Have you noticed that all of a sudden there isn't much new TV to watch? Welcome to summer, home of reality TV and game shows! But even though we're just days away from a downpour of mostly crummy TV, we're also just weeks away from a scattered shower of really good TV! Plus, we're headed into a long weekend (in the U.S. at least)—so now's the perfect time to dig into (or start re-watching) the previous seasons of summer's best shows. Catch up now so you can talk about 'em with us once they return!
Commitment: A measly weekend's worth of 11 one-hour episodes! Piece of cake.
Why You Should Catch Up Now: We aren't exactly living in a golden age of science-fiction television, but Alphas is one of those gems in the dirt (or whatever the saying is) that will restore your faith in the genre. The show is a refined version of the very scattered Heroes, with some X-Men and few procedural elements mixed in. WAIT DON'T GO! Trust me, it works. And what makes it really work are the well-written characters—particularly the autistic cyber-rider Gary, who's played to perfection by Ryan Cartwright. Though things start off pretty standard and there are a few bumps (the cult episode is especially stinky), Season 1 really takes the show in a fantastic direction by the time it gets to the finale.
Cheat Sheet: There's a dip in the middle, so if you can't watch the whole season go ahead and skip Episodes 5, 6, 7, and 8... though Episode 6, "Bill and Gary's Excellent Adventure" is a great buddy episode. And if you're absolutely crunched for time, "Pilot," "Rosetta," "The Unusual Suspects," and the must-see finale "Original Sin" will suffice. —Tim Surette
Commitment: A dozen very marathon-able half-hour episodes.
Why You Should Catch Up Now: For one thing, you should watch this likeable high-school comedy so MTV will quit making shows about babies having babies and Guidos suffering Tennis Elbow from too much fist-pumping. But you should also watch it because Awkward. is actually super smart and witty and exactly the type of programming MTV should invest in. It's a bit on the raunchy side in a good way, and while the characters are recognizable as high-school-series archetypes, they're also uniquely their own. Plus OMG Jenna and Jake or Jenna and Matty!?!?!
Cheat Sheet: Start with the pilot and you won't be able to resist watching the whole thing. And with all the high-school drama that goes on, missing an episode will make you, like, so out of touch. —Tim
Commitment: Lots, 46 hour-long episodes across four seasons. But totally worth it.
Why You Should Catch Up Now: In case you haven't heard, Breaking Bad is the best show on television right now. The series is a triple threat of television talent: It arguably has the best writing, cinematography, and acting of any drama ever and consistently finds new ways to outdo itself. This is the final season (well, the first half of the 16-episode finale season) coming up, and there's still plenty to tell in the final chapter of Walter White.
Cheat Sheet: Are you kidding me? You won't want to miss a single episode. —Tim
Commitment: A single, 7-episode season... of half-hour episodes. That's less time than it takes to watch two full episodes of The Bachelor!
Why You Should Catch Up Now: Even if you watched part or all of Season 1, you've likely forgotten the particulars, seeing as Episodes concluded its debut season in February of 2011. When the show was first announced, most hardcore TV fans couldn't wait to see its super-meta story brought to life: Episodes follows a husband-wife producer team from England whose award-winning television show is butchered in the process of adapting it for American audiences (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig star as the British couple, and Matt LeBlanc plays himself as the star of the American version of the show). And even though it was critically "meh" at the start, it really got better and way more fun by the end. Stick with it through the early episodes, and I promise you'll see things start to gel.
Cheat Sheet: If you really feel like you have to skip around, you probably shouldn't bother, because there are only seven episodes and half the fun is watching the show build to its big finish. But if you simply must cheat, watch "Episode One," "Episode Six," and "Episode Seven" (which will only save you two hours, so really just watch the whole thing). —Jen Trolio
Commitment: 10 episodes! But some of those episodes are really not good.
Why You Should Catch Up Now: TNT's Steven Spielberg-produced alien-invasion drama didn't have the best debut season, but have you seen the new promos?! They look awesome! This could be a case of fool us once, shame on Steven Spielberg, fool us twice, shame on us and shame on Steven Spielberg. Even though there wasn't a character to love in Season 1 except for rebel Pope, Falling Skies does feature Americans blowing up space foreigners in a post alien-invasion world, plus there's a decent amount of hate-watching that makes the show enjoyable. Sometimes it's actually pretty good! But really, Season 1 ended on a high note and we're hoping that momentum carries over into Season 2.
Cheat Sheet: The pilot's probably worth watching, but nothing else in the first half of Season 1 is worth your time. Jump to Episode 6 and finish out the season while preparing to be partially blown-away by the finale. —Tim
Commitment: A pair of 13-episode seasons, but since each episode is only 30 minutes long, that's like only one 13-episode season!
Why You Should Catch Up Now: Don't you want to be cool? All the cool kids watch Louie, arguably TV's best indie-style comedy about a balding, middle-aged man in New York City. There's a hell of a lot of genius that goes into each episode, combining a ton of uncomfortable situations with observational anti-comedy to create a show that even the likes cable TV hasn't seen. It's like the jazz of comedy, with Louis C.K. sacrificing budget for complete control of the show's gorgeous shots and unique point of view. Often heart-warming, occasionally introspective, and sometimes so funny your underwear will fly off your body, Louie is television for those who are sick of regular television.
Cheat Sheet: There's zero continuity in the series, so hop in and out at will. But after you check out a few episodes, make sure to watch Season 2's "Duckling," one of the best hours of television in recent years. —Tim
Commitment: A single, 12-episode season. (It's on Netflix Instant!)
Why You Should Catch Up Now: Your enjoyment of MTV's surprisingly watchable and well-made series depends on your tolerance for supernatural teen dramas, because make no mistake: This is a show for young people. It's better—and much scarier—than the Twilight series and easier to follow than The Vampire Diaries (which is basically The Wire of The CW). But the best thing about Teen Wolf is how well it doles it its mysteries, twists, and cliffhangers. The cable-standard 12-episode first season never feels padded but instead remains focused on the exploration of how awkward it can be to get bitten by a werewolf, occasionally transform into a monster, and then fall in love with a girl from an ancient line of werewolf hunters. Teen Wolf is also a great show if you enjoy A LOT of male objectification (equal opportunity!). But the show's thrills aren't purely of the titillation kind; Teen Wolf also boasts some of the funniest dialogue on cable as best friend and comic relief Stiles (future superstar Dylan O'Brien) steals pretty much any scene he's in. Honestly, as far as these kinds of things go (gritty TV remakes of corny '80s movies) Teen Wolf is a lot better than it had any right to be. (Not to mention that we'll be photo-recapping Season 2.)
Cheat Sheet: Actually, MTV is doing the cheating for you. This week the network began airing a highlights episode called Teen Wolf: Origins, which distills the Season 1 plotline into one manageable hour. I still recommends marathoning the full season, though. Preferably in the middle of the night while on cough syrup. It's that kind of show. —Price Peterson
Commitment: Four epic, 12-episode seasons.
Why You Should Catch Up Now: True Blood's fifth season will be the last one run by show-wizard Alan Ball, who created the series and gave it it’s je ne sais quoi (that’s French for tight abs + Southern flavor). Let’s face it, it's not only the best show going during the summertime but one of the best things on all of TV ever and the fact that this is the last arc under Ball’s direction may mean that Season 5 is either the final season or where it will narratively peak. The zeitgeist-y triangle of two dueling supernatural creatures and the human woman they love found its origins in Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels, and Sookie (the lovely Anna Paquin) not only has the two hottest vampires from any franchise lapping at her neck, but a wide range of other creatures (including Joe Manganiello as a super foxy werewolf) on her dance card. (Plus her main man Bill is her husband in real life and they met on the show, so you can watch them fall in love in real time, if you're in to that kind of thing.) If you haven’t yet experienced the magical Southern Gothic + graphic yet awesome sex + compelling social commentary embedded in the cozy yet recognizably gritty town of Bon Temps then I honestly feel sorry for you. And I envy that you get to watch it all for the first time!
Cheat Sheet: I would not advise cheating because the world builds on itself not just in content but in tone—so obviously you will miss the experience if you jump around (and you WANT more hours in this world, trust me). Plus Season 5 promises to return to several storylines from previous seasons. However I can tell you that in Season 4, if you see Jason strapped to a bed with several homely women taking turns sitting on him, feel free to fast-forward. — Lily Sparks
Commitment: Just 13 half-hour episodes!
Why You Should Catch Up Now: When Wilfred debuted, it was just "that goofy show starring the guy from The Lord of the Rings as a weirdo named Ryan who imagines that his neighbor's dog Wilfred is a pot-smoking man in a dog suit." Simple, stupid fun, right? But then the show got GREAT toward the end of the season as it took a turn down a dark path and became a mind-bending examination of Frodo's psyche, man! Wilfred ended up being much more than a comedy and delivered one of the best cliffhangers of last summer.
Cheat Sheet: The relationship between Ryan and Wilfred is incredibly important to the series, and it builds throughout the first three-quarters of the season. But if you're absolutely impatient and super busy, at least check out the last three episodes.
Which returning summer shows are you most excited about? What should we be catching up on that's not on this list?