Here's the skinny on sci-fi and fantasy shows returning in the fall. A number of favorites, including Battlestar Galactica, Kyle XY, Reaper, Torchwood, and Medium won't be back until January or later. Already airing: Stargate Atlantis and Eureka.
Premiere: Sep. 29. Airs: Mondays at 8 p.m. on NBC. Chuck (Zachary Levi) made it through 13 episodes of being a repository for the nation's secrets without getting assassinated (or self-destructing), and the Chuck we'll see in season 2, while still a nerd, will be a little more confident. Unfortunately the government is replacing the Intersect and he's now expendable. The season-opening two-parter finds Chuck on his own and undercover, dealing with threats against himself and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), and getting no help from ex-spy Roan Montgomery (John Laroquette). Matthew Bomer reappears as Bryce, and Lester (Vik Sahay) is now assistant manager at the Buy More; and there's more Devon, aka Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin).
2. Eli Stone
Premiere: Oct. 14. Airs: Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC. By the end of his freshman season, the formerly ruthless corporate lawyer Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller) had convinced his friends -- and himself -- that the visions caused by his inoperable aneurysm, many featuring pop star George Michael, gave him some glimpse into the future. Even his cold-hearted boss, Jordan (Victor Garber), did a complete 180, embracing Stone's new pro bono fights for the little guy, inspired by his prophetic visions, as something every firm needs. So where is there to go from here? For one thing, high-profile guest stars. Eli, still trying to figure out how to deal with his gift, visits a therapist played by Sigourney Weaver; Katie Holmes is also slated to appear.
Premiere: Sep. 22. Airs: Mondays at 9 p.m. on NBC. The new volume is called "Villains," and we'll be seeing some new superpowered bad guys to add to the trouble being caused by Sylar (Zachary Quinto). Not only that, but some of the heroes themselves take on a dark edge: Claire (Hayden Penettiere) has to confront multi-powered Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) from traveling in time to kill, and Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) suffers side-effects from his own serum that cause a Jekyll-Hyde split -- leading, among other things to a passionate fling with Maya (Dania Ramirez); and there are new twists from characters like Noah (Jack Coleman), Angela (Cristine Rose) who were being developed in season 2. A Comic-Con preview got a good response.
Premiere: Oct. 1. Airs: Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC. The writer's strike caught Pushing Daisies at an awkward moment, truncating the season (which nonetheless got Emmy nods) before they could resolve plots involving Oscar (Paul Reubens) and Aunt Lily (Swoozie Kurtz), who has revealed she is the mother of Chuck (Anna Friel). Season 2 will cover ground planned for season 1, including the "aunts" finding out Chuck is alive. More cool guests this season include Diana Scarwid; David Arquette as a new friend for Ned; Stephen Root as a figure from Ned's and Chuck's past; and Fred Willard as a magician. Also back: the mortician, and Olive's beau Alfredo (Raul Esparza).
Premiere: Sep. 18. Airs: Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW. Everyone says this, the eighth season, is the last flight for the veteran show, and the show-runners admitted they need to stop looking backward and start molding Clark Kent into the double-lifed mild-mannered reporter/superhero. Kara (Laura Vandervoort) has been unceremoniously dropped, and Lana and Lex will both be around only part-time; instead the show will focus on lifting the stalled Clark/Lois relationship to a new level, while Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley) will help Clark with the Superman angle. Allison Mack's involvement was in question, but Chloe will indeed be on board as a weekly regular. New villain: Sam Witwer (Dexter, Battlestar Galactica) as -- Doomsday? Really?
Premiere: Sep. 18. Airs: Thursdays at 9 p.m. on The CW. In the last episode of season 3, time ran out for Dean (Jensen Ackles) and, despite Sam's (Jared Padalecki) best efforts, the terms of his contract were executed and Dean was sent to hell -- the final show showing him bound in vast net of chains and screaming out Sam's name. Sam, already forced to gain a darker, harder edge last year, now finds it's his turn to fix things. Dean does return from the dead, though not right away and not without consequences; on the plus side Sam has a new love interest, played by Genevieve Cortese (Wildfire), and Bela (Lauren Cohan) is out. The war with evil will be "smaller, more contained, underground, more guerrilla-style," creator Eric Kripke says.
Premiere: Sep. 8. Airs: Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox. The brief first season of this Terminator franchise spin-off, following the teenage years of future resistance leader John Connor (Thomas Dekker), took a noticeable upswing when Brian Austin Green joined the cast as John's uncle, Derek Reese. Now that Green is a regular, the main problem will be how to keep Derek's jump-off-the-screen adrenaline from making the show's other, more sedate leads -- including the not-Linda-Hamilton title character (Lena Headey) and friendly Terminator Summer Galu (Firefly) -- look bad by comparison. Fortunately, this show, developed by Josh Friedman, shows signs of careful construction and should be able to balance John's teen angst against Derek's passions.