'Chuck,' 'Dexter,' 'Vampire Diaries' and more: Zap2it's highlights of the season so far

mid-fall-highlights.jpgWe're now seven weeks into the 2010-11 season -- enough time to have formed some definite opinions about the TV landscape. We like the way several veteran shows have stepped up their games this fall, and we're a little disappointed at the lack of buzzworthy new hits. And yes, we're still kinda bummed about "Lone Star."

From the good ( "Chuck," "The Vampire Diaries," "The Walking Dead") to the bad (hello, "Top Chef: DC") to the ugly (we're looking at you, "Gossip Girl" writers), here are some of Zap2it's highlights and lowlights of the season so far.

Rick Porter

Highlight: "Chuck's" very strong Season 4. The show at this point is never going to turn into the hit diehards wish it could be. But creatively it's been hitting a bunch of great notes this fall; Linda Hamilton has been a great addition to the cast, and there hasn't really been a bum episode yet.

Highlight: Peggy and Joan on "Mad Men." The show's fourth season built to a great climax, but this particular scene in the finale -- where Joan ( Christina Hendricks) and Peggy ( Elisabeth Moss) rehash the news of Don's ( Jon Hamm) engagement -- is the reason it's still sitting on my DVR three weeks after it aired.

Lowlight: The general lack of ambition on the networks' part this season. There are some fun, easy-to-take new series on the air ( "Hawaii Five-0" and "No Ordinary Family" come to mind), but nothing has demanded my attention the way shows like "Modern Family" and "Friday Night Lights" and "Glee," for all its faults, still do.

Highlight: "Smallville's" 200th episode. It's been a long time since I was a regular "Smallville" viewer, but the 200th episode struck such a nice balance of looking back at the show's past and ahead to its future that it's back on the season-pass list.

Lowlight: The lack of an audience for "Terriers." FX's increasingly excellent private-eye show has struggled mightily in the ratings, making a second season look like a difficult proposition.

Hanh Nguyen

andrew-lincoln2-walking-dead-320.jpg Highlight: Sunday Bloody Sunday. There's so much worthy Sunday programming, but I'm particularly thankful for "Dexter" -- which has been doing a commendable job with a creative, reinvigorated storyline to follow up the stellar John Lithgow season -- and AMC's freshly risen "The Walking Dead." Although both shows get my blood pumping with the gore factor, it's the study of humanity that sticks with me.

Lowlight: "Breaking Bad" abuse. First, "Saturday Night Live" phones it in when it comes to acclaimed actor Bryan Cranston hosting, making for one of the most excruciating episodes this season. On top of that, the delayed production and airdate means we have to wait till summer for Season 4, AND that puts it outside the window for Emmy eligibility.

Lowlight
: "Top Chef: DC" leaves a bitter taste. After its exciting (and Emmy-winning) Las Vegas season, I had mid-high hopes for "DC," which unfortunately had few likable characters, and one of the most unsatisfying finales ever. How is that possible when it was set in Singapore? They better redeem themselves with "All-Stars."

Highlight: Inspired lunacy of NBC Thursday. This new fall TV season has been so depressing, but at least I can count on "30 Rock" to make Food Network's "Barefoot Contessa" into an extended metaphor and "Community" to send up horror movies in the silliest ways. Just add a Troy and Abed rap for an early start to my weekend.

Carina MacKenzie

Highlight: KaDee Strickland's brave portrayal of "Private Practice's" Charlotte immediately after she was brutally beaten and raped. The story could have easily felt like an obvious, desperate grab for some November sweeps love, but her mercurial performance was chilling and felt uncomfortably real.

gossip-girl-katie-cassidy-cw-320.jpg Lowlight: "Gossip Girl" scores Katie Cassidy, gives her a secret agenda... and promptly makes her as boring as possible. Cassidy is dynamic and usually lights up a screen whether she's playing an evil demon or an innocent victim, but her entire run on the Upper East Side has been a snooze. I don't care what her endgame is -- I just want her to get it over with, cause her trouble, and go back where she came from.

Highlight: Apparently, someone forgot to tell the folks at "The Vampire Diaries" about the whole sophomore slump rule. They've successfully brought some of their tertiary cast members like Candice Accola and Michael Trevino to the forefront, making the stakes even higher, and Nina Dobrev manages to play both Elena and Katherine with grace and unmatched energy.

Mikey O'Connell

Highlight:
Like a lot of people, I didn't jump on the "Cougar Town" train during its freshman season. I opted to stand by, point at the train and make fun of its stupid name and premise. But I can now admit that I was wrong. After accidentally tuning into the season premiere, the poorly-titled series has become one of the comedic highlights of my week and -- brace yourself -- officially takes Wednesday DVR precedence over "Modern Family." This cast has as good of a chemistry as any other ensemble on television.

Lowlight: Not to kick a show when it's down, but the recently pseudo-canceled "Life Unexpected" lost me almost as soon as the second season began. I originally tuned in for the comfort-TV aesthetic that recalled The WB of yore, but after the wedding finale -- which would have provided a suitable ending to the series -- all of the characters quickly turned into people I just don't like. Kate is reprehensible, Ryan's been completely defamed -- and don't even get me started on Lux. I'll watch through the end, out of sick obligation, hoping for unlikely redemption.


Highlight: I have to give my first nod to "Chuck," which continually airs fast, fun spy stories while not forgetting about the relationship arcs. This season's reboot is successful in my eyes, though I know some of the TV blogging elitists don't get or like the new Buy More-as-CIA base turn. I'm fine with it and still enjoy the show immensely. And Linda Hamilton as Chuck's mom? Genius.

real-housewives-beverly-hills-bunny.jpg Highlight: "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" is doing its thing for me. After the crazy, sometimes dangerous, New Jersey season and the snoozapalooza that was the D.C. season, the 90210 gals are bringing the franchise back to it roots: Opinionated, aspirational and relationship-oriented women. The "Atlanta Housewives" are also a highlight, but that's to be expected.

Lowlight: This aches me to say, because I was a loyal fan of the series and loved it dearly, but "Private Practice" episodes are just stacking up on my DVR. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why I stopped watching this season at around the second episode. I think I was just over the inter-office dating storyline again and the absence of Chris Lowell as Dell and plain stopped caring about the characters. The mothership "Grey's Anatomy," though? It's definitely undergoing a resurgence, and while it may sound awful to say, the season finale shooting did its job in giving the show (and its characters) a new look at life. Now, there's a ShondaLand ride I'm still on. 

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Photo credits: NBC, Bravo, Showtime, AMC, The CW