TOP 3 SHOWS
1. "Friday Night Lights" (NBC)
Listen up, America: If you don't pull your head out of your ass, and this show winds up not coming back for a third season, you will not only deserve every Flavor Flav-derived reality show and extra night of "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" you get, you will be guilty of a crime against television – specifically, murdering arguably the best show to make it onto a Big Four schedule in the last decade. Yeah, we know it's a movie spinoff, and we know how badly we've all been burned by those before. But trust us, America – in an era of splintered audiences and unscripted shows, "Friday Night Lights" is the very definition of appointment television. Matter of fact, we're so sure you'll love it that we'll spring for a Season One DVD set for the first person who drops an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Seriously.
2. "The Office" (NBC)
An American adaptation of a beloved BBC series? Clearly, NBC learned nothing from the "Coupling" debacle, and who the hell does Steve Carell think he's fooling? Such was the conventional wisdom heading into Season One of "The Office," but it didn't take long for reviewers to figure out they were witnessing something special. The show still hasn't really matured, ratings-wise, but its deft blend of laugh-out-loud comedy and poignant drama – made possible by a chemistry-drenched cast of writer/actors – puts it head and shoulders above any other half-hour comedy on TV. The slow-budding romance between Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer) gets all the buzz, but as any fan of the show could tell you, the show runs much deeper than that. Between "The Office" and "30 Rock," NBC is quietly reclaiming its Thursday night comedy throne.
3. "Lost" (ABC)
You've heard all the whining – Season Two was worse than Season One, and Season Three was even worse than Season Two – but the truth is, "Lost" is every bit as compelling as it was during its charmed first-season run. It offers less immediate gratification, sure, but shows like this one are all about the long view – something critics and viewers seem to have forgotten. Series star Matthew Fox has brushed off departed viewers as not "real fans," and he's right; in opening itself up to the occasional storyline lull or inexplicable left turn, "Lost" has broadened and deepened its mythology, and when the big payoff comes, it'll be that much more satisfying. Of course, there's always the possibility that J.J. Abrams and crew will muff that landing, in which case, we'll happily take up torches and pitchforks with the rest of you – but in the meantime, we're happily along for the ride. Let's end this writers' strike and get Season Four started, please.
MOST UNDERRATED REALITY SHOW
"Shalom in the Home" (TLC)
We live in an era in which pretty much any Tom's Harry Dick can get himself a reality television show – but a good one? And a good one with a purpose, to boot? Those are mighty scarce, but "Shalom in the Home," the TLC series featuring Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, is a happy exception. Driving around the country in an Airstream trailer (A.K.A. the "Shalom Mobile Home") and visiting troubled families for a week at a time, Boteach attempts to help prevent parents from subjecting their children to the heartbreak of divorce – a heartbreak he understands personally. A witty and engaging host, Boteach actually seems like the kind of guy you wouldn't mind having parked outside your house for a week – which probably goes a long way toward explaining why he's successful so often. Make with the third season already.
MOST APPETIZING REALITY SHOW
"Top Chef" (Bravo)
On the grand continuum of TV concepts, a reality show about a cooking contest sounds like one of the less-interesting ideas to come out of a modern network boardroom – but then, so does a reality show about a fashion designing contest, and look at "Project Runway." But we digress. The point is, perhaps you've avoided "Top Chef" because you aren't particularly interested in cooking, or particularly impressed by terms such as "foie gras" or "$150 truffle." It's understandable, but here's the thing – even if the most complicated thing you can make is a bowl of cereal, or fancy ingredients make you want to barf, "Top Chef" is deeply compelling television, and no matter your palate, it's a show you aren't going to want to watch on an empty stomach.