True Blood (HBO, June 2014)

Though True Blood fans (aka trubies) are likely still forlorn over the end of the show, they have to take solace in the fact that the show will at least get a full season to resolve loose ends, and after six seasons of vampires, witches, faeries, and werewolves, shapeshifters, and love triangles, there is a lot to resolve.

There’s also a lot of pressure on showrunner Brian Buckner, but in an interview giver before the final announcement was made, Buckner seemed eager to simplify the show while giving fans what they want. So while fan service isn’t always the right recipe for a quality end, it’ll likely be one that appeals to trubies.

Last Comic Standing (NBC, June 2014)

Last Comic Standing  has a messy track record and – in a world of podcasts, a wider palette of cable channels, and the rise of viral web comedy – a bit of slipping relevancy. But while comics like Patton Oswalt have slagged the show’s coming return, no one (including Oswalt) has had the same venom as comedian Wanda Sykes, the show’s new producer.

It’s fair to assume that NBC knew that was part of the benefit of bringing Sykes aboard, but at the end of the day, results matter and both Sykes and NBC need to make this latest version of Last Comic Standing something that appeals to and elevates comedians and stand-up comedy, or else what’s the point of it? Let’s just hope that the producer-rigged results are finally gone for good, because the last thing this reboot needs is even more well-known comedians, as judges, walking off the show again.

Louie (FX, Spring 2014)

It’s been a long time since Louis CK gifted us with a fresh episode of Louie, his occasionally absurd semi-autobiographical sitcom – which occasionally feels more like an inspired and loosely connected short film anthology series – but enthusiasm has hardly dimmed for the critically adored series in all that time away.

What does CK have in store for the upcoming fourth season? Honestly, there is no way of knowing because he isn’t saying, but with more than 18 months off the air to think on and craft this next batch of episodes (with the help of legendary deadpan comic Steven Wright, no less), it seems possible that CK might actually do the impossible and actually top himself.

Mad Men (AMC, Spring 2014)

Don Draper is a man who has excelled because he can be reckless without worrying about the consequences. A tight rope walker who knows that if he falls, he can bounce back up and run out the door, dropping everything that he is on the floor on his way to a new life. That hubris comes from being a self-made man from toe to top, a creation, and it’s part of what makes Draper fascinating.

Like a bored God, we saw Draper wreak havoc on his superficially perfect life for the sake of wreaking havoc last season. At home, he felt caged by his wife’s ambition so he philandered without cause and veered dangerously close to obsession. At work, he merged his company with a competitor on a whim.

At the end of Man Men‘s sixth season, Draper had started to lose his grasp – his daughter despised him, friends were hurt, and he had been pushed out at work. This represented a low point for the character, but for showrunner Matthew Weiner, Don Draper’s descent represents a fork in the road as the show near’s its conclusion: will Don Draper comeback or will he fall further?

Orange is the New Black (Netflix, 2014)

One of the more critically adored shows from 2013, Orange is the New Black came out of nowhere to team up with House of Cards as twin pillars for Netflix, establishing its dramedy chops thanks to some clever writing and an impossibly deep ensemble.

As season two nears, creator Jenji Kohan has her work cut out for her thanks to Laura Prepon’s exit, but the anticipated fallout following the brutal fight between main character Piper and Pennsatucky the bad toothed zealot should be enough to hold people’s attention as Piper’s time in prison potentially grows.

Doctor Who (BBC/BBC America, Fall 2014)

The new season of Doctor Who is a long way away, but when the show returns for its eighth season following the game changing 50th Anniversary Special and Matt Smith’s exit, all eyes will be on showrunner Steven Moffat and how he re-positions the Doctor now that Peter Capaldi has the role.

Unfortunately, Capaldi’s brief cameo at the end of the Christmas Special failed to give us much insight into that new direction – which is not surprising – but with Gallifrey kept at bay thanks to the Doctor’s league of villains and fears about a re-spiked Time War, one wonders if Moffat might use Capaldi’s capacity for on-screen ferocity to give us a more aggressive and proactive Doctor.

The Killing (Netflix, 2014)

If it feels like Netflix is a recurring theme here, you’re right and it’s deserved after the streamer’s impactful arrival on the scene last year, but while the other entries are renewals that helped foster this golden era for Netflix, The Killing is something different.

Like Arrested Development, this represents a gamble by Netflix on something established that is also, technically, a failure following its most recent cancellation. We honestly have no way of knowing – thanks to Netflix’s church-mouse quiet policy on their internal numbers – whether this will be a success, but it does give producers a chance to fully wrap up The Killing.

This also show’s that Netflix isn’t just trying to find success with splashy debuts like House of Cards or the upcoming Sense8, but rather, that they are interested in building up a sturdy and diverse lineup for their subscribers.

These collected shows represent the best of the returning slate of TV shows. Over this next year we expect trends to be established, hearts to be broken, and expectations to both be dashed and toppled over. More than anything, though, we expect to be surprised, because that is sort of the point and entirely the challenge.

Boldness is being rewarded at a time when television is incredibly social. It’s part of our societal fabric, one of our chief diversions, and now more than ever, it is available to us with unimaginable ease.

With that comes a set of challenges and, one assumes, a heaping load of pressure, because in as much as we love these shows together, we also share our disappointments with each other in a way that can paint a scarlet letter across the chests of under-performing series. It’s a high wire act on a razor’s edge, but if there is a group of shows that can reliably handle it, it’s these.

Follow me @AnthonyOcasio

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