case of 5-Hour Energy and get crammin'!
Season 2 premieres Wednesday, September 24 at 8:30pm on ABC
COMMITMENT: 23 half-hour episodes full of bodacious '80s nostalgia
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: The Goldbergs uses its 1980s setting not just as a platform for making Legend of Zelda and VCR jokes, but to freeze the family sitcom in time and illustrate that family ups and downs are eternal. Think of it as today's Wonder Years, a show that's free of the hacky comedy temptations of modern sitcoms—not only are there no hashtag jokes, but The Goldbergs feels honest and pure, making it a perfect bridge between The Middle and Modern Family (which is exactly where it'll air in its second season). Barry Goldberg (an energetic Troy Gentile) was one of the best new characters of last fall, and Jeff Garlin and Wendi McLendon-Covey's Murray and Beverly are two of television's best parents. And if you miss Community's pop-culture homages, The Goldbergs has you covered: In Season 1 it honored The Goonies and Return of the Jedi, and there's a John Hughes-themed episode on the docket Season 2.
CHEAT SHEET: As is the case with most comedies that reset after each episode, there's very little serialization to worry about. But if you want to see the best of The Goldbergs, watch "Mini Murray," "Call Me When You Get There," "You Opened the Door," "Goldbergs Never Say Die!," "The President's Fitness Test," and "Livin' On a Prayer." —Tim Surette
Season 2 premieres Wednesday, October 22 at 9pm on The CW
COMMITMENT: Just 13 powerful hours focused on the survival of the human race, no biggie
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: Set 97 years after all life on Earth was (presumably) destroyed by nuclear war, The 100 follows 100 teenage criminals who are deployed to the planet's surface from the Ark, a space station that's home to all known human life and rapidly running out of resources. The group's mission is to determine the habitability of Earth—and once there, they must learn to fend for themselves in the face of countless untold dangers that await. Meanwhile, The 100 also details the political and moral struggles that are unfolding up in space, mainly through the eyes of the adults who've taken on the task of keeping the human race alive. All told, it's a quality science-fiction drama—not just for The CW, but for television—and the fact that it airs on a broadcast network that still faces the stigma of being aimed at a younger demographic shouldn't deter anyone, teenager or otherwise, from watching it. Over the course of Season 1, The 100 evolved beyond The CW's stock themes and character types by tackling adult topics in its portrayal of the brutal savagery that now exists on Earth, the difficulty of being a leader amid chaos, and heavy subjects like self-sacrifice. It's a strong contender for the title of "The CW's best show."
CHEAT SHEET: Since there are only 13 episodes, you should try to watch them all. But if you must limit yourself, be sure to take in "Pilot" "Earth Kills," "Murphy's Law," "Twilight's Last Gleaming," "Contents Under Pressure," and the two-hour season finale, "We Are Grounders (Part 1 and Part 2)." —Kaitlin Thomas
Season 2 premieres Monday, September 22 at 9pm on Fox
COMMITMENT: 13 hours of pulse-pounding, genre-bending, I-can't-believe-this-works-so-well-but-it-does madness
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: Tom Mison's excellent performance as the time-traveling Ichabod Crane—who's in a near-constant state of confusion regarding the modern world, and consistently confounded by such contemporary contrivances as fist-bumps and computers—should be all the reason you need watch this wholly unique drama that combines the buddy cop, supernatural, and period genres into one fun, scary, and often hilarious show. But if you need more convincing than Mison's handsome face or Ichabod's fish-out-of-water experience can provide, take my word for it that Sleepy Hollow—in which Ichabod wakes up in 2013 after 200-plus years, unknowingly bringing the Headless Horseman along with him—is way more successful than it might sound. The series regularly surprises its viewers by mixing humor and horror with a complicated mythology. Don't bother wondering how a show with so many disparate elements can possibly make any sense; somehow, Sleepy Hollow expertly and seamlessly flows from one episode to the next while also entwining the lives of Ichabod and his new detective pal Abbie Mills (Nichole Beharie). Plus, it features a spectacular supporting cast that includes John Cho, John Noble, Lyndie Greenwood, and Orlando Jones. I promise it's not like anything you've seen before, and in the best way possible.
CHEAT SHEET: There's not a lot of filler in the first season, and Sleepy Hollow heavily steeped in mythology, so ignoring even a single episode will no doubt result in confusion. Find a way to watch all 13 and thank me later. —Kaitlin
Season 2 premieres Sunday, September 28 at 8:30pm on Fox
COMMITMENT: 22 half-hour episodes following the shenanigan-filled adventures of funny cops and their straight-laced but still hilarious captain. Also: They occasionally solve crimes!
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: Is the statement that Brooklyn Nine-Nine was my favorite new sitcom from last season that didn't get canceled (R.I.P., Trophy Wife) not enough for you? Fine. We all feared the series would be an Andy Samberg vehicle, and it might've been terrible if that'd actually been the case. Instead, Brooklyn Nine-Nine turned out to be a strong ensemble sitcom—which I suppose shouldn't be a surprise, since it was created by Michael Schur and Dan Goor, two Parks and Recreations vets—that allowed its crackerjack cast to shine while revealing the heretofore unseen comedic bona fides of Andre Braugher. The crimes are never all that serious, but the charm of the show is that everyone is actually fairly good at their jobs (except for Hitchcock and Scully, of course), and they all want to be good at their jobs, too.
CHEAT SHEET: What little bits of (mostly love-interest-related) serialization the show does have shouldn't really affect your understanding of what's happening, so you pretty easily jump around without missing too much. I'd recommend sampling "Halloween," "Old School," "Thanksgiving," "Christmas," "The Bet," "The Party," "Tactical VIllage," "Fancy Brudgom," and "Charges and Specs." —Noel Kirkpatrick
Season 2 premieres Thursday, October 2 at 9pm on The CW
COMMITMENT: A full 23-episode rip-roarin’ season of non-stop side-braids, head-necklaces, supernatural intrigue, and period romance
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: Reign exceeds expectations in basically every metric. Costumes? Acting? Story? Scenery? They're all rich, layered, and shamelessly romantic. The series assumes a level of intelligence in its audience that’s frankly very flattering, and thoughtful plotting creates a strong scaffolding for a lushly re-imagined emotional history of the doomed Queen Mary (the amazing Adelaide Kane) while she's part of the Valois Court. But, for as sweeping as the romance is between Mary and her husband Prince Francis (Toby Regbo), the real meat of the series is Mary’s uneasy alliance with anti-heroine Queen Katherine, who's played to sinister perfection by Megan Follows (yes, Anne of Green Gables Megan Follows). And even though Reign was originally marketed as a tale of the love triangle between Mary, Francis, and Francis's bastard brother Bash (the charismatic Torrance Coombs), the series deliberately sidestepped that over-used trope about three quarters of the way through Season 1 and is poised to enter truly unchartered territory in its sophomore season with several intriguing couples to root for.
CHEAT SHEET: Reign is a legit soap opera, meaning there are many small threads that will get dropped if you don’t watch all of it. But if you just want to hit the major-arc turning points before starting on Season 2, definitely watch the pilot, Episodes 5 and 6 (“A Chill in the Air” and “Chosen”), Episodes 8 and 9 (“Fated” and “For King and Country”), Episodes 13 and 14 (“Royal Blood” and “The Consummation”), Episode 16 (“Monsters”), and the last two episodes (“Long Live the King” and “Slaughter of Innocence”). That’ll be a manageable 10 hours that should cover the big elements of Season 1. —Lily Sparks
Season 2 premieres Tuesday, September 23 at 9pm on ABC
COMMITMENT: 22 hour-long episodes in which pretty people, sometimes with admirable scruff, do mildly heroic things
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might not be the breakout hit everyone thought or hoped it would be, but by the end of its first season, the freshman drama did mange to become a series worth exploring. Following a motley crew of unknown S.H.I.E.L.D. agents led by Clark Gregg's back-from-the-dead Agent Phil Coulson, the series successfully introduced us to a new section of the Marvel Universe. And by taking risks that ultimately turned S.H.I.E.L.D.'s premise on its head while infusing its stories with both humor and heart, the series made us care about these new Marvel characters almost just as much as we care about their famous superhero counterparts.
CHEAT SHEET: S.H.I.E.L.D. meandered quite a bit in Season 1 before finally finding its legs near the end. A lot of the earlier episodes are skippable, but be sure to watch "Pilot," "F.Z.Z.T.," "T.R.A.C.K.S.," "Turn, Turn, Turn," "The Only Light in the Darkness," "Ragtag," and "The Beginning of the End." —Kaitlin
Series 2 begins sometime this fall on BBC Two, with a U.S. release date to be announced
COMMITMENT: Five slow-moving yet anxiety-inducing hour-long episodes
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: In 2013, The Fall, Top of the Lake, Hannibal proved that TV series can center on serial killers/murder sprees without relying on shock and gore to be dramatically compelling. Anchored by Gillian Anderson as Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson and Jamie Doran as Paul Spectator—father, grief counselor, and SERIAL KILLER (not a spoiler)—The Fall features the same type of cat-and-mouse game that Hannibal excels at with the exploration of feminism and misogyny that was at the core of Top of the Lake. If you like(d) either of those, The Fall is for you. And if you like(d) both, you've probably already seen The Fall, but why not watch it again?
CHEAT SHEET: It's five episodes. Just watch them. —Noel
Season 2 premieres Monday, September 22 at 10pm on NBC
COMMITMENT: One season of 22 action-packed, mostly procedural, and totally Spader-y episodes
WHY YOU SHOULD CATCH UP NOW: Even in this era of countless prestige serial dramas, there's something to be said for a show that knows how to churn out solid procedural episodes. The Blacklist is one of those shows. The premise—mega criminal decides to turn over fellow baddies to the FBI for... reasons—provides every episode with a clear story engine, and many members of the titular Blacklist are weird, violent, and portrayed by fantastic guest stars. Of course, The Blacklist is also driven by the mysterious ties between James Spader's Red Reddington (yes, a real name) and Megan Boone's FBI agent Lizzie Keen. While it might feel like The Blacklist is jerking you around with Red's true intentions—and it absolutely is—the show gets away with it because Spader is so good at being bad, and because the writers aren't afraid to let Red do really terrible stuff on a regular basis.
CHEAT SHEET: Good news! The Blacklist's split nature makes it possible to choose your own adventure. Do you want to stick with the show's overarching narrative? Fine, watch the pilot, "Gina Zanetakos," "General Ludd," the "Anslo Garrick" two-parter, "Mako Tanida," "Ivan," and the two-part finale, "Berlin." If you'd rather check out the cool standalones, go for the pilot, "The Stewmaker," "The Courier," "Frederick Barnes," "General Ludd," "The Judge," "The Kingmaker," and the double dose of "Berlin." —Cory Barker
Which returning fall series are you most looking forward to? What's on your personal "shows to catch up on" list?