Breaking Bad (AMC) Easy. Wannabe meth kingpin Walt (Bryan Cranston) took a back seat to the rest of Breaking Bad’s players for most of Season 4—in particular, letting soul-adrift partner Jesse (Aaron Paul) and vengeful badass Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) gun the car into white-knuckle oblivion. The final face-off (ha!) didn’t take everyone out, but it sets up what should be both an explosive and implosive last run in 2012.
Louie (FX) Not so much an improvement on 2010’s debut season as a ballsy extension: Louis C.K. is fearless at this point, pissing all over the idea that comedy always has to be “funny.” As pretentious as that statement sounds, Louie is anything but.
Homeland (Showtime) A simple concept—a returned prisoner-of-war may be a terrorist, and only one CIA agent thinks she has the truth—that got knotty fast: Has he (Damian Lewis) really turned? Is she (Claire Danes) completely nuts? Yes, no and maybe.
Justified (FX) Timothy Olyphant is the coolest good guy on TV, Walton Goggins is the coolest bad/good guy, Margo Martindale was the unlikeliest “cool” villain this season, and Justified is the great, intertwined western that Deadwood never got to become.
Parks & Recreation (NBC) The network doesn’t realize it, but Parks & Recreation is the new Office: It’s effortlessly ridiculous, there’s not a weak link in the cast, and—here’s the kicker, Office zombies—it’s consistently funny as hell. Entertainment 720 forever!
Sons of Anarchy (FX) Relax, it’s just pulp fiction—not everything needs to be taken as seriously as Boardwalk Empire. Kurt Sutter’s addictive, occasionally messy biker drama hit tense new heights in Season 4, veering from The Sopranos into The Shield territory.
Shameless (Showtime) A deadbeat drunk dad (William H. Macy) who neglects his kids, who in turn scrape by through any extra-legal means necessary, all in grimy Southside Chicago—high comedy? Hell yes, and Emmy Rossum deserves, well, an Emmy.
Community (NBC) As the fan-cult already knows, Community is currently “on hiatus” until it’s “not on hiatus.” My solution: Dan Harmon and his band of sitcom anarchists should trim the show to 15 minutes and sell it to Adult Swim. It’s too good for NBC.
American Horror Story (FX) Love it or hate it or really love it or really hate it, everybody is still talking about American Horror Story. Not even Ryan Murphy’s old Nip/Tuck went to the edge so often and so gleefully (heh) jumped. Good luck topping it next year, Ryan.
Californication (Showtime) Waaay back in March of this year, Californication wrapped an excellent, debauched fourth season in a sweet series-finale bow. And then it was picked up for a fifth (premiering Jan. 8, 2012). You really can’t kill Hank Moody.
And let’s not forget: Archer, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, The League, Wilfred, The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Death Valley, Portlandia, Boardwalk Empire, Bored to Death, Game of Thrones, Hung, Episodes, Weeds, Boss, Cougar Town, Happy Endings, Revenge, Suburgatory, Up All Night and Fringe.
Hart of Dixie (The CW) Something never said lightly: The stoopidest series on The CW.
Glee (Fox) Either cut the songs or kill the show. Actually, do both.
Dance Moms (Lifetime) For those who find Toddlers & Tiaras too “thinky,” there’s this.
I Hate My Teenage Daughter (Fox) Mike & Molly, turn over the retro-wretched crown.
Terra Nova (Fox) This is what you get for millions of dollars?
The X Factor (Fox) This is what you get for billions of dollars?
Pan Am (ABC) At least it’s not The Playboy Club. Or Charlie’s Angels. Still sucks, though.
New Girl (Fox) Zoey’s “charms” aside, New Girl is barely a skit, much less a series.
Entourage (HBO) Vince and the boys go out as total pussies. And now, a movie?
Enlightened (HBO) They canceled Bored to Death and Hung, but kept this “comedy.” I’d rather watch an Entourage movie.
And let’s never again speak of: Any Kardashian show, any Bachelor/Bachelorette show, any dancing show or any singing show.