Bullz-Eye.com's TV Power Rankings, November 2009 Edition, best TV shows, Curb Your Enthusiasm
TV Power Rankings

TV Home / Entertainment Channel / Bullz-Eye Home

Don't miss our set of TV Power Rankings Winter 2009 interviews!
Take a look back at the Spring 2009 Edition of our TV Power Rankings!

Comment at Premium HollywoodEver since the writers' strike, the television industry has been in a state of flux. Most networks still can't figure out what works from what doesn't, while the current economic climate has forced others to simply give up. Whether or not "The Jay Leno Show" is a success for NBC is debatable, but by surrendering the 10 p.m. time slot, they've greatly decreased their chances of bringing in new viewers. We would be exaggerating if we said the decision affected our latest edition of the TV Power Rankings, but our Winter 2009 list does seem suspiciously familiar. Still, it isn't without its surprises, as a longtime favorite returned from an extended hiatus to claim the top spot, while buzzworthy rookies like "Glee" and "FlashForward" also made an impressive Top 10 debut. At the end of the day, however, the real winner is HBO, who walked away with three of the four top spots, thus reestablishing themselves as the best network around.

For more on our favorite shows, we've included links to DVD reviews and series blogs below, as well as interviews with "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston, executive producers David S. Goyer ("FlashForward") and Kurt Sutter ("Sons of Anarchy"), and "Bored to Death" creator Jonathan Ames. Plus, don't miss our stable of Honorable Mentions, and a list of the shows we can't wait to return in 2010. 

1
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Previous Rank: NR
Curb Your EnthusiasmIt's been two years since "Curb Your Enthusiasm" last aired, and while any other show would probably see a massive drop in viewers in that amount of downtime, the HBO comedy appears to be doing pretty -- pretty -- pretty good. The fact that this season revolves around the much ballyhooed "Seinfeld" reunion (or anti-reunion, as it were) certainly helps, but so far, the return of Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine has come in a distant second to the ongoing adventures of Larry David, who continues his reign as one of the funniest men on television. From hatching a plan to dump his cancer-stricken girlfriend to exploiting the benefits of dating a handicapped woman, Larry gets himself in the kind of situations that are so ridiculous you can't help but laugh. David may not be the world's greatest actor, but he's also pretty underrated, and his exaggerated portrayal of himself only gets funnier with each passing year. The same goes for the writing, particularly in the midseason episode "The Bare Midriff," which contained one of the best endings in the history of the show. Consider our enthusiasm officially uncurbed. – Jason Zingale
Curb Your Enthusiasm Blog l Season 4 DVD review l Season 5 DVD review l Season 6 DVD review
2
True Blood
Previous Rank: NR
True BloodMaking its TV Power Rankings debut in March 2008 at the quite-reasonable #9 spot, "True Blood" earned our respect by using a world where vampires live among humans to explore core themes, such as intolerance, addiction and family. Of course, the sex and violence didn't exactly hurt, either, and when the series returned for Season Two with both ingredients still in abundance, the words "sophomore slump" left our vocabulary. Creator Alan Ball managed to please more fans of Charlaine Harris's original novels than anyone could possibly have hoped, and if many of the show's female fans spent the season demanding that Sookie hurry and hook up with Eric, the introduction of gorgeous new blood – pardon the pun – into the series via Michelle Forbes, Deborah Ann Wall, Ashley Jones, Anna Camp and Evan Rachel Wood certainly kept the menfolk happy. Storylines involving shapeshiftin' Sam and his new girl Daphne, the Fellowship of the Sun, and the great and powerful Godric kept us enthralled all season long, and although the finale may have been a disappointment compared to the 11 episodes that preceded it, the fact that we can start Season Three without Maryann the Maenad makes it all worthwhile. – Will Harris
True Blood Blog l Season 1 DVD review l Sam Trammell interview
3
Mad Men
Previous Rank: NR
Mad MenWe've got to hand it to series creator Matthew Weiner. Not only has his show about the booze-, smoke- and sexism-filled world of mid-century advertising become the most awarded and critically acclaimed program on television, he also managed a season finale so remarkable it forced us to completely rewrite this description. The unusually fast moving episode reached a new high in brutal emotion and devilish entertainment as super-adman Don Draper reacts to the news that Sterling Cooper is about to be absorbed by "sausage factory" super-firm McCann Erickson. Setting aside his ego and independence, he mends fences and builds a new corporate family – even as his actual family breaks up for real as wife Betty heads to Reno for the 1963 version of a quickie divorce. As the episode ended, Sterling Cooper was essentially dead, replaced by Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and with most – but not all – of its best people intact and working toward the same goal. With new advertising worlds to conquer, the Beatles about to arrive, and one of the most memorable assortments of characters in recent TV history on board, we can barely wait for 2010/1964. – Bob Westal
Mad Men Blog l Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Elisabeth Moss interview l Cast of Mad Men interview
4
Entourage
Previous Rank: NR
EntourageAfter last season's creative collapse, it seemed like "Entourage" might never bounce back. Kudos to executive producer Doug Liman, then, for turning things around with one of the best years in the show's history. Though Adrian Grenier has never played a very big role on the series, his character has always dictated the direction of the story. When Vince's career was suffering, so were his friends, but once he returned to the top of the A-list, the other guys were given the opportunity to make some strides of their own. Kevin Dillon and Jerry Ferrara, in particular, really shined in some of the season's best subplots (Turtle as he dealt with life dating a celebrity and Drama as his TV career experienced a series of highs and lows), while the emergence of Ari Gold's softer side allowed Jeremy Piven to inject a little humility into his performance. Still, for what it's worth, the show's real MVP is Kevin Connelly, who continues to deliver great work year in and year out. With all five guys enjoying some kind of success, however, it'll be interesting to see how long "Entourage" can keep things fresh. Ideally, they'll wrap it up soon while they're still on top. – JZ
Entourage Blog l Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3, Part 1 DVD review l Season 3, Part 2 DVD review l Season 4 DVD review l Season 5 DVD review
5
Glee
Previous Rank: NR
GleeThere isn't a show on this list that we love and hate with the same enthusiasm that we have for "Glee." It contains some of the best-drawn characters in Fox's history (aspiring diva Rachel Berry, adorable germaphobe Emma Pillsbury, cantankerous alpha female Sue Sylvester), and the iTunes chart-burning musical numbers, lip synching aside, are deliriously fun. Imagine, then, if they didn't make these characters jump through such ridiculous hoops. Will's wife is actually going to take her fake pregnancy to term? Emma agrees to marry Ken, but only as long as they never tell a soul? (Those plot threads brought to you by Bad Idea Jeans.) Yet for each blunder the show makes, they come up with something as brilliantly funny as Finn's technique for not climaxing (he thinks about the time when he hit the mailman with his car), or the drama queen freak show that is Sandy Ryerson (a pitch-perfect Stephen Tobolowsky). Getting Josh Groban to do a cameo as a horndog version of himself, meanwhile – and hit on Will's drunk mother – was a moment of "Arrested Development"-style genius. Yes, it's made mistakes, but "Glee" gets a spot in our Top Five because no other show on TV sports dialogue like "mentally ill ginger pygmy with eyes like a bush baby." But man, it would be a wonderful world if they did. – David Medsker
6
The Office
Previous Rank: #2
The OfficeMost sitcoms go the way of the dodo when the two "will they/won't they" characters finally admit that they love each other. But "The Office" is an ensemble, and Steve Carrell is just as much the show's star as either John Krasinski or Jenna Fischer, so when Jim and Pam did finally get together, it wasn't a game-changer. In Season Five, the writers regularly checked in with the happy couple, but focused more on the professional and personal trials and tribulations of Michael Scott. Season Six has featured Jim's promotion (much to Michael's chagrin) and, of course, his wedding, which brought the entire office to Niagara Falls. "The Office" isn't afraid to switch gears or put its characters in new (and always awkward) situations, and that's what keeps the show fresh. There are still those that swear by the brilliant U.K. original, but the U.S. version has long since developed its own identity. Ricky Gervais is amazed with the development of his little brainchild, and that's a testament to what developer Greg Daniels has accomplished in five-plus seasons. Let's hope he can keep this train on the tracks for five more. – John Paulsen

Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review l Season 4 DVD review l Season 5 DVD review l Oscar Nunez interview l Melora Hardin interview
7
30 Rock
Previous Rank: #3
30 RockIt's gotten to the point where those of you who aren't watching "30 Rock" – and there are quite a few of you, judging from the show's perennially unimpressive ratings – are probably doing so out of spite, just to try and do your part to counteract all the awards and critical hype that's been heaped on the Tina Fey-led sitcom since it debuted. It's understandable, but there's really no good reason to miss the weekly bursts of inspired lunacy coming out of this series. Using the show's fictionalized version of NBC to spoof the network's real-life cost-cutting frenzy, "30 Rock" has spent the first few episodes of the season following an arc that has Liz Lemon and her boss being ordered to hire a new cast member who will resonate with Middle America, with predictably acidic results (the October 29 episode guest starred Jeff Dunham as a filthy-mouthed ventriloquist whose blue routine sent up the stereotype of rural Americans as simple, goodhearted folk). Whether you're in the mood for pointed pop culture satire or the sort of cracked non sequiturs that only Tracy Morgan can deliver, "30 Rock" is one of the best, most consistently hilarious sitcoms on the air. – Jeff Giles
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Jack McBrayer interview l Tina Fey & Jane Krakowski interview
8
FlashForward
Previous Rank: NR
FlashForwardWith "Lost" entering its final season, ABC wasted no time finding a replacement for its weekly Time-Bending Drama slot, and even cast two "Lost" regulars to ease the transition. Loosely based on Robert Sawyer's 1999 novel, "FlashForward" is not as steeped in mythology as "Lost," but the questions it poses – would you want to see your future, how much faith would you put in it if you did, and what would you do to change it if you didn't like what you saw? – are no less profound. The show has boasted some impressive eye candy in the process, including a tracking shot at the opening of Episode Four (scored to Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet," no less) that stands as one of the coolest things we've seen on television this year. And holy mackerel, take a look at the supporting cast. The golden-throated Shohreh Aghdashloo in a mysterious bit part? Dominic Monaghan, "Lost's" affable Charlie, as the villain? Hell, yes. We're not sure how they're going to set up a second season, but for the moment, the future of "FlashForward" looks bright, indeed. – DM
David S. Goyer interview
9
The Big Bang Theory
Previous Rank: #14
The Big Bang TheoryHere's a show that not only continues to climb up our list, but is also on its way to becoming the most-watched comedy on network TV (if it isn't already). We're big fans of the antics of Sheldon, Leonard, Penny, Howard and Raj  -- at least as much as they are of "Battlestar Galactica." But given the direction the show's taken in its third season, Penny may end up owning a Cylon toaster of her own before long. We always knew Leonard and Penny would get together someday, but there've been moments this season when we've found ourselves crying "Too soon!" over the fact that the girl next door now refers to the geek across the hall as her "boyfriend." What exactly are co-creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady doing? Surely they've got a Cylon-sized plan up their sleeves, and something's got to cause a rift between the lovebirds sooner or later, because this show's got to play out for at least another five seasons. (It's a hit sitcom on CBS, so five years is probably low-balling it.) In any case, it isn't any less funny and remains appointment TV every Monday night, just so we can see sights like Howard and Raj attempting to pick up chicks at a goth club, replete with makeup and fake tattoos. – Ross Ruediger
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Johnny Galecki interview l Jim Parsons interview
10
Torchwood
Previous Rank: NR
TorchwoodThere wasn't a whole lot of quality TV on this summer, which made the five-night miniseries "Children of Earth" something of an event. It seemed a tad disappointing that a series with two successful 13-episode seasons under its belt was only granted a five episode order for its third season, but once we tuned in, the disappointment dissipated pretty quickly. It was a stunning feast unveiled over five consecutive nights that saw the Earth essentially held hostage by a particularly nasty alien known as the 456. All the 456 wanted was our children – a tenth of them, in fact. Behind the scenes, spineless politicians scrambled to remedy the situation, only to discover they were helpless. Before long, the decision was made: let's give them what they're asking for. It was utterly horrific, but perhaps not nearly as nightmare-inducing as the reasoning behind the 456's demands. Naturally, Team Torchwood, led by the immortal Capt. Jack Harkness, stepped in, but not without massive complications along the way. Before the grim storyline was over, there was plenty of death, including the loss of yet another member of Torchwood. No announcement has yet been made about a fourth season, but the ratings were high, and rumors suggest it's only a matter of time before Jack returns to fight another day and night. – RR
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review
11
How I Met Your Mother
Previous Rank: #10
How I Met Your Mother

If you go back and read our previous write-up for "How I Met Your Mother," you'll note that nowhere in our appreciation of the show's fourth season did we make mention of Barney's ongoing infatuation with Robin. It's not that we didn't trust creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas to make the world's predominant preacher of the Bro Code and the show's resident Canadian work as a couple. Frankly, we just figured they'd pull a fast one on us and go a different direction. It never occurred to us that they'd actually go through with it. But, indeed, that's been the thrust of Season Five thus far, along with Ted's new gig as a college professor, and Marshall and Lily -- well, they're just kind of being themselves, but that's all we ask of them, anyway. Things aren't necessarily moving forward at a rapid clip, but an instant-classic episode like "The Sexless Innkeeper" almost would've been enough to earn the show its spot in the Rankings in and of itself, and the fact that "Duel Citizenship" featured a vocal appearance from Kenny Rogers was the definitive deal-sealer. – WH

Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review l Season 4 DVD review l Josh Radnor interview
12
Fringe
Previous Rank: NR
Fringe

Between Season One’s finale and Season Two’s premiere, “Fringe” was, for that moment, as good as TV got. Agent Olivia Dunham was pulled out of a moving car into a parallel universe – where the Twin Towers, natch, were still standing – only to discover the laws of physics waiting patiently for her when she returns to her universe, at which point she is thrown through the windshield of her now-stationary car. That, however, pales to the monster reveal that Peter Bishop died as a child in our universe, so his father Walter traveled to the other universe to steal the still-living Peter from the “other” Walter. (John Noble has to be positively giddy about the prospect of playing two Walters, especially when one of them must be mad as hell.) Since these two bombshells have been dropped, the show has been in Monster of the Week mode, though trouble is brewing on the horizon in the form of a group of shape shifters who want to tear down the wall between the universes. Now if Fox would just move the damn thing to any night other than Thursdays – “Fringe” is currently taking a beating in the ratings – we, and our DVRs, would breathe a sigh of relief that the show has a chance to see its delightfully odd vision through. – DM

Season 1 DVD review l John Noble interview
13
Modern Family
Previous Rank: NR
Modern FamilyRemember when Fox cancelled "Arrested Development," only for ABC to be rumored to swoop in and save it? Well, that never came to fruition, but it sure feels like it with "Modern Family," a mockumentary-style comedy about a seemingly dysfunctional clan that is actually a lot sweeter than the Bluths could ever hope to be. Following the lives of three households from the same extended family, "Modern Family" came racing out of the gate as the funniest new show of the year (with quite arguably one of the funniest pilots of the last decade) and hasn't shown signs of slowing down yet. The writing on the show is certainly as sharp as "Arrested Development," but it wouldn't mean a thing without such a great ensemble cast. Ed O'Neill is fantastic as family patriarch Jay Pritchett, while Sofia Vergara (who plays his much younger and hotter Columbian wife, Gloria) is fast becoming the scene-stealing star of the show. For the time being, however, that honor goes to Ty Burrell, the goofy husband of Jay's daughter, Claire, who believes he's the hip dad on the block. Bonus points to creators Christopher Lloyd and Steve Levitan for skewering typical TV stereotypes (a gay guy who likes football?) and casting child actors that are just as good as the adults. – JZ
Ed O'Neill interview
14
Sons of Anarchy
Previous Rank: NR
Sons of AnarchyWhen "Sons of Anarchy" debuted on FX last fall, it was anyone's guess as to whether or not it would survive beyond its first year. Though the show had its share of supporters, it wasn't necessarily setting any kind of records in terms of ratings. This year, however, is a completely different story. Not only has "Sons" become the highest rated scripted cable show in the all-important 18 to 49 adult demo, but its sudden surge in popularity has been backed up with some of the most exciting writing on television. From inner club conflicts to the arrival of a new villain (a wonderfully sly and slimy Adam Arkin), this year has been even better than the last. Katey Sagal continues to deliver the best work of her career as a strong independent woman struggling to come to terms with being raped, while Ryan Hurst has been nothing short of brilliant as the emotionally impaired Opie. "Deadwood" alum Dayton Callie also lights up the screen every time he's around and Mark Boone Junior is thriving in the role of the club's neutral mediator. Comparisons to "The Sopranos" be damned, but between David Chase's late great HBO series and FX's own "The Shield," "Sons of Anarchy" is quickly earning its place as one of the best modern dramas on TV. – JZ
Sons of Anarchy Blog l Season 1 DVD review l Ron Perlman interview l Kurt Sutter interview
15
Dexter
Previous Rank: NR
DexterLike "The Sopranos," Dexter always has a theme that is explored within a season as a backdrop to the episodic progression of the show. Last season, it examined friendship within the context of Dexter's secret world, and Jimmy Smits was brilliant as his first and only pal. This year explores the facets of intimate relationships, and balancing work and the rest of your life as it relates to it. Dexter (played with brilliant sincerity and conviction by Michael C. Hall) is struggling to find balance between his work as a blood splatter analyst, a new dad of an infant, stepfather to his wife's kids, and his hobby of killing and dismembering other bad guys, while his entertainingly foul-mouthed sister Deb implodes the most stable relationship of her life when she sleeps with returning lover and retired FBI agent Frank Lundy. John Lithgow is also scary good as the Trinity Killer, the latest object of Dexter's attention. When Trinity kills Lundy and wounds Deb while making it look like another killer's signature, Dex is commanded by the ghost of Harry to seek revenge, making this season as entertaining as any in the past – no easy feat considering how consistently good this show has been. – R. David Smola

Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Julie Benz interview
16
Californication
Previous Rank: NR
CalifornicationThe third season premise of placing man-child Hank Moody and his insatiable sexual appetite in the world of academia is a brilliant plot device. David Duchovny continues his fabulous work on this grotesquely inappropriate and hilarious Showtime comedy as he continues to explore the human id let loose in beautiful La La land. Mix in some fabulous work by Kathleen Turner as foul-mouthed Sue Collini, and Rick Springfield playing a naughty version of himself, and the show feels like it's getting better and better. Moody is in the middle of an endless sea of attractive pursuers, including his teaching assistant, the wife of the dean (played with terrific arrogance and cluelessness by Peter Gallagher), and a stripper/writer in who Moody sees potential (and a great set of knockers), played by Susan Sarandon's daughter, Eva Murri. Moody is really struggling with the pitfalls of being a single dad, while Chalie Runkle struggles to save his collapsed marriage (Springfield helps to muddy up this situation in a priceless episode). Duchovny is brilliantly funny while portraying a man who can't seem to find happiness no matter how much tang he defiles, weed he smokes, or booze he downs. We do have to pause and wonder how much of Moody is really based on Duchovny, considering his recent transgressions, but "Californication" is still must-watch television. – RDS
Season 1 DVD review l David Duchovny interview l Pamela Adlon interview
17
Weeds
Previous Rank: NR
WeedsWhile it's classified as a comedy, the creators of "Weeds" always manage to keep us on the edge of our collective seats, and at times make us scream "holy shit!" So in Season Five, they picked up the storyline about Nancy being pregnant with the evil drug lord/mayor Esteban's child after she had ratted out his entire underground operation. And with each episode, there were more of those "holy shit" moments, affirming this as one of those shows you look forward to and just have to watch each week because it's so well-written, the acting is stellar, and because you never know what is going to happen. The crowning moment was in the finale, when Pilar is telling Nancy at a party that she planned to kill Silas and Shane and make it look like an accident. Suddenly someone hits Pilar in the head with a mallet, where she drops into the pool with blood spurting from her head. Holding the mallet? Shane. There was that "holy shit!" moment, and now we have to patiently wait for next season. – Mike Farley
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review l Season 4 DVD review l Justin Kirk interview
18
Rescue Me
Previous Rank: NR
Rescue MeThere were several moments throughout Season Three and Four that had us wondering if it was time for the series to wrap things up. But after the writer's strike, the creators regrouped and returned with a bang in the form of a 22-episode Season Five. The show revisited its core – Tommy Gavin and his relationship problems – and for much of the season's run, Tommy juggled three women: his ex-wife Janet, his ex-girlfriend Sheila and his new flame Kelly. Callie Thorne deserves special recognition for her powerful performance in the season's fifth episode – the aptly titled "Sheila" – where she delivers a stunning four-minute monologue about how she felt after seeing revealing footage from 9/11 of her late husband. But back to Tommy -- he is a complete screw-up when it comes to the fairer sex, and his dealings with these three lovely ladies (and their dealings with each other) were often hilarious. Plus, he's far more entertaining when he's drinking, and in Season Five, he drank a lot. He even managed to turn the table on a planned intervention and convinced all the attendees that they should jump off the wagon. Now that's some serious charisma, and it's one of the things that makes the show so much fun to watch. – JP
Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 3 DVD review l Denis Leary interview
19
Community
Previous Rank: NR
CommunityIt always seems to be a struggle for NBC to find the perfect foursome of comedies on Thursday night, but at long last, it appears that they've done it. Obviously, "The Office" and "30 Rock" are solid, but not only has "Parks and Recreation" finally found its groove, but the latest addition to the line-up, "Community," was hilarious from the moment it left the gate. As Jeff Winger, the former attorney who's forced to return to college when his degree is invalidated, Joel McHale is perfectly snarky, and the members of the show's ensemble – Chevy Chase, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Danny Pudi, Donald Glover, Yvette Nicole Brown and Ken Jeong – work together effortlessly to produce some serious laughs. The best part about "Community," however, is the way it manages to offer a little bit of heart within its humor. To those who would argue that the show is still finding its feet, we'd advise that you attend a screening of "Introduction to Statistics," a.k.a. the Halloween episode, which is arguably the strongest episode of the show to date. Screw Marc Singer: Pierce Hawthorne is the Beastmaster. – WH
Cast of Community interview
20
South Park
Previous Rank: #8
South ParkBy all rights, "South Park" should have jumped the shark more than a decade ago. When a show gets its start with jokes about flaming fart-inducing alien anal probes, odds are it's going to run out of ideas sooner than later. But in their 13th season, Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny are arguably better than ever, thanks to two things: the biting social commentary of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and a speedy production schedule that allows the show to chime in on stories while they're still making the news. Take, for instance, the October 28 episode, "Whale Whores," which mocks the Animal Planet series "Whale Wars," and Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," or "Dead Celebrities," the October 7 episode that imagines that Michael Jackson's delusional spirit is keeping Billy Mays and Farrah Fawcett from moving on to the hereafter. Topical stuff for a show that made its bones with a piece of talking poop. And don't worry that the show is losing its gross edge – we're talking about a season that has shown us a police detective pushing a gallon of semen out of his ass. – JG

Season 1 DVD review l Season 2 DVD review l Season 5 DVD review l Season 6 DVD review l Season 7 DVD review l Season 8 DVD review l Season 9 DVD review l The Hits DVD review l Cult of Cartman DVD review
HONORABLE MENTIONS

Bored to Death (HBO) 
Bored to Death Meet Jonathan Ames, a brokenhearted novelist with writer's block. What does he do to pass the time? He moonlights as an inexperienced and unlicensed private detective who advertises on Craigslist. His cases range from the trivial (retrieving a stolen skateboard) to the critical (finding a missing person). When he's not stumbling and bumbling his way through a case, he shoots the shit with his regularly unhappy friend Ray and his wealthy boss George, who sometimes get roped into Jonathan's hijinks. This "noir-rotic" comedy could only be set in Brooklyn, and it effectively uses the borough's quirky character as a backdrop. Zach Galifianakis signed on before his career blew up due to "The Hangover," so let's hope that HBO can keep this talented cast together for a while, because 11 years after his brilliant turn in "Rushmore," Jason Schwartzman finally seems at home playing someone other than Max Fischer. – JP

Castle (ABC) 
Castle ABC's "Castle" may be a step behind its fellow crime procedurals in terms of overall quality, but it has a secret weapon in leading man Nathan Fillion. Though most other series depend on a variety of elements to make the show work, "Castle" succeeds solely because of Fillion's involvement. Sure, Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever are fun as his new cop buddies, Molly C. Quinn is simply adorable as his teenage daughter, and Stana Katic is the perfect yin to Fillion's yang, but there's no way "Castle" would have ever seen a second season were it not for Fillion's performance as the title character. His giddy, childlike enthusiasm for each new murder of the week is unlike any other detective on television. Granted, he isn't actually a detective at all, but considering that he usually plays a part in solving the case at hand, he should be deputized immediatetly. The series itself is pretty hit-and-miss, but even during the show's less memorable episodes, there are always a few good laughs to be found. Plus, any show that references "Firefly" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in the same episode gets my seal of approval. – JZ 

Cougar Town (ABC) 
Cougar Town Yeah, yeah, we know: the title's a bit dodgy. But Bill Lawrence, who co-created the show with Kevin Biegel, has said, "The roll of the dice I've made is that the title is noisy and that people will be aware of this show." True enough, though the fact that the series stars Courtney Cox would've probably done a pretty decent job of putting it on people's radar, anyway. The pilot alone was strong enough to suggest that "Cougar Town" could prove to be the perfect series for female viewers who've outgrown "Sex and the City," but with enough of a dysfunctional family element to fit perfectly into the closing slot in ABC's new Wednesday night comedy line-up. Although the show continues to hone its comedic formula, the trio of Cox, Christa Miller and Busy Philipps clicked immediately (particularly the latter two, with their characters' diametrically opposed personalities), and the relationship between the teenaged Travis and his man-child of a father rings true with its blend of unconditional love and complete embarrassment. Now that Jules's fling with Josh is over, however, we're curious to see who'll be next on her slate to date -- and how long this one will last. – WH 

Dollhouse (FOX)  
Dollhouse Word leaked as we were going to press with this piece that Fox had officially pulled the plug on “Dollhouse,” and while we’re disappointed, we are definitely not surprised. We will readily admit that “Dollhouse” is the weakest of Joss Whedon’s television efforts, but there is no denying that it is also his most ambitious show, and when it’s firing, there are few shows that can top it. The second season so far is a tad too similar to the self-contained episodes in the first season, but the groundwork for a far grander story arc was slowly coming together. Senator Daniel Perrin received a mystery package full of damaging intel about the Dollhouse, and Langton knows that Echo is trying to teach the other dolls to be more self-aware. The best development to date, though, is a more intimate one; Topher faces his first crisis of conscience and tries to help Sierra, only to lead her to kill someone. All this, and Summer Glau on the horizon. We may not have always loved it, but that won’t stop us from watching until the very end. And the end is nigh. – DM

Eastbound & Down (HBO) 
Eastbound & Down HBO renewed "Eastbound & Down" for a second season after the first ended with a pretty hefty cliffhanger. Washed-up pitcher Kenny Powers was supposed to get another shot at the majors, and convinced his high school sweetheart April to dump her fiancé and come with him. But after his agent called to tell him that the deal fell through, Kenny couldn't tell April the truth, so he ditched her at a gas station. The creators have been very tight lipped about what's in store for Season Two, but Kenny has to come back to Shelby eventually, right? April was dumb enough to fall for his act once – will she do it again? We'll find out in 2010. – JP

Hung (HBO) 
Hung It took a few episodes for "Hung" to hit its stride and for the audience to get the rhythm of this more subtle and understated comedy with real bittersweet and poignant moments thrown in for good measure. Thomas Jane is terrific as Ray Drecker, a man who peaked in high school. When an injury ruined his promising baseball career, he settled for teaching history and coaching basketball in a suburban Detroit high school. Ray turns to his one best asset (his big package) to help supplement his income and rebuild the home he inherited from his parents that burned terribly in an electrical fire. Anne Heche is pitch perfect as his ex-wife who marries a nerdy dermatologist for money and security, and Jane Adams is terrific as Ray's disheveled but well-intentioned pimp, Tanya. Rebecca Creskoff steals the show every time she's on screen as Lenore, who at season's end has forced a merger to co-manage Ray and his measurable talent. – RS

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX) 
It's Always Sunny in PhiladelphiaWith Season One episodes entiled "Charlie Wants an Abortion," "Charlie Has Cancer" and "Charlie Got Molested," it's clear that this FX comedy wasn't (and still isn't) targeting a mainstream audience. But it wasn't until the arrival of Danny DeVito in the second season that the show really started to hit its stride, reaching a high point with the Season Four closer, "The Nightman Cometh." While it can be frustrating to watch supposedly intelligent people do stupid things, no one on this show is supposed to be smart. Dennis and Dee are Frank's kids, but the only thing they have in common is that they don't like each other. Mac fancies himself the muscle of the operation, but that's not saying much. And Charlie, well, he's the one that the others like to kick around. Season Five has "The Gang" road-tripping to the Grand Canyon, planning an intervention for Frank, and wrestling for the troops. It's always funny in Philadelphia. – JP

Man vs. Food (Travel Channel) 
Man vs. Food Guy Fieri might have the coolest job on TV, as he gets to cruise around in that old red Camaro and hang with owners and chefs of classic American restaurants. Well, Adam Richman might have the second coolest gig for his Travel Channel show, "Man Vs. Food." For this one, now in its second season, Richman travels to different American cities and visits different eateries, sampling their signature dishes that are typically of the artery-clogging variety, but look downright amazing. Then, at the close of each episode, he participates in a challenge, in which he either has to eat an ungodly quantity of food, or eat food that is spicy enough to burn a hole in cement. Not only does Richman win more than a few of the challenges, but he does a fantastic job of hosting, narrating and just having fun doing it all. – MF

Parks and Recreation (NBC) 
Parks and Recreation Initially billed as some sort of "Office" spinoff, "Parks and Recreation" never really lived up to its heavily hyped debut six-episode run last spring. Despite a talented cast that includes Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones and Aziz Ansari, it generated more chuckles than laughs, and after opening its first season with a seven share, "Parks" saw its ratings steadily dwindle. Well, if you were one of the viewers who turned away from Leslie Knope and her co-workers in the Pawnee, Indiana Department of Parks and Recreation, here's some good news: the show has really found its stride in Season Two, using the same blend of realistically awkward humor and patently ridiculous situations – delivered mockumentary style, natch – found in "The Office." Poehler has turned Leslie into the kind of three-dimensional character worthy of carrying a sitcom, and surrounded her with enough lovable knuckleheads – like Ansari's lecherous Tom Haverford and Chris Pratt's dumb, tent-dwelling Andy Dwyer – to keep the action moving. Plus, this season has Louis C.K. in a wonderfully understated supporting role that's almost funny enough to make us forgive him for the putrid "Lucky Louie." It isn't as funny as "The Office," but it's still got a higher laugh quotient than almost anything else you're going to find on the dial. – JG

Secret Girlfriend (Comedy Central) 
Parks and Recreation Based on a successful internet series, "Secret Girlfriend" is unique in that it stars you. Everyone else on the show – your buddies, Phil and Sam, your ex-girlfriend Mandy, and your girlfriend-to-be Jessica – speaks directly to the camera. Ten years ago, this premise would never have worked, but in the digital age, with texting, video voicemails and such, it does. But the real draw here is the steady dose of T&A – there's some actress/model/whatever-type flirting with you every few minutes. (And if they're not flirting with you, then you're staring at their derriere, which is just as nice.) It's escapism at its twentysomething slacker best. – JP

Supernatural (CW) 
Parks and Recreation This might be television's best-kept secret. "Supernatural," now in its fifth season, has improved immensely since its first, and as time has gone on for Sam and Dean Winchester, the stakes have gotten higher and higher. The last season and a half has been dedicated to the brothers' quest to stop the Apocalypse, but now that Lucifer walks the earth, Sam and Dean find themselves smack dab in the middle of the battle between good and evil. Not only are the storylines compelling, but the show also has a great sense of humor. Anyone who likes sci-fi or fantasy needs to try this series on for size. – JP

V (ABC) 
V It's still too early to tell if this remake of the classic ‘80s series about aliens coming to feast on the flesh of humans is going to go the distance, but damn if they didn't come charging out of the gate, eager to fill the empty "Battlestar Galactica" void. This version of "V" seems to have all the hallmarks of great sci-fi TV: allegory, political commentary, satire, action, spaceships, lizard men, and one smokin' hot alien babe leading the charge. Anna is everything Jane Badler's Diana was back in '83, and maybe just a little bit more. Speaking of Badler, rumors have been swirling as of late that she may be given a guest shot on the show at some point. ("Yes please!") Adding to the "Sucks or rocks?" dilemma is that we're only getting four episodes of "V" throughout November, and then the Visitors will go into hibernation until March of 2010, at which time ABC will unveil another nine installments. Fair enough, but with that kind of gap, they had better be a damn good four episodes. – RR

RETURNING IN 2010

24 (FOX) 
24 Jack Bauer spent the final clock tick of Season Seven in the old soap opera standby, the coma. But his spirit appears to have transferred to Renee Walker, as she was last seen entering the interrogation room holding corporate baddie Alan Wilson, with the intent to, well, torture the bejeezus out of him until he talked. Season Eight of "24" will take place a few hours north on I-95 from Season Seven, where a retired and coma-free Jack will receive intel that President Omar Hassan ("Slumdog Millionaire" game show host Anil Kapoor) is targeted for assassination at the U.N. building before signing a treaty with President Taylor. Chloe O'Brian is working for the revived CTU in New York. No word on when Walker will make her first appearance, but don't be surprised if a certain slimy ex-President (hint to "24" blog readers: Buck Buck Brawwwwwk!) comes to Madame President's aid by season's end. Man, we were wondering when they were going to pick that thread back up. – DM

Big Love (HBO) 
Big LoveIt's never cracked the top 20 of our TV Power Rankings, but "Big Love" has found permanent residence on the fringes of this biannual feature, either as an Honorable Mention or as a Returning Show (as it is in this edition). Of course, the polygamist drama's inability to graduate to our big list has nothing to with the show's quality and everything to do with its subject matter. And yet, despite the fact that "Big Love" makes plenty of people squeamish, HBO is bringing the show back in January for its fourth season, at which time we'll learn if Bill Henrickson will finally get his casino, whether the Henrickson family can forgive Nicki for her actions in season three, whether Bill will again push for a fourth (!) wife, and what Joey's fate will be after he killed Roman Grant in the third-season finale. You wouldn't think a show about the inner workings of a polygamist family would offer so much drama. You'd be wrong. – JC

Breaking Bad (AMC) 
Breaking BadHigh school chemistry teacher Walter White most certainly has broken bad. After learning he had terminal lung cancer and fearing he would leave his wife, teenaged son and newborn daughter penniless, Walt teams up with former student Jesse Pinkman to cook and sell crystal meth. Since then, Walt has (among many other things) blown up a car and a building with his chemical hocus pocus, killed one drug dealer, shot another, and let Jesse's sleeping (and stoned) girlfriend Jane choke to death on her own vomit. He's also repeatedly lied to his wife, poured so much tequila down his 16-year-old son's throat that he threw up in the pool, and missed his daughter's birth to complete a million-dollar drug deal. Bryan Cranston and creator Vince Gilligan have given life to one of the most memorable TV characters in recent history, and the chemistry (no pun intended) between Cranston's Walt and Aaron Paul's Jesse is fantastic. When season 3 debuts in March, we'll find out just how much Walt's wife Skyler now knows about his secret life, and what lengths Walt is willing to go to save his suddenly thriving enterprise. – JC

Chuck (NBC) 
Chuck Chuck Bartowski lives to spy again, and we couldn't be happier. Not that a third season wasn't more than deserved, after a stellar sophomore year which introduced us to Buy More efficiency expert Emmett Milbarge, reunited Chuck and Ellie with their dad, and provided guest appearances by Chevy Chase, Tricia Helfer, Dominic Monaghan, John Larroquette, Andy Richter, Jenny McCarthy, and Bruce Boxleitner and Morgan Fairchild as Captain Awesome's parents. Season Three is set to keep the guest star count rolling ever higher: Already on the call sheet are Vinnie Jones, Angie Harmon, Diedrich Bader, Kristin Kreuk, Armande Assante, Brandon Routh and the one and only "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Now that the show has had its episode count upped from 13 to 19, we're keeping our fingers crossed that 2010 will be the year "Chuck" finally becomes the hit it's always deserved to be. – WH

Damages (FX) 
Damages If this show was on any network other than FX, it probably wouldn't have survived beyond its first season, let alone be preparing for its third. But despite ratings which have been less than impressive, here are we, giddy with anticipation about the impending return to the offices of Hewes and Associates. But as show runner Todd Kessler has said, "We don't try to second-guess what may get more ratings. We're trying to do the best work that we can do that inspires us." Aiding the writers with that inspiration will be Sarah Wynter, Martin Short, Campbell Scott and Reyko Aylesworth, with Lily Tomlin and Keith Carradine also returning in some capacity, and although the primary plotline of the season has yet to be divulged in any detail, there's talk that it involves a financial scheme of some sort. Not that it matters: we'll be there, anyway. – WH 

Doctor Who (BBC America) 
Doctor Who Boasting a new Doctor (Matt Smith), a new companion (Karen Gillan), and a new showrunner (Steven Moffat), "Doctor Who" will be returning for its first full season since 2008 (and it moved from SyFy to BBC America, which we think is a good thing). Much of the season is shrouded in a typical veil of secrecy, but expect a few other changes as well, including an updated TARDIS interior, and maybe even a few tweaks to the exterior as well. Still not enough? How about a revamped version of the credits sequence and a new logo? Yes, Moffat seems to be putting his stamp all over the show, as every good "Who" producer does, and we can't wait to see what he's got in store. In the meantime, be sure and check out David Tennant's final three episodes, which kick off in late December. – RR 

Friday Night Lights (NBC) 
Friday Night Lights Look, we're not exactly thrilled that DirecTV subscribers get to see what's going on in Dillon a full four months before the rest of us, but if the satellite company's agreement with the network keeps this great show on the air for a while longer, we'll deal. Season Three ended in turmoil, with the school's decision not to renew Coach Taylor's contract. Instead, he'll start the program over at East Dillon, an old high school that was reopened due to the town's decision to redistrict. Like any series that follows high school students, "Friday Night Lights" is going to lose some beloved characters as time wears on, but as long as Eric and Tami are still together, we're game. Oh, and a little Zen from Tim Riggins doesn't hurt, either. – JP

Lost (ABC) 
Lost Here we are, folks. After five seasons of confusing viewers with one of the most elaborate mythologies on television, "Lost" is finally in the home stretch. Want to know what the heck that smoke monster really is? How about the weird statue? Heck, what about the Dharma Initiative itself? All will supposedly be revealed in the sixth and final season of one of the smartest, most fearless shows network television has ever bothered to offer. Of course, this being "Lost," we still have something to bitch about – namely, that the goddamn Olympics will interrupt the show's final 18 episodes – but if we've waited this long to determine the ultimate fate of our favorite island castaways, what's a few weeks of curling and cross-country skiing? We've all had our issues with the way "Lost" has unfolded over the years, and the show isn't the phenomenon it was in its first couple of seasons. To cop one of the fall's most popular phrases, though, this is it – and if there's ever been a serialized drama with the guts to stick the landing and make its finale truly count, we're betting it's "Lost." – JG

Scrubs (NBC) 
Scrubs The next time we see the inside of Sacred Heart Hospital, it's going to look very different. In fact, we're still not sure how often we're even going to see the hospital now that "Scrubs" is moving John C. McGinley and Donald Faison (the only original cast members returning full-time) out of the ER and into the classroom. There are still a lot of questions to be answered regarding the major shake-up happening on the popular medical comedy: What will it be like without Zach Braff? Or for that matter, the rest of the cast? And will it still be funny without Bill Lawrence around as showrunner? – but we're confident that ABC wouldn't have renewed the series if they didn't think it would work. The recently announced December 1 premiere date is just around the corner, so it looks like we won't have to wait too long to find out. – JZ 

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Around the Web
ENTERTAINMENT NEWS