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H. Jon Benjamin, George Coe, Judy Greer, Chris Parnell, Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter
The smart new animated series by Adam Reed and Matt Thompson (the creators of Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021) follows the exploits of an international espionage agency. Jon Benjamin takes the lead as a playboy spy who is famous for being the world’s greatest secret agent but is in actuality totally lazy, prone to stupid mistakes and obsessed with sex. With a supporting cast including Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter, Chris Parnell, Jeffrey Tambor and Judy Greer, the only character I find to fall flat is the one-note overweight secretary. Otherwise, with its snarky dialogue read as though improvised and its inventive and surprising story lines, this series could even be the spiritual successor to Arrested Development we’ve all been waiting for. Jenn Misko
Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, B. J. Novak, Ed Helms, Melora Hardin, David Denman, Leslie David Baker, Brian Baumgartner
The Office, now in its seventh season, has lost some of its cultural cache as network sitcoms have improved, and the exit of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott this May will surely bring more unproductive charges of shark-jumping, irrelevance, and other stuff you shouldn’t care about if you’re actually watching The Office and enjoying how well it continues to use a large, eclectic ensemble of Dunder Mifflin/Sabre employees. This year, the show has made particularly good use of corporate flunky Gabe (Zach Woods), earnestly ditzy receptionist Erin (Ellie Kemper), and harried parents Pam (Jenna Fischer) and Jim (John Krasinski), along with weird yet perfectly mundane riffs on Pretty Woman, Glee, and Sweeney Todd. Carell is always terrific, but whenever the writers focus on a supporting player, or bring out one of their bravura set pieces where the entire office bounces off each other, they illustrate just how strong the show can be without its anchor. Jesse Hassenger
Friday Night Lights
Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Gaius Charles, Zach Gilford, Minka Kelly, Adrianne Palicki, Taylor Kitsch
18Friday Night Lights
Despite being cut from the regular NBC lineup and now appearing first on DirecTV, the continuously overlooked drama set in Dillon, Texas only seems to be getting better with age. The writers’ gutsy call to move Coach Taylor to the opposite sideline of the state title contender he had helmed for three seasons paid off big time in season four and beyond. The Cat Classic showdown between the Panthers’ preppy squad of spoiled hooligans and the Lions’ scrappy underdogs from the wrong side of town was easily the most exciting hour of television this year, and it could not have been built up to any better. Developer Peter Berg has pulled together a dream cast whose members continue to grow, but the program’s ability to keep its focus on the two main players, Coach and the affectionately labeled Mrs. Coach, is what drives Friday Night Lights to greatness. Ben Travers
Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Zoe Telford, Rupert Graves
It turns out that unmooring Sherlock Holmes from his ubiquitous late 19th century milieu was the best thing that could have been done for the great sleuth. This witty, intelligent and enormously entertaining BBC/PBS co-production drops Conan Doyle’s deathless master detective into fashionable and diverse 21st century London and, wouldn’t you know it, he feels right at home. Played as a “high-functioning sociopath” by the blade-sharp Benedict Cumberbatch, this tech-savvy modern Holmes (“I prefer to text.”) fits as snugly into a fast-paced, impersonal society as his earlier iteration stood out from his mannered and respectable Victorian surroundings. The world, it seems, has come around to his perspective. Grounded but also abetted by the rumpled, solid Dr. John Watson (the ever-reliable Martin Freeman), Holmes deduces his way through breathless conundrums that are simultaneously canonical and dizzyingly original. I, for one, am just as breathless in anticipation of further mysteries to come.
Tina Fey, Jane Krakowski, Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander
Some of 30 Rock’s thunder (and a few of its awards) was stolen in 2010 by Modern Family (no faint praise intended in calling it a poor man’s Arrested Development), but Tina Fey’s endlessly creative series remains the most brilliantly anarchic comedy on television. If her Liz Lemon has no glittering vices, neither does she have any unfunny ones; and the show continues to milk Liz’s seemingly endless capacity to make a titanic ass out of herself. Alec Baldwin continues to be the most gifted comic actor on television. At some point we need a serious debate about where Jack Donaghy ranks among the great comic creations in TV history. The real star of the show remains the unceasingly brilliant writing, which generates more jokes in 30 minutes than any other comedy manages in a half season, some in a full season. Only repeated viewings allow one to grasp just how many truly funny moments fill each episode, and just how many of them manage to drive—cruelly, inexorably—home. Robert Moore
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