So many new shows have started airing in the past couple of weeks that covering them all individually is a fool’s game. Instead, Wires & Lights is going to give you a succinct summary of what’s most worth watching, when you can see it (legally), and what might just need some time to get going. Let’s start with your best option, shall we?

Scandal

I’m cheating a bit here because this isn’t a new show per se. After airing its first season in Australia last year to minimal fanfare, Seven is giving this terrific US series’ second season a berth in a much better timeslot. Hopefully the lead-in of The Blacklist will send this sky-rocketing to the hit status it deserves. While its first season — centred on Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope and her team of Washington D.C. fixers — never really rose above good, diving into its second will see you revelling in some of TV’s most deliriously brilliant delights. It makes House of Cards look like Play School.

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal.

If you haven’t seen the first season, don’t fret too much; the ‘previously on…’ will give you  a sufficient run down. All you need to know is that Olivia Pope fixes problems — oh, and she’s also banging the President. In the premiere, her newest staff member finds herself in a highly compromising position. Over the course of the season, you’ll experience some of the most wonderfully soap operatic television made in some time. There’s a reason this became a sleeper hit in the US throughout this season. It’s dangerously addictive.

Don’t let the word “soap” scare you off, though, because Scandal is also a major indictment of political corruption, an exploration of race in America (see this terrific piece by Emily Nussbaum — Washington is also the first black female lead character on American network TV since 1974), and has serious brains behind its considerable brawn. The season is so full of jaw-dropping, scream-worthy twists and turns that it should rightfully be the topic of conversation at water coolers across the country.

For the best, sexiest show you can start watching tonight and find yourself buzzing to watch in several weeks time, Scandal is the word. It airs at 9.30pm tonight on Seven, but warning: its third season starts in the US later this week, so be very wary of spoiling it. You won’t want to. (Note: you can catch up on all of the first season’s 7 episodes on Seven’s Plus7 service)

The cast of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD

Marvel’s highest-profile foray into TV after its recent dominance of film proved to be somewhat limp as its premiere proved to be less than super. Centred on the government’s S.H.I.E.L.D agency — headed by the conveniently alive Agent Coulson from The Avengers — the series begins with a man given great strength at a crippling cost. With a kind of Fringe vibe, the pilot was…fine. It’s fine, really. But after the world-beating success of Marvel’s film franchise, was something more so much to expect?

It’s visually bland but dialogically better, but there’s nary an actual character to be found. It’s unclear exactly who is worth caring about in this story — more sympathy is generated for the ostensible villain than any of the central characters — although it’s certainly clear it won’t be any of the indistinguishable scientists, oy vey.

Outside of the brief badassery of Ming Na’s agent-out-of-retirement, there’s really only serviceable enjoyment to be had here. But who knows — Whedon’s series never start well, though the scale of his ongoing involvement is unknown. Hopefully this can at least be better at being a procedural if it can’t be anything more significant than that. It starts with a two-hour premiere at 7.30pm this Wednesday on Seven.

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan in Masters of Sex.

Masters of Sex

The year’s best pilot is hitting SBS this Thursday at 9.30pm, admirably fast-tracked by a channel for whom such a thing is likely very expensive. Unsurprisingly left untouched by the commercial networks, this series centres on the pioneering sex research of William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Played by the fantastic Michael Sheen and incomparable Lizzy Caplan respectively, the performances alone are enough reason to tune in. Caplan is particularly excellent, playing Johnson with equal depth, humour, intelligence, and sexiness.

But the story of Masters and Johnson is quite an incredible one; their research broke down innumerable scientific barriers, particularly regarding female sexuality which, in the 1950s, was still something of a medical mystery. Of course, Masters’ area of study was more than a little verboten at the time, and the early episodes are as much about overcoming taboos as they are anything else. But the show’s delicate early character work and already intricate web of relationships and motivations indicate that it’s already the year’s best new series. I’ll be writing more about this one later in the week.

James Spader's shaved head stars in The Blacklist.

The Blacklist

Premiering tonight at 8.30pm on Seven, The Blacklist is all about James Spader. As has been thoroughly noted, this series bears more than a few similarities to Silence of the Lambs, though sadly not in terms of its dietary preferences. Spader plays Raymond “Red” Reddington, the so-called “Concierge of Crime” who turns himself in to the FBI with a masterminded plan behind him. He insists on only speaking to Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), a profiler who’s on her first day.

A nicely twisty pilot stays afloat mostly thanks to Spader, who clearly delights in playing nasty. His creepily paternal knowledge of Elizabeth’s life is intriguing enough to warrant ongoing viewing for now at least; in the meantime, expect each week to feature them foiling the plot of one of Red’s many former criminal clients. This isn’t going to set your world on fire but it should prove to be a fun, escapist hour every Monday night, at least until it settles into tedium or repetition.

Claire Danes and papier-mâché Damien Lewis star in Homeland.

Homeland

Yes, it’s back. After the divisive second season, the third looks to be a little less histrionic. We’ve been promised minimal Brody and his tiny mouth, which is honestly the best move for a series which is stringing his presence out at this point. In the wake of the catastrophic events of last year’s finale, the premiere finds Carrie and Saul trying to resuscitate the ailing CIA.

Carrie is off her meds, and Saul is acting director. A major military operation the agency has been planning for months is poised to restore some faith, but the looming threat of Congressional inquiry hangs over them. Blame has to be laid at someone’s feet. Brody is the subject of an international manhunt, and his family is reeling in the wake of revelations about his past.

The first episode of Season 3 is good but it doesn’t approach the series’ highest heights. Homeland seems to be aiming for a quieter, more political angle for now. After the second season’s terrific first half, I imagine they won’t want to be playing their hand too soon, so expect more of a slow burn. Hopefully there’s some excellent TV in store for us. It airs tonight at 8.30 on Ten.

The Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow. Complete with machine gun.

Sleepy Hollow

This one actually premiered last week, but it’s worth catching up on simply because it’s bonkers and fun. An adaptation of the Washington Irving short story, this updates the story of the Headless Horseman to the present day and has Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) waking up in contemporary times. Paired up with a black, female cop (Nicole Beharie; awkward conversation about slavery ensues), they set about uncovering Sleepy Hollow’s buried mysteries. The two leads are giving this their all and their performances are really what makes this show surprisingly involving.

And all of this while fighting off a headless guy who rides a horse! The worst part, of course, is that he now has access to automatic weapons. Yeah, I’m sorry, but if the phrase “Horseman of the Apocalypse wielding a machine gun” doesn’t make you want to watch something, then I have no idea what will work. It’s very aware of its own silliness, but that was seemingly lost in translation in its promotion here. While it’s managing excellent ratings in the US, its premiere struggled here. Might be time to hitch a ride? It airs Tuesday at 8.30pm on Ten.

(Reviews of the following new shows to come in the next edition of New on TV: Mom starring Anna Faris and Allison Janney, The Crazy Ones starring Robin Williams, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Hostages starring Toni Collette, and The Michael J. Fox Show starring Vivica A. Fox [kidding, obviously])

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