clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The 26 most worthwhile TV shows to watch this fall

From new curiosities to returning favorites, here are the most promising options to add to your schedule.

Real talk: The fall 2017 TV season is one of the worst we’ve seen in ages and ages. Even if we expand our net to include “new TV shows we haven’t seen yet but are curious to check out,” it’s hard to find too many new series worth getting excited for.

But you know what? The lackluster new offerings don’t matter all that much. Fall is a time for some of our favorite shows to return, too, and there’s enough good TV right now to go around — and then some.

Below, we’ve rounded up 26 shows you should be watching this fall, from newcomers we hope will become something special to established series that are among some of the best on the air.

They range from gleefully funny trips to the afterlife to horror miniseries, from the story of TV’s most antisocial antihero to a standard-issue cop drama that nonetheless does some interesting things. And if you’re a fan of laughing, you’re in luck, because our list is very comedy-heavy. For returning shows, we’ve also skewed toward options you can watch right now on streaming services, so you can get caught up before their new seasons begin.

Add them to your DVR, find them on streaming, or watch them on demand — we don’t care. Just tune in for the best TV of the fall.

The Deuce, HBO (debuted September 10)

The Wire creator David Simon dives into the 1970s porn industry in a show whose “scuzzy” settings have been turned all the way up to 21. The Deuce is a slow build, but its combination of Simon and co-creator George Pelecanos’s complex, literate scripts; performances from James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal; and the direction of Michelle MacLaren makes it the one new show of the fall worth diving into, week after week. It asks tough questions but never dares suggest easy answers.

Watch: The premiere is available on HBO’s various streaming platforms. New episodes air Sundays at 9 pm on HBO.

Outlander, Starz (returned September 10)

This fall is a bit slow for prestige dramas, which means it might finally be time for Outlander, just entering its third season, to shine. Ronald Moore (of Battlestar Galactica fame) and his compatriots have adapted author Diana Gabaldon’s time-travel romance war novels into a ripping series that shows characters battling against the whims of fate, occasionally separated by whole centuries of time. The show is at its best when it trains its focus on Claire, its time-tossed lead, played with expert precision by Caitriona Balfe.

Watch: New episodes air Sundays at 10 pm on Starz. Previous seasons are available to Starz subscribers, via the Starz app or any number of platforms (Amazon, for instance) with Starz as an add-on channel.

Top of the Lake: China Girl, Sundance (debuted September 10)

Top of the Lake: China Girl is not as good as the first season of Top of the Lake, which felt like a once-in-a-lifetime melding of the talents of Jane Campion (the auteur behind The Piano and other films) and Elisabeth Moss (maybe the best actor of her generation). It relies too heavily on coincidences, and its treatment of various Asian cultures leaves something to be desired. But it’s still thrillingly acted, with Moss’s character (a New Zealand detective) increasingly seeming like an open wound, and the story’s treatment of issues stemming from adoption is particularly well done.

Watch: The entire series is now available on Hulu, and you can also watch on Sundance’s website.

Broad City, Comedy Central (returns September 13)

In its fourth season, Comedy Central’s breakout comedy is going to do a couple of things differently. First, it’s going to integrate the fact that Donald Trump is president of the United States, but will pointedly bleep out any mention of his name as if it’s a curse word. And second, it will be set in the fall and winter instead of the summer, as it always has been before.

As a bonus, the season opens with an elaborate and very clever Sliding Doors homage about the day best friends Ilana and Abbi (Broad City co-creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson) first met, and it’s one of the series’ best episodes to date.

Watch: The first three seasons are currently available to stream on Hulu. New episodes of season four will air Wednesdays at 10:30 pm on Comedy Central beginning September 13.

Better Things, FX (returns September 14)

Pamela Adlon’s stellar comedy Better Things based on Adlon’s own experience as a single working mother of three daughters — is better than ever in its second season. Producer Louis C.K. and Adlon (who directed every episode of season two) dig into the constant indignities and unexpected joys of parenting, dating, and just being a person with empathy and unsparing wit. Better Things can be hard to describe without resorting to a string of superlatives, so maybe just trust us when we say there are few shows on the air right now quite as special as this one.

Watch: Season one is currently available to stream on Hulu and FXNow. New episodes of season two will air Thursdays at 10 pm on FX beginning September 14.

Vice Principals, HBO (returns September 17)

In its first season, Vice Principals was one of 2016’s most unsettling treats, a dark, dark comedy about privilege, pain, and assholes that was interpreted by some (wrongly, we’d argue) as a defense of jerkass white guys trampling all over the rights of others. But that quality has made Vice Principals even more worth watching in 2017, as it heads toward its conclusion. (The series was always conceived of as a two-season series of 18 episodes.) Will Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) find the strange figure who gunned him down last season? And how much will he destroy himself along the way?

Watch: The full series is available on HBO’s streaming platforms. New episodes of season two will air Sundays at 10:30 pm on HBO beginning September 17.

The Vietnam War, PBS (debuts September 17)

The famed documentarian Ken Burns has made more “short” films — defined in this context as six hours or less — than massive ones, but he’s best known for his sprawling miniseries. The Civil War, Baseball, The Roosevelts: They’re all terrific achievements and highlights of the past 27 years on PBS, the network that airs all of Burns’s stuff. At 18 hours, The Vietnam War is Burns’s longest work, and it also might be his best, a dark, unrelenting journey through a portion of American history that still feels like a barely healed wound.

Watch: All 10 parts will roll out from Sunday, September 17, through Thursday, September 28, taking off the Friday and Saturday in between. The episodes will air at 8 pm Eastern in most markets, but you should check your local PBS station’s listings. Additionally, the entire first week of episodes will be available for streaming the evening of Sunday, September 17, and the entire second week will be available Sunday, September 24.

Channel Zero, Syfy (returns September 20)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, American Horror Story exists. And its seventh season, Cult, marked the show’s strongest start in quite a while. We’re enjoying it! But you should still make time for this even eerier horror treat, which bases every season on a new scary story scrounged up from the internet. (If you love the subreddit /r/nosleep, Channel Zero is sort of like that, but in TV show form.) Season two spins off from the terrifically spooky “NoEnd House,” and you don’t need to have seen the previous season (“Candle Cove”) to know what’s going on. But you should check it out anyway. It’s wonderfully creepy.

Watch: The first season is available on Syfy’s website. Season two airs Wednesdays at 10 pm on Syfy beginning September 20.

The Good Place, NBC (returns September 20)

The Good Place evolved extraordinarily rapidly from a promising pilot that made us wonder, “How is this going to be a show?” to a series that took over our lives. It’s funny. It’s weird. It boasts some of the most inventive storytelling on TV right now. And it’s a network sitcom. The main character, Eleanor, dies and finds herself in “The Good Place,” but she knows she doesn’t belong there. That’s all you should know. Okay, that and that Kristen Bell plays Eleanor. Okay, and that Parks & Recreation co-creator Michael Schur is the brains behind this one. Okay, and that Ted Danson stars too, and he’s delightful. Enjoy!

Watch: The first season is available on Netflix. Season two’s hour-long premiere airs Wednesday, September 20, at 10 pm on NBC, before the show moves to its usual time slot of Thursdays at 8:30 pm on September 28.

Nathan for You, Comedy Central (returns September 21)

Nathan Fielder is one of our finest comedy brains, and this satire of everything from reality television to capitalism is one of the most incisive TV shows on the air. It’s finally back for a fourth season that will, God willing, follow Fielder through the doors of even more flagging businesses, where he will unleash some of the oddest ideas you’ve ever heard to help them try to turn things around. The season even kicks off with an hour-long special that will revisit some of the folks he “helped” in the first three seasons.

Watch: The first three seasons are available on Comedy Central’s website. Nathan for You: A Celebration airs Thursday, September 21, at 10 pm on Comedy Central. Season four officially kicks off one week later, at 10 pm on September 28.

Transparent, Amazon (returns September 22)

Transparent hits the road for its fourth season, following the Pfeffermans on a journey to Israel, where Maura has been invited to give a presentation. The series, always so interested in questions of identity, looks as if it’s going to engage even more with the family’s Jewishness, and it should also pick up from many of season three’s storylines, which included Maura learning she had to stop taking her hormones, due to health concerns. Even when it’s scattered, Transparent is essential.

Watch: The entire series is available on Amazon. You can watch reruns of the first three seasons on Sundance.

Star Trek: Discovery, CBS All Access (debuts September 24)

First things first: We haven’t seen this yet, as CBS hasn’t sent out any episodes to critics. So it could be a disaster! But we’re still excited to check out the first new Star Trek TV series since Star Trek: Enterprise left the air in 2005. With a terrific cast, including The Walking Dead veteran Sonequa Martin-Green in the lead role, and an unexplored period of Trek history (roughly 10 years before the start of the original series), we’re hoping the latest chapter of Trek is all it can be and more.

Watch: The first episode of the series will air on CBS at 8:30 pm on Sunday, September 24. The second episode will be available on the CBS All Access streaming service immediately afterward, with new episodes dropping on Sundays after that, exclusively on All Access.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fox (returns September 26)

Few shows have quite as much fun as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fox’s exuberant cop comedy about a Brooklyn precinct run by deadpan Captain Holt (Andre Braugher). Now entering its fifth season — and fast approaching its 100th episode! — the series has hit such a comfortable stride that we often take it for granted, but you shouldn’t make the same mistake. The new season opens with Jake (Andy Samberg) and Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) maybe going to jail, no doubt resulting in something truly ridiculous (and no, we are not referring to Jake’s prison beard, how rude of you to assume as much).

Watch: The first four seasons are currently available to stream on Hulu. New episodes of season five will air Tuesdays at 9:30 pm on Fox, beginning September 26.

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders (debuts September 26)

We haven’t yet seen a single minute of this show, yet we can’t help but be intrigued. The Law & Order franchise is dipping its toe into the true crime miniseries waters with a look at the infamous Menendez brothers murders, and enlisting Edie Falco to play defense attorney Leslie Abramson, no less. Even if the anthology series’ eight episodes aren’t necessarily good, they should at least be fascinating, if for Falco’s permed wig alone.

Watch: New episodes will air Tuesdays at 10 pm on NBC beginning September 26.

Speechless, ABC (returns September 27)

Last year’s best new family comedy is back for season two, and we can’t wait for more of the DiMeo family’s big-hearted, dirtbag adventures. Speechless, which was created by longtime Friends producer Scott Silveri, doesn’t just tell the story of a family navigating the suburbs with a teenage son (Micah Fowler) who has nonverbal cerebral palsy but also lets that family be funny and flawed. The cast, including Minnie Driver and John Ross Bowie as J.J.’s parents, is uniformly excellent, and the show clicked into a hilarious groove just a few episodes in.

Watch: The first season is currently available to stream on Hulu and New episodes of season two will air Wednesdays at 8:30 pm beginning September 27.

Superstore, NBC (returns September 28)

After struggling in the comedy department for years, NBC finally landed a breakout with the 2015 debut of Superstore, a low-key workplace sitcom that takes place in a Walmart-style big-box store called Cloud 9. With a great cast led by America Ferrera, Ben Feldman, and Mark McKinney, plus a knack for finding jokes in both the most absurd and the most grounded situations, Superstore has quietly become one of the sharpest broadcast sitcoms out there. Throw in the fact that it’s particularly good at tackling topical issues like unions, gun control, and living in America while undocumented — all without preaching a sermon — and you’ve got yourself a reliably fun show. And for what it’s worth, the second season finale tore the entire store apart with a tornado, so it should be fun to see how season three deals with that whole situation!

Watch: The first two seasons are currently available to stream on Hulu. New episodes will air Thursdays at 8 pm on ABC.

Big Mouth, Netflix (debuts September 29)

Just in case living through the awkward hell that is puberty wasn’t harrowing enough the first time, boy, do comedian Nick Kroll and his childhood best friend Andrew Goldberg have the show for you! Their new Netflix cartoon Big Mouth is almost alarmingly frank about the ins and outs of how our bodies change in adolescence, and the unique horrors that come with tweens becoming teens despite themselves. The show is very silly, but with voice talent from the likes of Kroll, John Mulaney, Jenny Slate, and Maya Rudolph among others, it can also be very fun.

Watch: Big Mouth’s 10-episode first season drops September 29 on Netflix.

Black-ish, ABC (returns October 3)

One of the best family sitcoms on TV will be back with a new family member, as the Johnsons welcome baby DeVante into the mix. While adding a baby to a show’s mix can signal a dearth of other stories, we trust Black-ish to find new things to say with its signature frank comedy, especially in the capable hands of Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross as the parents of five kids whose ages range from newborn to college-bound. (It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the show handles the fact that Yara Shahidi’s Zoey is getting her own college spinoff, Grown-ish, on Freeform in 2018.) The new season opens with a Hamilton-esque musical about Juneteenth. Welcome back, Black-ish!

Watch: The first three seasons are currently (finally!) available to stream on Hulu. New episodes of season four will air Tuesdays at 9 pm on ABC beginning October 3.

The Mayor, ABC (debuts October 3)

While the slate of new fall comedies is bleak, the one that stands out for all the right reasons is ABC’s The Mayor, which unites a charismatic cast to follow Courtney Rose (Brandon Micheal Hall), a rapper whose joke political campaign ends with him actually becoming mayor of his hometown and having to do the job. (Yes, the show’s creative team is aware this may sound like a Donald Trump analogy, but insists that the concept was instead inspired by Chance the Rapper.) The first episode has a ton of plot to burn through, but the jokes are charming and loose, and Hall, along with Yvette Nicole Brown as his mother and Lea Michele as his chief of staff, are solid enough right off the bat that there’s a very good chance The Mayor could grow into itself with style.

Watch: New episodes will air Tuesdays at 9:30 pm on ABC beginning October 3.

Mr. Robot, USA (returns October 11)

Mr. Robot’s second season was divisive, to say the least, but its second half was sneakily brilliant. (If you dropped out during the oft-exhausting first half of the season, catch up!) What’s more, it developed the characters who aren’t the protagonist, which means the third season should be ready to hit the gas. The early trailers have been appropriately paranoia-inducing, and the state of the world only serves to make Mr. Robot feel more and more timely.

Watch: The first two seasons are available on Amazon. New episodes of season three will air Wednesdays at 10 pm on USA beginning October 11.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The CW (returns October 13)

Bless The CW for granting us three seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a show that absolutely would not have survived TV even just a few years ago but that absolutely brightens our lives with its bizarro and very clever take on the world around it. Starring Rachel Bloom as the overeager Rebecca Bunch, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend homes in on one woman’s mission to make her summer camp crush her forever partner, sets it to a series of sharp musical parodies, and even swerves into real pathos every now and then. The show is nuanced and strange and in its third season promises to get even more twisted as Rebecca embarks on a single-minded quest for revenge.

Watch: The first two seasons are currently available to stream on Netflix. New episodes of season three will air Fridays at 9 pm on The CW beginning October 13.

Jane the Virgin, The CW (returns October 13)

In its third season, The CW’s comedic telenovela embraced a tricky time jump into the future for the better, as Jane (the incomparable Gina Rodriguez) took steps to heal and move on from the death of her husband. Going into its fourth season, the show is one of those rare gems that truly provides a respite from angst for angst’s sake and celebrates warmth and respect above all else. It’s also managed to balance constant drawn-out love triangles without becoming totally insufferable, which is practically a superhuman talent on TV.

Watch: The first three seasons are currently available to stream on Netflix. New episodes of season four will air Fridays at 8 pm on The CW beginning October 13.

Stranger Things, Netflix (returns October 27)

After all the hype and awards garnered by the first season of this homage to the kid-friendly sci-fi and horror films of the ’80s, Stranger Things is more or less guaranteed to suffer the inevitable (probably tiresome) season two backlash in its second year. But you know what? We’re going to hold out hope that the series returns bigger and better than ever, and that the giant spider monster in from the trailer agrees with us.

Watch: Season one is streaming on Netflix. All nine episodes of season two will debut on Netflix on October 27.

S.W.A.T., CBS (debuts November 2)

To be sure, the premiere of this new cop drama bites off a bit more than it can chew. But its attempt to tell a story about a black cop trying to do the right thing in the era of Black Lives Matter — which at least nods toward not having the same reflexive love of authority that so many other CBS cop dramas do — is both new and different. Creator Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, executive producer Shawn Ryan (of The Shield fame), and star Shemar Moore approach the series as a way to talk about the issues in our world, which is often where broadcast network dramas are best.

Watch: New episodes will air Thursdays at 10 pm on CBS beginning November 2.

SMILF, Showtime (debuts November 5)

So far, we’ve only seen a 10-minute cutdown of this new comedy’s first episode, but it was a solidly funny look at the life of a working-class single mother (played by SMILF creator, writer, and director Frankie Shaw) doing her best to make her way through life in Boston. Nothing about the show rewrites the rulebook, but it’s so skillfully observed that you likely won’t care. Also, Rosie O’Donnell appears as Frankie’s mom, in her first series regular role since 1992.

Watch: New episodes will air Sundays at 10:30 pm on Showtime beginning November 5.

Marvel’s Runaways, Hulu (debuts November 21)

Teens are magic

It seemed inevitable that Marvel’s sharp and witty Runaways comic — about the high-stakes misadventures of a group of teens who discover that their parents moonlight as supervillains — would become a TV show at some point. More than a decade after the comic’s debut (and on the heels of a revival from YA author Rainbow Rowell), Hulu is releasing the first adaptation attempt, as produced by the duo behind The OC and Gossip Girl, Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz. From what we’ve seen so far, their take on Runaways plays to their strengths: namely, snarky banter, an attractive cast, and a more developed story on the parents’ side of the plot.

Watch: New episodes will be released Tuesdays on Hulu beginning November 21.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.