Bullz-Eye.com's TV Power Rankings, November 2007 Edition, best TV shows, winter TV

Bullz-Eye's TV Power Rankings: Winter 2007 Edition

TV Home / Entertainment Channel / Bullz-Eye Home

NBC may not be King of the Nielsen Ratings just yet, but we know good television when we see it, and the Peacock has returned in full force with a dominating presence that includes the top three shows and five of the top six. HBO, on the other hand, is experiencing the opposite, with the departure of “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood” and “Rome.” Add to that the fact that our list features a whopping 10 new entries -- five of which are freshmen -- and you’ve got one heck of a Power Rankings shakeup. Much of this has to do with so many shows being on hiatus until next year (read below for more on the return of our favorites), but whatever the cause, it’s nice to see some much-needed change to a usually familiar lineup.

Looking for more on your favorite shows from our list? We've included links to DVD reviews and series blogs below as well as several related interviews, including Melora Hardin (Jan Levinson) from "The Office" and Ray Wise (The Devil) from "Reaper." And don't miss the list of our favorite shows currently on hiatus and therefore ineligible for the Top-20, our farewell to "The Sopranos," and our stable of Honorable Mentions.

1
HEROES
Previous Rank: #2
HeroesAt first, there were some rumblings around the Bullz-Eye offices that it felt a little bit like coasting to move “Heroes” up to the #1 spot on the Power Rankings so early into its second season, but while Season Two hasn’t blown our collective skirt up in quite the same manner as Season One thus far, we’d be fools if we were to write off Tim Kring’s baby so quickly. Besides, the conclusion to the plot arc of the first year left us wanting more so damned badly that, frankly, we’re willing to admit that maybe our expectations were just set too high. Looking back on what’s been provided in the first few episodes of the sophomore season, there have been plenty of stellar moments…and, more importantly, there have been plenty of scintillating mysteries. Who killed Mr. Nakamura? What secrets lie behind Isaac’s final paintings? What’s the deal with Kristin Bell’s character? Will Sylar ever get his powers back? Is Stephen Tobolowsky one of the greatest character actors of all time? Okay, well, we know the answer to that last one is a resounding “yes,” but the others are proving more than sufficient to keep us tuning in week after week. If things have been a tad too Claire-centric recently, and the Hiro storyline is dragging on a bit long, well, these are the characters we came to know and love over the course of Year One, and Kring and company have certainly earned enough brownie points for us to give them the benefit of the doubt that things will once again play out in a suitably thrilling fashion. When they do, you can rest assured that we’ll still be sitting right in front of our television sets, biting our nails with the best of them. – Will Harris
Heroes Blog l Season 1 DVD review l Jack Coleman interview l Adrian Pasdar & Milo Ventimiglia interview l Ali Larter, Santiago Cabrera & Tim Kring interview
2
THE OFFICE
Previous Rank: #4
The OfficeWe were skeptical when we first heard that NBC was going to do an adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s brilliant BBC mockumentary-style sitcom that followed all the happenings at the about-to-be-downsized branch of a paper company. But after a short and shaky start, the U.S. version has taken on a life of its own. No longer are we comparing Michael Scott to David Brent, Jim Halpert to Tim Canterbury, or even Dwight Schrute to Gareth Keenan – every character on “The Office” is distinct and brings something uniquely funny to the series. But with talent like Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson and Jenna Fischer, it’s hard to go wrong. Also, the U.S. version has shown some serious legs. For all its laughs, the U.K. version only lasted 14 episodes and Gervais has commented about how amazed he is that American sitcoms can come up with enough material for 20+ episodes a season. NBC’s version has now filmed more than four times as many episodes, so it makes sense that the series seems more developed. Now that Pam and Jim are dating, we’re a little concerned about the show losing its romantic steam, but the Dwight/Angela/Andy love triangle has taken on some of that burden. Besides, the show is a comedy at its heart, and there are always plenty of laughs to go around at the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin. – John Paulsen
The Office Blog l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review l Melora Hardin interview
3
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Previous Rank: NR
Friday Night LightsAdapted from David Aaron Cohen’s screenplay (which was an adaptation of H.G. Bissinger’s book of the same name), “Friday Night Lights” follows the happenings in Dillon, a small Texas town that revolves around its high school football team. There is lots of on-the-field action, but the show is really about its realistic relationships. The cast is a terrific ensemble, but it’s the Taylor family – Eric, the head coach, Tami, the spunky wife, and Julie, the overly dramatic teenager – that really drives the series. Over the course of the first season (and the first few episodes of the second), Eric goes from goat to hero to traitor to savior, and it’s a constant battle for him to keep his team, his town and his family together. Then there’s the charismatic (and hilarious) Riggins, who has developed such a big cult following that NBC is selling replicas of his jersey, and “WWRD?” (What Would Riggins Do?) T-shirts have popped up elsewhere on the internet. In fact, every main character is well developed and unique, which is tough to do when there are so many storylines going on. The show has received loads of critical acclaim, winning a Peabody award and named AFI’s television program of the year, though it still isn’t considered a ratings success. NBC ordered a full, 22-episode second season, which has started off darker than the first, but seems to be turning the corner. “FNL” still feels like an underdog, but it’s an underdog with some bite. – JP
Friday Night Lights Blog l Season 1 DVD review
4
FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS
Previous Rank: NR
Flight of the Conchords“Flight of the Conchords” is the best new show of the year. There, I said it, and anyone who has ever seen an episode of the HBO comedy would likely agree. Based around the New Zealand musical act of the same name, the show follows the hapless duo – Bret (McKenzie) and Jemaine (Clement) – as they move to New York City and pursue their dreams of becoming rock superstars. Along with their clueless manager Murray (Rhys Darby) – who handles all band business while working as a consulate within the city – the Conchords must deal with a variety of issues ranging from girls, racism and their complete lack of success. Just ask their only fan, Mel (Kristen Schaal). Fortunately, the music isn’t as bad as you might expect (which would be somewhat of a deal breaker), and is in fact the saving grace of the show. Covering everything from hip-hop and electronica to pop, classic rock, disco and folk music, the Conchords are probably the most eclectic musical act on the planet. It’s not the songs that warrant such critical applause, however, but the way in which they’re implemented into the story, either as public performances, dreams (like in the David Bowie-centric episode), acid trips or “Lord of the Rings”-themed music videos. Simply put, “Flight of the Conchords” is unlike any other comedy on television. In fact, the characters are so unique that we could even imagine a spin-off based completely around the duo’s rapping alter egos: Hip-hopopotamus and the Rhymenocerous. – Jason Zingale
5
JOURNEYMAN
Previous Rank: NR
JourneymanIt seems many still don’t realize that NBC’s “Journeyman” is one of the best new shows of the 2007 season and – even better – continually demonstrates the potential to become a classic sci-fi/romance series for the books. Many have simply labeled it a “Quantum Leap” rip off; the literary set may think it a shameless clone of Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife;” film buffs could feel it owes something to “Somewhere in Time” or even “Back to the Future.” All of those concepts and then some likely inspired “Journeyman,” but its brilliance lies in its ability to grab from wherever, and cohesively bring it all back around into a series that delivers something special every week. It’s still too early in the series to tell where it’s all going, but creator Kevin Falls seems to have a plan that he’s slowly unveiling, without making a series so continuity-heavy that newcomers will feel utterly “Lost.” Newspaper reporter Dan Vasser (Kevin McKidd, "Rome") gets literal headaches that signify he’s going somewhere – or somewhen, to be precise. He finds himself in weekly quests to right the wrongs the timeline of today managed to screw up. Aiding him in his travels is a girlfriend he believed to be long since dead, Livia (Moon Bloodgood), and his wife in the present, Katie (Gretchen Egolf). This is a series where no matter how heroic the man might be, he’d ultimately fail if not for the women in his life. Now if only his brother Jack (Reed Diamond) – who’s also Katie’s ex – would see Dan as something other than the failure he thinks he is. – Ross Ruediger
Journeyman Blog
6
30 ROCK
Previous Rank: NR
30 Rock“Hello, ’30 Rock’? ‘Arrested Development’ here. Say, congrats on that Emmy win for Outstanding Comedy Series! Just a word of warning, though: it means jack. If you don’t get your ratings up, Dr. Tobias Fünke will be chatting up Liz Lemon in the unemployment line sooner than later.” We don’t know if that telephone call ever actually happened, but if it didn’t, it’s clear that the folks over at “30 Rock” know what’s up and are doing everything they can do remedy the ratings situation. The show’s writing is as funny this season as last, with great subplots including Jenna (Jane Krakowski) desperately trying to lose all the weight she gained while performing (and eating) “Mystic Pizza” during the summer hiatus, and Tracy dealing with having his wife around all the time. The show’s been taking full advantage of stunt casting, too, with the return of Will Arnett and Rip Torn, as well as appearances by Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Buscemi, Jackie Mason, Carrie Fisher and, for their network-mandated “green episode,” David Schwimmer and Al Gore. The bad news is that even the great and powerful Seinfeld couldn’t inspire viewers to raise “30 Rock” above #60 in the ratings, which doesn’t bode well. But at least you can’t say the show is going to lie back and accept the inevitable; if they do end up going out, at least they’ll be going out on a creative high. – WH
Season 1 DVD review
7
DOCTOR WHO
Previous Rank: #19
Doctor WhoWho ever would have guessed the Doctor and his time/space machine, the TARDIS, could be so successfully reinvented for the new millennium? There was a time when admitting to being a “Doctor Who” fan was actually more embarrassing than being a Trekkie (this writer knows from experience). But not today! “Doctor Who” is cooler than just about any other sci-fi show on television, and while this new incarnation serves a more impressive effects palette, its stories are frequently as tongue in cheek as the stuff we grew up on. David Tennant plays Doctor #10 with gusto and humor, often recalling the most famous actor to play the part, Tom Baker. While it still doesn’t have the viewership over here in the States that it achieves in the U.K., those who do tune in (be it on Sci Fi, BBC America or even good ol’ reliable PBS) find themselves partaking in adventures far and wide. One week we meet William Shakespeare and the next we find ourselves in the year 5,000,000,000 on New Earth. Where new “Who” deviates from old, however, is in the emotion of the storytelling. Love is often as much of a theme as time travel, and these days the Doctor’s biggest problems arise from his inability to return the affections of the gorgeous ladies he travels with. “Doctor Who” may be the most unabashedly unashamed celebration of geek love ever. – RR
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review
8
WEEDS
Previous Rank: NR
WeedsHow could a satirical comedy about a suburban mom dealing drugs not be great? Well, as Season Two of “Weeds” hung for a while before Season Three resumed this past September, we were reminded of just how great this show really is. First of all, the writing is bordering on brilliant. The way the Season Two finale ended with several cliffhangers (Nancy in a Mexican standoff with two different groups of bad guys, Nancy’s son Shane being kidnapped by Andrew’s crazy ex-girlfriend, and Nancy’s DEA “husband” Peter being killed by one of the groups of bad guys) made you wonder how the hell it would all be resolved. It finally was a few episodes into the third season, but more and more plot twists have continued to make “Weeds” one of the best programs on television. But even more impressive than the writing is the terrific acting. Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker), Celia (Elizabeth Perkins), Doug (Kevin Nealon) and Andy (Justin Kirk) are so convincing in their roles, it’s hard to imagine them having real lives outside of the show. The cherry on top this season is the addition of Tara Lindman, played by none other than Mary-Kate Olson. There is no other show that would have the balls to make one of the Olson twins a Jesus-loving, sexually charged drug dealer. And the best part of it all is that “Weeds” is just now hitting its stride. – Mike Farley
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review
9
REAPER
Previous Rank: NR
ReaperIn our Fall TV Preview, we gave this show a shout-out as the best new series on the schedule, and we haven’t been disappointed. Some TV geeks have pointed out similarities to a short-lived but fondly remembered Fox series called “Brimstone,” but there’s one big difference: “Reaper” is funny. Admittedly, you wouldn’t think there’d be a whole lot of comedic potential in a guy whose parents have sold his soul to the devil and left him forced to serve as Satan’s bounty hunter, searching out the demons who’ve escaped from the underworld and returning them to their proper place. And, yet, with the rapport between the team of Bret Harrison (Sam), Tyler Labine (Sock), and Rick Gonzales (Ben), the laughs fly fast and furious. The show’s pilot – directed by Kevin Smith – was one of the best hours of TV in ages, and as the premise continues to unfold and the series continues to find its groove, we anticipate that it’ll rate even higher next time around. Well, just as long as they hurry up and let Sam reveal his secret to Andi (Missy Peregrym), that is. Here’s our latest “Reaper” declaration: if Ray Wise doesn’t get an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his devilish performance as Ol’ Scratch himself, then there’s gonna be Hell to pay. – WH
Ray Wise interview
10
ENTOURAGE
Previous Rank: #3
EntourageComparing the fourth season of “Entourage” to last year’s uninspired sixth season of “24” probably isn’t fair to the HBO series, but they sure feel a lot alike. Both shows graced our Top 5 in the months leading up to their monstrous descent, and both suffered greatly in ratings because of lackluster years. Many shows seem to forget that just because you have a loyal fanbase doesn’t mean you can stop delivering quality material, and for the boys of “Entourage,” their biggest setback was a little thing called “Medellin.” The much-delayed Pablo Escobar project has been a key plot point since the second season of the show, and while it served as a great detractor for some time, the writers need to move on, and quick. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Doug Ellin and Co., who still have to deal with the theatrical release of the film in the next season, not to mention the possible awards run that Vinnie could make, should the movie be re-cut and score at the box office. Perhaps the show was put under too much pressure to perform as the network’s flagship program, or perhaps the creative team got burned out by writing 32 episodes over the course of a year. Whatever the reason, here’s hoping they find a way to turn it all around, because despite its glaring problems, Sunday nights just wouldn’t feel the same without a little “Entourage” in our lives. – JZ
Entourage Blog l Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3, Part 1 DVD review l Season 3, Part 2 DVD review
11
DEXTER
Previous Rank: NR
DexterThe premise of “Dexter” is simple yet sharp: a serial killer who only kills serial killers. The show stars Michael C. Hall as the title character. Hall played funeral director David Fisher on “Six Feet Under,” and in “Dexter,” he has proven that he can be the centerpiece of a series. As a young child, Dexter witnessed his mother being brutally murdered, which caused him to become a sociopath. The cop who found young Dexter at the murder scene adopted him and taught him how to use these tendencies to punish criminals who slipped through the justice system. Dexter works as a blood splatter analyst for the Miami police department, which makes his life easier and more complicated at the same time. On one hand, he’s able to locate and punish criminals with ease, but he’s also under the watchful eye of Sgt. James Doakes, who knows something is off with his co-worker. Dexter tries to assimilate into society, so he starts a relationship with a single mom, who has her own baggage to deal with. Over the course of the first two seasons, Dexter has to confront his past, and it’s not an easy road. It’s tough to make a serial killer sympathetic, but Dexter is definitely a hero worth rooting for. – JP
Season 1 DVD review
12
SOUTH PARK
Previous Rank: #13
South ParkTrey Parker and Matt Stone had to submit several versions of “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” before the MPAA would deign to give it an R rating. Eight years later, they squeezed nearly every objectionable obscenity from that movie into “Le Petit Tourette,” in which Cartman pretends he has Tourette’s syndrome in order to say whatever he wants to whomever he wants. But even a child screaming “cocksucker” pales in comparison to Randy Marsh – one of the greatest parental figures in TV history – saying “niggers” on “Wheel of Fortune” in the season premiere. Whatever taboos there may have been with what can and cannot be said on television, Parker and Stone have officially obliterated them. They have also, to the show’s benefit, turned the show into an exclusive, fans-only affair, as evidenced by the wildly ambitious, three-part “Imaginationland” series. When the wall comes down between the good and evil imaginary characters, who’s right there with H.R. Giger’s alien and Jason Voorhees? Why, the satanic woodland creatures (who are so evil they scare the evil characters) and Manbearpig, of course. Lastly, the boys get bonus points for revealing that Bono is a giant turd. – David Medsker
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 5 DVD review l Season 6 DVD review l Season 7 DVD review l Season 8 DVD review l Season 9 DVD review l The Hits DVD review
13
SCRUBS
Previous Rank: #11
ScrubsThe seventh and final season of the much-ignored NBC comedy is finally upon us, but is that a good thing or a bad thing? Many would choose the latter after last year’s uncharacteristic change in tone (most of which revolved around J.D.’s sudden desire to grow up), but if the first two weeks are any indication, Bill Lawrence and Co. are more than up to the task of delivering a worthy sendoff to one of the most original sitcoms of the past decade. Loose ends are still being wrapped up – Elliot’s break-up with Keith, and the birth of J.D. and Kim’s son – but once all the drama is out of the way, expect the gang to get back to their usually goofy selves. Dress that up with some of the show’s more reliable guest stars, a future subplot that involves the return of actress Aloma Wright (formerly Nurse Roberts), and plenty more Colin Hay (minus the amniotic fluid, of course), and the “Scrubs” we all know and love can go out the same way it entered our lives: with a quiet, but extremely funny whimper. – JZ
Season 1 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review l Season 4 DVD review l Zach Braff & Bill Lawrence interview
14
PUSHING DAISIES
Previous Rank: NR
Pushing DaisiesAnyone who was a fan of Bryan Fuller’s Showtime series, “Dead Like Me,” is familiar with his quirky brand of humor, and his latest creation is in the same vein. “Pushing Daisies” focuses on a pie maker with a strange talent: he can bring the dead back to life. But there are a couple of caveats: if he touches them again, they’ll die, and he can only bring the dead back to life for one minute, or someone nearby will die. With the help of a grouchy private detective, Ned uses his talent to ask murder victims who killed them (allowing his partner to track down the suspect and collect the reward). Everything is going along fine until Ned discovers that his childhood sweetheart has died and he makes the decision to bring her back to life for good. It’s clear that the two have strong feelings for each other, but if they touch, she’ll die. The show’s cinematography, sets and costumes are bright and colorful, adding to its charm. With a premise this odd, it’s always a concern that it will be lost on mainstream audiences, but “Pushing Daisies” debuted to strong ratings and seems to be doing just fine. – JP
15
RESCUE ME
Previous Rank: NR
Rescue MeFirefighter Tommy Gavin’s life is a mess. He tried living with his ex-wife to help her take care of what is presumably his dead brother’s baby, but that didn’t take, so he moved out and gave the baby to his ex-girlfriend Sheila, but that didn’t take, either. Meanwhile, he started a purely physical relationship with Valerie (played by guest star Gina Gershon), who just might be the strangest of the bunch. Throughout its run, the series has had its ups and downs, and while some of the storylines tend to be on the wacky side, there’s never any doubt that Denis Leary is one of the most watchable actors on television. Moreover, the show is wildly unpredictable, which can be a bit jarring at times, but that usually adds to the show’s charm. However, it’s about time for the creators to wind down with a one-or-two-year-plan to give the series the ending it deserves. Along with “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck,” “Rescue Me” is one of those shows that would never have survived (or been allowed to flourish) had it premiered on a major network. – JP
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review
16
HOUSE
Previous Rank: #18
HouseFor a show that seemed destined to descend into formula (cranky doctor treats everyone like crap, but he’s such a genius that he can get away with being an asshole to everyone and still save the day week after week), “House” has really been taking some risks lately. The status quo changed dramatically at the end of Season Three, however, when Dr. Greg House fired two of his three staff members while watching the third leave of his own accord, fearing he was on the verge of becoming House. Season Four, therefore, began with House running a “Survivor”-inspired challenge to pick three new staffers. It’s been great watching the newbies learn how much of a jerk their possible new boss can be, but it’s been just as entertaining to learn about the ins and outs of these new characters even as we continue to check in on Foreman, Wilson and Cameron. Having made the decision to focus less on the medical mystery of the week and more on expanding the characterization of the series’ various players, “House” has been providing some of the most successful new episodes of any returning show this season. – WH
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review l Lisa Edelstein interview
17
BURN NOTICE
Previous Rank: NR
Burn NoticeDespite my unrequited love for all things featuring Bruce Campbell, the best reason to watch USA’s new spy drama is its star Jeffrey Donovan. Playing the MacGyver-like role of recently burned CIA agent Michael Westen, Donovan exudes copious amounts of wit and charm that most actors only wish they had. Thankfully, much of the comedy comes as a result of Westen’s smartass interactions with the Villain of the Week, and not because he’s rocking a mullet. That hairstyle may have done wonders for Richard Dean Anderson, but it’s surely a career killer in this day and age. The series itself is just as formulaic as “MacGyver” – Westen works odd jobs around Miami while also tracking down the source of his burn notice – but it manages to stay fresh thanks to an excellent supporting cast (Campbell and Gabrielle Anwar) and weekly secret agent how-to tricks that are both more realistic and cooler than MacGyver’s Swiss Army Paperclip. Case in point: one episode featured Westin turning a dust remover (compressed air) spray can upside down to freeze a lock that he needed to break, and when I tried it on my unknowing girlfriend, well, it burned her skin pretty bad. Whoops. – JZ
18
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
Previous Rank: NR
Curb Your EnthusiasmThe current season of the HBO staple featuring the fictitious exploits of “Seinfeld” creator Larry David was admittedly a mixed bag… until Episode Seven, when the unthinkable happened: Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) finally left Larry. Why? He finally pushed it too far. Cheryl tried to call Larry from a plane that she thought was going down; Larry had the TiVo guy over at the house and couldn’t hear her, so he hung up the phone. The season’s other ongoing story involves the Blacks, a displaced hurricane family who’ve moved in with the Davids and who just so happen to be black. Larry’s reaction? “That’d be like if my last name was Jew.” Episode Eight was titled, “The N Word,” and one wonders if it was David’s comedic answer to the problems that befell “Seinfeld” alumnus Michael Richards. This weekend sees the unveiling of the season finale. Unlike David's divorce in the real world, will his TV wife find her way back into Larry's curmudgeonly arms? The show wouldn't be the same if Cheryl permanently kicked him to the "Curb." If this season sees Larry more insufferable than ever, could it be because last season ended with him going to heaven and his discovery that the afterlife will return to him a full head of hair? Many have claimed HBO has “lost it.” As long as they’ve got “Curb,” they’ve got my subscription. – RR
Season 4 DVD review l Season 5 DVD review l Jeff Garlin interview
19
HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER
Previous Rank: #20
How I Met Your MotherBased on the first few episodes of Season Three, the most underrated sitcom on network TV looks set to maintain the same high standard of its previous two seasons…and by “standard,” we mean “laugh count.” Season One wrapped up with Ted getting together with Robin just as Marshall broke up with Lily, then Season Two closed with a flip-flop as Ted and Robin revealed their break-up during the reception of Marshall and Lily’s wedding. The third year has already been rewarding for longtime fans, with jokes from the first season (Ted waking up with a pineapple in his bed) and second season (the Slap Bet) coming back for further pay-offs, but having Enrique Iglesias portray Robin’s new, English-deficient boyfriend made for some the best comedy the show has provided to date. There are rumors that this may finally be the season where we make some real headway on solving the mystery of who is the mother of Ted’s kids, but as we said in the review of the Season Two DVD, we hardly even care anymore -- we just want to continue being able to enjoy these characters for as long as we can. – WH
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Josh Radnor interview
20
TORCHWOOD
Previous Rank: NR
TorchwoodIt’s been said that sex and death are inextricably linked, and BBC America’s “Torchwood” seems hell-bent on dramatically proving it. It’s a spin-off of “Doctor Who,” but aside from the character of Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), the two shows couldn’t be anything less alike. Owing more to fare like “The X-Files” and “Dark Skies,” Torchwood is a team whose job is to deal with the aliens and technology that fall through a time/space rift in Cardiff, Wales. Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) was a lowly police constable when she was recruited, and much of the series is seen through her eyes; and Gwen may be losing some humanity as she deals with new horrors every week. “Torchwood” is very adult in tone, and it drops F-Bombs as often as its characters get it on with each other (as well as the occasional extra-terrestrial). The first season is admittedly a little erratic in tone, but as with “Who,” its ongoing dedication to presenting something different and challenging under the sci-fi banner indicates that its upcoming second season will see it coming into its own. Those with HDNet can catch the episodes uncut every week; those with BBC America will have to wait for the unedited Season One box set due out in January. – RR

OFF THE LIST

The Sopranos (5), Rome (6), Extras (9), Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (10), Grey's Anatomy (14), Prison Break (16), Deadwood (17)

RETURNING IN 2008

1. The Wire (HBO)
The WireAfter gracing the top spot in the February 2007 edition, it only seemed fitting that the HBO docudrama would lead the pack of must-see shows scheduled to return early next year. So what happened in between the last edition and now? Aside from wrapping production on the fifth and final season, the series was also snubbed at this year’s Emmys, an annual occurrence that continues to prove why award shows should never be used as a measurement of quality. Still, we’re all desperately waiting the final chapter in David Simon’s sociopolitical masterpiece, and with the departure of shows like “The Sopranos” and “Deadwood,” maybe “The Wire” will finally get the attention it deserves. – JZ

2. Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi Channel)
Battlestar GalacticaWhen last we left Galactica, Starbuck returned from the dead to tell Apollo, “I know where Earth is, and I’m going to take us there.” “Battlestar Galactica” returns next year for its final season, and it should be a doozy. The creators have intimated that what’s left of the colonists will indeed find Earth (or some version of it), and given creator Ronald D. Moore’s track record, we have little reason to doubt him. What started off as an odd choice for a remake has turned into one of the best shows on TV, and we just can’t wait to see how it ends. – JP

3. The Shield (FX)
The ShieldAs we had to bid adieu to Tony Soprano this year (see below), so we will have to do the same next year with TV’s other anti-hero mainstay, Vic Mackey. “The Shield” and its corrupt Strike Team came barreling out of the FX Network’s gate back in 2002, changing the face of the commercial cable landscape forever. Star Michael Chiklis promptly won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, and then Emmy all but ignored the series in subsequent seasons. But the faithful know the truth, and Season Six ended with a setup all but guaranteed to deliver a final seventh season of intense goods. The end that will justify "the mean" was set to kick off on Jan. 1 with a final slate of 13 episodes, but with the current writer's strike, don't pencil in that date just yet. – RR

4. Lost (ABC)
LostThere were so many things to love about the final episodes of Year Three that it pains us to have to wait until February for the new season. Of course, we’re still a little pissed that the creators didn’t back down from their threats to kill Charlie (Dominic Monaghan is dating Evangeline Lilly, you know), but at least they milked it for all it was worth. Several fake death scenes later, however, and Charlie was saying goodbye in the most heroic way possible. Still, the arrow-through-the-throat death was definitely the best of the bunch. The season finale (which featured the show’s first flash-forward) also opened another bag of questions and revisited a few familiar ones: namely, “What the hell is going on?” We might not know the answer just yet, but at least we’ve been assured that a finish line is in sight. – JZ

5. Jericho (CBS)
JerichoFor some, this is the only show returning in early 2008 that matters, mostly because there were a few weeks when we didn’t think it was coming back at all. “Jericho” kicked out the jams in the last quarter of its inaugural season, ending with a mother of a cliffhanger as the townsfolk headed to war against New Bern. Having listened to the fans, the producers have already announced that when the show returns, they’re going to streamline the focus, with Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) and Robert Hawkins (Lennie James) taking center stage as we finally get more insight into the nuclear attack. Given that there are only seven episodes in Season Two, there’s every reason to presume that the jams will be out from the word “go” this time around, and if they live up to the seven episodes that ended Season One, it’s gonna be awesome. – WH

6. 24 (Fox)
24Man oh man, what has happened in Bauerville? Mired in melodrama, the sixth season of “24” barely got out of the gate before it became a terrorist soap opera. Jack’s father is revealed to be an arms dealer, something that we’re pretty sure would keep Jack from ever working for CTU. The former First Lady of Crazy stabs her ex-husband to death (or so we think, since neither character was mentioned again), and we were positive that they were about to reveal that Jack’s nephew Josh was in fact his son. The producers are calling Season Seven a “reboot,” moving the action to Washington, D.C., and away from terrorists and assassination plots (yet towards something awfully similar to “Live Free or Die Hard”), and the villain is…Tony Almeida? The dead Tony Almeida? This, combined with the news that the new season has been postponed indefinitely by the writer's strike, has us deeply concerned. – DM

ARRIVEDERCI, TONY

The Sopranos (HBO)
The SopranosDead or alive? We wonder if even David Chase knows whether Tony Soprano survived the now infamous blackout that marked the end of his acclaimed HBO drama. Maybe, as hordes of people suggested in bitter bulletin board posts in the days, weeks and months following the finale, Chase didn’t know what to do with his beloved hero so he copped out and left everything open ended, presumably for us to decide. Bah. We’ve got no problem with television that makes you think (really, we don’t), but leaving Tony’s fate open to so much interpretation and speculation almost felt like a betrayal, especially to viewers who defended the show to critics claiming “The Sopranos” prematurely peaked before coasting through the rest of its eight-year run. Maybe the critics had a point. When it was good, boy, “The Sopranos” was good, thanks not only to Tony but to so many other compelling characters, led by obvious names like Christopher, Paulie and Carmella. But looking back now, Chase seemed to develop an annoying habit of building toward payoffs that rarely seemed to pay off. Which brings us back to the finale, a disappointment that followed one of the show’s best episodes in years, “The Blue Comet.” One week we see Tony alone in a bedroom, assault rifle propped up next to his bed, hiding out in a safe house with the few guys in his crew who are still alive, waiting for war with Phil. The next week, Phil’s storyline gets wrapped up in one 30-second scene while we watch Meadow try to parallel park for five minutes. And then comes the blackout. It will likely go down as one of the most vilified series finales ever, but while “The Sopranos” may have lost some of its magic near the end, Chase wouldn’t have had so many fans to agitate if, at some point, his show hadn’t been one of the best things going on television. – Jamey Codding

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
The Big Bang TheoryYes, it’s geeky…like, to the point where you’d have to give the trio of nerds from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” their own series to come up with anything to compete with it. (Yes, we know their names. Do you?) But, y’know, there’s something satisfying about a show that doesn’t try to dilute the lifestyles (or speech patterns) of the geeks, nerds and socially dysfunctional geniuses of the world. Almost all of us know a guy like Howard (Simon Helberg), who thinks he’s far cooler and funnier than he actually is, or can sympathize with someone such as Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar), who can’t string two words together when there’s a pretty girl in his vicinity. The heart of the show, however, lies with Leonard’s (Johnny Galecki) conviction that he’s got a shot with his gorgeous, sweet and completely oblivious neighbor, Penny (Kaley Cuoco), even as Sheldon (Jim Parsons) is reminding him that they exist in two completely different and socially incompatible dimensions. The producers aren’t rushing the romance – Leonard recently scored with fellow physicist Leslie Winkle (Sara Gilbert) – but you know they’ll get there eventually, and, statistically speaking, the odds are in favor of us being there when they do. – WH

Boston Legal (ABC)
Boston LegalStill the go-to guys for off-the-wall defense, Alan Shore (James Spader) and Denny Crane (William Shatner) recently started their fourth season of legal proceedings on ABC. There are two things you can always count on these attorneys to deliver: laughs and thought-provoking legal cases. Does it matter that the team at Crane, Poole & Schmidt almost always win their cases? Probably not, as “Boston Legal” is best appreciated by viewing through the crystal clear lens of TV fiction. If you desire true legal insights, this isn’t the show you’re looking for. What it may lack in mirroring the real world, it more than makes up for in the entertainment department. While the show has never been a ratings blockbuster, it apparently maintains strong numbers in affluent key demographics. So only young, rich people can appreciate this particular brand of weekly lunacy? – RR

Californication (Showtime)
CalifornicationDavid Duchovny (“The X-Files”) plays Hank Moody, a troubled scribe who tries to overcome his writer’s block by attempting to win back the mother of his teenage daughter. The show’s title is telling; when Hank isn’t planting unwelcome kisses on his now-engaged ex or taking care of his daughter, he’s out gallivanting with any piece of ass he can find. Of course, hilarity often ensues. Duchovny is beautifully sardonic as the tortured writer, and his witty remarks make for some great laughs. As the first season wears on, Hank’s agent and best friend (played by the likable Evan Handler) gets more and more screen time as his marriage begins to fall apart. Like the old saying goes, misery loves company, and there’s plenty of misery to go around in L.A. “Californication” is another great offering from Showtime, which is starting to out-HBO HBO in the world of original programming for mature audiences. – JP

Chuck (NBC)
ChuckWe were big fans of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” placing it 10th in the spring edition of our TV Power Rankings, and we still contend that NBC screwed the pooch by running the show after “Heroes” on Monday nights. In the network’s defense, there weren’t any obvious choices to team with the supernatural megahit at the time, but NBC seems to have found two perfect slices of bread for its Monday night hero sandwich this season. We’ve already gushed about “Heroes” and “Journeyman,” but the lead-in for those two powerhouses also deserves some love. “Chuck” stars Zachary Levi as Chuck Bartowski, a computer geek whose mundane life gets turned upside down when an old college friend sends him a bunch of encrypted government files. Turns out the friend, Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer), is actually a rogue CIA agent who destroyed the server that housed the classified files, and now Chuck, thanks to his computer-like brain, has all of the government’s secrets in his head. Enter Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and John Casey (Adam Baldwin), the two agents sent to protect the suddenly invaluable Chuck. As you can imagine, there’s plenty of action to be had on here, but it’s a comedy at its heart. Levi is infinitely likeable as the reluctant hero and he gets plenty of help from Strahovski as the insanely cute Sarah, Baldwin as the hot-headed Casey, Joshua Gomez as Chuck’s bearded buddy Morgan, and Sarah Lancaster as his protective older sister Ellie. The most recent episode, “Chuck Versus the Alma Mater,” may have been the series’ best to date, again proving that Hiro Nakamura and Dan Vasser aren’t the only heroes worth watching Monday nights. – JC

Dirty Sexy Money (ABC)
Dirty Sexy MoneyWhat started out as a guilty pleasure has, over the course of its first half-dozen episodes, begun to evolve into a show where you actually care about the characters. At first glance, it seemed the foibles of the rich and powerful Darling family would strictly be seen through the eyes of their comparatively “normal” attorney, Nick George (Peter Krause), and we’d all have a good laugh at how out of touch they were from the real world. Gradually, however, we’re reminded that, although we’re still in the gutter, the Darlings are looking at the same stars we are. Karen’s trying to put a former beau behind her, Rev. Brian is dealing with new fatherhood, and Jeremy’s finally starting down the road to manhood by getting a job as a parking attendant. Of course, if that was us and we wrecked the first car we tried to park, we wouldn’t be able to remedy the situation by just buying a new one that looks exactly the same, but, still, you get the idea. Now, if we could just find out who killed Nick’s dad, everything would be peachy. But why do I get the feeling that won’t be happening anytime soon? – WH

Medium (NBC)
MediumThis could’ve just as easily been in the “Returning in Early 2008” list, since Alison Dubois and company won’t be finding their way back onto the NBC schedule ‘til then, but since it’s never actually made our Power Rankings before, this seemed more appropriate. If you’ve seen our reviews of the show’s first three seasons on DVD, you already know how much we love “Medium,” but for some reason, DVDs are the only place we ever seem to catch it. With the Season Three finale, however, Alison’s secret – that she serves as sort of a psychic liaison to the District Attorney of Phoenix, Arizona – has gotten out, leaving us wondering if she’ll prove as effective with everyone and their brother quizzing her about how her abilities work. Adding to the mix this season is the twist that Alison’s husband, Joe, is now unemployed, and if you’ve ever been out of a job, you know how tense things get when you’re struggling to make ends meet. “Medium” has taken us on three seasons of both chills and laughter, with a surprising amount of family drama, and, damnit, we can’t wait for DVD to see where the fourth year is heading. – WH

Nip/Tuck (FX)
Nip/TuckFor its fifth season of soap opera on speed, creator Ryan Murphy has given his FX staple a facelift by moving the plastic surgery offices of MacNamara/Troy from Miami to Beverly Hills. Expect business to be conducted mostly as usual, however – the rest of the core cast will be joining Drs. Sean (Dylan Walsh) and Christian (Julian McMahon) in LA as the season unfolds. “Nip/Tuck” is a strange duck. This writer has been with it since the beginning, yet I can count on one hand the people I know personally who watch it. But it’s FX’s highest rated show, right? So who’s watching? If you’re not, it’s never too late to partake in the sexy, seedy madness, and with the show seemingly pressing a reset button, this is a great time to get on board. Guest stars include Portia De Rossi as Julia’s (Joely Richardson) lesbian lover, Bradley Cooper as a pompous TV actor, Tia Carrere as a dangerous dominatrix and John Schneider as an adult film mogul (!). – RR

The Sarah Silverman Program (Comedy Central)
The Sarah Silverman ProgramComedian Sarah Silverman plays a childish and vain version of herself in this half-hour offering from Comedy Central. It’s sort of like “Friends,” but on crack. Her real life sister (Laura Silverman) plays her sister (aptly named Laura), a nurse who falls in love with a cop (Jay Johnston). Her gay, pot-smoking neighbors (Brian Posehn and Steve Agee) round out the cast. In her politically incorrect stand up, Silverman touches on all sorts of issues, including race, religion and sexuality. And like her act, the show tackles the same subjects free of any ill will or mean-spiritedness. In the first season’s best episode, Sarah decides to try out lesbianism, but what really makes this episode great is the escalating pissing match between Brian and Steve when the latter orders the former an unsolicited Tab soft drink. (Yep, they still make Tab.) In other episodes, Sarah gets a DUI for driving after drinking cough syrup, she takes a homeless man into her home to prove that she’s a humanitarian, and has a sexual encounter with God. That’s right – she has sex with God. When it’s all said and done, Silverman simply pokes fun at the stereotypes that divide us. And by the way, she’s really easy on the eyes. – JP

The Venture Bros. (Cartoon Network)
The Venture Bros.Thank God for DVD or I may have never experienced the guilty pleasure that is “The Venture Bros.” Scratch that. Thank God for the second season DVD, because had I not given the show another chance, a “Venture Bros.” Season Pass wouldn’t be sitting on my TiVo collecting dust and awaiting new episodes. One of the few Adult Swim shows that isn’t tailor-made to the 4:20 crowd, the animated series isn’t quite the Pop Culture Mecca that Seth Green’s “Robot Chicken” has become, but its creators feature more than enough pop culture references to warrant its cult status. Best described as “Johnny Quest” meets “The Tick,” the series has pushed the envelope more times than I can count (death-prone title characters, transsexual supervillain girlfriends, etc.), but that still doesn’t make up for the fact that the gap between new episodes is much too long for any fan’s liking. Can Dr. Venture and brother Jonas ever be friends? And just what did Dr. Girlfriend say to The Monarch in the season finale? Here’s hoping we find out sometime soon, or this shout out may have been better saved for next year’s edition. – JZ

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