STARRING: Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald
HBO’s ambitious Empire took a turning point in U.S. history-1920, when the idealism of World War I began detouring into the Jazz Age-and brought it to life in a teeming gangster epic. Buscemi, as a stupendously corrupt Atlantic City official, cut through the sometimes too-rich period detail with an acidly funny performance.
Mike & Molly
STARRING: Melissa McCarthy, Billy Gardell
Fall’s best new sitcom, on CBS, was about the sweet romance of a plus-size teacher and a cop-their greatest hunger is for intimacy. McCarthy has a rare gift for transmitting emotion: When she’s tenderly happy, so are you.
STARRING: Rico Rodriguez, Sarah Hyland, Nolan Gould, Ariel Winter
Yes, those are the young stars of ABC’s superb family sitcom. I salute them instead of Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen and so on because, in season 2, they matured into the funniest kids’ ensemble ever.
STARRING: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Donald Glover
NBC’s sitcom about a community-college study group went totally rogue in season 2, becoming a daring mash-up of in-jokes and pop references. If anyone can explain the one with Donald Glover bouncing on a trampoline in a secret playground run by a racist loon, let me know.
STARRING: Who do you think?
So, Conan O’Brien took his ginger beard to TBS. The new show has given him the chance to be looser, more indulgently silly-right down to the prop moon dancing across the set. Coco-licious!
STARRING: Donal Logue, Michael Raymond-James
This freshman FX crime drama, about a couple of misfits trying to make it as private eyes, was an original, maybe a classic. I loved its Big Lebowski raffishness and the undercurrent of regret. But it was a flop, and it’s gone. Pity.
Something good happened on FOX’s Glee this year. The brassy Broadway style of Lea Michele was given an occasional breather-and other talented actors got to be heard. Heather Morris, as “Cheerio” Brittany Pierce, can sing and dance too, but it’s her way with a joke that’s unique. The words fall out in a flat, uncomprehending mumble-like wet pebbles. Oh, I heart her.
The Big C
STARRING: Laura Linney
Linney’s control and precision suggest she has the will to make any vehicle work-even a whimsical Showtime comedy about a woman with incurable melanoma. There was, in fact, way too much seize-the-day cuteness, but in the season finale Linney left us all devastated. She has to beat this thing!
The Good Wife
STARRING: Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth
In season 2 of the CBS legal drama, the cases mattered less as the show created a dense web of terse double-crosses and double-dealings within both a Chicago law firm and a political campaign. It’s as addictively complicated as Damages, only without Glenn Close screaming to clear the air. Margulies quietly takes it all in and makes her move.
The Bachelor/The Bachelorette
STARRING: Jake Pavelka, Ali Fedotowsky
Was it because these two rose-bestowers were uncommonly attractive? Or because the ABC franchise has been going on for so long? The series seemed at last to cement itself in public sentiment not just as a program but as a significant ritual, the American Idol of love and also heartbreak.
The Walking Dead
STARRING: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal
AMC had a great year-season 3 of Breaking Bad was the most harrowing yet-but this zombie epic is a landmark in bringing horror to TV. Dead doesn’t deviate from the conventions of the genre-heads exploding, live flesh devoured as if it were barbecue from Emeril Lagasse-but for a weekly series that’s more than enough. The only other show to give me such intense nightmares was $#*! My Dad Says.
“Available for purchase: Dharma Initiative bunker with apocalyptic numeric display … Magic lighthouse-great views! … Stone foot (make best offer).” ABC’s Lost ended May 23 with an episode that smacked of glib spiritualism-Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) was dead and headed for the light-but nothing will ever clear away the fog of mystery that made this fantasy so intriguing for six seasons. What started with a group of plane-crash survivors on a desert island gradually toyed with time travel and ancient myth. It was Gilligan’s Island by Joseph Campbell. A long, strange, wonderful trip.