1. BREAKING BAD (AMC) - Last year's heartbreaking finale, where Jesse has to kill Gale in order to save Walter White, led to a full season of suspense where Walter keeps trying to figure how he can kill Gus before Gus kills him, and Gus is one smart man. Giancarlo Esposito created in Gus one of the great all-time menacing TV villains. Few things are scarier when Gus's smile disappears. He gave Emmy-worthy work, but so did Aaron Paul as the tormented Jesse, and Mark Margolis as the silent old cartel man who gets one last stab at revenge. In the first season, Walter was a chemistry teacher just trying to make ends meet. Now his transformation into Heisenberg is complete, with that final revelation that Walter is just as capable of Machiavellian maneuvers as Gus. Next season, the final one, will surely be an epic showdown once Jesse realizes how Mr. White manipulated him.
2. COMMUNITY / PARKS & RECREATION (NBC) - Any other year I might have put The Office here too, but I must acknowledge it's lost a step without Steve Carell's Michael Scott. But Community's surreal study group and P&R's misfit public servants are the best hour-block of ensemble comedy on TV.
3. JUSTIFIED (FX) - This Kentucky law show upped its game in the second season by casting Margo Martindale as the drug-dealing matriarch Maggie presiding over her three dangerous sons, throwing up new roadblocks for Raylen (Timothy Olyphant). This show is 1/3 procedural and 2/3 building drama, one of the most satisfying on TV.
4. GAME OF THRONES (HBO) - I'm a fan of the books, and I can't imagine anyone doing a better job of bringing them to life than what they've done here. Sean Bean and Mark Addy were spot on as old friends and soldiers now serving as the two most powerful men in the kingdom. There was scheming, backstabbing, heartbreaking betrayals, and mesmorizing performances. Tyrion's my favorite character from the books, and Peter Dinklage has played him as exactly as well as I could have hoped.
5. THE GOOD WIFE (CBS) - Julianna Margulies has just about erased my memories as nurse Carol Hathaway. She was born to play Alicia Florick - lawyer, lover, mother, wife. Each week there's an interesting case, but also each week the intrigue increases, especially now with Alicia's estranged husband (Chris Noth) as the state district attorney.
6. HOMELAND (SHO) - Remember how good Damien Lewis was in Band of Brothers? Now he's an Iraq War vet returned home and under deep suspicion by the CIA that he might be a sleeper-cell terrorist. Claire Danes gets to showcase what she can do as a bipolar agent, really really good at what she does, as long as she's on her meds.
7. AMERICAN HORROR STORY (FX) - It was trippy, campy, and one heck of a Halloween roller coaster ride. Jessica Lange's Constance was a Tennessee Williams delight.
8. TOO BIG TO FAIL (HBO) - William Hurt was front and center as Hank Paulsen, scrambling behind closed doors when he realized the entire world's economy might collapse on his watch. Also good were Billy Crudup as the buck-passing Tim Geitner and Paul Giamatti as the horrified Ben Bernanke.
9. THE GOP PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES - "Oops." Come on, I bet you $10,000 they're frankly fundamentally grotesquely great!
10. LATE NIGHT with JIMMY FALLON (NBC) - I don't watch that much, but he has the best YouTube clips of any late-night talk-show host. I must have watched his and Colbert's cover of "Friday" ten times.
V FINALE (ABC) - This show suffered toward the end of its second season, with every episode being another where the Fifth Column fails against Anna. But that last episode, where the action ramped up and no less than three major characters died, was an excellent springboard for the next season. That never happened.
Other good stuff:
DEXTER (SHO), MODERN FAMILY (ABC), BIG BANG THEORY (CBS), BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO), HELL ON WHEELS (AMC), BOSS (STARZ), NEW GIRL (FOX), SURVIVOR (CBS), THE WALKING DEAD (AMC), TRUE BLOOD (HBO), THE AMAZING RACE (CBS), THE MIDDLE (ABC), CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (HBO), LOUIE (FX).
I'd also add THIS WEEK (ABC) when Jake Tapper hosts, THE OFFICE (NBC) when Steve Carell was still on there, the Red John finale of THE MENTALIST (CBS), the work of Scott Caan on ENTOURAGE (HBO) and HAWAII FIVE-O (CBS), the new blood of Vanessa Bayer, Paul Brittain, Taran Killam and Jay Pharaoh on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC), and any time Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart appear on each other's shows.