It's been a long, cold winter, but now that spring has sprung, it's time for the latest edition of Bullz-Eye's TV Power Rankings. Quite a lot has gone on since the last time we took a look at the television landscape: Leno took back "The Tonight Show," Conan temporarily quit the late night war and went on tour, more viewers tuned into Super Bowl XLIV than any other program in TV history, and…well, that's about it, really. Otherwise, it was pretty smooth sailing on the television landscape, all things considered. Now, though, there's a whole lot of shake-ups going on, from the impending conclusion of "Lost" to the debut of the Eleventh Doctor on "Doctor Who" to the premiere of "'Treme," David Simon's first new series since "The Wire." Some of our favorite shows are in jeopardy of cancellation, and yet Jerry Seinfeld's "The Marriage Ref" earns a second season in the blink of an eye. It's damned depressing, we tell ya, and there's no telling what horrors the fall season may bring. For the time being, though, we can lean back, relax, look over the 20 series that have earned the spots in this edition of Bullz-Eye's TV Power Rankings, and remember how good we've had it for the last six months.
For more on our favorite shows, we've included links to DVD reviews and series blogs below, as well as new interviews with actress Susie Essman (you may know her better as Jeff's wife on "Curb Your Enthusiasm) and DeAnn Heline, co-creator of "The Middle." Plus, don't miss our stable of Honorable Mentions, and a list of the shows we can't wait to see return.
Think you know where "Lost" is headed in its final season? Think again. In the three months since its return, executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have kept viewers guessing, particularly with their introduction of an alternate reality where Oceanic 815 never crash landed on a mysterious island in the middle of the Pacific. The catch? Characters from this new universe are beginning to experience flashes of memories from the old one. It's exactly the kind of mind-bending storyline that fans have been lapping up since Season Four's "The Constant," especially because Cuse and Lindelof's latest plot device grants them the ability to throw a curveball at any moment. It's also allowed them to welcome back since-departed characters like Charlie, Faraday and Libby, although the real stars have been unsung heroes like Nestor Carbonell and Henry Ian Cusick. The Richard-centric episode finally revealed the history behind the island's most enigmatic resident (all while offering us a closer look at the ongoing feud between Jacob and the Man in Black), while Desmond has fast become the key to everything in the "Lost" universe. Add to that a remarkable dual performance by Terry O'Quinn as the Smoke Monster/John Locke and those fun flash-sideways, and Season Six is shaping up to be a worthy sendoff to one of the best shows in TV history. – Jason Zingale
After six seasons worth of the "documentary" about the Scranton branch of the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company, you'd think the proceedings would be getting a little stale, but executive producer Greg Daniels and the gang have continued to change things up and keep things moving into territories that we haven't been expecting. That doesn't necessarily include the birth of Pam and Jim's child, which was only inevitable after the pregnancy revelation at the end of last season, but the corporate goings-on since the last Power Rankings have been nothing short of staggering. Rumors of Dunder-Mifflin's insolvency led to a shareholder meeting, one to which David Wallace possibly shouldn't have invited Michael, as his comments and actions were directly responsible for a sudden drop in the stock value. The next thing you know, the company has been sold to Sabre, led by a Southern belle of a CEO: Jo Bennett, played by Kathy Bates. Closer to home, Michael and Jim become co-managers of the office, a change in leadership which leads to a hilarious power struggle. Elsewhere, the Andy / Erin storyline is managing to echo the Jim / Pam romance without feeling like a Xerox (his "Twelve Days of Christmas" move was a brilliantly bad), Michael looks to have found himself a new girlfriend in Donna (Amy Pietz, late of the much-missed "Aliens in America"), and on St. Patrick's Day, we even got a fleeting appearance from the rarely-seen Todd Packer (David Koechner). Way to stay funny, Dunder-Mifflin. – Will Harris
Okay, yes, we admit it: we were perhaps more excited than the average website to see the return of this series because we had the opportunity to tour the set and drink margaritas with Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. For the sake of our credibility, however, it should be clarified for the record that we'd actually been psyched for Season 3 of "Breaking Bad" ever since Season 2 ended. Thus far, we have not been disappointed. Everything this season has revolved around relationships: Walt and Jesse, Walt and Skyler, Walt and Skyler and Walt, Jr., Skyler and Ted, Hank and Marie…the list goes on and on. The Cousins have been an ominous presence since we first saw the skulls on their boots, Tuco's uncle is equally threatening in his own way (which is a pretty impressive feat when you consider his condition), and we're still not entirely sure about Gus, but Bob Odenkirk continues to be hilarious as the slimy Saul Rosenberg. As of this writing, Hank's post-traumatic stress from El Paso is seriously seeping into the way he does police work, and now that he's on Jesse's trail, heaven help the former (for now) addict. Will Walt and Skyler reunite, or are they separated for good? Will Walt and Jesse reunite, or are they separated for good? And how does this shiny, new, and incredibly kick-ass superlab fit into things? Whatever happens, with "Breaking Bad," one thing's for sure: it probably won't be what you expect. – WH
There hasn't been a new series in a good long while that's captured the cultural zeitgeist in quite the way "Glee" has done. As with "Nip/Tuck" before this show, Ryan Murphy has a knack for zeroing in on what specific audiences crave, only in this case, the audience is quickly become less niche. The ratings for its recent mid-season revival nearly doubled its fall numbers. But is the quality still there? We answer with a resounding "Yes!" The final two episodes before the break were exceptional: Who can forget Van Halen's "Jump" played out as a euphoric mattress commercial? Or the Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" given the full-on Sectionals makeover? Since the show has returned, the faked pregnancy storyline is out of the way (no offense, Jessalyn – we love you), and much of the cumbersome drama has been revamped to stronger jumping off points. The storylines look as if they're set to be even leaner and meaner than before, and yet most of us tune in week in and out just to see and hear some classic pop ditty we've known and loved given that special zing by Lea Michelle or Amber Riley. Case in point: "The Power of Madonna," an episode that delivered on all counts. It's been a while since Madonna really mattered, but via the cast of "Glee", we're reminded of how damn powerful she's been all along. – Ross Ruediger
What can you say about a show where actual former next U.S. President Al Gore ended his environmentally-themed guest appearance by leaving suddenly to save a troubled whale? From the inordinately pathetic personal life of adorably dating-challenged show-runner Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) to the inevitably successful struggles of preternaturally immature and ego-maniacal stars Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna Maroni (Jane Krakowski) to become ever more detached from reality, usually with the help of unnaturally saintly studio page Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), the trajectory of this show about people who somehow produce a weekly comedy show despite being completely and utterly self-absorbed and massively delusional remains in the direction of absolute insanity. Sure, the search for a new cast member led to the addition of a an apparently well-adjusted Canadian who formerly made a living impersonating a robot (Cheyenne Jackson), but then he cheerfully ended his fresh new romance with Liz to embark on a pranking spree against the TGS writers room with uber-Republican and all around weird guy boss-man Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). And so the show's theme remains as ever: You can't be on television, or know someone who is, without pretty much living in your own alternate universe. – Bob Westal
If you're not watching "Friday Night Lights" -- and the ratings, dismal as they've always been, suggest you probably aren't -- then you're part of the problem. Thankfully, the show's perpetually stellar press, combined with an inventive cost-sharing deal with DirecTV and the downward drift in what passes for acceptable numbers, has kept "FNL" on the air -- and for fans of emotionally resonant, character-driven serial storytelling, that's a damn good thing. Its most recent round of episodes hasn't made its way to NBC yet, but come April, viewers will be treated to some of the series' juiciest storylines -- including what happens when Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) moves to the newly reopened East Dillon High and where Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) and Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) go after graduation. You may not like everything that happens during these episodes, but it always makes sense -- and it always leaves you hungry for more. By the time the season finale rolls around, you'll already be cursing the fact that the show's next season will be its last. – Jeff Giles
If there was ever any concern that "Modern Family" would fail to live up to the flurry of reviews hailing it as the funniest new show of the season, you can rest easy, because the rookie comedy has only gotten better since it came racing out of the gate last fall. As someone who doesn't laugh out loud very often, "Modern Family" sends me into uproarious laughter so effortlessly (and frequently) that my thumb constantly hovers over the rewind button just in case I miss something during one of my outbursts. The show has also secured some pretty great guest stars in recent months, including Elizabeth Banks, Edward Norton and Minnie Driver, but it's hard to give them much credit when the series does just fine without all the stunt casting. There's not a single weak link in the cast, and that includes the kids. In fact, the child actors (particularly Rico Rodriguez as the wise-beyond-his-years Manny) often steal the show, and that's not easy to do with guys like Ed O'Neill and Ty Burrell in the ranks. "Modern Family" is the best ensemble comedy since "Arrested Development" was taken off the air. Let's hope ABC doesn't make the same mistake. – JZ
After its sixth season, Larry David's groundbreaking series wasn't necessarily in a rut, but it wasn't exactly what it once was, either. Larry broke up with his wife and his new romance with Loretta Black (Vivica A. Fox) seemed a little forced. For its seventh outing, Larry called in the big guns, enlisting the entire cast of "Seinfeld" to appear throughout the season as his character attempts to fix his marriage by agreeing to do a reunion show just so he could win back the affections of his estranged wife by casting her in the special. The season-long storyline revitalized the series, and in Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Larry had several new toys to play with. Everyone was happy – fans of the show got a great new season and fans of "Seinfeld" got the closest thing to a reunion show that they'll ever see. But now that the "Seinfeld" story has run its course, what is Larry going to do for an encore? – John Paulsen
At first, all we wanted to know was who the mother was. Soon, we barely cared who the mother was, so much did we love Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin, and Barney. Still, the show kept giving us the occasional teasing moment that reminded us that, okay, we did still care a little. Now that we're in Season 5, though, we're kind of getting to that point where…well, the phrase "shit or get off the mother" probably doesn't stand much chance of popularization, but you see where we're coming from, right? Fortunately, things are still staying pretty funny, something aided immeasurably by Robin and Barney breaking up just before the idea of them being a couple wasn't funny anymore. It gave Barney the chance to utterly overcompensate in his return to singledom, and while "The Perfect Week" was a little sleazy even for Mr. Stinson, all was forgiven a few weeks after the brilliance that was "Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit." There were also lots of hot guest stars, including Jennifer Lopez, Stacey Keibler, Carrie Underwood, Amanda Peet, Rachel Bilson, Joanna Garcia, and…Chris Elliott? Okay, maybe he's not so hot, but he was certainly hilarious as Lily's estranged father, and the same goes for Alan Thicke, who's liable to get an upgrade to series semi-regular if he's not careful. But we're not kidding: if we don't get some real forward motion on this mother thing soon, we can't be held responsible for where the show is ranked next time – WH
When Leonard and Penny coupled up, we were hopeful that the relationship would work out – who doesn't want to see the geek get the girl? – but we also had our concerns about the speed at which it came about. Not that we really thought the show was propelling itself rapidly upward, only to descend in such a manner as to pass over the member of the superorder Selachimorpha residing within the intervening space, but there's some precedent for sitcom couplings killing the momentum of a series. We can't say they haven't made the most of the relationship, though. We're still skeptical that it would ever happen in the real world, but for plot purposes, Leonard's sweet enough that you can see why Penny likes to be with him, and in turn, her attempts to find common geek ground with him are quite touching. (You don't get much sexier than a gorgeous blonde making post-coital "Star Wars" references. Bazinga!) In between lies Dr. Sheldon Cooper, whose interactions with the couple make for some seriously uproarious befuddlement, and while there's still no love for Raj, at least Howard's got Bernadette now. There have also been some excellent guest stars this go-round, including Stan Lee, Katee Sackhoff, Ira Fledow from NPR's "Science Friday," and the return of Wil Wheaton, but – gasp! – as of this writing, Leonard and Penny are on the outs! We're not sure if we're rooting for cessation or reconciliation, but either way, we're sticking around to see what happens. – WH
This new FX series got off to a blistering start with a premiere that pitted its main character, U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) against an old friend (read: new nemesis), Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, better known as Shane Vendrell from "The Shield"). After he killed a man in Miami, Givens was reassigned to the office near his hometown in Kentucky, and he's none too happy about it. The premiere was outstanding, and while we'd like to see a lot more of Boyd Crowder, the subsequent episodes have been plenty entertaining. The series is based on the character developed by Elmore Leonard, and "Justified" does Leonard's work justice by featuring a plethora of colorful characters and inventive storylines. It feels more like "Out of Sight" or "Jackie Brown" than anything currently on television and the should-be-a-movie-star Olyphant is perfect as the witty and charismatic Givens, who just can't seem to get out of Kentucky fast enough. Somehow we think that it's going to be a while before that happens. – JP
At press time, ABC had yet to make a decision on the fate of "FlashForward," but was leaning towards canceling it. To us, this is a grievous mistake, what with "Lost" taking a bow at season's end and all. Yes, the show has some soap opera-y elements that could be underplayed in a second season (namely, Detective Mark Benford's struggles with sobriety and his contentious relationship with his AA sponsor), but since they turned Dominic Monaghan's morally ambiguous boy genius Simon Campos into a regular, the show has exploded with possibilities, not to mention personality. The good guys need him, the bad guys want him, and best of all, it's still unclear which team, if any, he prefers. Another key move was exploring the background of Dyson Frost, a.k.a. D. Gibbons. Seeing him leave a message for dead man walking FBI Agent Demitri Noh on a VHS tape back in 1991 was the most chilling moment in the show's run so far. And with another blackout looming on the horizon, it would be a shame if "FlashForward" didn't receive another season to explore the science behind the chaos, particularly Lloyd Simcoe's talk at the end of the fall finale about alternate universes and the whole 'sliding doors' theory. Is that the world that everyone saw in their flash forwards? Let's hope we find out before the show blacks out for good. – David Medsker
Jimmy Smits was terrific in season 2 as politician with a thirst for Dexter's brand of justice. Christian Camargo was equally chilling as the ice truck killer (and Dexter's long lost sibling) in the inaugural run of the show, but John Lithgow's Trinity Killer has set the bar very high for the next guest star and future foil for our favorite serial killer. Watching Michael C. Hall and Lithgow play cat and mouse was not only brilliantly written, but breathtakingly acted. Lithgow not only appeared to mentor Dexter's character initially in the show, he may serve as an acting mentor for the real Hall as he continues to master his craft. Lithgow is at his best when he plays a lunatic who appears to be under control. The season finale certainly can be considered one of the better "Holy Shit" moments in recent television. After finally disposing of the Trinity killer, Dexter comes home to find his wife dead in the family bathtub, and his infant son covered in his mother's blood, just as Dexter was found when he was a child. The last conversation between the two killers had one meaning when it was completed and an even more profound meaning when Dexter discovers his wife. The side stories felt interesting and not soapy along the way. Batista and Laguerta's (played with perfect tone by David Zayas and Lauren Vélez respectively) forbidden romance was interesting and amusing while Debra Morgan's need to find unhappiness rings true to the character. It will be very interesting next season to see what rage has been awoken in Dexter after seemingly swearing off his trade with Trinity's murder. That was before he found Rita murdered in their home. Last season was about the domesticated Dexter, this season may be more of a blood bath then in the past and for a show that features at least a half a dozen quality kills a season; that is saying something. – R. David Smola
When you consider just how much of a miracle it was for "Chuck" to be renewed after its freshman year, it makes the existence of a third season only that much more incredible. This time around, however, it was Subway that did the saving, jumping in at the last minute to rescue the show from cancellation thanks to a sponsorship deal it struck with NBC. Even better is the fact that, with the exception of the odd product placement (Big Mike has to eat, doesn't he?), the company's involvement has been relatively low key. It's been the complete opposite for the show itself, which has raised the stakes this year with comparably more drama and action. It was an inevitable consequence of Chuck's decision to become a real spy, but thankfully, they've managed to keep the supporting characters involved by giving them a part to play in his spy life. Recurring guest appearances from Superman alumni Brandon Routh ("Superman Returns") and Kristen Kreuk ("Smallville") also helped breathe some life into Chuck and Sarah's tiresome will-they-won't-they relationship, while Adam Baldwin was given an interesting subplot of his own when he lost his spy status and was forced to live as a civilian. Of course, everything was wrapped up with a nice bow by the end of the originally planned 13 episodes, but with six more on the way, it'll be interesting to see what kinds of tricks Josh Schwartz has up his sleeve. – JZ
It may have moved down a spot since our last Power Rankings, but that's hardly indicative of the quality of Kurt Sutter's "Sons of Anarchy." In fact, if there's anything to blame the drop on, it's that despite a passionate fanbase, the show has failed to earn the same kind of critical backing as other cable dramas like "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad." That's fine, because it only makes the experience that much more special for those who do watch it, and believe me when I say that the tail end of Season Two offered some of the best television of the year. From white supremacists and the IRA to local cops and the DEA, SAMCRO was suffocated by both sides of the law for a majority of the season, and that doesn't even include the problems circulating within the club. But just when it seemed like the characters might be given the chance to catch their breath after the fallout of Donna's death and Gemma's rape, Sutter only tightened his vice-like grip with a heart-wrenching finale that ended with one character dead, another on the run from the cops, and the main villain escaping virtually scot-free. There aren't too many shows with the backbone to repeatedly beat their characters into submission, but that's exactly what makes "Sons of Anarchy" so damn fascinating. The humor, heart and wonderful performances from its cast only make it that much easier to swallow. – JZ
If you bailed on "Parks & Recreation" after its less-than-stellar debut run, we don't blame you -- but we've got news for you, too: Things have gotten a whole bunch better during Season Two. The similarities to "The Office" are still there, but they're more superficial than they might seem; for starters, Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope isn't the insensitive douche Michael Scott is, and more importantly, "Parks & Rec" embraces absurdist comedy more whole-heartedly than "The Office," mixing rapid-fire bursts of non sequitirs between the various ongoing plot arcs. Where the two series are similar is in the deft way they blend comedy and drama. It'd be a lie to suggest that "Parks & Rec" is a good old-fashioned dramedy, but the show takes an uncommon interest in fleshing out its characters and giving them moments of genuine poignancy to offset all the yuks. Even an archetype like Aziz Ansari's wannabe ladykiller, Tom Haverford, has a heart; 25 years ago, he'd be just another Dan Fielding from "Night Court," but on this show, he feels real. Whatever deficiencies the rest of NBC's schedule might suffer, its Thursday comedy block is one of the best nights of television going, and "Parks & Rec" is a solidly emerging piece of that puzzle. – JG
Last season's finale of "Fringe" was one of those jaw-dropping moments, on a number of levels. We finally see the alternate universe (where the World Trade Center towers are still standing), but more importantly, we discover that Peter Bishop is not our Walter's Peter, but the other Walter's Peter (which our Walter has cleverly nicknamed Walternate). They got distracted by the monster of the week at the beginning of this season, but those seeds from the finale are finally being sown – Walter actually meant to bring Peter back to his real mother once he was cured, but couldn't bear to break Peter's other mother (Walter's wife) a second time. The catch is that Olivia Dunham knows that Peter is from the other universe, and wants to tell him the truth, but can't bring herself to do it. Something tells us that Walternate, or his wife, may be paying the Bishops an unexpected visit, and it is this emotional level to the show that keeps the show honest. Freak show deaths are nice, but they have nothing on parallel universes where mourning couples may be plotting revenge for the disappearance of their son. – DM
When the Fall 2009 season kicked off, TV critics seemed to divide into two camps: those who loved "Modern Family" and those who loved "Community." It's not quite on the level of "you're either an Elvis man or a Beatles man, you can't be both," perhaps, but it's still a very serious matter, as you can see from the disparate placings of the two shows on the Rankings. Why can't we all just get along? As we enter the twilight of the season, "Community" is arguably better now than it was back in November as it has continued to explore the lives and studies of Jeff, Britta, Pierce, Abed, Shirley, Troy, and Annie. It was always going to be too easy to have Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) and Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs) hook up, but it's been fascinating to see the various crushes and romantic entanglements that have popped up, including the Jeff / Annie chemistry, Jeff's student / teacher conference with the sexy Professor Slater, Jeff's hook-up with Pierce's former stepdaughter…say, Jeff's doing all right for himself! We've also seen Abed's films, Shirley's kids, lots of great Senor Chang moments, and excellent guest turns from Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Tony Hale, Anthony Michael Hall, and even Lee Majors. With surprisingly deep characterization for a comedy and equal parts snark and heart, "Community" isn't just coasting through its freshman season with a passing grade. It's sitting at the head of the class…beside "Modern Family." (They're both funny, dammit!) – WH
Through the first two seasons, Hank Moody appeared to have the freedom to fuck every hot chick he came into contact with and still end up in the arms of his soul mate. Season three's conclusion might have ended on a melancholy note, but it rang true. No one has it that good, and no fuck up with as many difficulties staying out of trouble could always fall out of the shit wagon and onto a bed of flowers; finally Hank Moody fell right into a mess he couldn't charm his way out. His ill advised liaison in season one with the underage Mia, the step daughter for a fleeting moment of his true love Karen, finally came to light when Hank confessed his sin before it was going to become public. This shit hit the fan; Karen freaked out and Hank ended up handcuffed in the back of a police car. Has he finally hit bottom? During the season he got the opportunity to knock books with the sexy professor, the sexy grad assistant, the sexy student who also is a stripper, and seemed to be getting very close to another run with Karen. The world came crashing down as the closing credits for the season rolled. Yes, this is escapism and the inappropriate situations that David Duchovny and his agent Charlie Runkle get in are awkward and hilarious, but when Hank ends up in the season finale gives a very unrealistic series a needed touch of what probably would happen to one who has such self destructive tendencies; the horseshoe finally fell out of his ass. With Moody and Runkle both really down and out (Runkle's wife really looks like she is pursuing the divorce) the journey out of this hell should be a great ride for next season's episodes. – R. David Smola
Now that we've seen "Damages'" season – and more than likely series – finale, we can't help but wonder if they knew going in that there was a good chance that this would be the last story they would get to tell. This isn't the type of show that can call an audible midway through its run when something isn't working or the studio decides to "go in a different direction," so for the show to end this way (they killed Tom Shayes, the bastards!) is admittedly curious, but ultimately what its fans deserve. Every dangling plot thread, including some going back to the show's first season, was gift-wrapped with a nice little bow (Arthur Frobisher gets raped in the face by karma) and, knowing that dead men tell no tales, they sent the body count through the roof, just to nail the point home that this is the end, my friends. Best of all, the show's final 10 minutes reveal why Patty Hewes is so blindly determined to make the guilty pay for their crimes in blood: because she's one of them, having deliberately terminated her pregnancy as a law school student in order to have a career. Whoa, dude. We will be sad if this is the end of the line for "Damages," but they will have our utmost respect for going out on top, with all loose ends tied to boot. Bonus points for bringing back Zeljko Ivanek for a curtain call. – DM
No one is as upset about relegating a former Power Rankings chart topper to the Honorable Mention section as we are, and while the show has gotten a new lease on life as of late – something that has been accomplished, ironically, by killing off the show's most endearing characters – the simple fact of the matter is that the show is not the event television it once was. Real time is a cruel mistress under the best of circumstances, and after the show's disastrous sixth season, even the people in charge knew that a reboot was in order. And to their credit, the last two seasons have been an improvement. They brought in some great new talent (we're still stinging from the recent death of FBI Agent Renee Walker) and more importantly, they got their hands dirty (the Internet broadcast death of IRK "Slumdog" President Omar Hassan). But escalating budgets combined with declining ratings meant that it was time to wrap things up, and as sad as we are to see "24" sign off, it's the right call. Godspeed, Jack Bauer. Damn it. – DM
Big Love (HBO)
It's never broken into the top 20 of our TV Power Rankings, but until now, that had less to do with the quality of "Big Love" and much more to do with the subject matter. Well, this time around, it's a little bit of both. In seasons past, the few lonely "Big Love" loyalists on our staff watched the show in a near constant state of anxious anticipation, wondering when and how the lid would finally be blown off the Henrickson family secret. Of course, our anxiety mirrored that of Bill and his polygamist clan, who feared how such a revelation would affect their public lives (Bill owns a chain of hardware stores and just opened a casino, Barb is involved in the community and Margene's jewelry business is starting to gain some traction) as well as the lives of their many, many children. But this season, Bill decided he wanted to run for state senator, consequences be damned. His plan was to help erase the stigma associated with polygamy by (get this) getting elected and then introducing his polygamist family to the world. Along the way, he kicked his eldest son Ben out of the house for kissing Margene, threw his loyal business partner under the bus and, all in all, completely lost touch with the moral compass that made him such a compelling character in the first place. Here's hoping some of Bill's blind ambition wears off in time for the fifth season, although now that the whole world knows the Henricksons' secret, will it really matter? – Jamey Codding
Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern (Travel Channel)
Oh, Andrew…you are so coming back to us. It's not that we didn't like "Bizarre Worlds," which, make no mistake, was a brave experiment, but the truth is that your shtick has always resounded so perfectly because of all the hideousness you ingest. "Worlds" featured some of that, but we're shallow enough to admit that it wasn't enough. We're eaters of the dead, and our fascination with you resides in what you dare to consume; we're less intrigued by a travelogue. The Travel Channel has introduced us to numerous culinary concepts we enjoy (tell Adam Richman we said "Hey!" and urge him to keep his cholesterol in check), but you remain King of all that passes through the digestive tract. We won't tell Bourdain if you won't. Nobody but you has so expertly combined the art of travel and eating into one daring package. You know what else, my cherubic friend? A lot of what you down looks pretty damn tasty – far more appetizing than the green gelatin found on the tables of various family reunions. Thanks for returning to what made us adore you in the first place. – RR
Doctor Who (BBC)
While watching the premiere installment of the latest incarnation of the good Doctor, I couldn't help but think of Pink Floyd's "Coming Back to Life." Much like that tune, the Matt Smith/Steven Moffat era is going to have to do some serious work to keep people engaged after the glorious whiz-bang action and drama of David Tennant and Russell T. Davies: They've got their work cut out for them. But just as David Gilmour managed without Roger Waters, the early results are nothing less than positive. Indeed, "The Eleventh Hour" has one foot in the future, and one in the past. There was nothing there that should alienate casual fans, and yet it's perhaps too different to suck everyone in immediately. These things take time, and "Doctor Who" has always been about change. Moffat, like Davies before him, is one of the U.K.'s most consistent dramatists, so sit tight and kick back, because if there's one thing of which I'm certain, it's that this season is going to be an unpredictable ride. Don't believe me? Try mixing your fish sticks with your custard. – RR
The Good Wife (CBS)
It's hard for a guy-centric site like this one to come out and praise a show like, say, "Army Wives" without trying to spin it as a guilty pleasure, but there's no excuse necessary when discussing "The Good Wife." Somewhere around the halfway point of the season, Entertainment Weekly declared it one of the 10 best shows on television, but we've been fans since our Fall Preview, when we said, "(Julianna) Margulies shines in the pilot, and (Chris) Noth manages to make your skin crawl simply through the knowledge of how his character has wronged Alicia; when you throw in (Christine) Baranski playing it ballsy and (Josh) Charles offering his usual nice-guy performance, there are a lot of reasons to root for 'The Good Wife' to succeed." (To momentarily drop into first person, man, you should've seen me dance around the room when Marguiles made my dark horse pick for Best Actress at the Emmys into a reality.) The pilot made the series look like it was going to be as much of a soap opera as a courtroom drama, but the complex home and work relationship existing between Alicia (Marguiles) and her imprisoned husband, Peter (Noth), led to some turns we never saw coming, and her relationships with the other characters – both at home and at the office – are often far more intriguing than her cases…although those aren't bad, either. "The Good Wife" isn't a chick show. It's just a show…and a really good one, at that. – WH
How to Make it in America (HBO)
HBO's newest original series came and went with little fanfare, but those who stuck with the show throughout its eight-episode run were rewarded with what could best be described as the East Coast version of "Entourage." In fact, the two shows are so similar in tone that it's a bit surprising more viewers didn't tune in. Though its relatively lackluster premiere certainly didn't do it any favors, "How to Make It in America" got better with each passing week. Just like Vincent Chase's struggles with the ups and downs of the Hollywood system, the journey of childhood friends Ben (Bryan Greenburg) and Cam (Victor Rasuk) as they attempted to launch a clothing line in New York City was rife with moments both dramatic and comedic. Lake Bell, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and the always entertaining Luis Guzman round out the show's solid cast, but it was recurring guest star Martha Plimpton who proved to be the biggest casting coup in the scene-stealing role of Bell's interior designer boss. Oh, yeah, and it doesn't hurt to have a killer opening credit sequence either. Now that the show has earned a renewal, here's hoping Season 2 maintains the solid standard they've set thus far. – JZ
The Middle (CBS)
Remember how "Modern Family" was so critically acclaimed as to outshine its comedic competition on other networks? Imagine how rough it must be for the other ABC sitcoms in its shadow. "The Middle" is a series about a near-nuclear family (there are three kids rather than 2.5, but the youngest is pretty short) living a lower / middle class existence in Orson, Indiana. Not exactly "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," no, but there are lot of viewers out there who can relate…like me, for instance: the show is a staple in my house, with even my 4-year-old daughter asking, "Do we have a new episode of 'The Middle' to watch yet?" Mike Heck (Neil Flynn) is a manager at a quarry, his wife Frankie (Patricia Heaton) sells cars, but even their combined salaries still leave them struggling to pay the bills; their kids – Axl (Charlie McDermott), Sue (Eden Sher), and Brick (Atticus Shaffer) – are all misfits in their own way, but many of their tendencies will strike parents as feeling just as familiar as the Heck's economic situation. It shouldn't be any real surprise that a show which takes place in middle America should be a relatively mainstream comedy, but "The Middle" often offers eccentricities when you least expect it, such as the character of Brad, Sue's ex-boyfriend, a guy whose utterly flamboyant mannerisms are completely lost on Sue. Yes, "The Middle" is family friendly, but is that really such a bad thing? Not in my family, it isn't. – WH
Nurse Jackie / United States of Tara (Showtime)
Showtime may have reached a point where its original series are nearing the creative heights set by its longtime competitor, HBO, but they don't seem to get talked about nearly as often. Take the one-two punch of "Nurse Jackie" and "United States of Tara," for instance. I started blogging both shows when their second seasons premiered, and after three weeks worth of blogs, I hadn't gotten a single comment on any of them. (I finally gave up blogging them. What's the point?) What's most unbelievable about this is that both shows are really great this season. "United States of Tara," which I was relatively "meh" about last year, is offering some really interesting plots this season, including Marshall's public battle with his sexual preference, Kate's introduction to Princess Valhalla, and Tara's relationship with a bartender named Pammy (Okay, technically, it's Buck's relationship, but it's just so much more awesome if you think of it as Tara's.) Even better, though, is "Nurse Jackie," which manages to be one of the funniest shows on television while still offering up dramatic developments like the triangle between Jackie, Kevin, and Eddie. As Coop, Peter Facinelli continues to prove that he's got a great post-"Twilight" career ahead of him as a comic actor, while Eve Best blends a British accent and an acid tongue to make Eleanor a delightfully comical character. Hell, the whole ensemble is great, so let's also give props to Merritt Wever (Zoe), Stephen Wallem (Thor), and Anna Deveare Smith (Akalitis). Okay, fine, don't comment on my blogs. I'll just pretend the reason you're staying so quiet is that you're too busy watching. – WH
We've been Peter Krause fans since his days on "Sports Night" and "Six Feet Under," so we had some fairly high expectations when "Parenthood" debuted earlier this year. Turns out those expectations were well placed, thanks in part to Krause's portrayal of Adam Braverman, a father struggling to keep his teenage daughter's hormones in check while learning to cope with the news that his young son has Asperger's, a high-functioning form of autism. Fortunately, Krause gets all sorts of help from a magnificent ensemble cast, led by Lauren Graham and Erika Christensen as Adam's younger sisters, Sarah and Julia, Dax Shepard (yes, Ashton Kutcher's buddy from "Punk'd") as Adam's directionless little brother Crosby, and Monica Potter as Adam's wife Kristina. The show centers on the relationships within the Braverman clan, but as the name suggests, the unique parenting challenges that each Braverman sibling faces serve as its primary focus. It's no surprise that "Parenthood" appeals more to viewers with children than those without, but now that it's been renewed for a second season (kudos, NBC), this engaging dramedy has a chance to pull in even more fans. – JC
Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)
The world of politics has become a thoroughly insane landscape. The world of talk shows, perhaps even more so. Combine the two and you've got "Real Time," and yet there's no TV presence that does a better job of making sense of it all than Bill Maher. At the end of an exhausting, confusing week, Bill is waiting there for us on Friday night to assure us that the world isn't completely going to hell in a hand basket. How does he do it? Via intelligence. Yes, Maher is a biting yet reassuring voice in the Beck-Blitzer-Letterman-Leno wilderness. He's one of the few on TV willing to give it to viewers straight, and that's why we keep coming back, week after week, year after year. Sure, the monologue usually sucks, as do the pre-planned comedy bits ("New Rules" aside), but the show is never sharper than when Bill's working off the cuff. And his closing speeches always leave us with something to chew on. If you're a fan of Maher, but not a fan on Facebook, sign up post-haste. He frequently fills the feed with announcements and videos that make it well worth your while, as well as tide you over until next Friday night. – RR
It was tough to figure out why NBC elected to renew this ensemble LAPD drama only to cancel it in the fall after the series already had several episodes in the can. Luckily, TNT was there to scoop the critically-acclaimed series up and add it to the network's "We Know Drama" lineup. While there is a certain amount of procedural investigation in each episode, the show delves deep into the characters' lives, so that it feels more like a serial than your standard cop drama. The chemistry between the two main uniformed officers – Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) and John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) – drives the show, but the balance between the patrol and detective aspects of the police force is pretty even. Fans of "NYPD Blue" would probably enjoy "Southland." Same grit, more sun. – JP
Given that David Simon's new series about life in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina only premiered on April 11th, it was impossible to reconcile a spot for the show in the proper top 20 of the Power Rankings, but it would seem like a glaring omission if we didn't at least offer it an Honorable Mention placing. Although we've only seen a few episodes of the drama thus far, we've seen enough to know that, for all of the highly specific details about New Orleans that make it a little hard for "outsiders" to embrace the show outright, the combination of a fantastic cast (Wendell Pierce, Khandi Alexander, Steve Zahn, John Goodman, Clarke Peters, Melissa Leo, and Kim Dickens) and a soundtrack that can make you both dance and weep is keeping us coming back. The sudden and unexpected death of writer and co-executive producer David Mills dealt a harsh blow to "'Treme," so there's no telling what a second season of the series might feel like even if there is one, but what we're seeing at the moment is a character study, a political statement, and a texture that captures the feel of the city in which it's set better than just about any series or film that's preceded it. That'll do nicely for now. – WH
RETURNING IN 2010
We're worried. The entire "Entourage" entourage seems ready to, you should excuse the expression, grow up. Vincent Chase (Adrien Grenier) is solidifying his position as an A-lister, older brother Johnny "Drama" Chase (Kevin Dillon) seems to be settling down as a television star at last, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) will no doubt learn valuable lessons from his painful break-up with Jamie Lynn Sigler, and ultra-stable "E" (Kevin Connolly) looks to be getting stabler still as he seems set to marry true-love Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Even insatiable agent Ari (Jeremy Piven) is finally setting up his own agency and has accepted the fact that long suffering work-slave Lloyd (Rex Lee) is ready to have his own long-suffering assistant. The question for the seventh season sure appears to be this: if all the main characters on a show achieve maturity and happiness, what's the point of having a show?
Mad Men (AMC)
Last year's "game-changing" season finale certainly left everyone wanting more. As super ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and company assemble a more up-to-date mid-sixties Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce from the stodgy post-war era ashes of Sterling Cooper, we're left to wonder just how much light dark-minded series creator/Svengali Matthew Weiner will allow into his heretofore hypnotically tragic vision of mid-century American life. That last episode saw Don burying the hatchet with estranged pal/colleague Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and finally ending his doomed marriage to Betty (January Jones), making amends with ill-used copywriter Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), and relishing the thought of more creative freedom. That all seems very positive, but we're certain that not all will be skittles and Martinis as we make our way into the ever-more divisive sixties. It wouldn't be "Mad Men" if Don didn't have plenty of good excuses for downing all those Old Fashioneds.
Rescue Me (FX)
When the curtain closed on the fifth season of "Rescue Me," Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) was bleeding to death on the floor of a bar, shot twice by his vengeful uncle Teddy (Lenny Clarke) in retaliation for Tommy's hand (real or imagined) in the death of Teddy's wife. How's Tommy going to get out of this? We have no idea, but with "Rescue Me" renewed for two more seasons, it seems safe to assume he'll be back on his feet before long -- and now that the show's creators have reached an agreement to end the series in 2011, we anticipate the same sort of renewed creative vigor that "Lost" enjoyed after setting its own end date. About the only thing we can complain about is the news that the last two seasons will only have 19 episodes between them -- ten in Season Six, and nine in the final batch. What is this, "The Sopranos"? C'mon, c'mon! – JG
So what the hell is going on with Captain Jack? We wish we had the answers. "Torchwood" will return someday and hopefully soon. It's proven itself to be too strong a concept not to. At first, we'd heard that Russell T. Davies was furiously working behind the scenes to get a version of it off the ground at Fox, but then we got this word from BBC Worldwide: "BBC Worldwide Productions and the FOX Broadcasting Company have mutually agreed not to progress together with a 13-episode serialized 'Torchwood' format. We are currently in discussion with several interested networks." Well, frankly, we had some concerns about the way Fox might treat Russell's baby, anyway, given how they've treated many other sci-fi series in recent years, but they really could have used "Torchwood": with "24" going away, they need a new Jack in the city to capture some imaginations and deliver weekly thrills. If some other American network does get the nod to move forward, then our hope is that it picks up where it left off with the BBC incarnation. There's no need to start over from scratch. (Hell, the show always had gaping holes in between each season anyway.) The solution? Jack (John Barrowman) moves to America and starts a new branch of Torchwood. In theory, this idea could give the series a major jolt of adrenaline (which isn't to imply it needed one). But if there's one U.K. series that possesses some big time transatlantic appeal, this is it. Whoever gets lucky, though, needs to give this show some time and creative freedom. Russell knows what he's doing. The man is boss. Give him the chance to make the show he needs to make and it will pay off for all parties involved. – RR
True Blood (HBO)
As sorry as we were to see "True Blood" go away at the end of Season 2, we were at least able to take comfort in knowing that when the series finally did come back, it would be without Maryann. Hallelujah! Michelle Forbes might be gorgeous, but we can't imagine anyone who wasn't ready to see her character go by the time the season finale rolled around. As we departed, we were left with two major dangling storylines: Sam had set off on a quest to find his real parents, and Bill had been kidnapped right out of his date with Sookie. Word on the street…and by "street," we mean "Wikipedia"…is that Bill's being held hostage by a powerful pack of vampires, leaving Sookie to team up with a werewolf named Alcide in order to track him down. This isn't exactly what you'd call a spoiler, though, as it's ripped more or less from the pages of the third novel of The Southern Vampire Mysteries series, Club Dead. We do know, however, that Cooper Huckabee has been cast to play Sam's father, Alfre Woodard is going to be playing Lafayette's mama, and Denis O'Hare ("Brothers & Sisters," "The Good Wife") will portray Russel Edgington, the Vampire King of Mississippi, all of which sounds mighty good to me. "True Blood" returns to HBO on June 13th. I, for one, am chomping at the bit…and, yes, at the neck, too…for its return. – WH
Even for its staunchest fans, it's been hard to deny that "Weeds" has taken a creative tumble over the past couple of seasons. As hard as it is to begrudge creator Jenji Kohan's decision to shake things up by taking Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) out of Agrestic, it's been just as difficult to keep caring about Kohan's characters as they've lurched from one absurd adventure to the next in their new home near the Mexican border. But things might be looking up -- after all, at the close of Season Five, Nancy's son Shane (Alexander Gould) appeared to put the kibosh on a budding Mafia war in a shocking cliffhanger involving a croquet mallet. And even if we have to deal with another round of Nancy's angst with baby daddy/crime kingpin Esteban Reyes (Demián Bichir), this cast is just too talented to be anything less than entertaining. – JG
After nine seasons, two networks, and several appearances on Bullz-Eye's TV Power Rankings, "Scrubs" is officially done, according to Zach Braff, anyway. Now, you should take this information with the same grain of salt as anything you read on Facebook (since that's where he made the announcement), but given the plummeting ratings and the way ABC burned off the series' final episodes, we don't feel like we need to wait for the network to officially pull the plug – they still haven't – to accept that we've seen the last of "Scrubs." Given the near-perfect episode which served as the conclusion of the show's eighth season, it would be easy to suggest that the show never should've gone on to Season 9, but creator Bill Lawrence's assurances about a change in format to a modern-day medical version of "The Paper Chase," with Dr. Cox serving as the Professor Kingsfield equivalent, sounded too good to resist.
The problem, however, was the attempt to bridge the old "Scrubs" and the new "Scrubs Med," as Lawrence was wont to call it. The medical students who were added to the cast – Lucy (Kerry Bishé), Drew, (Michael Mosley) and Cole (Dave Franco) – had serious potential, especially when Drew hooked up with the previous season's new addition, Denise (Eliza Coupe), but their introduction was severely hampered by the refusal of the old cast to go away…specifically, the aforementioned Mr. Braff. Dr. John Dorian was a wonderful man-child of a doctor, but at the end of Season 8, he'd grown up and gone on his way, and we were proud of him. When he came back in Season 9, it felt like he'd regressed several seasons, and although the guy love between J.D. and Turk was still in bloom, the absence of Carla from the show just made their relationship seem weird and vaguely creepy. Eventually, Braff's contract was up, J.D. left the premises, and Lucy, Drew, and Cole finally had a chance to spread their wings on the show…an event which, unfortunately, coincided with ABC's decision to start burning off episodes Noah-style (two by two) 'til they were all gone.
Forget the infinitesimal odds of "Scrubs" getting a 10th season for a moment and just consider this question: if it happened, would you even watch it? Well, I for one would be interested in seeing a full season with the new folks. I'd never claim that Season 9 was up to the standards set by Seasons 1 – 8, but, hell, Lawrence always said that you should treat it as a different show, anyway. For my money, the problem was that he didn't necessarily follow his own advice: there were way too many elements of the old show lingering around for too long, making it a case of "how can we miss you if you won't go away?"
If "Scrubs" comes back, then it needs to stick to its new core cast as often as possible, with no guest stars from the show's old incarnation turning up for more than a single episode. And if it's gone for good, as seems more likely…? Well, it had a good run, but while it may have stumbled at the end, it was still scrambling back to its feet and trying to finish as strongly as it possibly could.