Glee

FOX's high school musical comedy-drama flows and sparkles like a river of sequins. The most original prime-time series of 2009, it's a savvy, loving feat of pop synthesis, bringing together American Idol, Disney's High School Musical, possibly a touch of the old Fame and flecks of the dark humor you'd expect from Ryan Murphy, who also created Nip/Tuck. And the musical numbers are a hit on iTunes! Jane Lynch, as a loathsome cheerleading coach, is now officially television's funniest actress.

Southland

NBC canceled this outstanding L.A. crime drama, which rolls along with the gritty rumble of a squad car on the mean streets, just before it returned for a second season. Man! Luckily, TNT will air all the completed episodes, with a possible commitment to producing new ones. That gives fans the chance to see more of Regina King, understated but rock solid as a cop.

The Good Wife

The most accomplished network drama of the fall. Julianna Margulies (who also has the most accomplished hair—a brunette cascade) plays a political spouse who returns to work following her husband's disgraceful downfall. The cases are all involving, but what carries this CBS freshman hit is its backstory. Was her husband (Chris Noth) set up? What allegiance does she owe him? Major asset: Archie Panjabi's supporting turn as a tough, tightly coiled investigator who likes to do the dirty work.

The Real Housewives Of New Jersey

Bravo's guilty-pleasure reality franchise keeps topping itself—or more accurately, over-the-topping itself. The fact that several of the Jersey wives were related gave the season more cohesion, and authenticity, than usual. Undisputed high point: the season finale's notorious banquet scene, which ended with a table overturned and hysterical screams. It made The Sopranos look like 7th Heaven. On to The Real Housewives of D.C.!

Harper's Island

Give CBS credit for trying something new. Island grafted the teen-slasher movie formula onto a weekly series format. The result was a terrific thrill ride, flinging out severed body parts as it whipped along. It didn't make a great deal of sense by the end, no, and it was a loser in the ratings. The lesson is that gore, like junk food, has to be bolted down in gulps, not slowly savored like a tasting menu.

Grey Gardens

A major surprise, and the best TV movie in ages. Based on the punishingly bleak documentary film about Edie Beale, her dilapidated old ma and their codependent misery in a trash-filled Hamptons house, HBO's dramatization managed to be ever-so-gently uplifting. That's because of two equally touching, essentially sweet performances by Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange.

Nurse Jackie

Edie Falco landed her own Showtime series, and it's a beaut. She plays a bleary but no-nonsense ER nurse with a perverse streak of recklessness: She cheats on her husband and sneaks pills on the job. Combine Falco's unflinching honesty as an actress with Jackie's moral messiness, and you have one of the year's most compelling characters.

Modern Family

Thank you, ABC, for introducing the best comedy of 2009, and possibly the new benchmark for network sitcoms. The outline is routine enough—interrelated suburban families bickering and bonding—but the writing has a natural sophistication rare to TV, and the large cast fuses into one perfect whole. Standout performance: Ty Burrell as a desperate-to-be-hip dad who thinks "WTF" means "Why the face?" More like "Watch this Family."

Parks and Recreation

Amy Poehler's modest NBC sitcom about a dim bureaucrat with Hillary Clinton-size ambition—when clunkers fly, lady—clicked in its second season. Parks has a fumbling, silly charm that's close in spirit to a Christopher Guest movie.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Five seasons in, the FX sitcom remains puerile, cruel, vulgar—proudly beyond redemption and absurdly funny besides. Know what else? There's room in the world for both this and ABC's Modern Family. That's what makes TV such a glorious adventure.

>MAD MEN

Beautifully done, wonderfully dramatic—and beautiful clothes.

—RASHIDA JONES

MODERN FAMILY

It's hysterical! I love the family because they're like real life.

—CARRIE ANN INABA

PROJECT RUNWAY

Always! My predictions never win, though.

—MARK INDELICATO

THE OFFICE

It's so funny, it makes me laugh out loud. I love Steve Carell.

—ANN CURRY

GLEE

It's just so filled with joy, and I love the music, and there are a lot of cute guys. And a lot of cute girls.

—REX LEE

>The year's most original breakout personality, Williams dissects the celebrity scene with campy yet pointed humor. Her huge wigs are in on the joke.

>THE (EARLIER) TONIGHT SHOW

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it was a strange year on the talk show circuit. How strange? Take NBC—please! Jay Leno (left) retired from The Tonight Show, making way for the hipper, slightly more acidic Conan O'Brien (who was replaced on Late Night by the eager, likable Jimmy Fallon). Then Leno was brought back and plugged into a 10 p.m. Tonight clone that gutted NBC's prime-time lineup. It was as if George W. Bush had decided to hang on as Barack Obama's Vice President.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

And you heard, of course, about David Letterman (right). The CBS Late Show host became the butt of his own monologue jokes after he admitted—in an awkwardly sincere on-air confession—that he'd indulged in "creepy stuff" with women on his staff. That means "sex." And get this—the guy's ratings went up!

>Larry David came up with an ingenious stunt for his HBO series: reuniting his Seinfeld colleagues, including Jerry Seinfeld himself. And yet their appearances were so deliberately fragmentary, it was more like a reunion about nothing. Sound familiar?

>Anyone who thought of John Lithgow as the Big Bird of actors—all gangly silliness—changed their minds with this season of the Showtime thriller. As Dexter Morgan's new foil, serial killer Arthur Mitchell, he was one of the best TV villains ever: an icily pathetic brute.

>After 2012, millions are now primed for an apocalypse in two years. But my world ended Aug. 4, 2009, the date Paula Abdul tweeted that she wouldn't return to FOX's American Idol as a judge. Now, I know many viewers found her insufferable: the scattered petals of critical thought, the trickle of happy tears. But what major hit—a rigidly formulaic one, at that—has ever showcased such irrational exuberance? She'll be replaced by the more sensible Ellen DeGeneres. And she'll be missed. By me.

>MAD MEN

Beautifully done, wonderfully dramatic—and beautiful clothes.

—RASHIDA JONES

MODERN FAMILY

It's hysterical! I love the family because they're like real life.

—CARRIE ANN INABA

PROJECT RUNWAY

Always! My predictions never win, though.

—MARK INDELICATO

THE OFFICE

It's so funny, it makes me laugh out loud. I love Steve Carell.

—ANN CURRY

GLEE

It's just so filled with joy, and I love the music, and there are a lot of cute guys. And a lot of cute girls.

—REX LEE

>The year's most original breakout personality, Williams dissects the celebrity scene with campy yet pointed humor. Her huge wigs are in on the joke.

>THE (EARLIER) TONIGHT SHOW

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it was a strange year on the talk show circuit. How strange? Take NBC—please! Jay Leno (left) retired from The Tonight Show, making way for the hipper, slightly more acidic Conan O'Brien (who was replaced on Late Night by the eager, likable Jimmy Fallon). Then Leno was brought back and plugged into a 10 p.m. Tonight clone that gutted NBC's prime-time lineup. It was as if George W. Bush had decided to hang on as Barack Obama's Vice President.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

And you heard, of course, about David Letterman (right). The CBS Late Show host became the butt of his own monologue jokes after he admitted—in an awkwardly sincere on-air confession—that he'd indulged in "creepy stuff" with women on his staff. That means "sex." And get this—the guy's ratings went up!

>Larry David came up with an ingenious stunt for his HBO series: reuniting his Seinfeld colleagues, including Jerry Seinfeld himself. And yet their appearances were so deliberately fragmentary, it was more like a reunion about nothing. Sound familiar?

>Anyone who thought of John Lithgow as the Big Bird of actors—all gangly silliness—changed their minds with this season of the Showtime thriller. As Dexter Morgan's new foil, serial killer Arthur Mitchell, he was one of the best TV villains ever: an icily pathetic brute.

>After 2012, millions are now primed for an apocalypse in two years. But my world ended Aug. 4, 2009, the date Paula Abdul tweeted that she wouldn't return to FOX's American Idol as a judge. Now, I know many viewers found her insufferable: the scattered petals of critical thought, the trickle of happy tears. But what major hit—a rigidly formulaic one, at that—has ever showcased such irrational exuberance? She'll be replaced by the more sensible Ellen DeGeneres. And she'll be missed. By me.