Sure, not every episode of the Michael Scott-free Office has blown us away, but NBC's flagship comedy hasn't exactly folded in Steve Carell's absence either. Under the new one-two leadership punch of James Spader's creepy-odd Robert California and Ed Helms' Andy, the show has filled Michael's void of zaniness with the kind of hilarious awkwardness that made the show great in the first place.
2 of 18 Kudos Film and Television/BBC America
Honorable Mention: The Hour
During a Mad Men-free 2011, this BBC drama was the next best thing. Set in 1956 against the backdrop of launching a serious newsmagazine during a time of political turmoil, the series hinges on the triangle of a cocky journalist (Ben Whishaw), his would-be girlfriend (Romola Garai) and the polished anchor (The Wire's Dominic West) who is able to woo her in ways Freddie can't. But Freddie's calling to find the truth ultimately leads him to pursue a sinister conspiracy, adding multiple layers of deception, intrigue and tension. Our one complaint: It was too short. If only the Brits didn't favor those six-episode TV seasons.
3 of 18 Macall B. Polay/HBO
Honorable Mention: Boardwalk Empire
In its second season, HBO's Prohibition Era drama amped things up by making its hero, Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson, vulnerable. Rendered almost powerless while being investigated by the U.S. government, Nucky was forced to play along as his nemeses plot to take back Atlantic City. The move allowed supporting players Jimmy (Michael Pitt) and Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) to shift into the spotlight, but as both of their characters' fortunes increased, so too did their heartaches: Jimmy lost his wife, while Margaret's daughter was stricken with polio. The characters may never know who to trust, but we've come to rely on this as one of the week's finest hours of television.
4 of 18 CBS
The Good Wife
Part procedural, part social commentary, part political drama, The Good Wife continued to thrive, adding unpredictable and refreshing twists to the stale legal genre. But it's the personal relationships that are the most riveting: After two seasons of will-they-won't-they tension, Alicia (Julianna Margulies) went from Good to bad, giving in to her feelings for Will (Josh Charles) and emerging with a fierce, take-on-all-comers attitude (not to mention, an unfortunate haircut). This, of course, only transpired after she learned of Peter's (Chris Noth) one-night stand with her now-former BFF Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), shifting the show dynamics forever.
5 of 18 Bob Mahoney/The CW
The Vampire Diaries
Three seasons in, this CW hit has us as bloodthirsty as ever. The introduction of the villainous Klaus (Joseph Morgan) at the end of Season 2 opened so many new doors, providing both a worthy foil for Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and an excuse to bring out Stefan's own dark side. Paul Wesley has come alive while tapping into his character's "ripper" nature, and the exploration of the Originals has added a sense of weight and anticipation to the story. Oh, and those Damon and Elena (Nina Dobrev) scenes? Swoon!
6 of 18 Bravo
Top Chef: All-Stars
Hootie hoo! Bringing back the non-winners from past seasons proved to be a winning recipe for Top Chef. We didn't have to spend weeks deciding our favorites and — more importantly — waiting for the weak links to be picked off. No, by bringing back the best of the best, each episode was a nail-biter that almost always sent home someone we wish could stay. Like a big bowl of mac and cheese, these familiar favorites were a comforting delight.
7 of 18 Nick Briggs/ITV for Masterpiece
Well, don't we think highly of ourselves, TVGuide.com, adding a PBS Masterpiece series to our list? Well, yes, we do, but the truth is, Downton Abbey is the most refreshing, non-stuffy addition to the whole upstairs-downstairs canon since Robert Altman made Gosford Park in 2001. (Hmmm, both were written by Julian Fellowes and co-star Maggie Smith — coincidence?) Fellowes has compared the quick-paced story of the residents of the titular English manor house — the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), his mother (Smith), his American wife (Elizabeth McGovern) his three daughters (note important plot point: no male heirs!) and the many servants who attend to them — to The West Wing, another fable with a big house, a powerful man and a delightful staff. So don't be put off by the British accents, the elbow-length gloves and all that tweed. It's actually quite an accessible family drama. (Bonus: Season 2, in which World War I barges in on the Granthams' genteel lifestyle, is right around the corner, premiering Sunday, Jan. 8 on PBS.)
8 of 18 Mitch Haddad/ABC
Few gave Happy Endings a chance when it debuted in April with back-to-back episodes in the 10 o'clock slot, the last in a parade of Friends-like sitcoms. While the rest fell by the wayside, it's not surprising that Happy Endings is the only one left standing. Its zany, pop culture-laced dialogue is snappy and hilarious with punchlines that you never see coming, and the sextet's off-the-charts chemistry is so a-mah-zing that you wish you would be so lucky to have them as friends. Who wouldn't want to be besties with someone who speaks Italian when they're drunk?
9 of 18 Justin Stephens/NBC
Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights left its fans with the best portrait of a marriage ever on TV. Kyle Chandler's and Connie Britton's Eric and Tami Taylor made the everyday — the squabbles, the parental politics, the shorthand, the things unsaid — breathtaking. The bonus was that they lived in Dillon, Texas — an extraordinary small town viewers got to know through the hopes and disappointments and victories of its teenagers. Win-win.
10 of 18 AMC
The Walking Dead
Despite some behind-the-scenes shuffling, the second season of AMC's zombie horror has been just as tasty as the first. Like the lumbering undead, the show continued to move at a deliberate pace, but it never lacked shocks: Carl (Chandler Riggs) was shot, Lori (Sarah Wayne Calllies) turned up pregnant, little Sophia (Madison Lintz) became a walker, and Shane (Jon Bernthal) was haunted by a truly horrible sacrifice he had to make to survive. By moving the setting to the (relatively) safe haven of Hershel Greene's farm, the show was able to highlight one of its underlying themes: Humans are more dangerous than zombies.
11 of 18 FX
American Horror Story
We're not always sure what's going on in a given episode of FX's outrageous new horror thriller, but there are few other shows on the air that are guaranteed to offer a watercooler moment (or three) each and every week. Jessica Lange dazzles as she chews the scenery, and the collection of ghouls haunting Murder House — which includes the world's creepiest baby, and, of course, that infamous Rubber Man — grows larger and more interesting all the time. And make no mistake: Death has rarely been this sexy.
12 of 18 Craig Sjodin/ABC
Revenge may be best served cold, but this freshman drama is hot, hot, hot. The soapy mystery focuses on Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) and her quest to avenge her father's wrongful death, but it also offers a complicated and intriguing web of juicy subplots, almost all of which thrive on lies, sex and murder. Madeline Stowe shines as the icy Victoria Grayson, who, with any luck, will be harder to remove from her perch on her mansion's balcony than Emily imagined.
13 of 18 Jessica Miglio/HBO
Curb Your Enthusiasm
We would have understood if creator and star Larry David pulled the plug on his HBO comedy after doing the improbable by hosting a Seinfeld reunion during Season 7. Instead, David brought it back and topped himself by moving to New York City (to get out of a silly social function, naturally) and taking on his biggest (and most uncomfortable) adversary yet: Michael J. Fox. The erstwhile Alex P. Keaton may not seem like an ideal foe, but when his Parkinson's symptoms and Larry's brutal honesty combine, it's a perfect recipe for disaster — and great comedy.
14 of 18 Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC
The two-time defending Best Comedy Series Emmy champ continues to prove that the best laughs come from everyday life (the kids walking in on Phil and Claire having sex) and expertly balances sharp humor with sweet heart. Who needs stunts, cliff-hangers and crazy arcs when you have witty dialogue and a game cast from the adults to the kids? We've even made our peace with New Lily.
15 of 18 Mitchell Haaseth/NBC
Parks and Recreation
It's the funniest show on television, period. But Parks and Recreation also features one of the most endearing and entertaining group of friends we've ever had the pleasure of hanging around. There's not one person in Pawnee's Parks Department we wouldn't want as our very best friends, from the eternal optimist Leslie, to overly ambitious would-be baller Tom, to best-worst-boss ever Ron, to beautiful Ann… you get the picture. They just happen to also be frickin' hilarious.
16 of 18 Helen Sloan/HBO
Game of Thrones
Dazzling, lavish and overflowing with intriguing characters and complex story lines, the show is nothing short of mesmerizing and addictive. The epic saga paid tribute to its fantasy DNA, but it was the warring family drama that kept the show grounded in a realistic world to which we found ourselves continually drawn. Strong character development made Ned Stark's fall heartbreaking, while Daenerys Targaryen's ascension from teen sex slave to rising leader ended the show's freshman outing with rousing hope for seasons to come.
17 of 18 AMC
Fueled by a season-long chess match between Bryan Cranston's Walter White and Giancarlo Esposito's cool, terrifying meth kingpin Gus, Breaking Bad was once again oh-so-good. As both men manipulated their pawn, a twitchier-than-ever Jesse (Aaron Paul), the tension slowly built to a simultaneously satisfying and surprising conclusion. The season-ending twist took Walt one step closer to his own doom, but also proved, after all his pompous boasting, that he is indeed "the one who knocks." And no matter how evil he becomes, we can't resist opening the door and inviting him in.
18 of 18 Kent Smith/Showtime
The tense, twisty CIA drama, based on a successful Israeli series, explores the relationship between former POW Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) and Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), an ambitious, unorthodox CIA operative who believes that Brody has been "turned" by Al-Qaeda. The show is executive-produced by former 24 producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon. While it was the pursuit of the show's unfathomable central question — is Brody a terrorist? — that got us hooked, we're now tuning in for the complicated, surprising performances by Danes and Lewis, who, with every episode, elicit both our sympathy and our scorn. Ultimately, the real question the show isn't afraid to ask is: Will we, as Americans, ever truly recover from the devastation of 9/11?