Returning Emmy drama contenders

Young stalwarts vie with old standbys for nomination

24
Fox
Strengths: Relentless pace and, after many seasons, a well-honed sense of when to unload a game-changing betrayal. Also, Sutherland’s brusque action-hero appeal and a rich supporting cast.
Weaknesses: Constant peril can get ludicrous, then wearying; legitimizes torture way too often; Sutherland’s all-whisper delivery.
Best days ahead or behind? Though the show rallied in 2009 following a disappointing sixth season, its peak has arguably passed.
— Robert Abele

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
SciFi
Strengths: Subordinating CGI to strong, ambitious scripting, “Battlestar” offered TV drama’s most stringent critique of the War on Terror. In so doing, it brought grown-up dramatic virtues to a largely adolescent genre.
Weaknesses: Its sheer density proved off-putting to new viewers, and the final episode left some fans feeling cheated.
Best days ahead or behind? Final episode aired in March.
— Shane Danielsen

BREAKING BAD
AMC
Strengths: Bryan Cranston’s coiled yet vulnerable performance as a man at the abyss, along with the atmospheric direction. Storylines brilliantly mix gallows humor, suspense and moral complexity.
Weaknesses: Pacing can meander, and interest can flag when it focuses on supporting characters.
Best days ahead or behind? Ahead, as the series only seems to get richer.
— Robert Abele

BIG LOVE
HBO
Strengths: Intricately weaves numerous storylines and plot twists without losing its emotional punch. Thesps offered countless memorable moments.
Weaknesses: All the characters can be challenging for a newcomer to track.
Best days ahead or behind? With a powerful season-ender that opened up an exciting new story arc, the “Big” momentum should continue.
— Jon Weisman

DEXTER
Showtime
Strengths: The brooding Michael C. Hall, along with intriguing plots that combine action and examinations of ethics.
Weaknesses: A bit too much empathy for titular serial killer?
Best days ahead or behind? Anticipation is running high with John Lithgow arriving as a mild-mannered murderer.
— Glenn Whipp

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
DirecTV
Strengths: The show not only feels viscerally real, it has an eloquence arguably unlike any other show on television.
Weaknesses: Nothing egregious, but some plot points do stretch credibility.
Best days ahead or behind? That it has days ahead at all is a miracle, but “Lights” figures to take advantage of them. The prospect of Coach Taylor starting over at a new school is more than intriguing.
— Jon Weisman

GREY’S ANATOMY
ABC
Strengths: The combination of gripping medical traumas and equally appealing sexy young doctors full of hormones makes this hospital drama highly addictive.
Weaknesses: The irksome on-again/off-again relationship between Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd and their Post-it note wedding.
Best days ahead or behind? Workplace sexcapades have hit their peak, but “Grey’s” loyal fanbase doesn’t seem to care.
— Addie Morfoot

LAW & ORDER SVU
NBC
Strengths: Emmy fave Mariska Hargitay and partner Chris Meloni bring their characters emotional depth that never fails to resonate.
Weaknesses: The formulaic nature of the show can grow stale after 10 seasons.
Best days ahead or behind? That depends on whether Hargitay and Meloni will be back. Losing both leads could be a devastating blow.
— Paula Hendrickson

LOST
ABC
Strengths: A deep pool of ensemble actors and consistent writing inspire a fiercely devoted fanbase.
Weaknesses: Complicated storylines are difficult to follow.
Best days ahead or behind? The first season might have been its best, but with producers having committed to one final year, they know they have to get it right.
— Sandie Angulo Chen

HOUSE
Fox
Strengths: Whip-smart dialogue, engaging medical cases, unpredictable story arcs and the incomparable Hugh Laurie.
Weaknesses: Viewers remain lukewarm to the fourth-season additions, and the suicide of Kal Penn’s character drew mixed reactions to say the least.
Best days ahead or behind? Despite the show’s formula, even an institutionalized Laurie is worth watching.
— Sandie Angulo Chen

IN TREATMENT
HBO
Strengths: Even more than in its highly regarded premiere season, “In Treatment” has offered an intimate, penetrating look at human frailty.
Weaknesses: It’s one thing for Paul to be human, another when he seems to make obvious mistakes of logic or duty.
Best days ahead or behind? It’s an exhausting show to make, particularly for lead Gabriel Byrne, who is in every moment, 2½ hours per week. It’s not meant as an insult to wonder whether the crew can keep up this pace in the future.
— Jon Weisman

THE SHIELD
FX
Strengths: Pushing the envelope for genre-requisite “gritty realism” and boasting a topnotch ensemble cast, FX’s first drama blurred the not-so-thin blue line between network and cable cop skeins.
Weaknesses: Some storylines involving drug trades toward the beginning of the season tended to be a bit confusing.
Best days ahead or behind? Went out with a memorable series finale in November.
— Shane Danielsen

RESCUE ME
FX
Strengths: The post-9/11 non-p.c. dramedy is anything but sentimental. Instead, multidimensional firemen are believable as opposed to perfect heroes.
Weaknesses: Alpha males battling an abundance of booze, broads and burning buildings to no avail can give the series a daytime soap vibe.
Best days ahead or behind? After hitting a rough patch, season five brings the spotlight back to 9/11 with great success, suggesting that writers have plenty of good story arcs up their sleeves.
— Addie Morfoot

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