We wouldn't exactly call ourselves the walking dead, but it has been six months since Bullz-Eye's TV Power Rankings last reared its head. Now, however, the time has come again for us to gaze across the landscape of television and offer our opinions of the best shows to cross our path since the previous edition of the Rankings. Since then, "Lost" has left us and "24" has counted down to oblivion, but as networks abhor a vacuum, NBC has tried to fill that void with "The Event" and…that's about it, really. AMC gave us "The Walking Dead," a show so good that we were almost able to forgive them for canceling "Rubicon" after only a single season, and FX kept their batting average high with "Terriers," a show which would be huge if only positive reviews counted for ratings points. But, then, you could say the same about poor "Lone Star," which was yanked by Fox after only two episodes despite being of the most critically acclaimed series of the fall season. There are a lot of repeat offenders in this edition of the Rankings, including our #1 drama ("Mad Men") and our #1 comedy ("Modern Family"), but if the worst thing we can say about the current crop of television is that the writers are really consistent, frankly, we can live with that.
For more on our favorite shows, we've included links to DVD reviews and series blogs below, as well as new interviews with Aleksa Palladino (co-star of "Boardwalk Empire"), Grizz Chapman (co-star of "30 Rock"), actress Mayim Bialik (the former star of "Blossom" who's now a regular on "The Big Bang Theory"), Paul Lieberstein (co-star and writer for "The Office"), Kyle Killen (creator of "Lone Star"), and Michael Schur (co-creator of "Parks & Recreation"). Plus, don't miss our stable of Honorable Mentions, and a list of the shows we can't wait to see return.
After wrapping up Season 3 by dismantling Sterling Cooper and sending Don, Roger Sterling, Bert Cooper, Lane Pryce, and Pete Campbell off to start a brand new ad agency, the future was so wide open that viewers couldn't help but tune in to see where series creator Matthew Weiner planned to take his characters in Season 4. The proceedings kicked off with a question – all together now: "Who is Don Draper?" – which had been asked many times in the past, but over the course of these 13 episodes, there were times when we finally felt like we might actually be closing in on an answer. Make that answers: this is, after all, a man with a lot of different sides. It was depressing to see him descend into blackout levels of alcohol abuse and come within a stone's throw of being perceived as a has-been by the new crowd of ad men, and in the back of our mind we always knew he'd screw up his relationship with Dr. Faye, but even after all of his errors in judgment and knowing that the odds are stacked against Megan, we're hoping that she proves to be "the one" for Don.
Even if his actions had ripple effects on all of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Season 4 wasn't just about Don. Peggy found a certain amount of a life outside of the office, Lane battled with his wife in England and his father in New York, and as Roger wrote his memoirs, we got a bit of confirmation on something we'd always suspected: he's not really all that creative. Still, he managed to not only get Joan back into bed but also knock her up in the process, so at least the old man's still got the wowzers in his trousers. So, for that matter, does Pete, whose confidence from having impregnated Trudy extended into the office, turning him into – dare we say it? – the heir apparent to one D. Draper. Speaking of Drapers, Sally continued her inevitable transformation into her mother, while Betty herself found it was hard to move on with Henry while still battling with Don on a near-daily basis. Freddy Rumsen and Duck Phillips returned, Bert Cooper quit…yep, a heck of a lot happened on "Mad Men" this season, and although it's only just gone, we're already excited at the prospect of its return in 2011. – Will Harris
Sure, the series finale of "Lost" pissed off about half of its fan base, but the ABC series went out the same way it came in: in decidedly spectacular fashion. During its final season, Lost had enough action, mystery, romance, sci-fi gobbledygook and drama for ten series. Executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse opted for an optimistic ending with lots of hugs and tears rather than answer every question they raised, but, really, answering those questions ran the risk of coming off flat, a la the voices. The characters and the completion of their journey were always far more important. The key factor about "Lost" was always the characters, something the clones have never been able to figure out. So many of the series that have tried to be "Lost," or are still trying (i.e. "The Event"), fail because they lack compelling characters or the writing to support them. We cared enough about Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Juliet, Hurley, Sayid, Miles, Desmond, Penny, Sun, Jin, Ben and Locke that we were willing to follow them across a crazy island in the middle of the ocean, through time, and eventually into the afterlife. Yes, the final season was uneven (show me one series that didn't have some hiccups in their final days), but did it really matter? We got one last chance to hang out with these people. Of course there are those people who are glad that it's over, that they're getting a chunk of their lives back. For the rest of us, the television world feels a little smaller knowing that we'll never be seeing the Losties again. Fortunately, DVD's allow us to revisit them any time we want. – Scott Malchus
After rightfully beating out "Glee" for Best Comedy at this year's Emmy Awards (and picking up a slew of other accolades along the way), there was some concern that all the success would go to the "Modern Family" clan's heads. But if that's the case, they're certainly doing a good job of hiding it, because they've picked up right where they left off as if nothing has changed, delivering the funniest half-hour of television each week with no sign of slowing down. There's not a single show on the air that even comes close to matching the laugh-per-minute ratio of an average episode, and that's thanks to the collaborative effort of its talented ensemble cast. Ty Burrell has reached new heights of doofus-induced hilarity as the show's reigning MVP, but others have stepped up to the plate as well – most notably Sofia Vergara, who has become quite the secret weapon for the writers this season. And although Rico Rodriguez continues to receive acclaim for his performance as the mature-beyond-his-years Manny, Nolan Gould has also thrived from the increased screen time alongside TV dad Burrell. It's almost unbelievable the way the show fires on all cylinders so consistently, but that's what separates a great show from a good one, and "Modern Family" is nothing if not that. A few more years of this and its status as a TV classic is all but guaranteed. – Jason Zingale
Fans of Robert Kirkman's award-winning comic, "The Walking Dead," were right to be a little worried when they heard that it was being adapted for the small screen. Known for its controversial plotlines and obligatory gore, the chance that anyone could actually produce a faithful version seemed slim at the time. But as more details emerged (from the involvement of industry vets like Frank Darabont, Gale Anne Hurd and Greg Nicotero, to the fact that it would be airing on AMC, the gold standard for basic cable dramas), that concern quickly turned into a fervent excitement. And now we know why. Fueled by great writing, first-rate zombie effects, and an amazing ensemble cast led by star Andrew Lincoln, "The Walking Dead" is without a doubt one of the best new shows of the season. I'm still surprised that such a niche genre could yield such big ratings, but now that it's a bonafide hit, AMC must be feeling stupid about only ordering six episodes for its first season. Still, we'll take what we can get (especially if that means more of Steven Yuen and Michael Rooker), because the first three episodes alone have shown not only that the beloved property is in great hands, but that it has real potential as a long-running TV series. – JZ
When you're a TV critic, you hate to find yourself predisposed to like a show simply because of the people involved in the project, but, geez, how do you avoid it when the show is created by Terence Winter ("The Sopranos"), stars Steve Buscemi, and kicks off with a pilot episode directed by Martin Scorsese? Adapted from Nelson Johnson's Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City," the series revolves around Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Buscemi), a guy who blurs the line between politics and criminal activity so successfully that, although you know he's despicable, you can't help but admire him. It's just a shame that his personal life isn't flourishing on the same level: he's got a tortured relationship with his father, his brother (Shea Whigham) is so jealous of his accomplishments that he can't enjoy the position Nucky's given him in the police department, and although he's sleeping with one of the most gorgeous women in Atlantic City (Paz de la Huerta), he nonetheless finds himself smitten with a young Irish mother named Margaret Schroeder (Kelly McDonald). Then there's Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), a young lad who's trained at Nucky's feet but now wants to spread his wings, whether Nucky wants him to or not. Like "Mad Men" before it, "Boardwalk Empire" manages to take place in the past without making wink-and-nudge references to the future, providing casual historians with a great deal of education about the Prohibition era, and given Winter's pedigree, it's no surprise that the show manages to blend brilliant dialogue with jarring violence. Okay, fine, we were predisposed to like "Boardwalk Empire," but, thank goodness, it lived up to our every expectation. – WH
A bit like the early "Seinfeld" on artistic steroids, "Louie" intersperses clips from star/creator/writer/director Louis C.K.'s stand-up with episodes from the comedian's fictional life. The show makes no real attempt at plot and is so high on low-key behavioral observation that it's drawn comparisons to the films of ultra-naturalist John Cassavettes. It's even more "a show about nothing" than "Seinfeld" ever was. In fact, most episodes consist of three vignettes which may or may not be interconnected thematically, but almost never by plot. Of course, nothing is really about "nothing" and "Louie" is actually about plenty. It's a show that feels painfully personal as it considers the depressing pitfalls of modern loneliness and middle-aged adulthood. It expresses thoughts and takes stances that may make some people wildly uncomfortable, hilariously confronting head on and very indelicately such issues as religion and whether it's ever appropriate for a straight comic to use the slur "faggot." Clearly a reflection of the comedian's real life -- like his character, the real C.K. is a recently divorced family man -- the more honest his show is, the funnier it becomes. It also shows him to be something else too, a genuinely talented filmmaker. – Bob Westal
It's a testimony to how many quality shows are on television at the moment that "Breaking Bad" didn't rank any higher on this go-round of the Power Rankings. (Not that it'll keep series creator Vince Gilligan warm at night, but for what it's worth, 2/3 of the writers who nominated the show for inclusion had it sitting in the top spot of their lists.) As of the last Rankings, neither Jesse nor Skyler wanted much to do with Walt, the Cousins were still alive and well, and Hank's biggest issue was his post-traumatic stress disorder, but I think it's fair to say that things were in a decidedly different place for all parties by the time the season wrapped up. The character relationships on "Breaking Bad" are among the most fluid of just about any series on television, but, then, so are the characters themselves. As Gilligan likes to say, his goal was to take the character of high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and, by series end, transform him from Mr. Chips into Scarface, but Walt's not the only one who's changing. Jesse battled both his addictions and his ego, finding both to be highly detrimental to his well-being. Skyler (Anna Gunn) struggled for several episodes to find herself, eventually becoming something approximating a partner in Walt's operation. Hank (Dean Norris) spent half the season obsessed with finding the source of the blue meth and the other half lying in a hospital bed, refusing to get better. Beyond that, you've got Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), who's incorrigibly sleazy, and Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), a man so impossible to read that it's hard to know whether he changed or not. Basically, what we're saying is that "Breaking Bad" is still completely bad-ass. All hail Heisenberg! – WH
No sitcom has mined that comedy of humiliation for as long or as well as the mock-documentary chronicles of the men and women of Dunder Mifflin. Not that everything is exactly peachy keen this year. The planned departure of Steve Carrell's Michael Scott at the end of the seventh season is weighing on fans' minds, and then there is the marriage and ensuing baby -- those twin banes of sitcom hilarity -- of lovable Mifflinites Jim and Pam Halpert (John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer). An ensemble show with a deep bench like "The Office" should be able to weather these changes with little problem, but there has been a drumbeat of criticism on the interwebs that the show has declined. What else is new? Ups and downs on long-running shows are inevitable, as is online whinging that the show has jumped a certain seagoing predator. Yes, this season has been somewhat uneven, but "The Office" remains consistently engaging even at its least funny points. Also, while we pre-mourn the loss of Steve Carell/Michael Scott, his departure can make for a fresh start or, at the very least, lots of fun speculation about who will replace him. – BW
Never in a million years did we think that Walternate would be the character to save "Fringe" from itself, but that is precisely what happened. Truth be told, while we love John Noble and his kooky mad scientist Walter Bishop, the show did what every show does when they discover they have a breakout star – they overexposed them. The end result: Bishop went from playful to annoying, and not even Peter's realization that Walter stole him from the other side could redeem him. Ah, but this season, the majority of Noble's screen time has been as Walternate Bishop, the stern, sober Secretary of Defense, and his efforts for the "greater good" of his universe have been slightly compromised since he discovered that his long-lost son is alive and well on the other side. (That hasn't stopped him, though, from trying to steal his son back for the sole purpose of using him as a biological key to a weapon that would blow our world to bits.) Even more compelling is the ongoing mental torture of Olivia Dunham, who's being reprogrammed by Walternate to be 'their' Dunham while their Dunham is undercover as 'our' Dunham. "Fringe" is doing impressive double duty this season – our favorite doppelganger, though, is Astrid Farnsworth's odds assessment specialist – and even with so many characters in play, the show has never been more focused. Pity there aren't more people watching. – David Medsker
The adventures of neurotic Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), high-flying Jack Donaghey (Alec Baldwin), and their ultra-dysfunctional underlings at NBC's "TGS with Tracey Jordan" remains a consistent source of pure comedy fun. Not that "30 Rock" is Reaganing. The ballyhooed live episode, even with crazed cameos by Jon Hamm, Chris Parnell, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the alterna-Liz, turned out to be a small letdown. Overall, however, star/creator Tina Fey and company have kept things moving along, aptly milking the ever-increasing narcissistic insanity of stars Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowsi) and the aforementioned Tracey Jordan (Tracey Morgan), as well as the rehiring of tragically fired uber-page Kenneth (Jack McBreyer) and Liz's long-distance relationship with airline pilot Carol (Matt Damon, secret comedy genius). On the other hand, Jack's immanent parenthood with CNBC-er Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks) might be a cause for worry; excess domesticity is a well-known comedy killer. An eventual return of Jack's other true love, Boston-bred Nancy Donovan (Julianne Moore) might prevent that cruel sitcom fate. Or what about the long-long-long overdue reunion with the hard-charging executive's first wife, Bianca (Isabella Rossellini)? They hate each other, and that's comedy gold. – BW
The more we argue about "Glee" with fellow viewers, the more we wonder if we're all watching the same show. People complain about it when it's too light and entertaining, and then, when "Glee" turns around and tackles an issue like religion or teen bullying, people complain that its messages are muddled and mixed. So what exactly do you want out of or expect from a network TV series that chronicles the day to day activities of a high school show choir, folks? (The answer is anyone's guess.) And if you've got so many problems with it, why do you keep tuning in every week? (The answer: Because you like it, no matter what you say.) We're pretty happy when the show is content to serve up some fun music numbers each week, but it's always a nice bonus when they get serious for an episode here or there. "Glee" seems to be taking some baby steps so as to not risk offending its sizable audience, but so far its sophomore season is no slump, and its going places we never thought it would. The recent episode "Grilled Cheesus" suggested the maybe atheists and believers actually do have a lot to learn from and teach one another. The message was issued with enough class and finesse that even Bill Maher must have shed a tear. Now that's something to sing about. – Ross Ruediger
As "Friday Night Lights" enters its 5th and final season, what more can be said about this television series that hasn't already been reiterated on this and other websites, plus countless magazines and newspapers? It's simply one of the best television dramas of the past decade. Period. Dismal ratings, fewer episodes per season, cost cutting cast reductions and a unique arrangement between NBC and Direct TV that gives the satellite provider dibs on premiering episodes six months before NBC chooses to roll them out have not effected the quality of this show one bit. In fact, just like the scrappy East Dillon Lions that Coach Taylor (the excellent Kyle Chandler) now guides, "Friday Night Lights"is that underdog team we like to root for.
The new season has started with some promising stories. Julie (Aimee Teegarden) has gone off to college and is finding it a little more difficult being on her own than she thought, Tami Taylor (the exemplary Connie Britton) has relocated to East Dillon High to become their new guidance counselor and the challenges she's facing are more than she anticipated. And Coach Taylor has a chip on his shoulder now that he's considered an outsider and doesn't get any respect. He has his team thinking the impossible, the state championship. Characters introduced in season four are fully realized at this point. Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan), the once troubled, but gifted quarterback, may have a future out of the urban nightmare he grew up in, while Luke (Matt Lauria), the bulldozing running back is showing he may need some anger management. Meanwhile, the independent Jess (Jurnee Smollett) is having to adapt to being the girlfriend of the star quarteback, and the adorable Becky (Madison Burge) may have found a home with people who care about her, having moved in with Billy Riggins (Tim's older brother) and his family. It's amazing that this series has seamlessly transitioned between characters as cast members were phased out. We've watched as Tyra, Jason Street, Lyla Garrity, Smash Williams, Matt Saracen and recently, Landry, have left the show in fitting farewells. Like real life, the young people in the fictional Dillon, Texas leave their home town searching for bigger and better things, while the adults rooted in the small community carry on. Rumor has it that many of the fan favorites from seasons past will make appearances by the end of the show's run. There will be plenty of tears, I assure you.
At times sentimental, others unflinchingly brutal, "Friday Night Lights" represents the world we live in, where doctors, cops, lawyers, vampires and disappearing islands don't take center stage, but ordinary people do. Perhaps that's why the show remains such a cult favorite. The average viewer wants escapism in their entertainment instead of a reflection of their own lives. But this show offers something better than escapism. Through times may get hard and life may bear down on the people of Dillon, the spirit and resilience that they show is something we could all use a lot more of on television. If only those afraid to tune in would give "Friday Night Lights" a chance, they'd find something rare on a night time drama: hope. – SM
"Community"may not receive the accolades of "Modern Family" or the ratings of "The Big Bang Theory," but it definitely deserves to be mentioned in the same conversation with those two shows, offering just as many laughs and showing just as much heart. Season 1 ended with a cliffhanger: will Jeff Winger (snarkmeister Joel McHale) choose the neurotic, sexy tom-boy Britta (Gillian Jacobs) or neurotic, sexy girl next door, Annie (Alison Brie)? The writers quickly dispensed with that clichéd plot and returned to what makes "Community" work: following the lives of six individually insane people and the lunacy (and love) they bring to each other. Already this fall we've seen an homage to Apollo 13 that took place in a KFC sponsored flight simulator/Winnebago, a zombified Halloween episode, a strangely sweet tribute to "The Secret Garden," and Betty White making her obligatory appearance on every damn sitcom ever. Additionally, Drew Carey and Rob Corddry guested, and we saw the return of John Oliver ("The Daily Show") as inept professor Ian Duncan. Gimmicks aside, though, what continues to make this show click is the main cast, the most eclectic ensemble of actors on a comedy series since "Arrested Development." Besides the aforementioned actors, you have Donald Glover and scene stealer Danny Pudi, who have become a great comic duo as Troy and Abed, and Yvette Nicole Brown as the great straight man...er, woman, Shirley. And of course, there's Chevy Chase, continuing his comeback by playing the type of bumbling Clark Griswold character we've always loved him in. Throw in Ken Jeong's over the top scenes and each episode guarantees laughs. Although "Community" has been getting shellacked in the ratings this season, let's hope NBC sticks with this series and continues to let it anchor their block of comedies. – SM
It's fitting that these two shows tied for the #14 spot on our rankings because both shows feature blood…a lot of it. "True Blood" wrapped up its third season in September with record ratings, as word continues to spread about the most addictive vampire show on television. In this iteration, Sookie has to team up with a werewolf named Alcide to try to track down Bill, who disappeared after proposing to her at the end of Season 2. It turns out he's been kidnapped by the vampire king of Mississippi, who wanted to use Bill's knowledge to start a war with Louisiana. Along the way, we learn about Sookie's abilities, Sam's biological family, Eric's ties to the King and the real reason Bill returned to Bon Temps in the first place. Meanwhile, on the fifth season of "Dexter," the world's favorite serial killer is getting over the death of his wife the only way he knows how – by killing bad people. Unfortunately, that leads to his secret being revealed to the prisoner of one of his victims, Lumen (played by Juilia Stiles), who has been passed along from rapist to rapist in some sort of bizarre human trafficking operation. Needless to say, she's hell bent on retribution, and a reluctant Dexter ends up helping her on her path of vengeance. At the same time, he's facing pressure from Det. Quinn who has his suspicions about Dexter's true nature (while at the same time banging Dexter's sister…nice). The developing relationship between Dexter and Lumen has kept the show's dynamic fresh and interesting, and the series shows no signs of slowing down…kinda like "True Blood." See? We told you it was fitting that they tied. – John Paulsen
It's hardly a surprise when FX hands us a quality series. The surprise comes when the viewers don't embrace the shows…and, unfortunately, "Terriers" is a show that isn't getting nearly as much love as it deserves, especially given that it was created by the guys behind "The Shield" (Shawn Ryan) and "Ocean's Eleven" (Ted Griffin). Donal Logue plays Hank Dolworth, a former cop whose battle with the bottle leaves him without a job or a wife, but he teams with his buddy Britt (Michael Raymond-James) and uses his investigative gifts to start a business as a private investigator. They may not be licensed, but that doesn't stop them from getting the job done. "Terriers" isn't a procedural, though. It's a character study, exploring the ins and outs of Hank and Britt. And, yet, you can't say that the detective work is incidental, either, as you learn almost as much about these guys from the way they try to solve crimes and mysteries as you do from the way they handle their personal lives. Arguably the most fascinating character is Steph, Hank's emotionally troubled sister (who, as it happens, is played by Donal's real-life sister, Karina Logue), but there's a lot of interesting stuff here with the romantic storylines, including the events revolving around Britt's desire to settle down with Katie (Laura Allen) and the revelations Hank uncovers when trying to make sure that his ex-wife, Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn), isn't marrying the wrong guy. Given that Logue and Raymond-James are doing everything in their power to make "Terriers" a success, going so far as to tour the country in an attempt to sell people on the series, surely you can find it in your heart to check out "Terriers" for yourself and see how just good it is. – WH
Up to this autumn, the more powerful Jon Stewart and his brilliant crew of writers and correspondents became, the more Stewart seemed to downplay it. With his "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" with Stephen Colbert, however, Stewart and his cohorts finally managed to embrace his enormous influence, while also, naturally, mocking it. The event itself was a genuine hit by any normal measure, attracting an enormous crowd that was, as Bill Maher noted, about twice the size of Glen Beck's rightist "Restore Honor" rally, "although it weighed the same." Stewart appeared flummoxed, however, by some of the from-the-left criticism he received afterward from Maher and others. Whether or not you agreed with his analysis of our current political malaise, however, Stewart's call for a saner political world where we can vehemently disagree while still working together was true to the comically earnest, carefully honest ethos he's expressed since taking over "The Daily Show" in 1999. Moreover, some 36 hours prior, he actually had the gumption to throw a tough question or two at the ultimate get, Barack Obama, grilling him from an spin-free perspective almost never seen in the major U.S. media -- something media critics on both the left and the right say they want to see. Also, "The Daily Show" is still very, very funny. – BW
It was never going to be a simple task to follow David Tennant's portrayal of the Doctor or Russell T. Davies' writing and vision, but damn if Matt Smith and Steven Moffat didn't made it look easy. These guys stepped up to the plate and delivered a fifth season of "Doctor Who" that in many ways trumped the four seasons that came before it. Smith is a marvel. Despite his real age, we believe that he's an alien who's over 900 years old. His doddering yet thoughtful spin on the Doctor recalls your coolest English professor. The Grand Moff delivered an ongoing story arc so complex that when the season finished your head was left spinning. At the same time, the arc was never dense enough to alienate casual viewers. How he pulled this off, we'll never quite know, but he sure has raised the bar for himself. And then there's Karen Gillan as the lovely Scot, Amy Pond, who is likely the most complex companion ever created for "Doctor Who," and that's saying something coming off Catherine Tate's Donna Noble. "Doctor Who" will return at Christmas with a sci-fantasy spin on "A Christmas Carol" (guest-starring Dumbledore himself, the great Michael Gambon), and then again in the spring with the first half of Season Six, and then again next fall with the second half of the season. You just gotta love Steven Moffat, 'cause you never know what he's going to do next…like, for instance, hire Neil Gaiman to write an episode, which is already a done deal. – RR
When last we left Ted, Robin, Barney, Lily, and Marshall, they were sitting high and mighty at #8 on the Power Rankings. Surely we can't blame this solely on the lack of closure on this whole mother thing, can we? No, this is more to do with following last year's semi-disappointing season with promises of a creative turnaround in Season 6 that thus far has been rather hit and miss. Things started out extremely well, with a solid season premiere revolving around Cindy (Rachel Bilson) and subsequent episodes that explored Barney's father, Robin's former co-anchor, and the ubiquitousness of Woody Allen in New York City. Alas, we soon got our big miss of the season: Jennifer Morrison, who picked up the recurring role of Zoey Van Smoot, the latest addition to the list of women we're supposed to believe could be the mother of Ted's children. Morrison has more of a gift for comedy that we got to see on "House," but she and Josh Radnor don't have much of a spark together. On the other hand, if it hadn't been for Morrison's character, we wouldn't have gotten the hilarious guest appearance by Kyle McLachlan as Zoe's husband, The Captain. As usual, the best moments of "How I Met Your Mother" are when the focus is on the five key players and not on Ted's date of the week. It's fun to watch Lily and Marshall try to get pregnant, to see Robin revisit the specter of Robin Sparkles once more, and…well, you know, just for Barney to be Barney. Ironically, we've now realized that we don't really care who the mother is. We just want the camaraderie of the show's Fab Five. Anyone else feels like a…sixth wheel? Well, anyway, you get the idea. – WH
It was worrisome that the latter half of the third season of "The Big Bang Theory" was so Sheldon-heavy, and not a sign of good things to come. Don't get us wrong, we love Sheldon Cooper, but there are, you know, other characters on this show. Thus far, Season Four has been a pleasant shift in storytelling strategy. Leonard, no longer relegated to total straight man status, is getting some fine stories and gags of his own, and seems to be growing leaps and bounds with each new installment. Seems his relationship with Penny actually taught him a thing or two about dealing with women. Oh, he's got a ways to go before anyone nicknames him Rico Suave, no doubt, but Johnny Galecki's re-justifying his first-billing in the credits. Of course, Jim Parsons is no slouch in the comedy department either, and now he's got an Emmy to back it up. The recent Shelbot episode was a gimmick that by all means should not have worked, and yet was priceless. But the real trump card that's been played so far this season is the inclusion of Mayim Bialik's Amy Farrah Fowler, who's bringing nerdy back to "Big Bang" in a big way. Even though Sheldon isn't, we're very much looking forward to meeting her mother…and it would be just peachy if she were played by Neil Patrick Harris in drag and old age makeup. – RR
He's baaaaaaaack. It took almost a year and a half, but we finally got new episodes of Danny McBride's hilarious series about the down-and-out Kenny Powers, a professional baseball player who returned to his hometown in disgrace after washing out of the majors. When last we left him, Kenny thought he was signing with the Tampa Bay Rays and was heading to Florida with the love of his life, April. But when the deal falls through, Kenny leaves April at a gas station and flees to Mexico. Season 2 begins with Kenny operating under the alias of Steve (his sidekick from Season 1) and making a living in the colorful world of cockfighting. Eventually he begins to play baseball for the local team and (tries to) start a relationship with a sexy local singer. It was ballsy for McBride to abandon virtually the entire cast and take his talents to Mexico, but the character of Kenny Powers can carry a series anywhere; no matter where he goes, the villagers will grow to love him. – JP
AMC's "Rubicon" certainly was a challenge for viewers. This conspiracy drama was actually more meticulous and slow-moving than Mad Men. But slow doesn't mean it wasn't fascinating and riveting television. In fact, for those people who stuck with "Rubicon" for its first (and only) season were rewarded with one of the most unique dramas on television all summer. With beautifully shot long takes that allowed the action to stretch across the screen instead of quick, jagged cuts, and uncomfortable periods of silence in which character contemplated matters of life and death, "Rubicon" played out like the great 70's paranoid films that inspired it, such as "Three Days of the Condor"," The Parallax View", and" All the President's Men". Will Traver's (James Badge Dale) search for the answer to who killed his mentor unraveled more than a murder mystery, it unearthed a worldwide conspiracy to control....
You didn't really think I'd tell you, did you? I mean, come on, you have to check this show out, it's really worth your time. Yes, you'll be scratching you head throughout episodes and you may get frustrated by some of the plotting, by the acting is on par with the best shows on television (most of them on AMC). Dale emerged as a real leading man, Arliss Howard rose from the dead to create Kale Ingram, joining a long line of of creepy characters you like but don't know why (see Kevin Spacey in "Wise Guy" and Michael Emerson on "Lost") while Michael Cristopher, as Treston Spangler, the head of the secretive government agency called API, was the most fascinating character on TV all summer long. You couldn't keep your eyes off of this guy whenever he was on screen.
Alas, AMC has announced the cancellation of "Rubicon", leaving many questions dangling from the series finale. I hope that the show will eventually find an audience on home video. I wager to say it will be one of those shows that plays better on DVD, when a viewer can watch a couple episodes at a time and the pacing of the show won't feel so slow because of commercial interruptions. – SM
He seemed so familiar, and yet so mysterious. We wanted to trust him, but he just felt…dangerous. Unpredictable. Did he side with good, or conspire with evil? Who was the Coon, the portly vigilante with the raccoon mask who fought to keep the streets of South Park safe while often simultaneously endangering its citizens? Well, Cartman pretty obviously was the Coon, but who, exactly, was Mysterion, the new superhero on the block who stole the Coon's thunder (or what little thunder he had, anyway)? We first met Mysterion, who takes his responsibilities much more seriously than the Coon, in last season's second episode, but his true identity remained hidden until a memorable three-part arc late this season brought the Coon face-to-face with Mysterion and superfriends like Toolshed, Human Kite, Tupperware, Mosquito and Mintberry Crunch. We won't spoil the fun of figuring out who's who, but longtime fans will dig the way Trey Parker and Matt Stone wove one of their show's original running jokes into the storyline. It's another inspired moment for a series that continues to be both hilarious and relevant 13 years after it first aired, adding Tiger Woods, LeBron James, "Jersey Shore," NASCAR, Facebook and Barbra Streisand (again) to its list of flambéed pop entities. With 14 seasons under its belt and no end in sight, it's time to start wondering just how high "South Park" will rank on the list of all-time greats when it's all said and done. – Jamey Codding
It begins with a plane disappearing from the sky and a series of flashbacks, but that is where all similarities between "The Event" and "Lost" end. For one, "The Event" has been much more forthcoming with its story, and the Island, as it were, is actually another planet. A group of human-like aliens has been held captive by the government for 66 years (though they haven't aged a day), but a lucky few have escaped, prospered, and moved into positions of authority as sleeper agents. Any humans unlucky enough to uncover the government's big secret are being targeted by a shady organization that is either a black ops government project or a different group of baddies altogether. Either way, they were not above killing innocents (Julia Campbell, R.I.P.), or kidnapping little girls and subjecting them to, well, God knows what, but whatever it is, it makes their faces age prematurely. Anyone unlucky enough to get caught in between is killed or used against their will to carry out their sinister plot. It may have been sold as a sci-fi franchise, and technically it is, but the Clancy-esque government intrigue has been the more interesting angle so far. How long they can keep that up remains to be seen – at present it looks as though it'll end up more like "Prison Break" than "Lost" – but so far, so good. – DM
Kurt Sutter's outlaw biker drama may have experienced an ever-so-slight drop-off in quality in its third season, but it's still one of the best series on TV and completely undeserving of such a low ranking. (This is a Top 10 show no matter how you spin it.) It was always going to be difficult living up to last year's excellent sophomore season, but despite a somewhat bumpy start, "Sons of Anarchy" is finally back to delivering the kind of top-notch storytelling that fans have come to expect. Where most shows would have tried to replicate its past success by following a similar formula, Sutter has done the complete opposite with an even more ambitious story arc that's taken SAMCRO out of the comfort zone of their home turf and sent them to Belfast, Ireland in search of Jax's kidnapped son. It might not have been the most popular decision among fans, but it's allowed the writers to flesh out some of the broader mythology that will undoubtedly play a larger role later down the road. The cast remains as solid as ever, with Charlie Hunnam delivering some of his best work to date and recurring guest stars like Paula Malcomson and James Cosmo proving to be worthy additions. The best is yet to come. – JZ
If the shot-callers at HBO were uncertain whether the next season of "Entourage" should be its last, then this season pretty much confirmed it. What started out as another promising year quickly turned into a rehash of Season Five as Vince began to self-destruct right in front of the only people who still truly cared about him. Of course, it wasn't a complete failure or the show wouldn't have landed a spot on our power rankings, but it's clearly fallen out of favor among the staff. Still, there was plenty of good to balance out the bad – particularly Scott Caan, who continued to shine as douchebag talent manager Scotty Lavin in a role that deserves an Emmy nomination for his sheer ability to be likeable even when he's snorting coke with Vince or getting under Eric's skin. It was also refreshing to see Ari put on the defensive for the first time in years after Lizzie Grant (Autumn Reeser, so great on "No Ordinary Family") left the agency to team up with his arch-nemesis Amanda, while John Stamos stole the show in his guest stint alongside Kevin Dillon. And though that may not have been enough to counteract all the silly plot developments along the way, at least it gives the show a shot of finishing on a high note. – JZ
Being Human (BBC America)
"Being Human" is such a good series that Syfy isn't even bothering to wait until it's over in the U.K. to remake it. Yes, in January, the cable net that's these days best known for "Ghost Hunters" will unveil their spin on an English-speaking series that's still in production. My-oh-my, has the well run dry. In all fairness, we don't want Syfy's effort to fail, if for no other reason that it'll raise awareness of its source material. But it sure seems destined to feel pointless given that the original is such an intoxicating blend of humor and horror - exactly the sort of thing the Brits have excelled at for decades. If you've not yet seen it, the premise involves three roommates – a vampire, a werewolf, and ghost, living in Bristol, England. None are content with their conditions and all aim to retain their humanity to the best of their ability, hence the title. The show's first season was a tad shaky, but with the second, "Being Human" has moved into daring territory – morally complex and laugh out loud hilarious. Both seasons (which together add up to only 14 hour-long episodes) are currently available on DVD and Blu-ray, so our advice is to sink your teeth into "Being Human" and disappear into its cool narrative. (Side note: Aidan Turner, who plays the vampire Mitchell, was recently cast as Kíli the Dwarf in "The Hobbit.") – RR
The Big C (Showtime)
A half hour comedy about cancer sounds like it borders on distasteful, and yet it's a credit to the minds behind "The Big C" that it's turned out to be anything but. This show is very, very funny, but it's also got an immense amount of heart, which, given the topic at hand, is how it should be. Cathy Jamison has been diagnosed with cancer, and likely only has a year to live. Her gut instinct is to start living life to its fullest…and to not inform her family of her condition. On one hand you cheer for Cathy, and on the other you despise her for her selfishness. Maybe only one actress could pull off such a character balancing act, and that actress is Laura Linney, acting her ass off from one episode to the next. She's a delight, and the smell of an Emmy coming her way next year singes the nose hairs. But the rest of the cast is equally excellent – from the always amusing Oliver Platt as Cathy's goofball husband Paul, to Phyllis Somerville as their cranky next door neighbor Marlene, to John Benjamin Hickey's pitch perfect portrayal of Cathy's uber-environmentalist brother Sean. There's a scene near the end of the season finale involving Cathy's teenage son Adam (Gabriel Basso) that will crush the heart of even the most hardened soul. "The Big C" is so good it's even forced us to forgive Cynthia Nixon for six seasons and two movies of "Sex and the City." – RR
Wait, "Chuck" is still on the air? In an age when the plug is unceremoniously pulled on so many great shows that don't dominate the ratings game, the fact that "Chuck" is in the midst of its fourth season qualifies as a significant upset considering how often the one-hour spy action/comedy has been on life support since its debut in 2007. Its surprising longevity can be credited to the show's active fans, who have been treated to some of the most enjoyable moments yet now that most of Chuck Bartowski's family and friends know about his super secret spy life. With less time spent on keeping his job under wraps, the writers have more time to dig into Chuck's family life as he tracks down his mom, who walked out on Chuck and his sister Ellie when they were kids, while also inducting best friend Morgan as a goofy but often useful spy mascot, of sorts. "Chuck" has always been fun, but they've opened up the throttle the last couple of seasons and pulled out all the stops. When you've been living on borrowed time for so long, what have you got to lose? – JC
Cougar Town (ABC)
Nearly every story published about "Cougar Town" this past summer was about one of two things – the possibility of a title change and Jennifer Aniston's upcoming guest spot – and for the life of me I can't figure out why. There are so many better things to talk about other than the title of a show (which I'm actually relieved they kept, and ultimately poked fun at) or Aniston's unmemorable appearance, like for instance, the fact that "Cougar Town" has evolved from a gimmicky sitcom about older women preying on younger men into one of the best ensemble comedies on television. Or how about the fact that they managed to successfully make Jules and Grayson a couple without it feeling like a jumping the shark moment? That's not easy to do, but Lord knows Bill Lawrence has had plenty of practice. The chemistry among the cast is also exceptional (although Brian Van Holt is the clear standout as Jules' scene-stealing ex-husband), the show's clever writing falls somewhere between the adult humor of "Spin City" and the absurdist comedy of "Scrubs," and Lawrence may have just invented America's next great pastime with Penny Can. It's hard to imagine a better companion to the best comedy on television ("Modern Family") than one as funny as this. – JZ
The League (FX)
"The League" should be funnier than it actually is, if on reputation alone. People gush over the FX comedy about a bunch of guys in a fantasy football league as if it's the Peyton Manning of sitcoms, when in reality it's more like Ben Roethlisberger: good, but flawed. And often lazy. But we didn't list "The League" among our honorable mentions just to dump on it – we like the show a lot, and not just because we're fantasy football junkies (although many of us are) or because it's the most clever thing on TV (which it's not). It reminds us of hanging out with our buddies and bagging on each other about anything and everything. "The League" certainly isn't the first show to do that, nor is it the best. But it's the first one to use fantasy football as the vehicle for that dynamic, and although you don't have to be in a league to enjoy "The League," it obviously doesn't hurt. – JC
Lone Star (FOX)
No one likes to see a show get the axe before its time, but when it's the show you've selected as your favorite drama of the new season, boy, that really smarts. In the press release for the series, Fox described "Lone Star" as "a sophisticated and provocative drama set against the sprawling backdrop of big Texas oil, about a charismatic and brilliant schemer who has entangled himself in a deep, complex web from which he can't break free, caught between two very different lives and two very different women." It sounded like a fantastic idea for an FX series, but on Fox…? You'd have to be a fool to think it would succeed. But, oh, how we hoped. With a premise that basically revolves around a guy screwing people over, up to and including the women he (ostensibly) truly loves, you need a guy with serious charisma, and James Wolk seemed more than up to the task, especially given that he was working with an ensemble that included Jon Voight, David Keith, and Adrianne Palicki ("Friday Night Lights"). Hell, Andie MacDowell was waiting in the wings, but the show was pulled long before we ever had the chance to see how she was going to fit into the proceedings. Given how proud Fox claimed to be of "Lone Star" and how it felt like they were bringing a cable show to a broadcast network, it's inexcusable that they pulled the series after a mere two episodes. It never even had a chance. – WH
The Middle (CBS) / Rasing Hope (FOX)
Family life is now and will forever be a subject that's ripe for comedy, but sometimes television has a tendency to offer a sanitized version of parenting that's a little more sterile than reality. Not so with these two series. ABC's "The Middle" is now in its second season and continues to paint a perfect picture of family imperfection, where the kids drive the parents crazy and the parents regularly reveal that their craziness started long before they ever had kids. Yes, their lifestyle has been affected by the crappy economy, but they make do. "Raising Hope" isn't quite as close to reality as "The Middle" (though it's probably closer than we'd like to think), but it's a sweet show about parenting that reminds us that people lacking in book learning still have a lot of heart. Granted, it's a little eccentric, a situation upped tenfold by having Cloris Leachman in the cast, but if you can laugh your way through the scene in the pilot where Jimmy (Lucas Chance) holds his daughter in his lap as her mother gets the electric chair, then you'll be laughing on a weekly basis. WH
Don't be fooled: "Parenthood" is about much more than…well, parenthood. Sure, there's plenty of parenting going on during this hour-long NBC dramedy, but it's a show about family and the ties that bind parents and their kids, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, cousins, nieces and nephews…you get the idea. The action centers on the sprawling Braverman family, anchored by the four Braverman siblings, their spouses and kids, and their retired parents, Zeek and Camille, who are trying to move past some tough times of their own in the wake of dueling affairs. In the midst of what initially seemed to be a very unlikely second season, "Parenthood" connects with its audience by way of its fantastic ensemble cast, led by Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Erika Christensen and Dax Shepard, who play the Braverman siblings, oldest to youngest. But just like the strongest of family ties, this cast runs deep. Here's hoping NBC keeps the Bravermans around for a long time. – JC
RETURNING IN 2011
All things considered, it's nothing short of a miracle that the character of Hank Moody (David Duchovny) has survived long enough for us to be talking about our excitement for a 4th season of "Californication." The idea of taking Hank and dropping him onto a college campus was inspired, ultimately resulting in even more debauchery than anticipated, and anyone who claims they knew Hank would end up in a duel with the dean by the end of the season is clearly lying. About the only thing that went down as we expected was the growing distance between Hank and Becca, but, really, anyone who's ever been around a sullen teenager could've guessed that. (It's not exactly limited to children of functioning alcoholics.) Season 3 wrapped up with Hank losing his temper and beating the hell out of Mia's boyfriend, Paul, resulting in Hank's arrest and, one presumes, the end of any plans to go to New York anytime soon. We won't know 'til January 9 how things have ended up for Hank, but we do know that Carla Gugino, Zoe Kravitz, and Rob Lowe will all turn up at some point. Additionally, Duchovny has indicated that the events at the end of Season 3 found Hank about as low as they could take him and still call "Californication" a comedy. As such, we presume he'll be spending Season 4 trying to reconstruct his life. Good luck with that, Hank. You'll need it. – WH
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Last year at this time, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" came in at #1 on our Power Rankings, so naturally we're all pretty excited to follow Larry David again for another round of caustic rudeness from everyone's favorite bald asshole. After the success of the Seinfeldian seventh season, Larry's got his work cut out for him, but we're pretty sure he's up to the task. So what do we know about Season Eight? Not much, although the well-publicized fact that for this season the show is moving to New York isn't info to be dismissed. Los Angeles has practically been a character itself over the course the past 70 episodes, so we're full-well expecting this shift to change the feel of the proceedings. After the last block of episodes, maybe Larry David just couldn't leave "Seinfeld" behind him after all. Oh, yes, we also know Ricky Gervais is slated to show up at some point, and that sure sounds like a matchup made in comedy heaven. – RR
Human Target (FOX)
When "Human Target" first kicked off, it was all about the action and the set pieces. Big fight on a train…? Check. Another one on a jetliner? Episode 2, baby. It was all part of a bigger plan, though, to sell the viewers on the action while subtly adding in revelations about the lives of the three primary characters: Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) and his cohorts Winston (Chi McBride) and Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley). By the sixth episode, we were really starting to get intrigued about Chance's past, and as subsequent weeks brought us into contact with former flames and fellow assassins, we realized that "Human Target" had transformed itself from a mindless action series into a show where we wanted to know more about the characters. In the show's second season, the cast is being expanded somewhat, bringing a pair of new female characters into the mix: Ilsa, a beautiful billionaire who decides to fund Chance's operation, and Ames, a cute and snarky thief. Is it me, or is it starting to sound a little bit like "Leverage"? Not that that's a bad thing, but we kind of liked the show where it was. Still, we're willing to wait and see how things develop. Hey, it worked in Season 1. – WH
Although we've already admitted to being depressed that more people aren't watching "Terriers," we can at least take some comfort that "Justified" pulled enough viewers in its inaugural season to earn a second go-round from the folks at FX. Created by Elmore Leonard and executive-produced by Graham Yost ("Boomtown"), "Justified" focused on U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant, a man who proved he more than knew his way around a firearm on HBO's "Deadwood." The best scenes during Season 1 were arguably those where Raylan went up against his semi-nemesis, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), but where will Season 2 take us? Hard to say, but at the very least, we can presume that we'll find out whether or not Boyd's father, Bo (M.C. Gainey), bit the dust as a result of his bullet wound. But will Raylan and Winona live happily ever after? Well, that's the kind of question that needs several more seasons to answer fully. Let's just hope we get them. – WH
Parks and Recreation (NBC)
This series was on a roll when it came to a conclusion last spring, expanding from an Amy Poehler showpiece and leaping out of the shadow of "The Office" to become one of the smartest-written comedies on television. The producers brought in Rob Lowe to act like a complete loon and Adam Scott (late of the beloved "Party Down") to become a new romantic interest for Poehler's Leslie Knope, and they fit in perfectly as state auditors who shut down the Pawnee, Indiana government because of a budget crisis. Season 2 explored the humanity of the characters, broadening their (eccentric) back stories of the eccentric characters on the series. Ann began questioning her feelings for Mark (Paul Schneider), who subsequently took a buyout and left Leslie's team, thereby setting up Ann to look at her ex, Andy (Chris Pratt), in a different light. She couldn't really like Andy again, could she? Either way, Pratt is pure genius on the show, seemingly willing to do anything for a laugh and bringing a great deal of heart to his dimwitted, shoe shining, guitar slinging character. Although previously blind to the affections of the monotone April (Aubrey Plaza), how great was it to see these two kids slowly come together? Credit the writers for not rushing the characters into acting on their feelings, instead allowing the laughs to play out for most of the season. Aziz Ansari managed to give the slick/sleazy Tom more depth than we originally imagined him capable of, and while Ron f'n Swanson (Nick Swardson), the man with the 'stache, may be full of guff, he showed a great deal of loyalty and affection for Leslie in Season 2. Many great ensemble shows begin with a star and evolve as the rest of the cast settles in, and that's exactly what "Parks and Recreation" has done. The series has been much missed from NBC's Thursday line up. Here's hoping its hiatus ends sooner than later. – SM
As of our spring Power Rankings, "Torchwood" had been spurned by Fox and was in limbo once again. In the intervening months, it's finally found a home – Starz, the same network that gave us the titillating "Spartacus: Blood and Sand." Given how little Starz held back with that series, we're delighted that Fox passed on this morally intricate sci-fi gem. Still not a whole lot has been revealed about its fourth season, which is set to air in summer of '11 and span 10 episodes. Its umbrella title on this go-round will be "The New World," and it will take place approximately two years after "Children of Earth." John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Kai Owen will all be back as Jack, Gwen and Rhys respectively, and the team will gain a couple new American members as well. Much of the series will be shot and set here in the States, although it's been said that Wales will still have a part to play. The creative team of Russell T. Davies and Julie Gardner also returns, and sci-fi fantasy favorite Jane Espenson has been brought onboard to pen some episodes as well. Hey, you know what? Quite a bit actually has been revealed. And we can't wait. – RR
FAREWELL TO "24," DAMN IT
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. No other show in the history of Bullz-Eye's power rankings hooked us, lost us, and hooked us again quite like the adventures of Jack Bauer, America's one-man killing/maiming/torturing/yelling machine. So fascinated were we with this show that we still pantomime taking a drink whenever we hear someone say "Damn it" or "We're running out of time." The show gave us the nation's first, and second, black Presidents (insert your own commentary here) and while the show probably isn't even aware that they did this, the best villains ever to grace "24" were all female, and all of them played for the good guys. (Well, except for Shohreh Aghdashloo, the Lady MacBeth of extremist wives.) Sherry Palmer, Nina Myers, Olivia Taylor…those are some stone-cold women, right there, and we could always count on them to make the show more interesting when they were on screen. Granted, we ultimately grew tired of how far the show would go out of its way to stretch the story line to a full 24 hours – not to mention they stopped addressing sleep deprivation years ago – but we loved Jack Bauer, Bill Buchanan, Chloe O'Brian, Michelle Dessler, David Palmer, Tony Almeida, Edgar Stiles, James Heller, Mandy the bisexual assassin, and especially Renee Walker as much as we've loved any TV characters from the last 10 years. It was time for them to say goodbye, but that doesn't mean we won't miss them just the same. – DM