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12 returning TV shows to watch this fall

Jessica Biel (left) stars in the season premiere of New Girl. Zooey Deschanel is also there, as always.
Jessica Biel (left) stars in the season premiere of New Girl. Zooey Deschanel is also there, as always.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

It's mid-September, which means it's time for many of your favorite shows to come back. The fall TV season officially kicks off Monday, Sept. 22, but it unofficially revs up tomorrow night, with the returns of New Girl and The Mindy Project on Fox. By the middle of October, you'll have so much TV to watch, you won't know what to do with yourself. And that's where we come in. Here are 12 returning shows worth watching. All shows are available for digital purchase. We've also noted streaming services they are available on, when applicable.

The 100

Why you should watch: Though occasionally too cheesy, The 100 turned into a surprisingly successful sci-fi drama by the end of its first season, one that was fully committed to its post-apocalyptic world and premise. At first, the idea of the teenage descendants of nuclear war survivors returning to Earth after having been born and raised in space seemed like a weird excuse for yet another half-hearted teen soap. But The 100 invests in its characters and gives them surprising inner life. It's a show that never quite does what you expect it to.
Why it might falter: It gained a lot of momentum from coming out of nowhere last season. Shows like that sometimes have even more to prove once we expect them to do something interesting. (See also: Orphan Black.)
Airs: Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern on The CW.
Returns: October 22.
Available: Many episodes are available on Hulu Plus.


Why you should watch: In its second season, Arrow grew into one of TV's best action shows and a reliably entertaining TV counterpoint to big-screen superhero shenanigans. (In fact, it's significantly better than Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., specifically produced as a spinoff of said big-screen shenanigans.) The show's visual aesthetic can occasionally be too murky, but it has some spectacularly choreographed action scenes and fights, and its sense of humor is at once sneaky and present. Plus, this season will feature famed comics supervillain Ra's al Ghul!
Why it might falter: Bringing in Ra's al Ghul seems like a move that could lead to the villain eating up way too much screentime, to the detriment of our heroes.
Airs: Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern on The CW.
Returns: October 8.
Available: Season one is on Netflix, with season two joining it October 8.

Bob’s Burgers Fox

Bob's Burgers is TV's best family comedy. (Fox)

Bob's Burgers

Why you should watch: TV's most reliably hilarious family comedy is this low-key animated charmer about a couple with three kids that runs a burger restaurant in a non-descript city, somewhere in the United States. Bob's is worth watching just for its jokes, which are always funny, but it's also worth watching because its five central characters are so brilliantly drawn and so distinct. And, unique among animated shows right now, it's never afraid to underplay gags, instead of making too much of them.
Why it might falter: The show is struggling a bit in the ratings. The real fear here isn't creative erosion but, rather, cancellation.
Airs: Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Fox.
Returns: October 5.
Availability: The first three seasons are on Netflix. Season four is on Hulu Plus.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Why you should watch: It's rare for a TV comedy to rocket out of the gate as rapidly as Brooklyn Nine-Nine did in its first season. It went from a very good pilot to a terrific string of episodes to one of the best first seasons for a comedy in recent memory. Much of that is due to a crackerjack writing staff, led by Parks & Recreation vets Dan Goor and Michael Schur. But just as much is due to an amazing ensemble cast, boasting such heavy-hitters as Andre Braugher, Andy Samberg, and Terry Crews, right alongside lesser known actors who bring just as many laughs.
Why it might falter: Because it got so good so quickly, the show was already showing weird signs of plateauing late in season one. Hopefully, that was just typical late-season malaise and not a sign of things to come.
Airs: Sundays at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on Fox.
Returns: September 28.
Availability: Season one is on Hulu Plus.

The Good Wife

Why you should watch: The network drama people point to when they want to say "See? Not all network dramas are bad!" returns for a sixth season that will attempt to build upon and top the show's fifth, widely acclaimed as its best yet. And even if season five featured a great degree of turmoil that tore apart many of the foundations the show has been built upon, season six promises to build new ones, as lead character Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) considers running for office. We would vote for her.
Why it might falter: It's hard to throw as much into the pot as Good Wife did in its fifth season and not slump just a bit.
Airs: Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
Returns: Sunday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern. (The show will air a half-hour later on weeks with football overruns.)
Availability: The first five seasons are on Amazon Prime.


Both Carrie (Claire Danes) and Peter (Rupert Friend) are back for season four of Homeland. (Showtime)


Why you should watch: Remember how good this show was for its first one-and-two-thirds seasons? That team of writers and actors is still mostly intact, and it's dedicated to largely revamping a show that had completely fallen apart in the season-and-a-third since those days. By moving Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) to Turkey and making her a CIA station chief, the show may not have operated under the strictest laws of credulity. (Carrie is getting a promotion? Really?) But it's at least attempting to reinvent what went wrong, and we hope it can. C'mon. You're at least curious what this show looks like now, right?
Why it might falter: There might just be too much bad blood here for the show to ever be able to reinvent itself.
Airs: Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern on Showtime.
Returns: October 5.
Availability: Check it out on Showtime Anytime.

Key & Peele

Why you should watch: TV's best sketch comedy is also its most visually inventive, reeling off brilliantly conceptualized and directed sketch after sketch. At the center of the hilarity are Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, two men who never met a comic bit they couldn't find every possible laugh in. And their comedy can run toward the utterly preposterous and bizarre just as often as it can run toward the pointed and satirical, making for a great mix of tones.
Why it might falter: All sketch shows are hit-and-miss by nature. Maybe this season has more misses?
Airs: Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. Eastern on Comedy Central.
Returns: September 24.
Availability: Watch it on Hulu Plus.

The Middle

Why you should watch: Too many comedies on TV are about people who never have to worry about money. The Middle does not have that problem. TV's last, best heir to the name of blue-collar sitcoms such as The Honeymooners, All in the Family, and Roseanne, The Middle is warmer and less politically inclined than some of those shows but no less biting about how hard it is to scrape by in the US when you're not part of the upper classes. It's never angry or mean about it, either. It just treats it as a fact of life — which is perhaps even more damning, when you think about it.
Why it might falter: The show has passed its 100th episode, which means it will start running out of stories sooner or later.
Airs: Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern on ABC.
Returns: September 24.
Availability: A handful of episodes are on Hulu Plus, or you can check for reruns in your local market. (The show is in syndication.)

New Girl

Why you should watch: For a long time, this was one of TV's best comedies - maybe even its best for its magical 2012. But last season saw the show struggling to overcome some weird story decisions and getting dragged down by the weight of those problems. Now, it's aiming to get back to its roots by returning to smaller stories about Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and her four male roommates, stories that allow ample room for the show's enormously talented cast to mess around and improvise. The first two episodes of season four are solid, funny television.
Why it might falter: The "back to basics" move doesn't often work on TV, because it tends to ignore everything that transpired after "basics."
Airs: Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern on Fox.
Returns: Tuesday.
Availability: The series is on Netflix.


Lauren Graham and Craig T. Nelson are back for another season of Parenthood. (NBC)


Why you should watch: Even when it's struggling - as it was for much of last season - this show is worth watching just because of what it represents: stories about real people, dealing with real problems, rather than the latest manufactured workplace crisis. And there's an even better reason to watch the upcoming sixth season: it will be the show's last, and if there's one thing Parenthood executive producer Jason Katims (late of Friday Night Lights) knows how to do, it's wrap up a show in satisfying, moving fashion.
Why it might falter: Season five might have introduced simply too many dud plotlines to fully reinvest in the Bravermans.
Airs: Thursdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on NBC.
Returns: September 25.
Availability: Watch the first four seasons on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Watch the fifth season on Hulu Plus.

Person of Interest

Why you should watch: Few dramas are as tuned in to "the way we live today" in as thrilling of fashion as this show is. What began as a rather sedate detective show with a lazy sci-fi premise grew in its second and third seasons into a brilliant examination of the national security state, with some fantastic action beats and a deeply buried rumination on the future of artificial intelligence. Now, that very rumination is moving toward the show's center, as it launches its most ambitious story arc yet.
Why it might falter: The show has never been as straightforwardly sci-fi as it is right now, and that kind of genre shift can sometimes spell doom.
Airs: Tuesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
Returns: September 23.
Availability: The show is not available on any streaming platform yet. Which is too bad. The internet would love this one.

Sleepy Hollow

Why you should watch: This was TV's wildest fun ride last year, the sort of show with so many preposterous elements that shouldn't work that the combination of all of them creates something that does work. It's about a time-traveling Ichabod Crane trying to fend off the apocalypse. But it's also about plunging head-first through a wild, serialized storyline that doesn't always make sense but is always a ton of fun. And in Ichabod (Tom Mison) and his present-day partner Abbie (Nicole Beharie), it has two characters worth rooting for. Plus, John Noble has joined the cast.
Why it might falter: it's tough for a show to burn through as much story as Sleepy Hollow did and not take a step back.
Airs: Mondays at 9 p.m. Eastern on Fox.
Returns: September 22.
Availability: It's on Hulu Plus.