Did you have angst last Sunday night deciding whether to watch the Emmys, Breaking Bad, or the Dexter series finale? Well, that was just a warm-up for the main event, this Sunday at 9 p.m.: DVR-maggedon, when many of fall’s most ravenously anticipated episodes—including the Breaking Bad series finale, the Homeland and Good Wife season premieres, and the debut of fall’s best new drama—air simultaneously. How can anyone possibly navigate that murderer’s row of programs? We’ve crunched the numbers, seen (almost all) of the episodes in question, and devised this handy guide to ensure you catch every show worth seeing on Sept. 29—in time to deconstruct them with your friends and coworkers on Monday.
Breaking Bad series finale
9 p.m.-10:15 p.m. ET/PT, AMC
Watch it live
After five and a half years, there’s nowhere left to run for Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, and us fans, who have been enraptured by Walter’s transformation from Mr. Chips to Scarface and are now spending these last agonizing weeks paying the piper for everything that has transpired over the previous five seasons. Has a long-running, pantheon-level series ever saved its best for last like Breaking Bad has? (Not even The Shield wrapped things up quite this powerfully.) Vince Gilligan has already pulled off the quadruple salchow, and on Sunday night we finally find out whether he sticks the landing. My prediction, given how this brilliant but devastating final season has unfolded: whatever Vince has in store for us will be a) brilliant and b) absolutely soul-crushing to watch. But no matter what happens, this is your last opportunity to see one of the finest modern series of all time. That experience needs to be savored, and not spoiled, so this is the one show you absolutely, positively must watch live.
The Good Wife season premiere
9 p.m.-10:01 p.m., CBS
DVR it (adding at least 30 minutes for expected football delays) and watch after Breaking Bad
After a corker of a season finale in which Alicia (Julianna Margulies) became the first lady of Illinois and decided to join Cary and the fourth-year associates in leaving Lockhart/Gardner to start their own firm, the season premiere takes its foot off the gas a tiny bit. Alicia’s looming exit is back-burnered as the firm focuses on staving off a convict’s imminent execution, and the episode also plants several intriguing seeds for this season, including the addition of Melissa George as Governor-elect Peter’s in-house ethics counsel, Marilyn. It’s a very good Wife, so you'll want to DVR this one and watch it after Breaking Bad. Just remember to add at least a half-hour to your recording to compensate for the usual football-related programming delays. The episode also will be available Monday on CBS on Demand, CBS.com, and via the CBS mobile and tablet apps.
Homeland season premiere
9 p.m.-10 p.m. ET/PT, Showtime
DVR the rebroadcast at 11 p.m. and watch after The Good Wife
“A win would be nice,” an emotionally drained Saul (Mandy Patinkin), now acting CIA director, says in the premiere. “Another fuck-up would be fatal.” Those words could serve as the show’s mantra after Season 2’s haphazard, divisive second half alienated and enraged some viewers. Great news: the Homeland we all fell in love with in Season 1 is back, at least for the first two episodes that were sent to critics. Season 3 course-corrects masterfully, refocusing on the show’s most fertile conflict: Carrie’s battle with her own psyche. This Brody-free episode, set almost two months after the season finale’s shocking attack, centers on the emotional, physical, and political fallout from that tragedy, as Carrie and Saul face a hostile Senate committee that wants answers. Homeland is at its most riveting when it’s picking at old emotional wounds and opening up fresh ones, and there are plenty of both in this dynamic hour. After Breaking Bad, this is the night’s top must-see. Your best bet is to DVR the 11 p.m. rebroadcast and watch it after you finish Good Wife. It also repeats at 1 a.m. and is available via Showtime on Demand beginning at midnight.
Masters of Sex series premiere
10 p.m.-11 p.m., Showtime
Watch it now (yes, now!) on demand
In a woefully underwhelming year for new shows, Masters of Sex stands alone as the one debut drama worth setting your season pass for. The series is based on the real-life pioneering work of William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), who met in 1956 and a decade later released a groundbreaking scientific study that forever changed our view of human sexuality. The John Madden-directed pilot threads the needle artfully. It’s frank and funny, sexy and sophisticated, and unlike anything else on television. Sheen and Caplan enjoy an easy, palpable chemistry, which grounds the show and proves that Masters is about much more than “just” sex. Best of all, you don’t have to wait for DVR-maggedon to watch this one: Showtime has already posted the pilot on its website and YouTube, as well as the Showtime On Demand and Showtime Anytime mobile and tablet apps. What are you waiting for?
Hello Ladies series premiere
10:30 p.m.-11 p.m. ET/PT, HBO
Watch late Sunday or Monday on HBO GO
Well, this is awkward. Almost unbearably, yet hilariously awkward. In this new HBO comedy, Stephen Merchant proves equally as adept at humiliating himself onscreen as his longtime comedy partner, Ricky Gervais. Merchant plays Stuart, a British web designer now living in L.A. who starts every night looking for love—and ends it belittled, embarrassed, and still alone. Like Gervais, Merchant revels in burrowing into the most uncomfortable of situations and refusing to leave. After Gervais and Merchant’s Life’s Too Short underwhelmed last year, it’s a joy to see Merchant bounce back. The show is squirm-inducing fun and a nice antidote to the emotional roller coaster you’ll be on the rest of the evening. Save this one to cap off your evening via HBO GO, or treat yourself with it later in the week.
Revenge season premiere
9 p.m.-10:01 p.m., ABC
Watch it on demand Monday, if you still care
After burying itself last season in one colossal mistake after another, Revenge is back with a new showrunner and a new mantra: Season 2, what Season 2? “Let’s never say the words ‘Carrion’ or ‘Initiative’ ever again,” says Emily (Emily Van Camp), turning the page for good on the ludicrous storylines that drove viewers away last year. While that is certainly a step in the right direction, the rest of the premiere treads on too-familiar ground, as the show resets the chess board once again at the start of another long, hot summer in the Hamptons, where everyone has resurfaced after going off the grid for six months. Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) and Nolan (Gabriel Mann) are as catty and delightful as ever, but the rest of the show feels tired. With her broken-record vow to “take down Victoria once and for all,” Emily is turning into the “two dollars” paperboy from Better Off Dead. Three seasons in, she desperately needs a new obsession. There wasn’t enough in the premiere to keep me interested, but if you insist on sticking with Revenge, wait until Monday, when it will be available on demand or via ABC.com, WatchABC.com, Hulu, and the WATCH ABC app for smartphones and tablets.
9 p.m.-10 p.m. ET/PT, HBO
Watch later in the week on HBO GO
Boardwalk Empire traditionally starts slowly each season before all the pieces ultimately come together in the final episodes, and while Season 4 has been an marked improvement on that front, airing an episode this relatively quiet on such a packed night of television is the equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight. The writers definitely picked the wrong week to give Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) a breather. Instead, too much time is devoted to the college escapades of Nucky’s nephew Willie and the exploits of Nucky’s assistant Eddie. Despite a memorable poker scene late in the episode between Nucky (Steve Buscemi) and Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), you can wait to catch up with this one later in the week via HBO GO.
Eastbound & Down season premiere
10 p.m.-10:30 p.m. ET/PT, HBO
Watch later in the week on HBO GO
Look who’s back for one last season: Kenny Powers (Danny McBride), who after making his Major League Baseball comeback last season and faking his own death, is now a neutered suburban dad living in North Carolina with his family. The lifelong badass now toils at a car rental agency, his rough edges all whittled down to nubs, until a former teammate (Ken Marino) gives him another dose of his old party lifestyle. I’ve always felt that a little Kenny goes a long way, so while I enjoyed catching up with him, by the premiere’s end, I’d had my fill for another couple weeks. It’s still worth checking out on HBO GO if you’re an Eastbound regular, but watch Hello Ladies first.
The Mentalist season premiere
10:01 p.m.-11 p.m. ET/PT, CBS
If you’re a fan, catch up with it on Monday, when it will be available on CBS.com. (It won’t appear on the CBS smartphone and tablet apps until eight days after it airs.)
If you created a Venn diagram of Breaking Bad and Mentalist viewers, I’m guessing the overlap would scarcely be visible to the naked eye. But for those who have been watching Jane (Simon Baker) use his noggin to solve crimes for the last five seasons—which is 13 million of you—you’ll want to see the season premiere. The episode continues Jane’s dogged pursuit of Red John (Jane’s white whale, the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter years ago) and ends with a doozy that could have easily served as a season finale cliffhanger. There’s no need to get on board now if you don’t already watch, but if you are a regular viewer, catch up with it on Monday, when it will be available on CBS on Demand, CBS.com, and the CBS smartphone and tablet apps.
Betrayal series premiere
10:01 p.m.-11 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
Avoid like the plague
It’s often unfair to judge a new show by its pilot alone. Most series need at least a handful of episodes to figure themselves out and develop chemistry and rhythm. That said, a few pilots are so disastrous from the get-go that the only real solution is to cut bait immediately. That’s certainly the case with Betrayal, fall’s weakest new drama, about a dull photographer (Hannah Ware) and a duller defense attorney (Stuart Townsend), both married, who meet and start an affair. Then—dun dun DUN!—it’s revealed he will be facing off in court with her husband on opposite sites of a murder case. Betrayal is the Dads of fall dramas. No, it’s not racist, but it’s just as vapid and awful. Plus it’s airing in one of ABC’s most cursed time slots (RIP GCB, 666 Park Avenue, Red Widow, and Pan Am). If you’re a glutton for punishment, it will be available Monday on demand or via ABC.com, WatchABC.com, Hulu, and the WATCH ABC app for smartphones and tablets.
Low Winter Sun
11:15 p.m.-12:15 a.m. ET/PT, AMC
You can watch it now on demand, but why bother?
Just last month, AMC had positioned this new series, airing after Breaking Bad during its final season, as the network’s next great drama. Oops! Instead, the pairing served as a weekly reminder that the generic Low was a mere pretender to the throne. Not surprisingly, the show’s buzz (and ratings) quickly evaporated. The season wraps up next Sunday, but AMC has given the dismal show a vote of no confidence by slotting an hour-long Talking Bad immediately after the Breaking finale, thereby pushing Sunday night’s Low to a post-primetime slot. If you still are watching (anyone? anyone?), AMC has already made the Sept. 29 episode available via AMC On Demand. Yay?