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In those places that have trees, the leaves are falling. Blockbuster season is over and Oscar contenders are beginning to hit theaters, but the most important thing about the fall, (at least as far as we’re concerned) is the return of 90% of everything good on television. Summer isn’t without its charms, but when it comes to TV, the fall is where it all begins. Serialized dramas and the comedy elites return to the screens for your and our viewing pleasure, but with so much to choose from and only so much time in the day, how does one choose? That question is sadly unanswerable, but to lend a helping hand, we thought we’d put together our thoughts on some of the best that’s out there.
Archer (FX) September 15, 10:00PM EST
Someone call Kenny Loggins, because the gang from Isis are back in the “Danger Zone” this Fall. A trio of episodes will be airing to help build anticipation for the third season; which is premiering in 2012. Archer is a must for anyone calling themselves a fan of comedy, and this is the perfect opportunity to jump on board. There is no reason not to stick around after the first three episodes of It's Always Sunny and be treated to Archer's subtle genius. The best comedic cast since Arrested Development is reason enough to watch (don't let his Comedy Central show fool you; H. Jon Benjamin is one of the funniest people alive), but the series also features some of the sharpest writing TV has seen in years. Dialogue that moves so fast it's hard to keep up with all the laughs and deeply layered running jokes are just two of the things this show does incredibly well.
Parks and Recreation (NBC) September 22, 8:30PM EST
To say that P+R's fans are just happy about it receiving a full fourth season is like saying Ron Swanson only has a mild love for scotch and red meat. Not that the shortened third season brought down the series; in fact it was one of the best comedies of the year. This time around however, we'll be enjoying P+R from September to May, and not just as a midseason replacement. And since anticipation was already high in lieu of the finale going out on two cliffhangers, it was a wise move on NBC's part not to make us wait until winter. If you are new to the series you won't understand the ramifications of Leslie Knope running for political office, or the fevered excitement over the reveal of Tammy One. But what you will get within minutes of watching is how charmingly bizarre the citizens of Pawnee are, and why they make Parks and Recreation such a hilarious show.
The Walking Dead (AMC) October 16, 9:00PM EST
Despite not being the biggest fan of the first season, it would be a lie to say I wasn't highly anticipating the return of The Walking Dead. The series isn't without its problems, but the potential rise in quality that a full thirteen episode season brings is worth tuning in for. Amid all the controversy over AMC slashing the budget and unceremoniously ousting Frank Darabont, it's been hard to remember that we were supposed to be caring about the drama going on in front of the camera, not behind it. But the short, edge-of-your-seat promos airing right now have done an excellent job of reminding us why we cared about TWD in the first place. So whether you have been loving the series or would love to see it improve, there is good reason to watch. Just make sure you get there early, as AMC has bumped it up an hour to make room for their new series, Hell on Wheels.
Fringe (Fox) September 23, 9:00PM EST
Fringe has taken us through a mesmerizing journey over the past three years. We have followed the Pattern, discovered the existence of an alternate universe, and watched the two "worlds" live, hope and fight for survival. All that while watching the most endearing mad-scientist on TV, hoping that his son will forgive him, rooting for the quiet and battered one in a love triangle of world shattering importance, and because of compelling characters in both universes, struggling with our choice to save the one we perceived as "ours." During the past months I have reviewed several shows including Fringe, and though our own rating system might not show it, the third season of Fringe has been, creatively, several notches above anything else on TV this year.
The season ended with a reset that allows for a sort of new beginning. In the upcoming fourth season, the universes have to openly work together to avoid the impending "natural" disaster, while being initially unaware they came really close to a man-made one. Creatively, it allows the show designers to stay in the setting and stick with the characters that made season three such a success. It also allows newcomers to the series to comfortably follow the new season, and only consider the first three as a backdrop that will gradually weigh in.
Terra Nova (Fox) September 26, 8:00PM EST
Terra Nova is about a family that travels back in time from the year 2149 to prehistoric Earth as part of an experiment to save humanity. There's been — for several months now — a lot of news on the blogosphere about the new Fox series, and by news, I mean mostly bad news. It is in the natural order of things for most new series to crash and burn, which is even more likely to happen with an ambitious project that has done everything to put expectations very high. Terra Nova needs to achieve three things to be successful: the setting needs to look and feel prehistoric, the dinosaurs' visual effects should be good, and we need to care enough about the characters to worry when they are chased down by the terrible reptiles. From the looks of the trailer, I would say the setting and the family at the heart of the story look just fine. I suspect dinosaurs will be alright, which leaves us with the question: will the very little elements of storyline required here be so bad that we are tempted to root for velociraptors when they are zipping toward some of the characters? I think the series deserves to be given a shot, if for nothing else, to get an answer to that question while enjoying the chases.
Homeland (Showtime) October 2, 10:00PM EST
This Showtime action series is a psychological thriller that centers on a CIA agent with bipolar disorder (Claire Danes) who suspects the just recovered Marine Sgt Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), Missing in Action for eight years, is part of a terrorist plot. The show has going for it the very movie-like premise, the cast and the fact that it will unfold as a 13-episode season. With this number of episodes, the producers should have enough time to unravel a story that will be much about the characters, but not so much time that we start to feel things are stalling. From the trailer, Homeland doesn't feel like your usual cliché-laden spy/military thriller, which I suspect might be because of the particular passion and intensity from Danes's character. Also, Lewis seems to portray a man tortured in more ways than one, but not so easy to read.
Supernatural (The CW) September 23, 9:00PM EST
Despite being on a very minor network, Supernatural has achieved something that few shows in existence ever have. From its inception, the show laid out and seamlessly executed a fairly grand story involving demons, angels, the devil and god himself - all intertwining with the lives of two brothers who hunt the things that go bump in the night. After the fifth season was through, the devil was done and so was show creator Eric Kripke’s tenure at the helm. Nevertheless the story continued on. The sixth season was divisive, initially suffering from the fact that the grand story was now done with, but once a new story had begun to be carved out, the show was back in full swing. The back half of the season delivered some of the show’s strongest and most interesting episodes, all the while combining humor, action and drama. The finale changed the game, with friends becoming enemies and angels becoming gods, giving the upcoming seventh season that grand scope once more.
Dexter (Showtime) October 2, 9:00PM EST
Trying to describe why someone should watch Dexter isn’t the easiest thing in the world. The premise: a forensics expert spends his spare time being a serial killer, sounds somewhat contrived, but it really, really isn’t. Michael C. Hall is just a Bryan Cranston away from a lead actor Emmy every single year for his performance as the titular character and the buck certainly doesn’t stop there. Dexter is easily up there with the best of the best when it comes to drama and suspense, and despite a somewhat divisive fifth season, it has never failed to deliver. The dark humor of Dexter’s inner monologue has consistently combined with a phenomenal amorality tale and with some strong additions to the cast of the upcoming sixth season, things are only looking up. Easily a contender for the best show on television, missing out on Dexter would be a decision that you’ll regret when you stumble across it later and ask yourself what the hell you were thinking.
Community (NBC) September 22, 8:00 EST
Comedy on television usually suffers from one fatal flaw: not being funny. Critical acclaim falls far too easily on the mainstream time fillers like Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory - who seldom deliver anything above mediocrity - but Community is a cut or ten above the rest, and it’s time that people paid attention. Bringing to television a dry and subtle humor that hasn’t graced screens since Arrested Development, Community is second only to Fringe in being a borderline show that deserved its pick up. The first season introduced us to a group of lovable, but relatable, community college students and the second season took it to new levels with several Emmy worthy episodes. With John Goodman and The Wire’s Michael K. Williams joining the cast for multi-episode runs in this new year, things are likely only going to get better.