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In with the old: 21 returning TV series to be excited about

It’s a good year for new TV series, but it may be an even better one for returning shows.

Coming off of three Emmy nominations, Black-ish is one of the buzziest returning comedies of the season.
Coming off of three Emmy nominations, Black-ish is one of the buzziest returning comedies of the season.

When most people talk about "fall TV," they're talking about the huge glut of new shows that networks — broadcast, cable, and streaming — put on the air between September and November. But fall also means the return of some of TV's best — or at least most entertaining — shows.

This fall is a solid one for new shows, but it's also positively stuffed with great returning series. Below are 21 we think are worth watching, organized by return date. Some are among TV's best. Some are just shows we like keeping up with. All are worth celebrating as part of the annual ritual of adding to your streaming queue.

Watch on, America. You need never be without TV again.

Documentary Now! (IFC)

In addition to its comedic merits (of which there are many), this IFC mockumentary series functions as a crash course in some of the most influential documentaries in the history of cinema. Granted, that crash course is filtered through the sensibilities of Saturday Night Live alums and Documentary Now! executive producers Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Meyers, who bring a sketch-comedy approach to their shortform film parodies.

But the trio (who trade off writing duties, with Hader and Armisen co-starring) know that interesting, specific source material makes for interesting, specific comedy, and that’s reflected in the range of parody targets they featured in Documentary Now!’s first season, which leaned toward the controversial and/or formally audacious end of the documentary spectrum.

Season two boasts a similarly enticing lineup of source material, from the 1992 presidential campaign chronicled in The War Room to the lyrical food porn of Jiro Dreams of Sushi to the seminal Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, all of which seem tailor-made for the Documentary Now! crew’s silly but reverential comedic approach.

Returned September 14; new episodes air Wednesdays at 10 pm Eastern on IFC

High Maintenance (HBO)

Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld’s comedy High Maintenance is new to HBO after getting its start (and attracting a bit of a cult following) as a web series on Vimeo. The show follows "the Guy" (Sinclair), an anonymous pot dealer whose deliveries throughout New York City are the connective tissue between each episode; every installment sees the Guy meeting a new customer and the show presenting a different slice of New York’s weed-smoking population.

Sinclair and Blichfeld’s surrealistic style, empathetic comedy and reliance on the Guy’s freewheeling bicycling life help them showcase more sides of New York City than most TV shows ever dare. As a bonus, you may recognize some of the Guy’s clients, as the show is particularly well-suited to celebrity cameos.

Returned September 16; new episodes air Fridays at 11 pm Eastern on HBO, and previous episodes (from the show’s former life as a web series) are streaming on HBO Go

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)

This Fox comedy proved the crackling comedic chemistry of its cast right out of the gate, and three seasons in it’s only gotten sharper and funnier, mining comedy gold from combining its many characters into different permutations. But some of the best moments come when all the members of the Nine-Nine are together bouncing off each other — which makes us hope that Jake (Andy Samberg) and Captain Holt’s (the bone-dry Andre Braugher) time as neighbors "Greg" and "Larry" in the witness protection program in Florida will be brief.

We’re looking forward to the chaos that ensues as the unit bands together to save their captain and star detective from the Mafia — most likely in time for the promised New Girl crossover planned for October 11.

Returned September 20; new episodes air Tuesdays at 8 pm Eastern on Fox

Survivor (CBS)

Before you laugh at Survivor’s presence on this list, consider that the show has been on the air for 16 years and 33 seasons; clearly, something’s working. Even at its lowest, the reality competition usually finds a way make its tagline — "outwit, outplay, outlast" — mean something different and more interesting, whether that means inviting fan-favorite contestants to return or splitting the tribes into specific categories based on silly themes.

Season 33 may be the biggest test of tribal delineations yet, with "Millennials" going up against "Gen X"; the result could be terrifically annoying, hilarious, or both. Either way, Survivor knows how to generate moments that keep people coming back, for better or for worse.

Returned Wednesday, September 21, at 8 pm Eastern on CBS

Black-ish (ABC)

Black-ish has always been strong, but it became one of television’s undisputed best comedies in its second season. Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross led the family ensemble sitcom to great heights in excellent episodes like "Hope," which took place almost entirely in Dre and Bow Johnson’s living room as their family debated how to handle the onslaught of news about police shootings of unarmed black people. Season two even nabbed the show its first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy — as well as nods for both Anderson and Ross — so it’ll be exciting to see what Black-ish does in season three now that buzz is building and Bow (Ross) is unexpectedly pregnant with the couple’s fifth child. For most other sitcoms, a surprise pregnancy might make us wary, but we have a feeling Black-ish can pull it off.

Returned Wednesday, September 21, at 9:30 pm on ABC

Superstore (NBC)

NBC

This little NBC show, about the employees of a Walmart-esque big-box store called Cloud 9, grew quietly in its first season into a reliably entertaining series. Superstore combines the structure and themes of a workplace comedy with the meandering vibe of a hangout sitcom, and also happens to boast one of the most diverse casts on network TV.

It’s easy to get sucked into Superstore’s relaxed charm, thanks to the strong cast (especially America Ferrera as pragmatic Amy and Mark McKinney as bleeding heart Glenn) and the constant stream of surrealist sight gags, mostly involving the weirdos who make up Cloud 9’s customer base. The show’s rather loose plotting means it’s easy to jump into season two without having seen the first one — but it’s so enjoyable we recommend a binge-watch anyway.

Returns Thursday, September 22, at 8 pm Eastern on NBC

Transparent (Amazon)

The second season of Transparent was TV’s best show, so you’d better believe we’re looking forward to season three. This season, the various members of the Pfefferman family will embark on even more ill-advised romantic relationships, confront the psychological trauma of their pasts, and realize how much they ultimately love each other, over and over again.

Plus, with many of the show’s best guest stars — including Kathryn Hahn and Anjelica Huston — returning for the new episodes and a plot line that centers on Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) deciding it’s time for gender confirmation surgery, there will be plenty of fodder for rich stories.

Returns Friday, September 23, on Amazon Prime

Poldark (PBS)

If the absence of Downton Abbey has left a sudsy-British-period-piece-shaped hole in your TV viewing schedule, Poldark is your show. Based on a series of novels written in the 1940s and set in the 18th century, it follows the adventures of Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner), recently returned to Cornwall from the wars.

When Poldark finds that his father is dead, his inherited farm is in ruins, and his sweetheart has married another, he obviously has no choice but to commence farming — shirtlessly, of course — for episode after episode. And all the while, various women in an assortment of beautiful gowns say things like, "But what about the mines?" as Cornwall looks absurdly beautiful in the background. The result is eye candy of the most entertaining kind.

Returns Sunday, September 25, at 8 pm Eastern on PBS

The Last Man on Earth (Fox)

Over the course of its first two seasons, Fox’s post-apocalyptic comedy The Last Man on Earth evolved into a rare television beast: the serialized sitcom. Where the vast majority of half-hour network comedies hit the "reset" button at the end of each episode, or at least keep the world in which they’re set more or less consistent, The Last Man on Earth keeps throwing curveballs at its not-so-merry band of survivors and watches as they fumble to adapt.

The show’s second season featured a relocation from suburban Tucson to Malibu, several episodes that dealt with major deaths and new pregnancies, and the temporary addition of Phil Miller’s (Will Forte) astronaut brother Mike (played by Jason Sudeikis) to the group dynamic. Most tantalizingly, though, was the show’s drawn-out revelation of the events that led to the decimation of human civilization, something it seems season three will explore further, in between pregnancy-related hijinks and whatever high-strung madness Forte’s Phil gets up to this time around.

Returns Sunday, September 25, at 9:30 pm Eastern on Fox

Quantico (ABC)

Quantico

Quantico is as stupid as it is entertaining, and, well, it’s massively entertaining. The people behind Quantico know this better than anyone. In its first season, this drama about the elite FBI training program was unabashedly marketed as a Shondaland knockoff — a Grey’s Anatomy–esque coming-of-age drama full of attractive, sexy people, filled with the twists and turns of Scandal.

That leads to situations where people get blown up. Situations where people have sex. Situations where some people have sex while other people are getting blown up, and driving nuclear bombs into lakes. Quantico doesn’t take itself too seriously. You shouldn’t either.

Returns Sunday, September 25, at 10 pm Eastern on ABC

The Flash (The CW)

The Flash

Introducing time travel into a TV universe is always a recipe for narrative shenanigans, and season two of The Flash ended with a doozy of a trip to the past. As he did in season one, the Flash, a.k.a. Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), traveled back in time to the night when his mother was killed by the Reverse Flash — only this time, he makes the opposite choice and saves her life, theoretically undoing all the events of the show thus far.

No doubt things will return to the status quo before too long, but the Comic-Con trailer for season three promises some fun alternate-universe hijinks in the meantime. Fingers crossed that new installments of The Flash will move away from the doom and gloom of season two and recapture the winningly sunny tone of the show’s early episodes.

Returns Tuesday, October 4, at 8 pm Eastern on The CW

Supergirl (The CW)

Supergirl, The Flash

Though she made her TV debut over on CBS, Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl is decamping in her second season to the more superhero-friendly climes of CBS’s sister network The CW, where Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow all reside. (Expect crossovers. Many crossovers.)

Though Supergirl will have to deal with the biggest enemy of all — a reduced budget befitting its new, more modest home network — it will have a powerful ally in its corner: none other than Superman himself, played by Tyler Hoechlin. Here’s hoping he doesn’t overshadow his cousin, because watching Benoist play this character is a lot of fun.

Returns Monday, October 10, at 8 pm Eastern on The CW

Fresh Off the Boat (ABC)

ABC’s ferociously funny sitcom centers on the Huang family and their life as they struggle to fit into late-’90s Orlando. While it was originally based on chef Eddie Huang’s pointed memoir, it’s since become its own sharp and funny family sitcom. After two seasons of settling into that premise, season three will open with the whole gang visiting Taiwan for a wedding. And we don’t just mean "visiting" Taiwan — the production actually traveled to the country to film on location.

For as much as Eddie (Hudson Yang) and his preternaturally adorable siblings have felt out of place in Florida, they’ve never actually seen where their parents (an earnest Randall Park and the incredibly sharp Constance Wu) grew up, so this unusual premiere will undoubtedly throw them into some brand new situations before they head back to Florida.

Returns Tuesday, October 11, at 9 pm Eastern on ABC

The Real O’Neals (ABC)

The Real O'Neals

After The Real O’Neals star Noah Galvin spoke off the cuff about Colton Haynes and gay Hollywood in an interview, there was, for a brief moment, a real risk that the low-rated sitcom was going to be canceled. That would have been a shame, considering how good The Real O’Nealsabout a family’s adjustment to their son Kenny (Galvin) coming out — became over the course of its first season.

As Kenny, Galvin has the flashiest role, and some of the show’s early, uneven episodes seemed built solely on Kenny’s precocious one-liners. But by the end of the season, the entire family, especially Martha Plimpton’s matriarch Eileen and Matt Shively as Kenny’s older brother Jimmy, found their comedic groove and turned in one of the most entertaining, well-rounded shows on television.

Returns Tuesday, October 11, at 9:30 pm Eastern on ABC

Jane the Virgin (The CW)

The CW

This charming dramedy’s second season ended with the mother of all cliffhangers: After finally marrying her longtime love Michael (Brett Dier), Jane Villanueva (the fantastic Gina Rodriguez) was about to divest herself of her titular virginity — until Michael was shot by his partner, who actually turned out to be the villainous Sin Rostro (a.k.a. Rose, the stepmother of Rafael, whose sperm Jane was accidentally inseminated with) in disguise.

Convoluted? Yes. Over the top? Frequently. But amid the sudsy drama, Jane explores compelling questions of family, tradition, and identity in thoughtful, heartfelt ways. Plus, the hilarious, gossipy Narrator (Anthony Mendez) is always there to guide viewers through the action with his delightful colorful commentary.

Returns Monday, October 17, at 9 pm Eastern on The CW

Black Mirror (Netflix)

As with independence and The Office before it, the United States has taken Black Mirror from the British and made it its own. Okay, not entirely. The anthology series is still one of TV’s most inventive, with every episode telling a new sci-fi or horror tale, based on the technology that’s all around us. And the head writer is still British satirist and all-around genius Charlie Brooker.

But Black Mirror’s new season will feature double the number of episodes — seasons one and two had three episodes apiece, while this one will have six. It will also feature scripts from the team of Parks & Recreation creator Michael Schur and star Rashida Jones, and 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg. We’ve seen two episodes, and they’re both stunners. So get ready.

Returns Friday, October 21, on Netflix

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Beyond the chipper theme song and the goofy (but smart) Broadway parodies, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a comedy of manners, a brilliant Austenian warping of Emma with a modern feminist bent and a roving satirical eye. Co-creator and star Rachel Bloom rightly won the Golden Globe for her role as Rebecca Bunch, a slightly neurotic, brilliant, but misguided lawyer who upends her life after a brief encounter with a guy she dated for two months at summer camp.

Season two promises returning fans a satisfying mess of love triangles, confused millennials, and effed-up priorities. You’ll come for the Les Miz and Kenny Loggins parodies; you’ll stay for the trenchant commentary and chemistry between the great core cast. It’s a guilt-free, girl-powered rom-com, and nothing’s better than that.

Returns Friday, October 21, at 9 pm Eastern on The CW

The Walking Dead (AMC)

The Walking Dead Season 7

As it heads into its seventh season, The Walking Dead — long one of TV’s highest-rated shows — is at a bit of a crossroads. The show’s sixth season was its weakest yet, and ratings were softer than they had been (though still bigger than most of TV). Plus, the cliffhanger, which left fans wondering which character had been murdered by new character Negan (the always electric Jeffrey Dean Morgan) beating the hell out of them with a bat, proved to be one of the least-liked choices in the history of the series, if online reaction is to be believed.

But now that we’ve almost made it to season seven with the death still mostly unspoiled, how else are you going to find out who was killed? Reading a recap the morning after the episode airs? Yeah, probably.

Returns Sunday, October 23, at 9 pm Eastern on AMC

Rectify (Sundance)

Rectify

Legal drama Rectify may have started out as a steady-as-sorghum melodrama about a family grappling with the false murder conviction and release of their favorite son, but it unexpectedly gained new cultural relevance this year, thanks to the Steven Avery case and Making a Murderer.

World-weary Daniel Holden (Aden Young), returned to freedom after 19 years, bears little superficial resemblance to Avery, but the show’s themes of small-town gossip and persecution feel eerily familiar. (Another famously not-guilty convict, Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three, praised the show for its realistic take on the South’s unforgiving, informal justice system.)

Over its three-season run, Rectify has doubled down on its exploration of small-town lies, hidden secrets, and patriarchal decay. It’s classic Southern Gothic, and the fourth and final season shows no sign of letting up: All that slowly oozing small-town dirt has become a mudslide, and we can’t wait to see where it takes us.

Returns Wednesday, October 26, at 10 pm Eastern on Sundance

Mom (CBS)

Anna Faris, Allison Janney in Mom

After many years in the TV wilderness, sitcoms filmed in front of a live studio audience have made a solid comeback in recent years. NBC’s The Carmichael Show and Netflix’s The Ranch have both proved worthy contenders, but the best sitcom of this sort on TV is still CBS’s Mom, an unfailingly funny but frequently despairing look at two women struggling to move past their addictions and build better lives.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that those two women are played by the always-ready-for-anything Anna Faris and Allison Janney, who’s won two Emmys for this role (to go along with her boatloads of other awards). Now entering its fourth season and more confident than ever, Mom is worth taking a chance on, even if you don’t like the format.

Returns Thursday, October 27, at 9 pm Eastern on CBS

Gilmore Girls (Netflix)

Alexis Bleidel and Lauren Graham, Gilmore Girls

A beloved ’00s WB favorite is getting new life nine years after its finale thanks to Netflix. The streaming giant has reassembled nearly the entire original Gilmore Girls cast, including stars Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel, for a four-part miniseries that picks up with the quirky denizens of Stars Hollow, Connecticut, some years after the events of the original series.

Also returning is series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who famously left the show after its penultimate sixth season and will now finally get to wrap up the Gilmores’ story with those four words she always envisioned. Read Vox’s Constance Grady for absolutely everything we know about the revival so far.

Premieres Friday, November 25, on Netflix


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