TVGUIDE.COM UNDERCOVER STARS Keri Russell plays a spy in “The Americans.”
UNDERCOVER STARS Keri Russell plays a spy in “The Americans.”

For all of you TV addicts out there, it’s time to take advantage of the lull that comes with the beginning of the semester. You may be excited for your favorite shows to return to the air this winter, but there are a few new programs that have either already premiered or will air in the coming weeks that deserve your attention. Here, I’ve picked three shows that I think you should either put on your shortlist for this winter or avoid at all costs.

WATCH: “The Following” | Fox
This thriller is packed to the brim with talented actors, led by none other than the incredibly versatile Kevin Bacon. In his debut in a series, he plays a former FBI profiler dragged back into duty to recapture a clever serial murderer played by James Purefoy, who has used the wonders of the Internet to create a cult of killers (though, Purefoy’s character prefers to call them “friends”). Beyond the natural thrill of the cat-and-mouse game that the series presents, Bacon and Purefoy’s complex performances are what will keep you watching beyond the pilot. Hopefully, the writing will prevent the characters from devolving into caricatures and, instead, carefully sculpt them as three-dimensional people. Since the events of the show are firmly outside a typical viewer’s set of experiences, it will be incredibly important that the writers continue to ground the show in some level of reality.

WATCH: “The Americans” | FX
Keri Russell’s return to TV is itself a cause for celebration. Russell hasn’t had a long-lasting TV gig since her late ’90s college drama “Felicity,” which — fun fact — was actually mega-producer J.J. Abrams’ first TV series. Last time we saw Russell on the small screen, she was starring in the short-lived 2010 comedy “Running Wilde” alongside Will Arnett. Finally, it seems she may have found another show with success potential that is worthy of her talent. In “The Americans,” Russell and her costar Matthew Rhys, veteran of the soapy ABC drama “Brothers & Sisters,” play KGB spies posing as married Americans in ’80s suburban Washington, D.C. Unfortunately for them, their neighbor (Noah Emmerich) is an FBI agent tasked to track foreign agents on U.S. soil. I’m always game for anything spy-related, and the premise reminds me of the backstory for another old Abrams favorite, “Alias.” Hopefully, the show lives up to its intriguing premise; with the talent that’s onboard, I know I’ll be tuning in.

AVOID: “The Carrie Diaries” | The CW
Really, you should all thank me: I watched this pilot and now you don’t have to. I should have known what I was in for since “The Carrie Diaries” airs on The CW — a fact that definitely does not bode well for any series. It is a prequel to a successful show that — after six seasons and two movies — should really be put to rest. That its supposedly 1980s-era costumes look like they’ve come straight out of an Anthropologie catalog adds insult to injury. The show may become successful — at least by CW standards — because of a partial fan base it will inherit from “Sex and the City,” but if the pilot is any indication, it will be sorely lacking in quality. The only bright spot I can see thus far is the talented AnnaSophia Robb as a young Carrie Bradshaw. Nearly everything else about the show is borderline laughable. This is definitely one to leave for your middle school-aged sister.

These first few weeks of the semester should leave you ample time to preview “The Following” (which premiered on Jan. 21) or “The Americans” (which will premiere on Jan. 30), but be sure — no matter how big of a “Sex and the City” fan you might be — to avoid “The Carrie Diaries.” Carrie Bradshaw is tired, and it’s time to let her go. She should live on only in reruns.

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