The good news of the 2009 TV season was that the broadcast networks finally started to recover from the disastrous writers' strike 18 months earlier. A strong crop of rambunctious shows struck off in startling new directions, especially at ABC: The sitcom Modern Family celebrated the broadening concept of American families while rampaging over all the PC rules, while sci-fi drama V allegorically but pointedly wondered if Barack Obama might be a voracious space alien.
The bad news was that nobody cared -- ratings continued to leak away. The worried networks put their first real marketing push behind Hulu and other websites that let viewers dispense with TV altogether and watch shows via the Internet. Your new set may soon be a cutting-edge digital doorstop.
THE YEAR'S TOP FIVE SHOWS:
1-2. Nurse Jackie and Dexter: There was no more symbolic programming move in TV in 2009 than Edie DeFalco making her post-Sopranos series debut not on HBO but Showtime, which has less buzz but more creative juice these days than its premium-cable rival. DeFalco's bleakly comic performance as a hard-bitten, drug-addicted nurse in the blue-collar medical show Nurse Jackie was so powerful that it instantly replaced Carmela Soprano as the defining role of her career. Meanwhile, the fourth season of Showtime's Dexter, a sunny celebration of Miami's homicidal tendencies, took a turn savage even by the lofty standards of a show about a sociopathic serial killer.
3. Glee: Fox's exuberant, subversive look at high school follows the travails of a group of show-choir misfits with a kind of sweet cynicism. And its thrumming soundtrack is the most successful marriage of TV and music since American Bandstand.
4. The Good Wife: Julianna Margulies gives off a bitter, incandescent glow in this riveting CBS drama that offers a backstage peek at a modern American cliche, the blankly smiling wife standing at the side of her politician husband as he confesses to sex with hookers, garden snakes and Venetian blinds.
5. Being Human: It sounds like the start of a joke -- ``A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost rent a house together . . .'' -- and this BBC America import certainly has its darkly funny moments. But it's also a deeply affecting tale of three cold dead noses pressed up against the window pane of humanity, one that asks whether life is wasted on the living.