Emmy cred: Well, at least they did blow up Valencia. After an Emmy-winning year, Fox’s nail-biting drama was widely criticized for losing momentum, despite new developments: Having been held and tortured by the Chinese, Jack Bauer saw his ongoing suffering endure the loss of another relationship, along with a twisted look into his very dysfunctional family.
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (SCI FI)
Emmy cred: It’s been eventful in Galactica circles, what with the space-traveling crew surviving a Cylon occupation and the revelation that four more of its characters aren’t human. Oh, and there’s that little matter of finding Earth. Though chronically nomination-deprived, the quality of the series’ acting, writing and spare special f/x have already earned far more attention than one might have guessed based on hazy memories of the Lorne Greene version.
THE CLOSER (TNT)
Emmy cred: Nominated for drama actress during the series’ first campaign, Kyra Sedgwick endured no sophomore slump. Season two — which has already garnered Sedgwick a Golden Globe — had her character escalate her ongoing political war with Taylor (Robert Gossett), while her relationship with G-man Fritz (Jon Tenney) headed for cohabitation.
Emmy cred: George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) didn’t get his gold by playing nice. As vicious as any character in recent memory, Hearst had a conscience that remained clear despite his killing ways. The rest of the ensemble continued to rank among the best of HBO’s dramas; the fact that the series is over and we’ll never see Al and Trixie exchange pleasantries again — except in upcoming telepics — only deepens the loss.
GREY’S ANATOMY (ABC)
Emmy cred: Could the critical revolts that temporarily befell “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” strike “Grey’s”? Having won a Golden Globe for drama in January after nabbing an Emmy nom last year, the unapologetically melodramatic show seems primed for a return to the podium, but a backlash might be afoot.
Emmy cred: Hugh Laurie’s mesmerizing portrayal of the title character tends to mute criticism of the show being formulaic. And “House” benefited during the season by giving its supporting cast subplots to milk. Nommed last year, the show has done little to suggest it is less deserving now.
LAW & ORDER: SVU (NBC)
Emmy cred: “SVU” continues to be the “L&O” to watch. Critics give it high marks, and Emmy voters are onboard as well, with a win and two nominations for Mariska Hargitay. Christopher Meloni, not to be left out, nabbed a nom last year, too, in a category with stellar competish.
Emmy cred: After criticism of “Lost” reached its zenith, the backlash drew a backlash. Down the stretch, critics lauded “Lost” for one powerhouse episode after another, satisfying frustrated viewers by providing long-sought answers to some mysteries while simultaneously igniting strong new plotlines.
Emmy cred: With Julius Caesar whacked, a power struggle began between his son and Mark Antony, who moved to Egypt to cohabitate with Queen Cleopatra, while Titus Pullo dealt with one tragedy after another. For those who stuck around for season two, it was well worth it.
THE SHIELD (FX)
Emmy cred: Just when common sense says “The Shield” should be running on fumes now, Michael Chiklis and Shawn Ryan refuse to let that happen. Chiklis’ Vic Mackey has been dealing with the ramifications of Lem’s death all season, and now that he thinks Shane is threatening his family — when, in actuality, he’s trying to protect them — expect more fireworks to ensue.
THE SOPRANOS (HBO)
Emmy cred: It’s not mere sentiment that puts the New Jersey warhorse back among the contenders. With their show facing its mortality, David Chase and Co. have forced its characters to face theirs — digging deep to reward viewers with an elegiac concluding run. The tapering of the show’s audience from its peak might reduce the chances of winning, but it won’t go down easily.
THE WIRE (HBO)
Emmy cred: Nothing comes easy on the mean streets of Baltimore, where kids can’t get an education in the schools, so they find it on the drug-infested corners. Creator David Simon continued one of the finest multilayered dramas in TV history, and those who aren’t paying attention should be forced to watch every magnificent episode.