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Image: "Two and a Half Men"
The new poster for the Charlie Sheen-free"Two and a Half Men," shows stars Angus T. Jones, Ashton Kutcher and Jon Cryer.
TODAY contributor
updated 9/11/2011 7:17:53 PM ET 2011-09-11T23:17:53

It’s almost that time again — time to say farewell to the reality-TV-rich summer programming and look ahead to the bounty of fall favorites set to return.

Of course, before faithful boob-tube fans can look ahead, it’s advisable that they take a look back. It’s been a while since the comedies and dramas of last season wrapped up the on-screen action, and viewers can't be expected to ponder the plot points over the whole break.

So get ready to get back in the swing of the story by reading the following rundown of returning fall favorites — including where the shows left off and where they just might be headed.

There’s nothing like a romance between two main characters to kill off seasons’ worth of chemistry on any show. After the (literal) crash and burn following the hookup and breakup for everyone’s favorite sardonic doc and his boss-turned-gal-pal Cuddy, well, “House” fans know all about that. But a whole lot more than character chemistry was at stake in the end.

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House’s season-ending effort to turn Cuddy’s house into a drive-through crossed a major line for the lead character — the sort of line that lands even the most brilliant diagnostician in the slammer.

Watch 'House's' Hugh Laurie sing

So where will the action pick up when the show returns? Casting news long ago revealed that Cuddy would be a no-show for season eight, so that means fans can expect the drama to focus on the main man and the fallout from his grand, jealous gesture.

For a bigger hint at what’s to come, check out the preview:

"House" returns to Fox on Monday, Oct. 3 at 9 p.m.

'Two and a Half Men'
What happened on “Two and a Half Men” last season? Well, Rose and Charlie were lovey-dovey, while she kept the identity of her “hubby” Manny the mannequin to herself. As for Alan, he was neck deep in his own Ponzi scheme. Rose found out Alan’s secret, he learned hers and the two soon struck up a mutually beneficial ruse. As for Charlie, he was poised to pop the question when he and Rose went away to Paris for one wild weekend.

Letterman presses Kutcher for 'Men' info

But who are we kidding? When it comes to the upcoming plot points fans can expect when “Two and a Half Men” returns for its ninth season, it’s more relevant to take a look back at the off-screen antics of the show’s former lead, Charlie Sheen. After all, it was Sheen’s oh-so-public meltdown that led to his ouster and the inclusion of new leading man, Ashton Kutcher.

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So now “Men” viewers can look forward to a season opener full of big changes. First and foremost, (spoiler alert — for those who’ve managed to skip all show-related tidbits this summer) Charlie Harper is now the late Charlie Harper. And Kutcher? He’s a broken-hearted billionaire set to swoop in and fill the void.

“Two and a Half Men” returns to ABC Monday, Sept. 19 at 9 p.m.

Story: Don't miss them! Upcoming TV premieres

'Grey's Anatomy'
When last we left Seattle Grace, relationship woes were the major injury much of the ensemble suffered from — as usual. In short, Derek needed space from Meredith, Owen kicked Cristina out and the less said about Teddy and Andrew, the better. Oh, and babies, whether they be the already born variety (see Meredith) or the not-so-much kind (see Cristina), only served to complicate the already strained heartstrings.

Speaking of relationships, the downward trajectory of Derek and Meredith's union was thanks to her meddling with his labor of love, Alzheimer's research. Well ... it was also thanks to Alex's big mouth that she got busted. In any case, the chief is very, very displeased with her actions, and big consequences are coming.

New 'Grey's' trailer teasing cast exit?

When “Grey’s” returns, those woes will pick up right where they left off. And if the first preview of the season is anything to go by, don’t count on quick solutions.

“Grey’s Anatomy” returns to ABC Thursday, Sept. 22 at 9 p.m.

'The Office'
As of the season finale, Dunder Mifflin is still down a man. It seems the beloved but only semi-competent boss Michael Scott is harder to replace than anyone would have guessed. Despite a long, star-studded list of laughable applicantsthe job remains open.

The new CEO on 'The Office' is ...

So the first order of business when “The Office” is back in business will be to hire one important player. Well, maybe two. An official spoiler released months ago revealed that one of last season’s job hunters, the charismatic character played by James Spader, gets the job. Alas, he also gets promoted to Sabre CEO hours later. Therefore at least one other clock-puncher is set to join the scene soon.

“The Office” returns to NBC Thursday, Sept. 22 at 9 p.m.

'Desperate Housewives'
The ups and downs on Wisteria Lane were never so evident as they were by the time season seven ended. In good news, Susan got the all-clear after being accused of poisoning Paul. Felicia, on the other hand, actually did try to kill Paul. While she didn’t have to serve time for the deed, Felicia did experience a head-on brush with instant karma — otherwise known as a tractor-trailer.

'Housewives' stars talk show's end, drop hints

Oh, and Lynette’s marriage to Tom? It’s about as dead as ... well, as dead as Felicia.

In more good news, Gaby actually got an apology from her abusive, creepy stepfather. Too bad he soon attempted to attack her again. But hey, at least Carlos put an end to family drama in the knick of time, with what turned out to be lethal force applied to Stepdad’s head. Oops! Good thing Gaby’s pals were soon on hand to help with the whole hiding-the-body business.

Sheridan won't return for 'Housewives' finale

Next up for the “Housewives”? Well, in the show's final season, the partners in crime have to face the consequences for covering up the death of one unpleasant man. Of course, before they do that, they’ll have to continue the cover-up long enough to literally cover up the corpse.

Just watch:

“Desperate Housewives” returns to ABC Sunday, Sept. 25 at 9 p.m.

'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit'
OK, it’s never a party in the squad room on “SVU,” but things took a particularly dark turn when a young woman opened fire on a couple of baddies responsible for killing her mom and — oops! — Sister Peg, too. Stabler stopped the madness with a bullet of his own, killing the grieving girl.

So yeah, downer.

Hargitay: 'Olivia is very upside down' on 'SVU'

How will the detective cope with his own grief when the show returns? The most likely answer is "off screen," given the fact that star Christopher Meloni won’t return to “SVU” next season. Instead, viewers can expect to see some of the usual familiar faces (less B.D. Wong, too), while a couple of new ones will join the drama.

“Law & Order: SVU” returns to NBC Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 10 p.m.

'Modern Family'
“Modern Family’s” second season ended in a way that didn’t feel like a season-ender at all. The finale, much like most episodes of the hit comedy, simply focused on another day in the life of one flawed but lovable family.

Jay’s wish to revisit a favorite birthday from his past led to a long series of flubs rather than fun, but along the way, his loved ones tried to show their affections in their own fractured ways. In the end, it was Jay’s youngest, Manny, who managed to give the patriarch just what he wanted most — solitude.

It was a sweet tale of love and expectations, not to mention practical points to live by (such as how to froth a bubble bath with a tennis racket), but it wasn’t much of a tease for what’s still to come. The future on “Modern Family” is a complete mystery, and given the show is always an unexpected look at family relations, that seems about right.

“Modern Family” returns to ABC Wednesday, Sept.21 at 9 p.m.

Which returning show are you most looking forward to? Tell us all about it on the Facebook page for our TV blog, The Clicker.

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