Every week on this CBS drama, a brand-new ghost story haunts Philadelphia homicide detective Kathryn Morris and her police squad that actually practices teamwork. The music is superbly cued to the moment, from Bessie Smith to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And at the end of each hour, an avenged ghost waves good-bye.
(Fox) Never mind the tedious business between ex-lovers Hugh Laurie and Sela Ward—this medical show is more about death than love. What makes it so riveting is the acting (especially Laurie), the writing (high-speed, even highbrow, with compound sentences when required), and the odd cases themselves (guaranteed to flummox everybody, including Dr. House, until the last ten minutes).
(Fox) I really, really like the screwball romance between forensic anthropologist Emily Deschanel and FBI homicide detective David Boreanaz—a romance made even better because neither of them is doing anything about it.
‘The Daily Show’
It’s so daily you can sometimes see it five times every 24 hours on Comedy Central, with the occasional family-friendly bleep, but otherwise as intelligent, insouciant, and insolent as Jon Stewart insists on being. Nobody does incredulity better than Stewart, and he’s not bad at contempt, either.
(Showtime) Getting to spend half an hour with Mary-Louise Parker every Monday night is, like the Paris of Henri IV, worth a Mass, much less this year-end vote of thanks.
3 ‘Las Vegas’
(NBC) Notice that these women working in James Caan’s casino, wearing as little as possible over their various moving parts, are nonetheless the ones with brains. This is bikini television with a smart mouth.
From understatement and minimal gesture, hesitation and the slamming of a door, Kitchen—as a British detective-superintendent on Foyle’s War, under the PBS Mystery! umbrella—has for three astonishing seasons conveyed anguish, contempt, despair, and something unremitting but always tethered to a moral compass.
2 William Petersen
The CSI: Las Vegas bugman, is the gravity holding these forensic graces together, a kind of martyr to the scientific method.
3 Hugh Laurie
His line readings on House feature an accent here of Shakespeare, a seasoning there of Beckett, plus a rant of mouthy Mamet. He is our very own Philoctetes; his genius and his wound depend on each other.
S. Epatha Merkerson
She probably deserves it for her noble service on Law & Order, but she blew the windows off the boarding house on Lackawanna Blues on HBO. As earth mother “Nanny” Crosby, Merkerson—with her fierce loyalty, raucous humor, and supple cunning—tended to a houseful of refugees who sought sanctuary and found healing.
2 Mary-Louise Parker
As if there were ever anybody else. Well, there was, from Glenn Close in The Shield to Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars to Emily Deschanel in Bones, but I am nothing if not loyal, which I hope stops short of stalking.
3 Kyra Sedgwick
Who, on TNT’s The Closer, proved to be the best interrogator this side of Helen Mirren on Prime Suspect.
David Grubin’s richly textured four-hour PBS documentary on immigration takes in, among many others, migrant workers from south of the border; modern dancers from Taiwan; and women who flee second-class citizenship or servitude in Guatemala, the Middle East, and even Italy. This is the sort of television that puts faces on stats, but it’s also almost elegiac: These are the doors we are bolting behind us.
2 ‘Death in Gaza’
(HBO) Award-winning documentarian James Miller and reporter Saira Shah began with the stories of three Palestinian children growing up in godforsaken Gaza, but before they got to interview a similar selection of Israeli children, Miller was shot to death by an Israeli tank. This is not the story anyone wanted to bring home, but doesn’t it bring home a story, anyway?
3 ‘Bearing Witness’
(A&E) Documentarian Barbara Kopple followed five female foreign correspondents—all of whom eventually converged on Baghdad—and who, between them, won dozens of awards and lost many relationships, several husbands, and one eye.
The Trampoline Bear from 'Pardon the Interruption’
That bear: We kept seeing it over and over again on Pardon the Interruption, the ESPN sports yak show. The bear escaped from either a circus or a zoo, I can’t remember which. It climbed a tree in some backyard, and they set up a trampoline under the tree, shot the bear with sedative darts, and the bear flopped down and hit the trampoline and then went up, up, and away again, but this time when the bear came down, it missed the trampoline, and the Earth shook, and Tony Kornheiser couldn’t stop laughing and Mike Wilbon pretended not to, but they must have shown the same footage a thousand times, until finally I videotaped it myself. And I am heartily ashamed.