Ken Tucker
December 22, 2006 AT 12:00 PM EST

1 The Wire HBO

No other show makes you care so much about its protagonists, be they ”bad” or ”good” people; no other wrenching drama is also so deadpan funny. No other show leaves you drained and exhilarated at the end of every episode. Every episode.

2 24 Fox

Kiefer Sutherland made the same character doing essentially the same things as slyly compelling as ever. Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart played a First Couple who crossed Bill and Hillary with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The result? A new hybrid: action theater.

3 Friday Night Lights NBC

Football drama for people who like football and people who don’t. Special nods to Zach Gilford as the callow quarterback and Connie Britton as the series’ underrated secret weapon of strength. And for the record, I also agree with my colleague Flynn on Battlestar, The Office, and Heroes, but in the interest of televisual diversity, I loved the following shows as well.

4 Rescue Me FX

Denis Leary’s antics were more ribald and dangerous than ever, which is really saying something. Deflating heroism, making alcoholism seem both ridiculous and a nightmare, juggling guest stars from Susan Sarandon to Marisa Tomei, Rescue is the most moving comedy on television.

5 The Nine ABC

The most frustrating of all TV viewing experiences? Having the idiot network gods yank a show midplot. Will I and the eight other folks who watched The Nine find out what happened to the bank manager’s daughter during the hostage siege? Will Tim Daly ever catch a break? This guy has done nothing but quality shows post-Wings, and they all vanish.

6 Countdown With Keith Olbermann MSNBC

The best anchor in the biz right now books off-the-beaten-pundit guests, refuses to maintain the ridiculous pose of ”objectivity,” and is funny as hell. Which is where some of his competitors wish he’d go.

7 The View ABC

Detonate the small nuclear bomb called Rosie O’Donnell and watch a mere chitchat show explode with barbed wit and fierce sociopolitical debate. She’s forced Elisabeth Hasselbeck to try to learn how to form coherent thoughts, made a revitalized Joy Behar her ally in common sense, and frequently left her boss Barbara Walters speechless.

8 Project Runway Bravo

I don’t know a shift from a pinafore, but I still get swept up in the only reality TV where talent really matters, and where the workplace deadline stress is delightful to watch because we can both identify and feel relieved it’s not ours.

9 My Name Is Earl NBC

The wily bumpkin in the Must See TV lineup only gets smarter. Jason Lee’s acting chops are vastly underrated, and Earl makes better use of guest stars than any other show (of course Roseanne Barr fits in perfectly, but who knew Marlee Matlin had a sense of humor?).

10 The New Adventures of Old Christine CBS

Proof that the traditional sitcom isn’t dead. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ classic old-school mugging, slam-bang punchlines, and organizing thesis — middle age sucks — never get tired.

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