30 Rock (NBC)
Despite the fact that this season is packed with famous guest stars in an apparently futile effort to juice the ratings, their presence hasn't detracted from the continued overall quality. I would say that they've even added something to the mix almost every time. Tina Fey's increased popularity hasn't affected the caliber of the writing or the density of the jokes one bit, and the character development gets deeper and often more tragic with each episode. Liz Lemon's lonely, sad life is truthful and even touching at times, and her relationship with Jack likewise has unexpected layers. There are also plenty of rapid-fire off-kilter jokes, and the acting from the entire cast is subtle and hilarious. I still like this show at least as much as I did when it first started.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
I loved this show so much when it first premiered that I think I've judged it pretty harshly as it's gone downhill. But this just-concluded season (over quickly thanks to several weeks of double episodes) continues the slide in quality, and I don't know if they'll ever recapture the magic of the early episodes. Part of that is because the shock of the novelty of the humor has long since worn off, and that's not something it's possible to re-create. But part of it is also, I think, that the lack of novelty has pushed them to be even more and more outrageous, more and more absurd, and the show has descended into a cartoon. Not that it was ever realistic in the first place, but what was funny about those early episodes was often that the horrible things the characters were doing came out of some twisted versions of genuine human desires. That kind of motivation shines through occasionally now, but mostly it's just a bunch of idiots doing horrible things for no reason. Some of it's funny sometimes, but more often it's strained and trying too hard. I'm glad that FX has been supportive, but the more episodes they require the creators to churn out, the more the quality's diluted. I wish they'd go back to shorter seasons and be able to have the main three actor/writers keep full control as they did in the beginning. I'll probably keep watching, but the spark has really gone.
My Name Is Earl (NBC)
I had been ready to give up on this show after last season's parade of mediocrity, and the lengthy digressions into Earl's stint in jail and his coma. But writing about comedies for About requires me to watch more sitcoms than I normally might, so I figured I'd stick with Earl for now, and I'm glad I did. The show is still not nearly as good as it was in its first season, but it's greatly improved, with a renewed focus on the original concept of Earl going down his list and crossing off items. The supporting players who were cut off from the main action while Earl was in jail get their chances to shine again, and there are no heavy long-running storylines. The jokes still aren't quite as strong, and the sentimentality can be a little much at times, but I still enjoy myself almost every week, and that's not something I would have imagined last season.
Samantha Who? (ABC)
I very rarely laugh at this show anymore, but I still enjoy watching it. It's one of those shows that's just warm and inviting; I like the characters, and I like seeing what goes on with them, and even if I don't laugh out loud, I generally have a fun time watching the show (although this past week's egregious product placement for a certain Baz Luhrmann movie did turn me off). Christina Applegate is charming as Samantha, and the relationship comedy is gentle but affecting. I suppose I'd prefer a few more laughs in each episode, but in general I can settle for having a contented smile for the entire show.