Alicia and Cary’s audacious launch of Florrick-Agos was the domino that tipped Season 5 into breathtaking overdrive. The subsequent pileup of intricately conceived and executed story arcs — Will’s unhinged fury and quest for dominance of the Chicago legal scene! Diane’s stinging loss of a promised judgeship! Peter’s ongoing ethical murkiness! Eli’s spit-take about an upcoming baby who’ll have the same name as his boss! — have turned network TV’s best series into TV‘s best series — period.
Best Drama (Runner-Up)
Every moment of the AMC drama’s final season was worth its weight in Heisenberg’s premium product, no small accomplishment for a series in its fifth year.
Parks and Recreation
NBC may forever keep us guessing exactly when it will (and won’t) be airing, but one thing is for certain: The indefatigable Leslie, husband Ben, manly-man Ron, riotous Retta et al will always strike the perfect tone of sweet and sour.
Best Comedy (Runner-Up)
As Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ profane, insecure Selina Meyer endured countless humiliations while feeling out her own POTUS ambitions, her supporting staff — the incomparable Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky and Reid Scott, among them — redefined the meaning of “brutally funny.”
This dismal ABC pilot asked us to cheer on two near strangers as they commit infidelity — just because his wife’s a little older and her husband didn’t go gaga for the tie she bought him. The big mystery wasn’t “Who shot our protagonist?” but rather, “Where’s the Pepto-Bismol?”
The show’s pilot drew fire for a scene in which video-game designers Eli (Seth Green) and Warner (Giovanni Ribisi) have their top female executive (Brenda Song) dress up like a sexy Asian schoolgirl, but punch lines from subsequent episodes about the “AIDS craze” and the bummer of having a birthday on 9/11 have proven the show’s knack for pushing the envelope — without ever pushing our funny buttons. (No, that violently aggressive laugh track doesn’t count.)
Most Improved Drama
Yes, Season 2 almost collapsed under the weight of the dragged-out “Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” mystery, but Season 3’s investigation into the serial murders of teenage prostitutes — and a gripping sidebar involving Peter Sarsgaard’s complicated death-row inmate — returned Linden and Holder to their position as TV’s moodiest (and most intriguing) crime-solving duo.
Most Improved Comedy
The Mindy Project
The sophomore sitcom’s talented ensemble found its touchingly wacky groove this season – and Danny’s Secret Santa dance for a heartbroken Mindy didn’t hurt, either. Nope, you won’t find the best romantic comedy in America on the big screen, but rather, Tuesday nights on Fox.
Most Underrated Drama
Don’t be put off by all the blood — Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller allows his whimsical style to take a dark turn, and the result is a creepy, carefully wrought, cannibalistic treat.
Most Underrated Comedy
Season 4 found a married Jules and Grayson grappling with living under the same roof — and navigating her dad’s health woes — but the Cul-de-Sac Crew’s heightened hijinks remained as guffaw-inducing as ever. Let’s all pound some grape and toast TBS for saving this gem from ABC’s scrap heap!
Most Disappointing Show
Tudors star Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ heralded TV return turned out to be an anemic, slow-moving retread of oft-told bloodsucker lore.
(Runner-up: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Best New Drama (Tie)
House of Cards
Kevin Spacey. Robin Wright. Directors such as David Fincher. An outstanding supporting cast. Netflix and show boss Beau Willmon stacked the deck with aces when adapting this BBC series.
Best New Drama (Tie)
A spooky take on American history, the excellent chemistry between leads Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie and humor in all the right places (“Farewell, Yolanda”) took the supernatural series from “This can’t work” to “We can’t wait until the next episode!”
Best New Comedy
The sharply defined characters and warmly goofy camaraderie of Fox’s freshman cop comedy are the kinds of winning traits most sitcoms don’t perfect even after years on the air.
Best Single Episode (Drama)
“Ozymandias,” Breaking Bad
How’s this for intense? Hank dies, Walt and Skyler get into a knife fight and then Heisenberg takes off for a brand new life; this episode was the gut-punch that put everything in motion for the series’ powerful final hour.
(Runner-up: “Hitting the Fan,” The Good Wife)
Best Single Episode (Comedy)
“The Love Spell Potential,” The Big Bang Theory
Wolowitz’s impressions, Lucy’s awkward date bail-out and a little D&D sex for Amy and Sheldon? Best botched Vegas girls’ trip ever!
(Runner-up: “Turkey in a Can,” Bob’s Burgers)
Best Series Finale
The eye-rolling series out-meta’d itself with a final hour chock full of Liz-and-Jack sturm und drang, Kenneth in charge and a moving rendition of the Rural Juror theme song. We’ll miss ya, Liz.
Worst Series Finale
Yeah, OK, we understood NBC pre-empting a week of its low-rated horror series about a group of besieged reality contestants to air coverage of the birth of Prince George. But by combining the show’s 11th and 12th episodes to create a completely inscrutable finale — ending with the pilot episode’s “host” stumbling upon the surviving contestants in a burnt-out village and blurting, "You're not supposed to be here!" — we reached the end of the book and discovered the last 30 pages were missing.
Best New Show That Too Few Are Watching
Ostensibly the “grittiest” of USA Network’s “blue sky” dramas, this look at the federal law enforcement “all-star team” living together in a sweet beach house served up almost weekly nailbiters, usually involving its sketchy antihero, Paul Briggs.
(Runner-up: Trophy Wife)
Cancellation That Hurt the Most
This holiday season, we can’t help but wonder what happened to Hip Hop Santa. (Is it crazy, though, if we want Mr. Claus to shop ABC’s cult classic around one last time to those clueless cablers that didn’t rescue it?)
Endangered Show We’re Most Worried About
The Carrie Diaries
Perhaps the poor ratings are screaming for more Sex-y action, but we like this sweet, charming drama about Carrie Bradshaw’s high-school years just the way it is.
Endangered Show We’re Least Worried About
The X Factor
Despite the undeniable awesomeness of Season 3 winners Alex & Sierra, we just cahhhhhhhhn’t handle another round of Simon Cowell promising format improvements and more invested mentors, then ending up with at least one incomprehensible panelist (Paula! Britney! ¡Paulina!), overblown productions, horrific results and general disdain for the show’s participants. J’enough!
‘The Wire Memorial Award’ for World-Class Drama Ignored in Perpetuity by the Emmys
For five seasons, TNT’s (formerly NBC’s) drama — led by the stunning Michael Cudlitz and Regina King — gave us an unflinching and occasionally heartbreaking look at the lives of Los Angeles beat cops and detectives. Its final spate of episodes — with a harrowing murder of one of their own, Lydia’s connection with a death-row inmate and Officer Cooper’s ambiguous endgame — weren’t always easy to watch, but were nevertheless riveting.
Best New Opening Credits
Confession: Several TVLine staffers emulate Katrina’s shadowy, arms-up conjuring as the Fox series kicks off every week; apparently, we’ve completely fallen under the rollicking theme’s spell.
Best (Albeit Not Most Historically Accurate) Costumes
Mary & Co. dress as though Abercrombie & Fitch outfitted the French court… and we’re really OK with that. (Have you seen the headbands? We die.)
Orange Is the New Black
The Netflix series boasts a uniformly terrific and diverse cast full of breakthrough performances.
Most Underrated Reality Show
RuPaul’s Drag Race
The suspense of Survivor, the creativity of Project Runway, the drama of Love and Hip Hop — plus, better makeup than you’ll see on any of the Real Housewives shows!
Giddy female bonding, outrageous soap opera tropes (paternity issues! bisexual experimentation! ex-dead husbands!) and some of the most brilliantly campy dialogue this side of Central Park West (the soap, not the ‘hood)? Thank Santa (or maybe ABC) that we’re getting a Season 2!
Best “Cool Cred”/”Dinner Party Conversation-Starter” Programming
Top of the Lake
Sundance’s deliberately paced, New Zealand-set crime drama (starring a fabulous Elisabeth Moss) was circuitous, somber and always compelling.
Orange Is the New Black
With a large ensemble, the series only gets richer and better as it delves into Piper’s prisonmates.