1. “Lost,” ABC
After two seasons of listening to viewers bitch about everything from too many characters to plots not moving fast enough, the “Lost” writers whomped us all over the head with a run of episodes that was better than anything fans had seen since Season One. Many of the show’s most important riddles were answered – or at least what we thought were its most important riddles, because now there’s a whole new list of them to answer. Not even that damn writers’ strike was enough to put much of a dent in this season of “Lost” — and not even the new Fray single playing in the background is enough to keep us from geeking out over the Season Five promos that ABC recently started airing.
2. “The Office,” NBC
Few network shows – and zero sitcoms – have played as fast and loose with their casts as “The Office”; whether it’s Oscar going on “gaycation,” Andy entering anger management counseling, Jim transferring to Stamford, Toby fleeing to Costa Rica, or Pam wandering off to art school in New York, you never know who’s going to move off-canvas for a spell – kind of like your actual workplace environment. It’s this grounding – along with one of the best casts and some of the strongest comedy writing on television – that helps keep “The Office” from getting stale, and allows it to transcend such stereotypically show-killing plot devices as the star-crossed couple (in this case, Jim and Pam) that finally gets together. Of course, it helps when said couple isn’t even the hottest pairing on the show: this season, Dwight and Angela’s secret warehouse liaisons have proven that even a Second Life-playing, beet-farming paper salesman can get his mojo rising every once in awhile.
3. “Friday Night Lights,” DirecTV
Unless you have DirecTV, you haven’t seen any of “FNL’s” third season – and you won’t until early 2009, under the terms of a unique cost-sharing deal that saved the show from cancellation…for now, anyway. It certainly remains to be seen how non-DTV fans of the show will deal with this arrangement – if, for instance, they’ve managed to keep from spoiling the entire season in advance with recaps posted on the Web – or whether NBC will deign to promote content that’s already aired elsewhere. In the meantime, however, here’s what we can tell you: the third season of “Friday Night Lights” packs all of the addictive small-town drama and pulse-pounding gridiron action of Season One, minus the unwelcome addition of stupidly soapy ingredients that weakened Season Two (in other words, nobody’s throwing any bodies off bridges). We’ll be very surprised if “FNL” returns for a fourth season – on any network – but we’ve still got our fingers crossed.