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Best Starting Point: ''Sweet Baby'' (101) — Scandal begins with a bang. We're introduced to Olivia Pope and her badass team, and get to the ropes through the newbie associate Quinn. You'll be hooked by the time you meet the White House Intern crying Presidential affair.
Most Skippable: ''Beltway Unbuckled'' (204) — The sexy title is sadly misleading. Not too much happens in this episode unless you love the Scandal of the Week formula. Mellie and Fitz fight. Abby and David make out. Snore.
Biggest Jaw-Dropper: ''Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" (214) — Sure, the assassination attempt was bananas and the big season 2 finale reveal was awesome, but Fitz and Liv's passionate hate-sex at a Christening kind of takes the cake. There's even a slap.
Ultimate Game Changer: ''Nobody Likes Babies'' (213) — Perhaps the best episode of the series, everything seems to come to a head halfway through season 2. Fitz's assassin is revealed, David Rosen figures out the election rigging, and Cyrus goes to shocking extremes to protect his legacy.
Finale Fall-Out: ''White Hat's Back On'' (222) — Everyone was left a little altered after the season 2 finale. Quinn went full on Dexter and literally drilled into the mole. The shadowy figure who runs the sinister B613 organization is someone from Olivia's past, but we still don't know exactly what his endgame is. Olivia called things off with Fitz (again), but now the press knows that she was his mistress. Big changes are in store for the Gladiators and the Presidency now that the affair is public. The fixer suddenly has to fix her own crisis. —Lindsey Bahr
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Best Starting Point: ''Fluffer'' (203) — After setting up the loftmates' general dynamic throughout season 1, New Girl transcended its adorkable pigeonhole in the second season with the surprisingly believable odd couple Jess and Nick. Their showmance is set up in this early ep, when Nick unhappily realizes Jess is going on pre-dates with him to rev herself up for the real thing with other guys. Not only is it the first episode when viewers started to invest in the possibility that there might be more there than a turtle face and an oversized pair of doe eyes. All this plus classic Schmidt douchery as he tries to bag a Republican hook-up by pretending to be ''Tugg'' Romney and some top-notch facial hilarity from Winston and his sex eyes. Everybody wins.
Most Skippable: ''Models'' (205) — Sorry Gigglebangs Riceball, but the shamelessly shilly episode is a non-starter. Even with the return of Russian penis-breaker Nadia and an absurd-yet-awesome boob-slap fight between Jess and Cece.
Ultimate Game Changer: ''Cooler'' (215) — Never has a man looked so hot in a lady's trench coat. After putting the moves on a tragedy-obsessed hottie from the gang's local, Nick finds himself roped into a game of seven minutes in heaven with Jess. He's incredibly uncomfortable?but not because he doesn't want to kiss her. After a catch-your-breath-it's-so-hot embrace in minute 29, Nick proves he has previously unknown levels of depth and dashingness (thanks in no small part to stellar acting by 2013 EWwy winner Jake Johnson). The icing on the cake? The return of the world's greatest fake drinking game: True American!
Biggest Jaw-Dropper: ''Virgins'' (223) — They! Have! Sex! We all knew it would happen, but the smart money was on Nick and Jess sharing their first time together in the season finale. Instead, showrunner Liz Meriwether & Co. pushed the timeline forward (ironically, with an episode comprised mostly of flashbacks that gave excellent insights on Schmidt and Winston, as well). In doing so both in ''Cooler'' and this episode, they showed us that ''Anything Could Happen.''
Finale Fall-Out: ''Elaine's Big Day'' (225) — The possibilities are endless now that Jess and Nick all-in on their relationship, Schmidt is juggling two potential girlfriends, and Winston might have bled out from a badger bite — okay, thanks this new featurette, we at least know that's off the table. Season 3 is shaping up to be the makeout-iest yet. —Lanford Beard
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The Walking Dead
Best Starting Point: ''Days Gone By'' (101) — Written and directed by original show runner Frank Darabont, Dead's first hour is a hauntingly quiet, leisurely-paced introduction to the new zombiefied world. A little bit western, a little bit horror, and a scene-stealing appearance by Lennie James, a very very occasional guest star.
Most Skippable: ''Tell it to the Frogs'' (103) and ''Secrets'' (206) — After coming out the gate strong, Dead stumbled in its early days with unnecessary plot detours (the CDC), hammy storytelling (a gangster-run senior-citizen home), and a general sense of stasis (five episodes of searching for Sophia) Really, you're better skipping ahead to the back half of season 2.
Biggest Jaw-Dropper: ''Pretty Much Dead Already'' (207) — After a long fallow period spent ambling around Hershel's farm looking for missing angelic little girl Sophia, the gang opens up that mysterious barn?and finds Sophia's shambling undead corpse. The moment when Walking Dead announced that it was a show willing to pull the trigger.
Ultimate Game Changer: ''Killer Within'' (304) — A couple episodes after the crew moved into new digs in a penitentiary, a horde of walkers invade. Coincidentally, unofficial post-apocalypse First Lady Lori Grimes is going into labor. The episode ends with Lori dead in childbirth, re-killed by her own son to prevent her zombie rebirth. Also, T-Dog died. The moment when the show announced it was willing to pull the trigger again and again and again.
Finale Fall-Out: ''Welcome to the Tombs'' (316) — After a season-long Cold War with new nemesis The Governor, the Grimes Gang suffered a couple casualties — farewell, Merle! Sayonara, Andrea! We'll miss your glasses, Milton! In the fallout, dozens of new citizens were welcomed into the penitentiary fortress. But the Governor is still out there somewhere. New threats are looming in season 4. Also, there are still zombies everywhere. —Darren Franich
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How I Met Your Mother
Best Starting Point: ''The Autumn of Break-Ups'' (805) — Kids, everything that happened before the penultimate season and everything that sets up the rest of the series is summed up in "Autumn." By this episode, Quinn's already broken up with Barney, Victoria breaks up with Ted, and Robin is about to head to Splitsville with Nick, so all the romantic entanglements that began the season are mostly done. It's by no means the best HIMYM episode, but the characters are in place for the show to get them to Robin and Barney's wedding, with Ted available to meet the Mother.
Biggest Jaw-Dropper: ''The Final Page, Part 2'' (812) — Both parts of the midseason finale were thrilling in a return to HIMYM form, hitting emotional highs while still packing in the laughs. Ted finally gives Robin his blessing, encouraging Robin to go after Barney before he proposes to Patrice, but when Robin heads to Barney's proposal spot, it turns out Barney had been waiting for her all along ( sniff), successfully pulling off his final Playbook trick, ''The Robin.'' Meanwhile, Ted's building finally opens, and a shot lingers on him staring out into the city, alone (double sniff).
Most Skippable: ''Weekend at Barney's'' (818) — To be honest, many HIMYM episodes in recent seasons have been skippable, not because they're not funny but because they don't do anything to move plots forward or demonstrate character development. They're just 20 minutes or so of one-liners. ''Weekend" is the latest victim as Ted somehow backtracks to say the reason he's been single is because he's wanted to be, Robin and Barney fall back into immature Playbook gags, and Marshall and Lily have a forgettable storyline at a gallery.
Ultimate Game Changer: ''Something New'' (824) — Do we even need to say why the eighth season's finale was legen-waitforit-dary? We saw the Mother: her face, her hair, her yellow umbrella, her bass guitar. We heard her ask for one ticket to Farhampton, please. She's real, finally on screen and finally a part of the show. And Ted's about to meet her!
Finale Fall-Out: Aside from the Mother's appearance, the finale also set up Marshall and Lily's conflict: With Marshall's judgeship in New York and Lily's offer in Italy, where will they go? Plus, Ted has decided he's moving to Chicago after the wedding because he still has feelings for Robin. All that said, the characters are on their way to the wedding, and as we all know from the show's title, Ted will meet his future wife there. —Shirley Li
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Best Starting Point: ''Pilot'' (101) — Sorry, bingers — you just can't skip the pilot. It's gripping, fast-paced, and not only introduces Carrie, Brody, Saul, and the rest of the character, but it also reveals Carrie's intensity and demons. Plus, the episode immediately poses the question that propels the series: Who is Sergeant Nicholas Brody? If you're not hooked by the end, you won't be ready for the rest.
Biggest Jaw-Dropper: ''The Weekend'' (107) — Carrie and Brody's tryst in her cabin the country is essential viewing for understanding the pair's complicated relationship. Beyond that, their sudden romance coupled with Brody's discovery of Carrie's suspicions lead to a tense, crackling climax. It's Lewis and Danes at their best.
Ultimate Game Changer: ''Q&A'' (205) — There are precious few shows on television that can capture both the intensity and exhilaration of an interrogation at the same time, and Homeland succeeds with ''Q&A'' because it hones in on Carrie and Brody, finally in a setting where Carrie can pick through Brody's lies and unravel each of his secrets. When Brody breaks and confesses, there's a fleeting moment of relief for Carrie before the episode picks the action right back up, as the CIA readies Brody for his new role. It's a near-perfect episode only marred by the final Dana and Finn scene.
Most Skippable: ''A Gettysburg Address'' (206) — As with most Homeland episodes, ''Gettysburg'' has its moments (the shootout at the tailor's shop, Carrie confronting Brody in his office), but it's bogged down by two of the worst plots from the second season: Dana's guilty conscience over a hit-and-run accident, and Mike's fruitless investigation of Tom Walker's death. With too much time wasted on a pair of angsty teenagers and an op that ultimately goes nowhere, this episode is more boring than thrilling, and barely moves the plot forward.
Finale Fall-Out: ''The Choice'' (212) — Season 2's finale inverted the season 1 closer: Carrie's now the only one convinced of Brody's innocence, but she's not alone in having her world turned upside down. Brody's on the run, Saul's left to carry the weight after the destruction of the CIA headquarters and the Big Bad of the first two seasons is dead. Season 3 will have to pick up all the pieces — hopefully while delivering the same punch. —Shirley Li
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Best Starting Point: ''Pilot'' (101) — We're introduced to a different kind of Sherlock and Watson. This time, Holmes is a recovering drug-addict who relocated to New York, and now consults for the NYPD. Watson, in turn, is a former-surgeon-turned-sober-companion hired to keep Sherlock in line. Oh and yes, Watson is a woman named Joan.
Biggest Jaw-Dropper: ''M'' (112) — A mysterious serial killer comes to town to taunt Sherlock. The great detective thinks it's his arch-nemesis, but when Sherlock captures the man, he finds out that Moriarty is still at large.
Most Skippable: ''The Deductionist'' (114) — The Super Bowl episode wasted its prime positioning, failing to either move their stories forward or showcase the chemistry between stars Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.
Ultimate Game Changer: ''The Woman'' (123) — In the previous episode, Sherlock found his believed-dead love Irene, played by Natalie Dormer. But he soon realizes Irene isn't who he thought she was.
Finale Fall-Out: ''Heroine'' (124) — With Irene out of the picture, Sherlock and Watson are left to resume their crime-fighting/will-they-or-won't-they relationship. And Sherlock names a new species of bee after his partner. —Denise Warner
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Best Starting Point: ''Remember the Time'' (902) — Each of the doctors involved in season 8's gut-punching plane crash experiences flashbacks, while enjoying their last moments with Mark.
Ultimate Game Changer: ''The End Is the Beginning Is the End'' (911) — The crash survivors receive a verdict on their settlement that has interesting consequences for the doctors who weren't on the plane.
Biggest Jaw-Dropper: ''This Is Why We Fight'' (916) — With the fate of the hospital on the line, Meredith, Derek, Callie, Cristina, and Arizona make a pitch to buy Seattle Grace — with an end result that no one saw coming.
Most Skippable: ''Do You Believe in Magic?' (922) — The season's penultimate episode includes a flash mob proposal. Enough said.
Finale Fall-Out: ''Perfect Storm'' (924) — After a storm devastates the newly named Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, Meredith finds herself giving birth and undergoing surgery — without any electricity. She makes it out fine, but the same can't be said for all of the hospital's surgeons: Richard finds his life hanging in the balance, while Callie and Arizona's marriage falls apart. —Denise Warner
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The Mindy Project
Best Starting Point: ''Pilot'' (101) — You may as well begin at the beginning, in which we meet Dr. Mindy Lahiri, a quippy OB-GYN with a quasi-fabulous single-girl lifestyle and a weakness for romantic comedies.
Ultimate Game Changer: ''In the Club'' (103) — Mindy's first two episodes were all over the place, both literally and figuratively. But its third gathers nearly every cast member in one bumpin' night spot, proving that there's strength in numbers — and cohesive storylines.
Most Skippable: ''Thanksgiving'' (107) — Mindy makes a predictable mess of the holiday dinner; we realize why Anna Camp wanted to be downgraded from series regular to recurring character.
Biggest Jaw-Dropper: ''Harry & Sally''/''Harry & Mindy'' (113/114) — Kaling's real-life BFF (and former Office co-star) B.J. Novak appears for two episodes as a potential suitor who swears he's not in love with his female best friend. Seeing Kaling and Novak reunite onscreen was fan-servicey enough; learning that the storyline was based on their own friendship was just icing on the cake.
Finale Fall-Out: ''Take Me With You'' (124) — Mindy was last seen throwing caution (and her old hair) to the wind by agreeing to spend a year in Haiti with her minister boyfriend Casey. Meanwhile, Danny reunited with his ex-wife — and squashed any nascent feelings for his co-worker. Could he and Mindy take things to the next level in season 2? —Hillary Busis
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The Vampire Diaries
Best Starting Point: ''Growing Pains'' (401) — A lot changed in last season's lead-up. It's probably best not to miss this season opener, which shows Klaus return to his true form, Elena adjust to her new undeadness (and reunite with Stefan), Bonnie use dark magic, and the council kick off what would become a season-long mystery.
Most Skippable: ''The Rager'' (403) — Sure there's a high school party, a run-in with a vampire hunter, and a hot makeout session, but unless you're really into motorcycle rides, this episode doesn't offer up anything you won't learn later (such as Hayley's name).
Biggest Jaw-Dropper: ''My Brother's Keeper'' (407) — Stefan learns more about Jeremy's hunter abilities while Professor Shane makes it clear that he has a hidden agenda. However, the biggest shocker comes from Caroline's realization that Elena's ''magnified'' feelings for Damon might be more complicated than she (or we) ever imagined.
Ultimate Game Changer: ''Stand By Me'' (415) — Some might argue that the cure is the season's biggest game changer, but ''Stand By Me'' includes a switch that changes the entire dynamic of the show, particularly amongst the main love triangle.
Finale Fall-Out: ''Graduation'' (423) — Now that Elena has made her choice between Salvatore brothers, Katherine is experiencing life in a new (or perhaps really old) way, and there's a new, eerily familiar big bad in town, it's time for Elena, Caroline, and Bonnie to start college. Based on the show's track record with professors, and the fact that Stefan isn't currently anywhere to be found, there are many questions left to be answered, and we're sure many more left to be posed. —Samantha Highfill
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Best Starting Point: ''Lovesick Blues'' (107) — To be clear, you should most definitely watch every musical moment from the earlier episodes, but this hour has feuding country queens Rayna and Juliette declaring a cease fire long enough to pen ''Wrong Song'' to pacify their label (which will change hands in season 2 and cause them more trouble).
Most Skippable: ''We Live in Two Different Worlds'' (104) — Juliette gets busted for stealing nail polish.
Ultimate Game Changer: ''Take These Chains From My Heart'' (118) — Rayna and Deacon admit their feelings in the best possible way; Juliette experiences a betrayal that sets tragic events in motion; and we learn aspiring singer Will has been hiding something that makes him one of the show's most interesting characters (which is why he became a series regular for season 2).
Biggest Jaw-Dropper: ''A Picture From Life's Other Side'' (120) — When an ex demands money in exchange for the sex tape he shot of Juliette, her recovering addict mother decides to spare her daughter another scandal (with a body count).
Finale Fall-Out: There was every kind of cliffhanger imaginable: A car accident, an unanswered proposal, and a surprise pregnancy just scratch the sacrifice. Juliette, who began the series as its wild child, suddenly seemed the most at-peace. And was performing the season's final (Emmy-nominated) song at a family member's memorial. —Mandi Bierly
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Best Starting Point: ''Pilot'' (101) — It might sound obvious to start watching a show at the pilot, but that's particularly the case in a show like this. If you want to get the story behind Oliver's green hood, not to mention the start of his extra-complicated love story with Laurel, this is one pilot you can't miss.
Most Skippable: ''Burned'' (110) — After Oliver's confidence is shaken, he decides to take a break from being The Hood. But when Laurel asks for help, he comes running?right into a storyline that involves a whole lot of fire and in no way affects the season's overarching plot.
Ultimate Game Changer: ''Dead to Rights'' (116) — The return of Deadshot changes everything for Diggle, while Tommy sees a new side of his father, and Oliver reveals his secret identity to his best friend in order to save the man he'll later realize is his enemy.
Biggest Jaw-Dropper: ''Darkness on the Edge of Town'' (122) — Oliver finally gets some answers from his mother, which leads him to make a big decision about his relationship with Laurel. All that aside, Oliver comes face-to-face with the man who almost killed him, and it's not who he expected.
Finale Fall-Out: ''Sacrifice'' (123) — Oliver might have gotten the girl, but he, along with just about everyone, lost something or someone in the finale. And then there's the small fact that Starling City lost a piece of itself. So, to put it simply, Starling City and all its inhabitants will be working to rebuild, and The Hood might have some explaining to do. —Samantha Highfill