Like an impatient teacher itching to enlighten a classroom of sleepy students, fall is a season that snaps, "Pay attention!" Summer's over, school's in, and popular culture gets a little more serious. It's the antisilly season, when people want challenge as much as comfort. The seasonal adage may be "Fall back," but autumn is the time for great leaps forward. And late August is the time to hope for them.
After months of brainless Hollywood bombast, you can look not for bigger films but for smarter ones. The romance novels of summer are beach litter now; time to buckle down to nonfiction. TV may be ready to take off its dancing shoes and take on weighty subjectslike a Chris Rock sitcom that defuses racism by exploding it.
In these pages, TIME's critics report on the top autumn anticipations. And if some of the offerings seem too much like homework, play hooky. See a Broadway show with a favorite star tandem or a movie with a mute, heroic dog, or try a cool new video game. Then write an essay about it, class, and have it on our desk by Monday.