UnitedstatesoftaraEmerging from my December blog hibernation, I’m much more inclined to look forward to what the small screen has in store for ’09 than reassessing ’08. Fortunately, my Variety colleague Stuart Levine was motivated to muse on his highs and lows for ’08 (posted after the jump).

There’s not a whole lot that I’ve penciled into my must-see sked for the first quarter. Of course, the Big Event is the Jan. 21 return of "Lost" for its high-five season (more on that later). The final two "Friday Night Lights" segs of the season (maybe forever) on DirecTV Jan. 7-14, will be three-hanky affairs, for sure, according to sources who have already screened them. And there’ll be more multicamera hijinks to enjoy from "The Big Bang Theory" ensemble, my fave comedy troupe on the tube these days, hands down.

As for new material, I was very impressed by what I saw on the four-episode screener of Showtime’s "The United States of Tara." Toni Collette is amazing as a suburban mother and artist who grapples with three distinct personalities who also inhabit Tara’s corporeal being. The supporting cast is also strong, with John Corbett playing Tara’s husband in an understated way, and the always-engaging Rosemarie DeWitt as Tara’s sister. Brie Larson impresses as the older of Tara’s two teenage kids.

"Tara," which as everyone knows was conceived by Steven Spielberg and birthed by Diablo Cody, bows Jan. 18.

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