Every year after Labor Day TV viewers are faced with the same, daunting task: Sifting through the overwhelming array of new and returning series on the tube, deciding which are worth getting to know (and/or revisiting) and which are jokes or bores. After all, there's no point in dedicating your valuable time to a show that's doomed to be cancelled before Thanksgiving. But while there are plenty of these turkeys slated to hit the airwaves this year, there are many promising submissions on the horizon, too—particularly if you happen to be a fan of one of the four following categories of television: 1. political/CIA procedurals, 2. supernatural/superhero fantasies, 3. crime dramas/mysteries, and 4. rom-coms. Indeed, these are formulas as old as storytelling itself, which isn't surprising seeing as networks hate to deviate from anything that's proved its worth in the past. Still, the same recipe that made one show a hit can just as easily make the next a flop. Well, we did the grunt work for you, logging mercilessly long hours in front of our televisions to report back on our findings.
The Political/CIA Procedural
State of Affairs
Premiering: November 17th, 10:00pm
What to Expect: Clearly inspired by the popularity of female protagonist-led CIA drama Homeland, State of Affairs stars former Grey's Anatomy actress Katherine Heigl as Charlie Tucker, a CIA attaché juggling a complex personal life with a demanding government job as the president's briefer. Whether Heigl has the range to pull off this multidimensional role is up for debate, but with Alfre Woodard on board playing the president (!) and retired real life CIA White House briefer Rodney Faraon serving as an executive producer, there's reason to be cautiously optimistic.
Premiering: September 21st, 8:00pm
What to Expect: Like State of Affairs, Madam Secretary is the story of a politically powerful female—this time, Tea Leoni as an ex-CIA analyst recruited for the position of secretary of state. Unlike Heigl's swinging-single character, however, Leoni's Elizabeth McCord is a married mother of two attempting a more traditional (but no less demanding) balancing act. Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright was called in as a consultant for this one, which should lend the show some measure of authenticity.
Premiering: September 22nd, 9:00pm
What to Expect: Easily the most fast-paced of this category, Scorpion is kind of a Big Bang Theory meets The A-Team, revolving around a group of quirky geniuses hired by Homeland Security bigwig Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick from The Unit). The assemblage of likable geek characters, led by "one of the five smartest people alive," Walter O'Brien (Elyes Gabel, Body of Proof), should provide the right amount of comic relief to this plot-driven nail-biter. Expect plenty of car chases and explosions, too.
Premiering: October 5th, 9:00pm
What to Expect: SPOILER ALERT: While the critically acclaimed drama has alienated fans over the past two seasons with its increasingly implausible plot lines and schmaltzy romances, season four may present something of a blank slate as CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) deals with the loss of Brody and her father, plus the addition of a brand new baby.
Premiering: September 22nd, 8:00pm
What to Expect: What came before Batman? Good question. Gotham, a Batman prequel of sorts, aims to answer this question by exploring the rise of Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie, Southland, The OC) from rookie cop to police commissioner. Along the way, we'll meet young Bruce Wayne, as well as early prototypes of Catwoman, the Penguin, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, and other familiar villains with (hopefully) compelling back stories. This could be good news for fans who dig the nefarious vibe of the Dark Knight series.
Network: The CW
Premiering: October 7th, 8:00pm
Wow Factor: As glossy and glib as Gotham is dark and brooding, The Flash (a spin-off of Arrow) brings DC Comics' Scarlet Speedster to life via Grant Gustin (Glee). As with Gotham, viewers get a glimpse of Barry Allen's pre-superhero life, though this series doesn't linger in the past. Fans of Gustin's charmingly awkward debut as Allen on Arrow will likely become repeat viewers; those concerned with his "leading man potential" might be a tougher sell.
Premiering: October 24th, 10:00pm
What to Expect: Based on yet another DC Comic (Hellblazer), Constantine stars Matt Hunter (Criminal Minds) as the droll but damned demon hunter John Constantine. Die-hard devotees of the comic books should prepare themselves for deviations from the character's original incarnation (no cigarettes, and damned to hell for a different reason), though stellar paranormal special effects should make up for these digressions.
The Walking Dead
Premiering: October 12th, 9:00pm
What to Expect: If you were one of the many Deadheads who found the lethargic pacing of season four frustrating, the season-five spoilers circulating thus far—not to mention that first official action-packed trailer—should snap you right back into zombie-fighting mode. Cannibals? A love interest for Daryl? Major character deaths? Bring. It. On.
How to Get Away with Murder
Premiering: September 25th, 10:00pm
What to Expect: Does everything producer Shonda Rhimes (Scandal, Grey's Anatomy) touch turn to gold? Starring Viola Davis (The Help) as Criminal Law Professor Annalise Keating, this "legal thriller" is building some serious buzz based on a trailer packed with illicit sex, smart one-liners and, of course, a dead body.
Premiering: October 1st, 10:00pm
What to Expect: Promoted as one of the scariest dramas ever to air on television, Stalker borrows as much from horror movies as it does from Law & Order and CSI. Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story) plays Jack Larsen, who transfers from the NYPD homicide squad to the LAPD's Threat Assessment Unit, presided over by Lieutenant Beth Davis (Maggie Q from Nikita). Both are equally capable and headstrong, but who will ultimately catch the super-creepy killer (weapon of choice: gasoline and a match) remains to be seen.
Premiering: October 2nd, 9:00pm
What to Expect: An Americanized take on the BBC's well-received 10-part mystery Broadchurch, this version follows the same basic story—a small town is devastated by the unsolved murder of a young boy—and even stars the same actor, David Tennant (Doctor Who), in the role of the detective assigned to the case. Apparently some key plot points have changed, however (the identity of the killer, most notably), so there are still surprises in store for fans of the original.
Premiering: September 28th, 10:00pm
What to Expect: [SPOILER ALERT] Season four represents a rather significant shift for Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp). After all, now that her father's turned up alive, the "revenge" she's been seeking for the duration of the show has been rendered unnecessary. Will this twist weaken the momentum of the series? Possibly, though there are still plenty of questions to be answered (who is David Clarke, really? Will Jack and Emily get together?). Expect soapy twists and turns, revenge or not.
Jane the Virgin
Network: The CW
Premiering: October 13th, 9:00pm
What to Expect: Loosely based on the Venezuelan telenovela Juana la Virgen, this unlikely comedy (which hinges on the premise of an "accidental" pregnancy) stars soap opera actress Gina Rodriguez (The Bold and the Beautiful) in the title role. Outlandish setup aside, if the trailer is any indication, this show looks to be more engaging (and less trite) than most sitcoms premiering this fall.
A to Z
Premiering: October 2nd, 9:30pm
What to Expect: Executive produced by Rashida Jones (The Office, Parks and Recreation) and starring Cristin Milioti (best known as the titular character from How I Met Your Mother), this series focuses on one relationship in its entirety, from meeting to breakup (or A to Z, as it were). Think of it as a sitcom for cynics.
Premiering: September 30th, 8:00pm
What to Expect: A Pygmalion for the social media set, this stars Karen Gillan (Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy) as a self-obsessed Eliza Doolittle type and John Cho (Sleepy Hollow, the Harold and Kumar movies) as the "marketing guru" who helps to humanize her. Here's hoping the stellar cast can lift up the somewhat shallow premise.
Manhattan Love Story
Premiering: September 30th, 8:30pm
What to Expect: Kind of like those Look Who's Talking franchise without the babies, this urban love story seeks to put a novel spin on the classic boy-meets-girl tale by using voiceovers revealing the thoughts of the main characters, played by Analeigh Tipton (Crazy, Stupid, Love) and Jake McDorman (Shameless). Created by Jeff Lowell (John Tucker Must Die, Two and a Half Men), this one should appeal to those who aren't turned off by cutesy dialogue.