After a gargantuan year in television that saw the rise of Netflix, the end of Breaking Bad and The Office, and massive sea changes on popular genre choices like The Walking Dead and Doctor Who, 2014 has quite a tall shadow to live up to, but with an impressive batch of shows both old and new on the horizon it seems as though it should be well prepared for the challenge.

From long-awaited returns (Sherlock) to new beginnings (Community), endings (Mad Men), and new challenges (Doctor Who), these returning series’ show us that one of TV’s most compelling storylines revolves around how the industry continues to move forward with imagination, intelligence, and guts.

Community (NBC, Thursday’s at 8pm)

community s5 season premiere Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

With Dan Harmon back in the driver’s seat, there is hope among Community fans that the show’s fifth season will be one of legend, but while that’s still possible, those kinds of expectations may be unfair and born from an overly nostalgic view of the show’s past.

For one thing, while Community has had more than its share of iconic and insane moments, Dan Harmon didn’t have a perfect batting average – especially when it came to more grounded episodes – and his best work always relied on the confluence of an inspired idea and an extremely capable and game cast.

Can Harmon still make magic without Donald Glover and Chevy Chase, and can his return to Community possibly live up to the kind of hype that has been fueled by a dedicated fanbase that views him as something between a genius and a savior? We can’t wait to find out, but no matter what, it should be interesting.

The Pete Holmes Show (TBS, Monday-Thursday nights)

pete holmes show review allison williams Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

Though most of the chatter about late night will remain focused on NBC’s most recent changeover, Saturday Night Live, and speculation about David Letterman’s future for the foreseeable future, The Pete Holmes Show chugs along despite non-great ratings.

So, what is it about Pete Holmes’ show that has us hooked? Primarily, it’s the enthusiastic way that the show ignores late night conventions – not as a modern poke in the eye to the sacred cow, but because the show has such a well-formed sense of self and what makes their show work (when it’s working, which isn’t always the case).

That’s a rarer gift than many realize (and something that the shuttered Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell had going for it as well) and it’s something that the Holmes show has in common with previous late night trailblazers. The only question is, will The Pete Holmes Show get a chance to continue maturing, or will it fade away before it has the chance to fully find its feet and its audience?

Sherlock (BBC/BBC America, January 5th/January 19th)

Sherlock Season 3 restaurant promo image Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

After two years away Steven Moffat’s other show (or is it the other way around?) returns to explain what the world’s greatest detective (non-Batman edition) has been up to since he faked his own death at the end of last season and in the first of three new episodes – “The Empty Hearst”.

Despite the frustrating long gaps and the brief seasons, fans once again seem eager to take what they can get while observing Holmes and Watson’s latest adventure. All credit for that goes to the creatives and the cast, but perhaps it also has something to do with fears that every last bit could be frighteningly close to the last bit thanks to the career growth of Sherlock‘s two stars.

Saturday Night Live (NBC, January 18th)

snl miley weekend update Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

Saturday Night Live‘s season of transition has seen its fair share of stumbles with a batch of new featured players that have – for the most part – stubbornly refused to stand out from the shadows and a bit of controversy about the show’s lack of diversity, but throughout season 39’s first 10 episodes Seth Meyers has been there s a sign of stability, albeit one that is now about to fade away.

This isn’t a bit of “sky is falling” panic, though. For one thing, SNL is SNL and standouts always push through to the light eventually. This season, it seems as though a trio of SNL‘s funny ladies are heading toward that, lead by the indisputably hilarious character work of both Kate McKinnon and Vanessa Bayer, and new Weekend Update solo anchor Cecily Strong.

Will those three (and the show’s other standouts like Bobby Moynihan) continue to keep SNL‘s head above water? Can Strong take the reigns from Meyers without stumble? Will Taran Killam live up to his potential and will one of the rookies set themselves apart from the herd for more than an episode? We’ll find out soon enough, but SNL will be fine because it always is.

The Walking Dead (AMC, February 9th)

walking dead next rick and carl Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

Once again, the Walking Dead‘s batch of survivors finds themselves splintered and on the run. They have been cast back out into the wilderness by a human kind of monster this time, and while logic dictates that the odds of survival for many of the show’s most beloved characters remains strong, we do wonder if some of the show’s characters aren’t fated to last long on the road.

We’ve already discussed five directions that we think The Walking Dead might choose, but it’s clear that this mid-season break – perhaps more than any other before it – represents a key turning point for a show that could be on the cusp of either stagnation or something else.

House of Cards (Netflix, February 14th)

House of Cards The Spacey Memorial Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

The rise of Netflix shook up television last year, allowing the streaming giant to quickly become an industry leader and a boogie man whose distaste for the standard development process threatens to – for better or worse – undermine that process.

To accomplish this, Netflix relied on fiercely original series’ from notable creators to pair with their splashy Arrested Development re-launch; among them, House of Cards; a deeply cynical series from producer David Fincher that lacerated the political system, the media, and the sin of ambition with equal aplomb.

Now, as we wait for season two to kick-off, the mind aches trying to imagine what kind of monster Kevin Spacey’s reptilian card counter will morph into as he tirelessly pursues political power, and how long it will take for him to finally get his just desserts.

Game of Thrones (HBO, March 2014)

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

Game of Thrones exists in the sweet spot of its existence right now – far enough away from its formative years, well ahead of its conclusion and the period where it loses some of its luster. There isn’t likely a more buzzed about show on television, and it’s not like there is a large collection of shows that can rival its standing among critics.

Can Game of Thrones maintain that splendor while also servicing it’s seemingly ever-growing cast of characters? That’s the challenge, but one that producers seem more than able to meet. Is a Red Wedding, Part II in the cards this season? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Orphan Black (BBC America, April 19th)

Tatiana Maslany Orphan Black 2 Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

Last year, Orphan Black and the stellar Tatiana Maslany stormed the shores of our consciousness with this conspiracy thriller about cloning, but as the show’s second season looms, producers seem poised to give fans more of what they want with a synopsis that promises more intrigue, fresh clones from “The Sisterhood”, and Sarah’s desperate search for her daughter Kira.

With that in mind and with respect to the well-received premiere season, it seems entirely possible that 2014 could be the year that Orphan Black stops being considered an under-the-radar surprise and starts entering the zeitgeist as the next great un-missible sci-fi series.

24: Live Another Day (FOX, May 2014)

24 Live Anohter Day Season 9 Header Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

Following a three-year gap and seemingly endless chatter about a spin-off movie, FOX surprisingly announced the birth of 24: Live Another Day and the return of both producer Howard Gordon and series star Kiefer Sutherland, who will once again take on the iconic role of Jack Bauer.

True to form, details surrounding 24: Live Another Day have been scarce, but we do know that the show has ditched the real-time aspect for the event series’ 12 episodes. Will this lead to even more action as Jack Bauer hurriedly works to save the world? We can’t wait to find out.

NEXT PAGE: More returning TV shows (Louie, Orange is the New Black & more)

True Blood (HBO, June 2014)

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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 last comic Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

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)

louie keyart coffee cup Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

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)

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men In Care Of Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

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)

orange is the new black Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

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)

Peter Capaldi Doctor Who Time of the Doctor Clara Twelve Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

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)

The Killing Canceled Season 4 Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

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.

2014 tv premiere return schedule Most Anticipated Returning TV Shows of 2014: 24, Orphan Black, Mad Men & More

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.

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