After a long and painful summer that saw only a handful of new scripted series due to the writers' strike, the fall TV season is finally here. Hallelujah.

In the coming weeks more than 50 scripted programs will return to the network and cable and airwaves with each making millions of people happy to once again hang out with their old friends. Sports fans always talk about the mythical quality of opening day in football, baseball or basketball. For TV fanatics, being able to watch the shows they love once again carries the same weight.

Still, some people are just plain wrong. Some people have attached themselves to shows that don't even deserve to be on the air. Sometimes even critics are to blame for this misplaced loyalty. At the same time, there are quality shows that return year after year despite being ignored by audiences, critics, and anybody else generating buzz.

The following are the five most overrated and underrated returning shows of the 2008 fall TV season:


5. "My Name is Earl" - NBC

This show earned more buzz than Earl earned money from his fateful lottery ticket at the time of its loss, but that all seemed to dissipate faster than Joy's reserve supply of lip gloss. Somehow, audiences and critics all forgot that this is simply one of the funniest shows on television. No, it doesn't have the heart of some sitcoms or even their brains, but it does have some of the best gags on television and a brilliant cast led by the charismatic Jason Lee and the gloriously dim Ethan Suplee. Plus it has 90% of "The Office's" ratings and only about 10% of its hype. Now that's underrated.

4. "Bones" - FOX

This is a show that absolutely nobody talks about. In fact, if Fox didn't advertise it during NFL games would anybody even know it was on? Those who don't are missing the best chemistry between two dramatic leads since David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson explored the paranormal on "The X-Files." David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel are a joy to watch and raise this forensic series well above the many others on the small screen. It's not just the two leads who do this; however, it's also the playful writing that brings some much-needed levity to this dark drama. It should also be noted that it's ranked a respectable 59th in the Nielsen Ratings, yet nobody's ever met anybody who watches the show. Sounds like grounds for an investigation.

3. "Everybody Hates Chris" - The CW

Another show ripe with early buzz that quickly found itself ignored by everybody. It could be because the mainstream press loves to ignore anything with an African-American bent, it could be because The CW has moved the show so many times it makes "NewsRadio" look like it had a steady time slot, it could be just because The CW is such a small network that its shows are always doomed to fail. Whatever the case, it's an absolute crime that such a smart and funny show is now in the Friday Night Death Slot where it will attract about as many viewers as a WNBA game. The saddest thing is that this show earned identical ratings last season to "Gossip Girl," a show that the CW sees at the cornerstone of its network, while they've left its best show to rot on Friday night. Shameful.

2. "King of the Hill" - FOX

Despite the fact that nobody's watched this show nor has anybody talked about it since the 1990s, "King of the Hill" continues its wild ride through Arlen in the fall. What many people, okay, everybody who owns a television, don't know is that this show is still as funny as it ever was. It's still a brilliant satire of how one man's old-fashioned ways continue to clash with the changes in our society. Lately, this has worked even better because Hank hasn't changed since the first episode yet society has moved forward in so many ways. The writing is still sharp and the stories still quaint, making this one of the most unique series on TV. Maybe that's why nobody watches it.

1. "The New Adventures of Old Christine" - CBS

The only reason this show survived during its first few years was because of the uncannily brilliant performance of Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and its benefiting from "Two and a Half Men's" lead in. It wasn't particularly good at that time, but ratings and buzz remained positive. Somewhere along the way the rating dwindled slightly and everybody stopped talking about the series. Funnily enough, this coincided with a dramatic increase in quality for "Christine." The show added characters, tightened its focus and ultimately found its voice in the dealings of its wacky heroine. It's now one of the five or six funniest sitcoms on television but nobody seemed to notice. Luckily, they'll all be reminded when Julia Louis-Dreyfuss wins another richly-deserved Emmy in a couple of weeks and maybe this show can rise from the depths of underrated Hell.


5. "The Big Bang Theory" - CBS

There didn't seem to be much hoopla over this show until the writers' strike hit. Then, all of the sudden, it seemed like every TV critic came out of the woodwork to proclaim its brilliance and lament its absence during the strike. Why? Is it because each episode has the same long joke about there being one arrogant nerd and one without self-confidence? Is it because it's the latest lame-com from the Chuck Lorre Middle-of-the-Road Playbook? Is it because neither the acting nor the writing is particularly good? Whatever the case, this show got Emmy buzz and blogosphere buzz to go along with the critics. I don't think there could be a scientific explanation for this.

4. "The Office" - NBC

It's not that "The Office" is a bad show. It's a good show, sometimes very good, sometimes a bit lame but it averages out to a nice and amusing sitcom. Problem is, with its insane fanbase it could be the best show of all time week-in-and-week-out and still be overrated. The amount of praised heaped upon it is flabbergasting. How many of us have heard some sweater-wearing, MacBook-typing, soy latte-drinking poseur sitting at a Starbucks saying, "I don't watch TV, except for 'The Office', of course." How did this happen? How did a simply funny sitcom somehow become the paragon of quality television? Whatever it is, it's just wrong, another example of how a little buzz can lead a show to becoming so massively overrated that it transcends its medium and becomes hailed as "art" by those who think they know what that means.

3. "Family Guy" - Fox

This crass and horribly unfunny cartoon is so overrated that Fox actually un-cancelled it a few years ago, subjecting viewers to more recycled jokes than a Carlos Mencia routine. This show takes the Rob Deer Comedy Theory to a new level: Not only does it swing for the fences with every joke, but it misses almost every time. The only time the show makes contact is when a gag is so obviously stolen that those in the know can easily point out its source ("Simpsons", "Simpsons", "Far Side", "Simpsons", "Letterman") in a rapid-fire diatribe of disgust. Despite all this, "Family Guy" has vaulted past much of its source material to become the most beloved 'toon on TV. How many times have we all run past somebody who proudly announces they own all the seasons on DVD and loves staying up 'till 3 a.m. with a "Family Guy" marathon? This is invariably the tasteless comedy miscreant who follows their "Family Guy" pride by delighting that they scored tickets to Dane Cook and talking about how they can't wait for the next installment of "Laser Cats". They can have "Family Guy"; the rest of us will stick to comedies that are actually, ya know, funny. (Note: this paragraph was copied and pasted from another article I wrote. This show is so awful it didn't deserve being written about twice.)

2. "Ugly Betty" - ABC

"Ugly Betty" should make us all sad. Why? Because in this world of behind-the-scenes sexism in the television industry this annoyingly fluorescent show with jokes that would have seemed stale if this show came out ten years ago is considered a smart sitcom for females. Really? It's just sad. It's just sad that there's so much sexism inherent in the way this industry works that "Ugly Betty" is the best and most intelligent sitcom they can make about women these days. It's almost like this show isn't overrated, it's just a victim of the horrible circumstances within showbiz that make good roles for women so few and far between that wearing a dirty poncho and braces is the height of good female comedy. Of course, nobody else seems to want to point this out, so it remains the second most overrated returning show on television.

1. "Entourage" - HBO

Shouldn't sitcoms be funny? Shouldn't characters grow? Shouldn't the heroes of a show make you want to root for them and not beat them over the head with the heaviest object within reach? According to "Entourage" the answer to all these questions is "no". Somehow this show has managed to makes its characters less likable and the show less relatable as it's gone on and made that seem like it's a good thing. Most of the jokes have evaporated over this time as well, resulting in mildly amusing episodes that may be funny to the 100,000 or so people who work in showbiz but simply self-important tripe to everybody else. This show used to be a funny fantasy about some regular guys living a dream, a dream that's since become a nightmare to its audience. Despite all this, it continues to rake in the Emmys (though the brilliant Jeremy Piven is always deserved) along with great critical praise and more buzz than a wasp's nest.

Overrated/Underrated is off next week to make room for the first of many Oscar columns to come, but remember to check back in two weeks.

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Story by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer