The Chicago Code, S1 (FOX) - Warning: they share the same creator but this is not The Shield, the trailblazing, box-breaking roller-coaster of a cop show that put FX on the map. And it's not trying to be. Shot on location, the basic premise involves the Chicago PD superintendent, played by still sexy Jennifer Beals, and her top cop aiming to take down a dirty alderman (Delroy Lindo). That's the season/series long story arc anyway. In between it's normal cop show stuff - bank robberies, culture clashes, class clashes - but enriched by engaging characters far from the cardboard cutouts you're likely to find over at CBS. Not perfect but brimming with potential, and an easy candidate for best new [broadcast] series. Here's hoping it gets a chance to grow (ie, a renewal).
Standouts: Pilot, "Gillis, Chase & Babyface," "The Gold Coin Kid"
30 Rock, S5 (NBC) - It doesn't live up to the hilarious insanity of the first two seasons. But it makes me laugh a whole lot more than last year's limp episodes did. Plus, the Angie reality show.
Standouts: "Live Show," "Brooklyn Without Limits," "Mrs. Donaghy"
The Walking Dead, S1 (AMC) - probably the most buzzed about premiere of the season, more viewers than AMC's ever seen sat down amidst their Halloweekend hangover to watch the debut of Frank Darabont's (The Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile) series about the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. And they were definitely pleased, with Dead delivering a contender for a Best Pilots of All Time list. Still it was hard to digest the stilted, six-episode season that followed. While not matching ep 1's quality, the rest were definitely entertaining but the exploits of Sheriff Rick, his family and a few other Atlanta survivors felt more like one big pilot episode for the real season. Oh well. Don't stay out all night at the parade this year. New season coming on, you guessed it, Oct. 31st.
Standouts: "Days Gone By," "Guts," "Vatos"
Dexter, S5 (Showtime) - It's not hard to hate on this show. It's the mind of a low-aiming CBS procedural trapped in a thought-provoking cable drama's body. Afraid of change, even though this season started with a big one. The supporting cast still sucks. But anytime Dexter or season guest-star Julia Stiles were on screen it was undeniably engaging. The conservativeness of the finale may have been infuriating, but the body of this year had every element that makes this show [occasionally] great. Dark humor: the gay guy escapes out of Dexter's van...while still wrapped in plastic *DEAD*. Nail-biting action: the hotel chase. Genuine heart: see any scene with Dexter and his step-kids. And yet I can't really point out any story advancements or risks this season actually took. As long as it's churning out episodes chock full of those elements it's content. It was still better than season 3 though. And I'll still be there for season 6.
Standouts: "My Bad," "Everything is Illumenated," "Take It!"
Standouts: "Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror," "Chuck vs. the First Fight," "Chuck vs. Phase Three," "Chuck vs. the Push Mix"
Californication, S4 (Showtime) - Unlike the other Showtime show that made this list, this one doesn't have an identity crisis. It's fully aware of the wool it's pulling over your eyes. See, it seems like a comedy, with a lot of funny sex, crazy situations, and unbelievably bad women. But you can't watch this season and not be aware that amid all the hilarity and sex it's actually a really dark, bleak family drama. Actually that was made painfully aware in the season 3 finale, a series best, which propelled us into the story for this season, centered around Hank's trial. I've been hard on this series for being too over-the-top at times and failing to come close to it's near pristine debut season. But they may have done it with this one. It's an astonishing feat to go through a season and laugh your ass off ("Monkey Business") and then just feel really depressed, and very worried ("The Last Supper"). That damn Karen (and now, Becca) still piss me off though.
Standouts: "Monkey Business," "Lights. Camera. Asshole.," "The Trial," "The Last Supper"
Supernatural, S6 (The CW) - Most shows never get to realize their full dream before they get cancelled. So imagine the Supernatural team's amazement when they wrapped their entire series arc last year in terrific fashion, and The CW bosses came calling with new checks and contracts in hand? What's left for the Winchester brothers to fight? How do you top Lucifer? Well now they get to play around. What if Sam returns from hell, but without his soul? Well then he's a hilariously, sometimes scary, amoral douche bag (Jared Padalecki, enjoying not being the boring brother for once). What if the brothers start battling classic monsters instead of just demons? It's been an odd, clearly different season but it still has all the brotherly drama, crazy-gory-scary action, and bleakly dark, well supernatural, stuff. And we're getting to see cool plots they never could've sqeeuzed in before, like an episode from fellow hunter Bobby's POV or the recent new classic where the brothers get transported to a world where...they're on the set of their own show. It's as self-deprecatingly hilarious as it sounds.
Standouts: "Weekend at Bobby's," "Clap Your Hands If You Believe," "Caged Heat," "The French Mistake"
The Vampire Diaries, S2 (The CW) - Hold off on the angry mob and pitchforks. Twilight for TV this is not. Is the title ass? The promos
Standouts: "Kill or be Killed," "Masquerade," "The Descent," "The House Guest"
Fringe, S3 (FOX) - It only took Fringe 1 and 3/4 of a season to live up to the mantle of being a J.J. Abrams Show. To make up for that, once it finally kicked in high gear it skipped good and went straight to great. After a strong s2 finish, season 3 opens as the series' most confident ever. Tired of vampires, werewolves, and/or aliens? Meet this decade's X-Files with a dash of Twilight Zone. Settle in for an epic saga of alternate universes and the heroes caught in the middle of it. When we open, our heroine FBI agent Olivia has been kidnapped by "the other side," where everybody has a double and the world is wacky. (J.F.K. lived? Twin Towers stood?) Meanwhile, her double masquerades as the real Olivia on our Earth, a literal double agent. And the narrative conceit? One episode takes place here, and the next on "Earth-2." Do I even have to say more? This is low-key one of the coolest series on TV. Maybe that's why it just pulled off a hail mary renewal.
Standouts: "Oliva," "The Plateau," "Entrada," "Immortality," "6B."
Modern Family, S2 (ABC) - The best new show of last year continues it's hilarity streak, despite not quite matching the consistent highs of season 1 Critics have complained about the drop-off, but at this point the show's earned my loyalty; I'm content even if it's only mildly funny. The cast is still in top form, but extra MILF Julie Bowen doesn't get as much cred for killing it as the straight woman as she should.
Standouts: "Halloween," "Chirp," "Manny Get Your Gun," "Slow Down Your Neighbors"
Justified, S2 (FX) - Possibly the best dialog to be found anywhere on television this season. The basic premise could make things sooooo procedural -US Marshall with an itchy trigger-finger moves back home to lay down the law- but even in episodes that don't feature an arc this show is a cut above all the other badge shows on the tube. It's hard to decide who deserves an Emmy more: Tim Olyphant as the lead, slick-talking and swagger personified Marshall Raylan Givens, or Walton Goggins as his equally sly childhood friend who may or may not be fated for arch-villainy.
Grade: B+ (Season still continuing)
Standouts: [so far] "The I of the Storm," "Cottonmouth," "The Blaze of Glory," "Save My Love"
Standouts: "SO," "Turning and Turning," "Widening Gyre," "Bainne," "June Wedding," "NS"
Boardwalk Empire, S1 (HBO) - my vote for best new series. It's everything you wanted it to be when you saw the promos. No character is wasted. Bullets fly over illegal alcohol. In between it all Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt deliver tour de force performances. The Sopranos may be over, but all its writers are still running TV. See #1.
Standouts: "Boardwalk Empire," "Family Limitation," "Home," pretty much every ep from there
Standout: Every episode
Disagree with a grade or placement? Are you loving any of these 15 like I am? Mad Jersey Shore didn't make the cut?