How to Catch Up on Fall TV’s Returning Favorites

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Photo: Illustration: Maya Robinson and Photos by CBS, ABC and FOX

Summer TV is better now than ever before, but even with shows like Mr. Robot and Deustchland 83, the DVRs of summer still feel a little wan. The best thing you can do is use those open slots on your dance card to start prepping for the return of fall TV — especially the shows you haven't yet seen. But what are the best, most efficient ways to catch up on returning shows? And how many episodes do you really need to watch? Let's do this.

Awkward
Returns: August 31
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? Technically, 65 — but you can skip a ton of them. Watch the first season (12 episodes), poke around the middle seasons as you wish (say, five episodes), and then the last two episodes of season four for a grand total of 19 episodes in 24 days. Easy, especially since MTV shows barely break the 20-minute mark.

You’re the Worst
Returns: September 9
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? You should watch the whole first season, which will go by in a blink. It's a salty, dirty, funny rom-com that uses its characters' cynicism to temper the show's secret sweetness. Ten episodes in 33 days, but you can do it in one couch-bound, glorious afternoon.

Fresh Off the Boat
Returns: September 22
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? There are only 13 episodes of the show in the first place, but it's not particularly serialized; any given handful of episodes will get the job done. There's no real reason not to watch all of it, but if you're trying to budget: Watch the pilot, and then pick any three episodes. Four episodes in 46 days. You could bang that out while brushing your teeth.

Empire
Returns: September 23
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? I guess you could skip episodes of Empire, but the whole point of the show is to give in to its too-muchness, to gorge oneself on stiletto nails and drip-drops. It's not that every narrative arc is too precious to skip, it's just … that's not what this show is for. Watch all 12 episodes in 47 days, ideally breaking it into four three-episode sittings.

Nashville
Returns: September 23
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? Don't start watching Nashville. Some of us have foolishly committed to the show, and it's a decision one can't help but regret. Jumping in now is like volunteering to clean out someone else's refrigerator: You'll be shocked by the garbage they've tolerated, and confused as to what it is exactly they're saving, and then you'll find a surprisingly fancy jar of chutney or something and think, Do I even know you? The chutney is Hayden Panettiere in this metaphor. Zero episodes in 47 days.

Heroes Reborn
Returns: September 24
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? Reborn will need to stand (fly?) on its own two feet given how many Heroes fans eventually soured on the series. But if you want to get back in the swing of things, a season-one rewatch can't hurt — and remember, season one of Heroes was pretty good. That's 23 episodes in 48 days, though you can fast-forward boring parts to streamline the process.

Scandal
Returns: September 24
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? Well, there are 69 episodes and four seasons so far. But not all the episodes are essential, and within any given episode, not every scene is necessary either. Did you know you can skip all of Harrison's stories? You can! Sorry, Harrison. Among the first three seasons, you only need to watch 23 episodes, and season four … oy. Do "Like Father, Like Daughter" (and not just to hear Kerry Washington's lisp go into overdrive on "secret sex tape"), and then, unfortunately, the four-episode arc "Run," "Where's the Black Lady?" "Gladiators Don't Run," and "No More Blood," all of which are distressing. The last two episodes of the season, "A Few Good Women" and "You Can't Take Command" are significant, too. That brings us to 30 episodes in 48 days, but you can fast-forward through a ton, particularly in "Run," which is brutal.

How to Get Away With Murder
Returns: September 24
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? The show's first season is only 15 episodes, but you can get away with skipping 80 percent of it. Watch the first and fourth episodes, and the season finale. A mere three episodes in 48 days! You'll miss some good moments from Viola Davis, but you'll live.

Bob’s Burgers
Returns: September 27
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? Just start. Once you enjoy it, go back and revel in its loveliness, but there's no real need to catch up, per se. Watch however many you'd like in 51 days.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Returns: September 27
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? There are 45 episodes of the show, and certainly, the more you watch, the more you'll get out of recurring gags and obscure references. But it's not essential to the show, and if you've been skipping out on the show because you're not up-to-date, abandon that fear. From season one, definitely watch "The Party" and "Tactical Village," and in season two, "Chocolate Milk," "Boyle-Linetti Wedding," and the season finale, "Johnny and Dora," or however many episodes you feel drawn to. That's at least five and up to 45 episodes in 51 days.

Last Man on Earth
Returns: September 27
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? No need to watch all 13 episodes of the show's bumpy but intriguing first season. Watch the pilot, episode eight ("Moved to Tampa"), and the season finale, "Screw the Moon." You could get by without "Tampa" if necessary, but do not skip "Moon." A mere three episodes in 51 days.

The Good Wife
Returns: October 4
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? It's too late to simply catch up on The Good Wife. You'll have to fully get into it. So far, the show has aired 134 episodes, and there are missable ones in there for sure, but … you're better off deciding for yourself which cases you're not interested in. Congratulations, you officially have yourself a new project! Go all in: 134 episodes in 58 days. It can be done.

Homeland
Returns: October 4
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? You could watch all 48 episodes of the show, but you'll bum yourself out when you realize how far the mighty fell after season one. So watch all of the first season, the last three episodes of season two, only the finale of season three, and the last four episodes of season four. This is a show where things that seem very important tend not to carry over season to season, so don't stress too much about keeping everything straight. Just get through 20 episodes in 58 days.

The Leftovers
Returns: October 4
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? The ten-episode first season could sometimes be frustrating, but also dreamy and beautiful, with real humor poking through the cracks in its sadness. The pilot is essential, and the nativity-centric "B.J. and the A.C." is solid, too, plus the season finale spins things forward in some unexpected ways. You're better off watching all of it or reading the book, but you can get by on three episodes in 58 days.

The Affair
Returns: October 4
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? This is a perfect background show, and even though the split narratives are supposed to create dramatic tension, you don't really need to follow the differences in details. The finale matters some, but otherwise, half-watch however many you can tolerate in 58 days. Man, October 4 is gonna be a busy night.

iZombie
Returns: October 6
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? At first iZombie seemed like a fun, horror-tinged cop show — but as the 13-episode first season developed, the show's attention to detail and carefully plotted mystery started to shine through. Give it an earnest effort and do all 13 episodes in 60 days. That is so many days from now.

The Walking Dead
Returns: October 11
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? For a show that's had 67 episodes so far, you'd think there'd be more complex backstories and interwoven tales too difficult for newbies to parse. Not so! The pilot was and remains terrific, but beyond that, just jump in; if TWD thrills you, watch all of it, but if not — and you still want to watch the new season — you only need to commit to one two-hour episode in 65 days.

Jane the Virgin
Returns: October 12
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? Ideally all 22, though the show does pretty thorough "previously on"s in each episode. You can skip "Chapter Five" and "Chapter Nine," bringing you to only 20 episodes in 66 days.

Manhattan
Returns: October 13
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? The whole shebang, but luckily, Manhattan is terrific. Enlist help, though: This show really flew under people's radar, and you're going to want to be able to chitchat about it with your pals. Thirteen episodes in 67 days is completely doable, but definitely watch the first three all together.

Nathan for You
Returns: October 15
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? If you haven't seen the 16 episodes that have aired so far, do so, but not for continuity's sake — do so because the show is a bizarre joy. Up to 16 episodes in 69 days is nothing; you'll probably watch them all twice.

The Knick
Returns: October 16
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? The only reason to watch The Knick is because you really want to watch The Knick. It's not much of a watercooler show, and it's unlikely to be a show you daydream about; watch it because it's intense and Soderbergh-y to the max, which of course means watch all ten episodes in 70 days. Pace yourself: The show can get pretty gnarly.

Mom
Returns: November 6
How many episodes do I need to catch up on? Some, but not a ton: It's a sitcom, so many of the 44 episodes are self-contained. Some, though, advance a broader plot, and it's worth it to be up-to-date on those. Start with the pilot, and try season one's "Belgian Waffles and Bathroom Privileges," "Leather Cribs and Medieval Racks," and the finale, "Smokey Taylor and Deathbed Confession." In season two, you'll need to watch "Three Smiles and an Unpainted Ceiling" (warning: SAD), "Sick Popes and a Red Ferrari," and anything else that piques your interest. That's six episodes in 91 days. You could probably make six episodes of a TV show in 91 days if you put your mind to it. Hey, you left off some shows! I know.