Want a thorough look at the ups and downs of the year in television?
Want our staff's personal highlights and lowlights from our TiVo-like memories? Then you're in the right place.
Get ‘Lost’Here's just one example of why ABC's plane-crash drama, "Lost," is so fascinating. On a recent episode, fan favorite Hurley decided to take a census of the crash survivors, using the passenger manifest from the flight. It seemed like an amiable plot device until he discovered that one of the mysterious passengers was never on the manifest to begin with. Who was he? Where did he come from? Why was he there? It's a version of the famous shortest horror story in the world: "The last man in the world sat in a room. There came a knock on the door." Yet "Lost" pulls these kind of spine-tinglers out of the air every single week. I'd read a rumor that each "Lost" writer drew three character names out of a hat and wrote complicated backstories for them without consulting the others. If true, that's a fabulous example of a writing-class exercise taken from the classroom to the small screen, with intriguing results. —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
Who you callin’ ‘Desperate’?
Every show with a blend of soap opera and mystery will be compared to "Twin Peaks" these days, but "Desperate Housewives" seems to be avoiding many of the traps "Peaks" fell into. The ABC drama has developed a number of families with distinct quirks and problems, yet kept them all likable. Even Eva Longoria's character, Gabrielle, who's cheating on her husband with a teen and managed to get her mother-in-law re-hooked on gambling, is hard to hate. While the show's voiceovers from deceased housewife Mary Alice can be annoying, her suicide has stirred up one of Wisteria Lane's most deliciously creepy mysteries: Who was the body in the chest, is it the same as the mysterious Dana, and if so, what happened? Like the old-time radio serials, it's tough not to tune in next week, hoping to find out. —G.F.C.
Free zone, indeed
The best moment on a crime show this season happened with the introduction of “Hamsterdam” on “The Wire.” Major “Bunny” Colvin basically legalized drugs when he created this free zone for the dealers so they would move off the residential corners of West Baltimore. But the best moment was when the newly displaced drug dealers realized they didn’t have any clients and complained to Sergeant Carver. Carver made Hurk gas up the paddy wagon, round up anyone who was looking to buy drugs and bring them to Hamsterdam. It was a surreal moment that displayed the best qualities of “The Wire’s” world — one in which there are no good guys and bad guys, just people who are trying to do their job, whether it’s selling drugs or policing. —Paige Newman
The good guys win
Fans of “The Amazing Race” were already pretty happy by the time the fifth season wound to an end: Ratings were finally high enough that cancellation no longer loomed as a threat for the Emmmy-winning reality show, and the season was getting good. While the top team seemed likely to be the irritating Colin and Christie, they were at least both pretty good racers, unlike certain previous winners (Flo). Middle-aged married couple Chip and Kim were still in it, but seemed doomed to fall prey to the fate of fan favorites past: to be beloved, but to finish no higher than third. But maybe God was having a good summer: Chip and Kim kept their cool even while wiping out at luge, and parlayed some good airport maneuvering into a first-place finish and the million-dollar prize. Somewhere, host Phil Keoghan is still smiling. —Lori Smith
Best appearance by a guest puppet
The WB put the stake in “Angel” last spring but not before the “Buffy” spinoff managed to once again remind us how brilliant it could be. In “Smile Time,” the vampire with a soul is turned into a puppet while investigating sinister doings at a children’s TV show. Alternately hysterically funny and very very creepy, the episode managed to send up not only children’s TV but the “Angel” series itself. (See also: "Worst appearance by a guest puppet," below.) —L.S.
With the introduction of “CSI: NY” the cloning of popular network crime shows has reached its zenith. While the original “CSI” still shines each week, its two clones pale in comparison, with David Caruso pulling off his shades and making overdramatic declarations in Miami and Gary Sinise trying to discover if he actually has a personality in New York. Admittedly, “Law and Order: SVU” has become the strongest of the “L&O,” but it’s the exception, not the rule. With yet another “Law and Order” midseason replacement in the pike and the rumors Chris Noth replacing Vincent D'Onofrio on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” I fear that the quality will continue to decline. Please, Anthony Zuikor, save us from “CSI: Cleveland.” —P.N.
Worst appearance by a guest puppetSesame Street came to “The West Wing” in order to … well, there was no reason, really, just another lame attempt to prop up the cringe-inducing fifth season of what was once a great show. It’s not that the CJ-Big Bird sight gag wasn’t funny, but remember when “West Wing” actually asked its audiences to think? What’s next, Penn & Teller? Oh, wait... —L.S.
Reality show copycatsRemember those annoying kids in grade school who could never do their own work and always had to copy off your paper? Yeah, they grew up to work for the networks, especially when it comes to creating "new" reality shows. "The Apprentice" worked for NBC, so FOX and ABC tried to copy it with their own rich-guy-gets-real shows, "The Rebel Billionaire" and "The Benefactor." ABC's "Wife Swap" creators fumed when Fox's "Trading Spouses" made it onto the air first. And NBC's "The Contender" and Fox's "The Next Great Champ" tried to knock each other out. But copycats get their own back in the end: "Champ" was KO'd early, as was "Benefactor," and none of the other copycats are regulars in the Nielsen top ten. —G.F.C.
Super Bowl fiascoWas it really true that a year ago, we had never heard the term "wardrobe malfunction"? Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake's little Super Bowl goof took less than a second, but the reverberations are still clanging through the TV world. Tape delays are one thing, Jackson is another. But the idea that 66 ABC affiliates out of fear that a newly awakened FCC will fine them is a sad, sad comment on our culture. —G.F.C.Worst news for DirecTV viewers
The long-rumored news is about to be fact: it appears that the DirecTV service is dropping the Trio channel, which means Trio will probably go under, or so sources say. Trio was a refreshing oasis on the dial, with a quirky pop-culture attitude that showed in its programming. TV critic Joel Stein was allowed to program the channel for a week, and he picked delightful vintage garbage such as "Battle of the Network Stars" and "Pink Lady and Jeff." When zombie comedy "Shaun of the Dead" became such a juicy hit, Trio aired a batch of episodes of "Spaced," the hilarious British comedy from "Shaun" star Simon Pegg. Trio leaving is kind of like having a witty friend move out of town. It'll be missed. —G.F.C.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Television Editor. Paige Newman is MSNBC.com's Movies Editor. Lori Smith is MSNBC.com's Technology Editor.