The fall TV season is nearly here. It’s a time that many television fans anticipate and celebrate, though I tend to dismiss it as the dark days between Breaking Bad and Justified, when the networks will be busy launching terrible new shows you’ll never watch that will be gone in less than a month. Okay, that may be a pessimistic exaggeration. The fall season isn’t totally useless. You just need someone to help you sort through the crap. Welcome to the CHUD fall TV preview.

Returning show I’m most excited to see back:
(Showtime, premieres 9/30)

Homeland, Showtime’s epic tale of a CIA analyst (Claire Danes) and the returned POW she suspects of being a terrorist (Damian Lewis), was last season’s best new series by a significant margin. However, there was a prevailing thought that it may have worked better as a miniseries than as an ongoing show. This will be the year that producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon attempt to discredit that theory by effectively extending the tale without repeating themselves or stretching things to the point of implausibility. They inched into the danger zone at the end of the last season when Danes’s character got shock treatment that may have scrambled most of her season-one memories. Hopefully that little plot thread is wrapped up sooner rather than later in season two. And hopefully the entire sophomore year proves to be just as gripping as the first. Also, here’s a true TV fact: Mandy Patinkin is never not awesome.

Returning show runner-up:
(HBO, 9/16)

Boardwalk Empire figures to be a much different show in season three, seeing as the series’ central dynamic — the relationship between Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson and his pseudo-son Jimmy Darmody — is no longer a thing. (Spoiler alert! One of ’em is very much dead now thanks to the other.) So a new focus is in order, and judging from the previews HBO has been showing, it’ll come in the form of a larger look at what’s happening in New York with Arnold Rothstein and company. That includes new cast member Bobby Cannavale, who’s playing a Big Apple bootlegger you know is going to butt heads with Nucky. Meanwhile, here are some things to be cheery about: The always welcome Stephen Root is also joining the cast as a shady DOJ agent, and despite the fact that he’s lost his employer and best friend, there’s apparently still a big part for Jack Huston’s half-faced assassin, Richard Harrow. Yay!

Final season to look forward to:
(FOX, 9/28)

After somehow avoiding the cancellation axe the two previous years, Fringe survives again for one last season. The final 13 episodes will take place in the future timeline glimpsed last year in “Letters of Transit.” If you recall, Walter, Peter and Astrid were all de-amberized in 2036 when Observers rule the world and Olivia is presumed long dead. Although we can assume that will be quickly corrected, as Fringe without Anna Torv is unfathomable and, according to FOX, not happening. Let’s hope this is a final season that both builds from and retroactively strengthens what came before, unlike another J.J. Abrams-produced show I could name. (I’m pretty sure we’ll be spared a pew-lined purgatory this time.)

Final season it may be best to avoid:
(NBC, 9/20)

I stopped watching The Office about eight episodes into last year when it became clear the show had no good plan for replacing Steve Carell. James Spader, so funny in the seventh-season finale, ended up being a bust. And Ed Helms was ill-suited for Carell’s office chair. Once TV’s best comedy, The Office had already been in decline for several years, but last year it fell off the cliff. With exec producer Greg Daniels returning as showrunner, there’s some hope that the show will go out on a high note, but they’re heading into the ninth season with even more of the cast and crew jumping ship, as Mindy Kaling, Paul Lieberstein and B.J. Novak will all be either leaving or taking drastically reduced roles both in front of and behind the camera. (Kaling headlines a new FOX comedy launching next month, while Lieberstein is working on the sure-to-be-doomed Dwight Schrute spinoff.) I’ll be around for the finale but can’t imagine myself suffering through the whole season just because it’s the last.

Comedy series ready to take that next step:
NEW GIRL (FOX, 9/25)

Do me a favor. If you’re someone who skipped the first season of this show because all those ads featuring an overly cutesy Zooey Deschanel made you break out in hives, give New Girl a chance this season. Those in charge quickly realized last year that the show’s strength wasn’t its titular ingenue, but rather its comedically gifted ensemble cast, including Max Greenfield as a “what’s up, bro?” douchebag who expertly and hilariously channels every annoying ex-fratboy you’ve ever come in contact with. (His nomination for best supporting actor in a comedy was one of the Emmys’ best surprises this year.) It’s no secret that a lot of promising shows become great in their second season. My money’s on that happening with New Girl this year.

Comedies you should enjoy while they last:

The Office won’t be the only NBC comedy wrapping things up this year. 30 Rock is definitely in its last season. Community is probably in its last season. Parks and Rec might be in its last season. So if you love at least one of these shows — and, chances are, you do — make sure you’re tuning in this year. Just remember Community is moving to Fridays and may be a mere shade of its former self, as series mastermind Dan Harmon was fired by NBC at the end of last year.

Show I don’t need to talk much about here because I’ll be writing plenty about it later:
(AMC, 10/14)

While I enjoyed the privilege of reviewing Breaking Bad for this site this summer, it gets a little boring coming up with new ways to say, “Yeah, this show’s awesome,” every week. That shouldn’t be a problem with The Walking Dead, the sometimes fantastic, sometimes terrible zombie show that I’ll be penning episode reviews for at CHUD this season. This year introduces both Michonne and the Governor, two characters from the comic book who are fan faves. Hopefully they fare well in the translation. One thing you can say about The Walking Dead: It’s never boring, even when it’s insanely stupid. So bring on season three.

New series I most want to stick around for years and years:
(ABC, 9/27)

I suppose this should come with the disclaimer “if it’s good, that is,” but, really, how can it now be? It’s the newest series from Shawn Ryan, who was the creator of the seminal dirty-cop drama The Shield and last worked on the criminally underloved The Chicago Code. He’s assembled a compelling group of actors including the always dependable Andre Braugher and Robert Patrick. And Last Resort‘s concept is killer: After the captain defies a deadly order, an entire U.S. nuclear submarine crew defects to a fictional island, which they declare their own sovereign nation. If you’re going to set your DVR for one new show, make it this one. (And if you want to get an early start on watching, Yahoo is now hosting the first episode online.)

New series that will probably suck, but, man, look at those leads!:
VEGAS (CBS, 9/25)

We just talked about The Shield. It’s one of the best TV series ever. And while Michael Chiklis’s last show, the light superhero drama No Ordinary Family, flamed out, this one looks more up The Shield star’s alley. In Vegas, Chiklis will be playing a Chicago mobster with his eyes on conquering Sin City in the 1960s. No less than Dennis Quaid plays the local sheriff with one grizzled eye on him at all times. Quaid vs. Chiklis? Yeah, I’ll sample some of that, even if the above promo pic makes it look cheesier than the burlesque show at a third-rate casino. Also in the cast is onetime-Matrix-babe Carrie-Anne Moss, who, FYI, was quite good in Chuck‘s final season last year.

New series that can go fuck itself:
(CBS, 9/27)

So the story goes that CBS approached the creators of the BBC’s excellent Sherlock about doing an American version of the series. Those guys said something to the effect of: “Hell no. Why would we do that? We’re already making an amazing, definitive modern-day Sherlock Holmes show with Cumberbatch and Freeman right here in Britain. So we’ll just keep doing that, thank you.” Then CBS said, “Fuck those guys. Holmes is public domain. We’ll just rip ’em off and do our own Holmes-in-modern-day show anyway … except instead of having Watson being played by a goddamn hobbit, we’ll turn him into a hot Asian woman! Somebody call Lucy Liu!” Long story short: Even if Elementary somehow earns good notices from other critics, I’m never going to watch a second of it. I’ll stick to my Sherlock Blu-rays, thank you very much.

New series that really wants to be the new Lost:

Revolution is a post-apocalyptic adventure about a world in chaos 15 years after a permanent planetary blackout. But who turned the power off and why? And who’s trying their hardest to get it turned back on? If you guessed that this show is from Bad Robot and that J.J. Abrams is one of the producers, give yourself a prize. Hulu’s got the pilot episode up already, if you’re curious check it out. I did, and while there are some decent plot twists (and Gus from Breaking Bad!), the show does little to prove it’s any more up to the challenge of replacing Lost than was Alcatraz or Terra Nova or FlashForward or …

Finally, a short list of other premieres you may want to be aware of: SONS OF ANARCHY (FX, tonight); TREME (HBO, 9/23); PERSON OF INTEREST (CBS, 9/27); DEXTER (Showtime, 9/30); 666 PARK AVENUE (ABC, 9/30); SUPERNATURAL (The CW; 10/3); ARROW (The CW, 10/10).

Follow Bob on Twitter: @robertbtaylor