1. THE WIRE (HBO)
This sprawling social drama has dozens of characters and, really, only one–Baltimore, Md. The fourth, finest and most heartbreaking season focused on four inner-city schoolboys, serenaded by the drug trade, failed by every institution meant to protect them and facing choices that will make or doom them for life. Meanwhile, it expanded on the show’s novelistic tapestry of cops, politicos, junkies, bureaucrats, ministers and hustlers. No other TV show has ever loved a city so well, damned it so passionately or sung it so searingly.
2. THE OFFICE (NBC)
It’s not just the other Office anymore. The remake of the great British sitcom has found its own voice, satirizing the culture of coffee, cubicles and Chili’s with heart and laser precision. The deep bench of its cast provides a pointillistic taxonomy of American office life (who doesn’t work with an Angela, a Kevin or a Stanley?). And the wistful Pam-and-Jim almost-romance–all together now: Awww!–threatens to give the Sam-and-Diane saga a run for its long-unconsummated money.