How to Catch Up on Winter’s Returning TV Favorites

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Let's kiss. Photo: Robert Viglasky/Hartswood Films and BBC Wales for BBC One

Regular-season shows have ground to a halt, and most exciting new series won't launch for a good long while. Welcome to what used to be the December doldrums. In ages past, this was a time to despair, or take up needlepoint, or both. These days, though, despondence and fiber arts can be accompanied by catching up on returning shows. This list is for short-term, manageable catch-ups: If you've never watched, say, Pretty Little Liars, and you want to catch up before it returns January 12, that is a very tall task. If you've skipped The Walking Dead thus far but think season 6B is the time to start, well, your life is a series of interesting choices. These are shows you should and can catch up on, presented here in order of urgency.

Transparent
Returns: December 11
Episodes: 10
When to start: Last year, but today's okay, too. It's easy to just plow through all ten 30-minute-long episodes in a sitting (ask me how I know), but season one of Transparent works best broken into at least three chunks: Watch episodes one through four in a batch, five through eight in a batch, and then nine and ten.
Where to watch: Amazon

Broad City
Returns: February 17
Episodes: 20
When to start: Now. You'll burn through all 20 episodes in a flash, but there's no good reason to continue to live in the darkness. Embrace the joy and wonder that is Broad City.
Where to watch: Hulu

The 100
Returns: January 21
Episodes: 29
When to start: ASAP. You have over a month to get through seasons one and two, and you won't need that much time — but you will wind up going back and rewatching parts of it because you're going to convince your friends to give it a go, too. If you start now-ish, you'll have a built-in cushion. The 100, sort of a Battlestar Galactica Jr., is smarter and darker than you might imagine, and unlike other contemporary postapocalyptic stories, characters still have fun and form healthy bonds once in a while. Plus, this is an excellent "what can we all agree to watch?" show for mixed-age groups.
Where to watch: Netflix

Sherlock
Returns: January 1 (but just for a one-off special)
Episodes: 9
When to start: December 11. Sherlock episodes are actually 90-minute movies, and as good as they are — very good — they're best watched one at a time. Starting this weekend, watch two a weekend and one on a Wednesday. There's nothing on on Wednesdays, anyway.
Where to watch: Netflix

Luther
Returns: December 17 (also for a one-off special)
Episodes: 14, available on Netflix
When to start: You're not going to catch up in time, so start December 12, pace yourself, and set your DVR. Luther, a British cop show staring Idris Elba, is bleak and violent and genuinely frightening. (Especially if you're afraid of freaky-deaky masks. Gaaaah!) The six-episode first season is enthralling, with the four-episode seasons two and three a little less so, but still pretty damn good. Resist the urge to just binge all of it, though; you'll feel like a weird gross British murder monster. Watch no more than three episodes in a sitting.
Where to watch: Netflix

Younger
Returns: January 13
Episodes: 12
When to start: January 9. Younger, starring Sutton Foster as a woman in her 40s pretending to be 26, is much better when watched in a marathon session. If you're the kind of person who likes to watch four-plus hours of a show in a row (do you feel my heart saying hi?), watch all 12 in a row. The show has its weak spots, certainly, particularly as it attempts to portray "Brooklyn," but the snappy dialogue and buzzy pacing keep everything really moving. Foster's just terrific, and Hilary Duff is a delight. The show's not good-good, but who among us has not wanted to lay on a couch and let a show just kind of gently mask the acrid stench of being alive?
Where to watch: TVLand.com

Better Call Saul
Returns: Monday, February 15
Episodes: 10
When to start: January 16. Give yourself some time to make your way through this first season. The Breaking Bad prequel is a different show than its predecessor, and while the narrative is gripping, it doesn't create that breathless, abandon-everything-else feeling. Saul's an incredibly well-crafted show, and it's worth sitting with some of the episodes for a few days. Recaps are your friend.
Where to watch: iTunes and Amazon