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What Rookie Shows Were Good This Season? Your Pressing TV Questions, Answered

Photo: NBC, AMC and CW

Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about your various TV triumphs and woes. Need help? Have a theory? Want a recommendation? Submit a question! You can email, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.

A few years ago I concluded it wasn’t worth watching new shows as they hit the air, because some might prove to be terrible (Mysteries of Laura, to use a current example), cancelled quickly (Red Band Society), or both (Bad Judge). At this point in the TV season, though, which rookie shows do you recommend based on quality and potential longevity? I’m already on board with the shows on cable and streaming, so no need to sell me on Better Call Saul, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Togetherness. But how about network shows? — Ben

Your system is weird to me, Ben! Watch shows you enjoy, regardless of their life span; dance like nobody’s watching; love like it’s never going to hurt. Actually, though, dance like everyone is watching and saying to each other, “That Ben guy, he can really dance.” The rest of the advice stands.

But okay, you want to know which rookie network shows from this season were good. I refuse to engage on a longevity argument, because I have no idea how long shows will last. The TV gods are fickle, and we were not put on this Earth to serve them, but rather they came here to serve us. These are the good shows that premiered in the 2014–‘15 TV season, in order of how good they are:

  • Jane the Virgin is fantastic, top to bottom. It’s one of the strongest freshman seasons any show has had in recent memory, and it’s a show that’s genuinely special. Watch JtV, friend.
  • Fresh Off the Boat is funny and smart and savvy, and it’s going to make Constance Wu a star.
  • iZombie has a good time with its secret-zombie premise and makes me miss Veronica Mars, which is a good thing.
  • How to Get Away With Murder is a soapy spectacle. Focus on the performances rather than the legal proceedings, though.
  • Empire! You know what Empire is.
  • Black-ish is good!
  • Galavant is okay!
  • Last Man on Earth has some fresh ideas, and some crummy ones, but I’m onboard still.
  • Battle Creek is a solid cop show, if you are in the market for a cop show.
  • The Flash is a solid comic-book show, if you are in the market for a comic-book show.
  • Madam Secretary is the kind of show you’d watch at a hotel and think Huh, why don’t I ever watch this at home? but then you never do anyway. It’s kind of dumb, but I don’t hate it.

Otherwise, this was a pretty garbage season for new shows. Oof.

How can I get my mother to keep watching Mad Men? She liked the pilot and she likes all the actors and she especially likes all of the outfits, but she just won’t keep watching because she says it is “too dark.” Her favorite shows are Twin Peaks and Six Feet Under, though, so I can’t make sense of it.  —Clark

Let your mom live her life, Clark. She doesn’t have to explain herself to you.

All of the shows I currently follow seem to be comedies (aside from The Americans), and I need to fall in love with another crime drama/thriller to fill the gap until Fargo returns. I’ve heard good things about both Justified and Banshee, especially since the most recent season of Banshee got stellar reviews. Is one of those more essential than the other? Does Hannibal trump all? —Will

If you decide to fill your days with Hannibal, Banshee, and Justified, you are gonna have some pretty good (though very disturbing!) days. I’m not a big Banshee person, but lots of people whose taste I trust are, so I’m not going to dissuade you from giving that a go. Hannibal is fantastic, but I’m more likely to watch an episode of Justified twice than a Hannibal once. (I am fully aware that this is my own personal loss, and I have accepted it. The show is just a little too gross for me.) Add Orphan Black into the rotation, too, and you have yourself a very exciting few months.

My partner and I have just wept our way through the final episode of Parenthood and are at a loss for what we can replace it with. It is such a rare beauty, a show that favored drama of emotion rather than just drama of action. We’ve watched all of Katims’s shows and have also watched family oriented shows and emotional dramas such as Gilmore Girls, My So-Called Life, Broadchurch, The Affair, Freaks & Geeks, etc. It feels like there’s nothing out there that can give us those moments that are both heartwarming and tear-jerking. Please help! —Saskia

Oh, I love this idea of “dramas of emotion.” Six Feet Under feels like the obvious choice, so obvious I’m going to guess you’ve seen it, but just in case … that’s the crown jewel of dramas of emotion. Dead Like Me, about an 18-year-old girl who dies and becomes a grim reaper, can reduce me to tears very easily, particularly when it digs into the grief of losing a child. It’s not heartwarming, really, but it’s not a misery show, either, and it’s wry as often as it’s tragic.

Of current shows, The Fosters makes me cry just about every week, and if you like Jason Katims–style shows about families, you will probably enjoy it. Don’t let its image as a teen-geared show dissuade you: If you are looking for a devoted, beautiful marriage à la FNL’s Coach and Mrs. Coach, this is the show for you. “Heartwarming and tear-jerking” could be that show’s motto.

Amazon’s Transparent is very much a drama of emotions, even though it’s a comedy. The show is incredibly precise when it comes to its characters’ feelings; that’s not just happy, it’s two-parts happy, one-part relieved, one-part nervous, one-part approval-seeking. That’s not just aroused; it’s three-parts aroused, one-part aroused-but-trying-to-seem-not-aroused, one-part self-loathing, one-part hey-get-over-that-self-loathing, one-part golden California light. It’s not tear-jerking, per se, but I did cry many times. I cry during every episode of Jane the Virgin, too, because of how much I love it.

Early-to-mid-era Grey’s Anatomy is a real feelings bonanza, too, with plenty of episodes that will leave you a sobbing wreck, and plenty more that will fill you with the serene joy of true friendship.

Rectify is very atmosphere-driven, and while it includes some moments of severe violence, it’s much more about emotions than actions. It’s a little heavier than the other shows on this list, but if you want that deep-in-your-guts, this-show-is-affecting-my-whole-sense-of-life feeling, Rectify is your jam. Warning: You will need some recovery time after this show. Schedule yourself a cheerful morning walk with a travel mug full of bellini, and go out and realize how alive you are and how joyful a thought that is. If you have a dog, spend a long time looking in that dog’s eyes and letting his or her quiet cheerfulness soothe you. If you don’t have a dog, think about getting a dog. Talk about a drama of emotions.

What Rookie Shows Were Good This Season?