Three Twisty, Zeitgeist-y Shows You Need to Catch Up On Now (Sponsored)

Carolyn Daucher
Empire Season 2
FOX

So everyone's talking about that show you've never seen and you're eager to join the party—but intimidated by the idea of taking on a show that’s already a season or two (or several) in the making? Let us help you onto the bandwagon with our primers on three of TV's twistiest, turniest, zeitgeist-iest shows: EmpireThe Mindy Project, and Nashville. (Hint: If you'd rather stay spoiler free, scroll past the "crib sheet" sections below.)

EMPIRE

What it is: A flashy, intoxicating King Lear, chronicling an ailing hip-hop mogul and the three sons and ex-con ex-wife who are jockeying to replace him.

Watch it if: You want in on the conversations at the watercooler/the brunch table/your grandma’s house.  It seems that everyone watches Empire, with a demographic-obliterating 16.2 million people tuning in for the Season 2 premiere.

Currently airing: Season 2

The Most Empire-y Empire Episode: “Unto The Breach” (Season 1, Episode 9)

With a season’s worth of plot crammed into one breathless, breakneck hour, “Unto The Breach” epitomizes Empire’s no-holds-barred M.O.. The usually fractious Lyons band together in the face of betrayal, and for the first time demonstrate their fearsome strength as a unit. Also: the first (but hopefully not last) appearance of Drunk Cookie.

The crib sheet: 

  • Middle son Jamal (Jussie Smollett), a deeply talented singer-songwriter, is gay – putting him at odds with his homophobic father Lucious (Terrence Howard) and in an unlikely position to succeed him. Lucious nevertheless taps Jamal as the next CEO of Empire Entertainment by Season 1’s end, leaving his brothers – bipolar, business-minded Andre (Trai Byers) and spoiled but gifted youngest sibling Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) – furious and plotting a coup.
  • Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), Lucious’s ex-wife and mother of his children, served 17 years in prison for dealing the drugs that provided the seed money for Empire. Upon her release, she stakes her claim in the company she helped build – much to Lucious’s fear and displeasure.
  • In the first episode, Lucious killed Cookie’s cousin Bunkie (Antoine McKay) for attempting to extort $3 million from him, and in the Season 1 finale, he was arrested for the crime. A jailed Lucious is not likely to be a happy Lucious.

The full story: Just 12 episodes of Season 1 and you're primed to join everyone else on Season 2, which premiered Sept. 23.


THE MINDY PROJECT

Mindy Project on Hulu

Hulu

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What it is: A brash, fizzy romantic comedy about a self-assured, pop culture-obsessed OB-GYN and her fellow medical (un)professionals.

Watch it if: You think they don’t make ‘em like When Harry Met Sally anymore.

Currently airing: Season 4

The Most Mindy-ish Mindy Episode: “Christmas Party Sex Trap” (Season 2, Episode 11)

“Christmas Party Sex Trap” sports the poorly-laid-plans-going-predictably-awry structure of a typical Mindy episode – in this case, Mindy’s scheme to use the office holiday party as a “trap” to get new crush Cliff (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Glenn Howerton) to hook up with her – as well as one moment of true transcendence, when Danny gives Mindy a Christmas present of a committed, precisely-choreographed dance to Aaliyah’s “Try Again.” Watch it at your peril: you will fall in love.

The crib sheet:

  • Best friends and best frenemies Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) and Danny Castellano (Chris Messina)  shared a first (epic!) kiss on an airplane in Season 2. After a long period of typical rom-com turmoil, they head into Season 4 in love, engaged, and having a baby. You can expect Danny’s strict Catholic upbringing and daddy issues to bump up against Mindy’s modern tastes and outsized sense of self.
  • In Season 3, Mindy realized a longtime dream by opening up the Lahiri Fertility Clinic – which makes up in branded swag what it thus far lacks in clients.
  • ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all – we guess.  It wasn’t an easy pill to swallow when Dr. Peter Prentice dropped everything to follow an ex-girlfriend to Texas, leaving Mindy without a best bro and Mindy fans without a weekly dose of deadpan delight Adam Pally. But filling the BFF vacuum admirably is Morgan (Ike Barinholtz), a nurse with a penchant for track suits and an unconditional, slavish devotion to Mindy.

The full story: Watch the 67 episodes from Mindy's three seasons on Fox and you'll be caught up for the Hulu-only Season 4, which kicked off Sept. 15.


NASHVILLE

Nashville Season 4

ABC

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What it is: A frothy, million-character soap set in the world of country music, following the loves and lives of its superstars and upstarts.

Watch it if: You’re a Connie Britton devotee, or just like watching beautiful people sing intensely at each other.

Currently airing: Season 4

The Most Nashville-y Nashville Episode: “This Ain’t a Good Day for Leavin’” (Season 3, Episode 17)

This jam-packed episode boasts a murder, blackmail, childbirth, and a lovelorn duet between two would-be lovers who can’t be together for reasons that nobody can seem to remember. Nashville doesn’t get any more Nashville.

The crib sheet:

  • Country-pop crossover princess Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) fell in love with her roadie-slash-producer Avery (Jonathan Jackson), but has since abandoned him and their infant daughter to tour the country and sing duets with Steven Tyler. That sounds awesome, but it is not awesome.
  • Will-they-or-won’t-they-or-will-they central couple Rayna (Britton) and Deacon (Charles Esten) have been kept apart by alcoholism, secret love children, dashing country superstars, and one particularly inconvenient coma. They’re together now, and seemingly solid – but you never know with these two. There could be an asteroid in their future.
  • With the recent loss of Juliette to another label and another of its artists to murder charges (yup), Rayna’s independent label Highway 65 is struggling big time.

The full story: Plow through the 68 episodes of Seasons 1-3 and you'll be caught up for Season 4, which premiered Sept. 23

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