Every year this list gets harder and harder to write. After a spring of Mad Men, Girls, and Veep, followed by asummer of Breaking Bad, Louie, Wilfred, and Pretty Little Liars, fall is starting to look like the worst part of television’s year: another round of network shows destined to be cancelled after a few weeks, or so broad and grating that they’re hard to watch. Nevertheless, there’s usually something to be excited about, even if I have to dig deep to round out the list:
10) Ben & Kate Premieres September 25 on FOX
I’m throwing this on the list because it felt wrong not to include any new comedies, even if this year’s batch seems particularly uninspired. At least this one has Jim Rash’s writing partner, Nat Faxon, in it. Plus a cute kid…
9) Dexter Premieres September 30 on Showtime
Last year, I bumped Dexter from the list, and then the show had its worst season yet. But the cliffhanger ending, in which Deb finally caught her brother, makes me mildly intrigued by where things will go this year.
8) Revolution Premieres September 17 on NBC
Every year I put one of these mythology-heavy Lost rip-offs on the list (FlashForward, The Event, Terra Nova) and every year I’m disappointed. Still, I’ll probably keep watching them until networks stop making them. For one, they usually have good pilots, with intriguing mysteries and cool action sequences. It’s only a few episodes in, when the shows actually have to develop a story, that they usually go wrong. And though it’s rare for these shows to succeed, when they do, it’s worth it. Revolution has Giancarlo Esposito as the brightest spot in a generally good cast, and J.J. Abrams at the helm, so it’s got that going for it, which is nice.
7) Suburgatory Premieres October 17 on ABC
Last year was heralded as the “Year of Women” in comedy, thanks to shows like Whitney, 2 Broke Girls, and New Girl. Of course, a lot of that was exaggerated or misplaced—Whitney failed, 2 Broke Girls was terrible, and the guys on New Girl ended up contributing just as much as Zooey Deschanel. Nevertheless, Suburgatory, a show most of those trend stories ignored, ended up being the best example of it. The young Jane Levy was a great lead, and she was surrounded by an excellent supporting cast, comprised of mostly females: Allie Grant as her neurotic friend, Carly Chaikin as her vacuous nemesis, and Cheryl Hines as her surrogate mother. Now that the show’s airing after Modern Family, it should grow its audience.
6) Battle of the Seasons Premieres September 19 on MTV
Of course I will always look forward to a new Challenge season, even if half of the cast is unfamiliar to me.
5) Boardwalk Empire Premieres September 16 on HBO
Last year’s finale was excellent, and a brave place for the show to go, but it also presents a challenge: How does the show stay interesting after losing one of its best characters? Based on the advertising for the new season, which recycle from the pilot, Boardwalk is using this almost as a rebirth—the show has jumped ahead in time and is introducing some new characters. This a bold direction for the show, but it is risky. I’m not sure Nucky Thompson is an interesting enough lead to carry the show.
4) Happy Endings Premieres October 23 on ABC
Happy Endings is one of many low-rated but critically-adored comedies to return without a resounding vote of confidence. Now that it’s no longer airing after Modern Family—and instead facing competition from Fox’s New Girl and NBC’s new Matthew Perry show—Happy Endings could be in ratings trouble. But Happy Endings grew into one of the best comedies on TV last season. Its cast is so strong and its writing so distinct that it rivals NBC’s top two (which we’ll get to on this list). In fact, Happy Endings leading into Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23—an intriguing show from last spring and a better tonal match than Modern Family ever was—could be the best comedy hour of the fall now.
3) Homeland Premieres September 30 on Showtime
Homeland had an excellent first season, and now probably occupies the “serious Sunday viewing” slot in the fall, when Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Downton Abbey are all on hiatus. Most of what made its debut great returns—Claire Danes and Damien Lewis still lead a great cast, and the writing will hopefully remain as nuanced as it was last year. But shows that rely on season-long mystery arcs often have a hard time replicating that first one (see: 24, Dexter, Veronica Mars, Twin Peaks, et. al.), and Homeland is in a similar position now that we know the truth about Brody–promos are quick to remind viewers of all they still don’t know. The show could be in trouble if it simply tries to repeat the mystery element of last year.
2) Parks and Recreation Premieres September 20 on NBC
Like Happy Endings, Parks and Recreation was renewed somewhat tepidly. NBC announced plans to go “broad” with comedy, and seems ready to kill every show in their “Must See” Thursday lineup: 30 Rock and The Office are already officially in their last seasons, and Community has been sentenced to Fridays. But in terms of quality, Parks and Recreation is the show I have the fewest reservations about: By now it’s proven it can do ongoing arcs, it can showcase all of its main characters, it can balance emotional stories, and it can write iconic characters without beating them into the ground. I hope this is not the final season, but if it is, I expect it to be great.
1) Community Premieres October 19 on NBC
I’m not super happy that NBC is slowly killing my favorite show: moving it to Fridays, firing the showrunner, only ordering 13 episodes. But I never really expected it to come back at all, so I’m just thrilled to have more Community, whenever it airs. There are obviously some concerns about how the show will function without Dan Harmon—if the show stops doing crazy clip shows and brilliant parodies and weird animation, part of it dies. But this show is too unique to give up on…