Summer is basically over, school is back in session, and fall premieres are right around the corner—but just because we're all excited about the incoming freshman shows (and/or their potential for early cancellation) doesn't mean we're excused from keeping an eye on the season's most promising sophomores. And thus it's time for another preseason TV cram: Below, we make our case for why you should catch up on the seven shows whose second seasons we're looking forward to the most. (Plus we'll be covering all of them weekly... get up to speed now so you can talk about 'em with us once they return!)
Commitment: 12 highly addictive episodes
Why You Should Catch Up Now: If we're being honest, you probably don't have to watch the first season of American Horror Story, since Season 2 promises to be completely unrelated, story-wise. New characters, new setting, new horror genre entirely. But we're guessing a major appeal for the upcoming Asylum season of AHS will be seeing much of the same Season 1 cast playing new roles, and if Ryan Murphy's promises are to be believed, actors like Jessica Lange and Evan Peters will be playing "opposites" to their Season 1 counterparts, information that might inform our impressions of Season 2. And while viewers may not necessarily need to know what they all got up to in the Murder House, we think you may enjoy Murphy's weird sensibility better if you know what kind of craziness to expect after Season 1. So, basically, consider this TV cram mostly just extra credit!
Cheat Sheet: Start with the pilot. You might be hooked immediately, but if not, skip to the two-part Halloween episode. If you're not hooked after that, then this show may not be for you. —Price Peterson
Commitment: A dozen thrilling, one-hour episodes that are as addictive as delicious crack.
Why You Should Catch Up Now: When Homeland was announced, I figured it would be good, but I didn't know it would be THIS good. Easily the best new series of last season and definitely on my short list of the best overall series of last year, Homeland is a real post-9/11 drama that ditches flag-waving and stars and stripes in favor of paranoia and trust issues. The acting ensemble, led by Emmy favorite Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, is right up there with Breaking Bad's, but the show's unpredictable twists and turns (best romance ever!) will leave you floored. I can't recommend this show highly enough.
Cheat Sheet: You're really doing yourself a disservice if you don't watch all twelve episodes, so plow through 'em. And once you start, you'll probably finish all of Season 1 in about three days. But I wouldn't fault you for skipping Episode 9, "Crossfire." —Tim Surette
Commitment: 24 half-hour episodes. Trust us, they'll breeze right by.
Why You Should Catch Up Now: After the public's wholehearted rejection of the "adorkable" meme, New Girl had to step up its game in order to remind us that it's actually a really good TV show! Over the course of the season, Zooey Deschanel dialed back on her occasionally autistic-seeming quirks, and the result was a well-realized, extremely funny, and occasionally moving portrait of late 20-something life. Max Greenfield's Schmidt in particular stood out as one of the most singular TV characters of last year, and Schmidt's burgeoning romance with the mind-numbingly gorgeous Cece (Hannah Simone) became the show's most compelling through-line. New Girlis weird, inventive, and is as breezy and appealing as a Saturday bike ride. Get into it!
Cheat Sheet: Like most comedies, you probably don't have to watch every episode. But here are the ones not to miss: "Pilot," "Wedding," "Jess and Julia," "Fancyman (Part 1)," and especially "Normal," in which the gang plays your new favorite drinking game, True American. (It is AMAZING.) —Price
Commitment: 22 hour-long episodes, although there are plenty of skippable standalones if you just want to get caught up.
Why You Should Catch Up Now: The season finale left off with a devastating cliffhanger that’s been torturing fans all summer long. Still, we feel kind of guilty getting you hooked on Once Upon A Time, this show is basically crack for fantasy fans, romance fans, and/or anyone who likes cozy little towns. It’s the kind of world that inspires fan sites and marathon sessions and by now you've probably heard it's from the same dreamboat team Kitsis and Horowitz who were behind Lost. The series at its best combines the familiar warmth of fairy tales with sinister threats and mind-bending dream logic, like a Disney version of Twin Peaks. At its worst, its still a loony WTF romp with a stellar cast. It’s impossible to follow a conversation about this show if you’re not watching, and Season 2 is sure to be a talker, so catch up while you still can.
Cheat Sheet: While it’s entirely possible that you’ll be so obsessed with the world you won’t want to miss a single minute, you can watch the following episodes as an “abbreviated version” of the first season: "Pilot," "The thing You love Most," "Snow Falls," "The Shepherd," "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter," "Desperate Souls," "7:15 AM," "Skin Deep," "Hat Trick," "The Return," "The Stranger," "An Apple Red As Blood," and "Land Without Magic." —Lily Sparks
Commitment: Just one season! But it was kind of a long season, with 23 one-hour episodes.
Why You Should Catch Up Now: Going in, I didn't think I'd like this show a whole lot—even with J.J. Abrams, Jonathan Nolan, Michael Emerson, and Jim Caviezel involved. It just had so many strikes against it: it had a procedural vibe, it was on CBS, and it was on CBS. But oh lordy it got really good really quick and became the biggest surprise of last season for me. The premise—a billionaire and a former special op team up with a super computer to help people in danger—is perfect for tackling the procedural aspect while also offering a rich, serialized backstory. Nolan brought his gritty Batman ideas to protagonist John Reese, one of 2011's breakout characters, and Person of Interest exhibits a surprising amount of humor to keep things balanced. But it's the relationship between the two main characters, and the guns and action followed by '80s-style cheesy one-liners, that make the series so comforting.
Cheat Sheet: If you need a quick taste to determine whether the show is for you, watch "Pilot" and then "Cura Te Ipsum" (Episode 4). Other top episodes include "Judgment," "Witness," "Number Crunch," "Super," "Root Cause," "Baby Blue" (for the lulz), and the final five episodes of Season 1—particularly the finale, which was one of the best episodes of any show last season. —Tim
Commitment: 22 deliriously awesome, hour-long episodes. But they’re all on Netflix Instant right now so holla!
Why You Should Catch Up Now: You’ve probably heard a lot about Revenge; it’s become a cultural soap addiction along the lines of Dynasty or Dallas. Based loosely on The Count of Monte Cristo, Emily Thorne returns to her small Hamptons town to get revenge on the Graysons, who framed her father for a terrorist act, and she sets out to systematically destroy everyone who assisted in her father’s downfall... and then things get complicated. Madeleine Stowe’s incredible depth as arch-bitch Victoria won her a Golden Globe, and the charisma and hilarity of Gabriel Mann anchors the show. It’s a soap opera on steroids, with all the production value of a film and moments of genuine dramatic tension, and once you plow through the episodes like potato chips you’ll be just like the rest of us: desperate for Season 2.
Cheat Sheet: You are not allowed to miss a single episode! Sorry, but Revenge is built on the premise that filler is antithetical to good TV. Every episode builds out the world or provides extremely necessary information. Plus, seriously, why would you want to miss any of the first season? Too much fun, and watching the episodes get more elaborate and better looking as the show actively gained a following is an enjoyable arc in and of itself. BUT IF YOU REALLY INSIST you can watch the premiere and skip directly to Episode 4, “Duplicity,” and watch from there. —Lily
Commitment: One of last year's midseason replacements, the first season of this under-the-radar drama is only seven episodes long. You can power through it over the course of a bottle of buttery Chardonnay.
Why You Should Catch Up Now: Shonda Rhimes' Scandal wants you to think it’s a tight, political thriller but it's actually more like a super-captivating romance with the kind of sexual tension not seen since Moonlighting. As the title suggests, there is plenty of delving into mini scandals every week, thanks to its almost-procedural format, but the show takes pains to sidestep all the boring parts of politics and leave only the juiciest, most emotional, most adrenaline-pumping moments onscreen. Kerry Washington is incredible as main character Olivia Pope and even extras get powerful monologues. The writing and drama and soapiness have made this a secret favorite around the old Sparks household. And there's a huge reveal coming up in the Season 2 premiere about one of the main characters, Quinn, so hurry up and watch so you can squeal along with the rest of us when all is (hopefully) revealed in Season 2.
Cheat Sheet: You don’t have to bother cheating, there’s only seven episodes, guys. But if you’re squeamish about Dexter-type torture, feel free to skip Episode 5, "Crash and Burn."
Which returning fall shows are you most excited about? What should we be catching up on that's not on this list?