Fall television is just around the corner, and with only a few weeks before the networks begin rolling out their premieres, it’s as good a time as any to catch up on a few of the good freshmen series before they kick off their second seasons. To help viewers prioritize their catchups, here are the five best series returning for their sophomore years in the fall.
The best new broadcast network series of last year, CW’s little-seen but critically acclaimed Crazy Ex-Girlfriend finally caught fire over the summer thanks to Netflix’s new deal with the CW. (It’s also catching on in the U.K.). Despite a move to Friday nights, it’s one of the few fall shows likely to gain in viewership because of the expanding audience ushered in by the streaming service. It’s a musical rom-com, which might not sound that appealing on first blush, but the musical numbers complement the storylines rather than interfere with them. They’re also brilliant, funny, feminist, and — despite their upbeat, catchy melodies — the lyrics often offer dark meditations on depression, insecurity, and the challenges of balancing careers and love lives. Rachel Bloom, who co-created the show with Aline Brosh McKenna, deservedly won the Golden Globe for her lead performance, but the quirky cast of small-town characters are just as appealing. (Season one consists of 18 42-minute episodes. The show returns on October 21. Available on Netflix)
Ash vs. Evil Dead
Fans of the outstanding original Evil Dead trilogy may have been skeptical about Sam Raimi’s ability to resurrect the franchise on the small screen. But the first season — set 30 years after the original trilogy — is nearly every bit as fun and off-the-wall as the movies. Ashley J. Williams is much older and heavier around the waist, but he’s still got it. He’s accompanied by two sidekicks (Dana DeLorenzo, Ray Santiago) who manage to give the series more heart than the trilogy ever had, while Lucy Lawless’ villainous character adds some mystery to the series while also extending the mythology of the Necromonicon. Ultimately, however, it’s still about killing Deadites, and the action is as bloody and madcap as ever. The quick-paced half-hour episodes keep it fun and lively as the first season eventually finds the cast back at the cabin that started it all. (Season one consists of 10 30-minute episodes. The series returns on October 2. Available on Starz.)
Life in Pieces
Life in Pieces feels strangely out of place over on CBS — home of the broad, traditional sitcom — but it’s a genuinely delightful comedy that makes excellent use of a brilliant, all-star cast that includes Colin Hanks (Fargo), Betsy Brandt (Breaking Bad), Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom), Zoe-Lister Jones (New Girl), Dan Bakkedahl (Veep), Angelique Cabral (Enlisted), Dianne Wiest, and Josh Brolin. Each episode contains three vignettes focusing on separate characters from the same extended family. It plays like a half-hour Parenthood, but it’s as smart, funny, and sweet as early seasons of Modern Family. (Season one consists of 22 22-minute episodes. The series returns on October 27. Available on CBS.com)
Don’t be fooled by the promos that present Superstore as a cute but inoffensive sitcom. The show itself is edgier, funnier, and far more insightful than the NBC marketing department would have us believe. The series comes from Justin Spitzer, a longtime writer on The Office. In Superstore he brings a similar sense of humor along with some surprisingly topical subjects like the wage gap, unions, and the financial struggles of working in retail to the series. Ben Feldman (Mad Men) and America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) topline the series, but like The Office, the array of supporting characters are as integral to the series as the leads. (The Dwight counterpart played by Lauren Ash is a particular stand-out.) Workplace comedies are nothing new, but seldom do they focus on the most common jobs in America — retail salespeople and cashiers — and Superstore is adept at tackling the issues facing those workers while still managing to be consistently warm and funny. (Season one consists of 12 22-minute episodes. The series returns September 22. Available on Hulu and NBC.com)
After an uneven first season on CBS, Supergirl will be moving to a more appropriate network for the series this fall, the CW. Shooting will move from Los Angeles to Vancouver, and the budget won’t be what it was on CBS, but the move does free the series from its obligation to appeal to the broader and older CBS demographic. (Rumor is, Calista Flockhart won’t be sticking around long in season two.) On the CW, the superhero series will also be able to participate in more crossover episodes with the other DC shows on the network, so a Supergirl catch-up is a must for fans of Arrow and The Flash. However, because Supergirl is dominated by so many often bland villain-of-the-week episodes, viewers can shortcut their way through the first season by watching the first, fourth, and 12th episodes before skipping to the last five of the season and still be plenty prepared for season two. (Season one consists of 20 42-minute episodes. The series returns on October 10. Available on the CBS app).