Spring is the time for weeding: for gardeners, a time to yank and replant; for TV watchers, a time to clear the dead underbrush from the viewing calendar and start anew. Maybe a favorite show's been canceled; maybe the midseason replacements weren't what you hoped for; maybe you've fallen out of love with a fall fling. Whatever the reason, here are six current dramas worth transplanting into your weekly rotation before rerun season starts.
THE SHIELD (FX, TUESDAYS, 10 P.M. E.T.) If you're suffering NYPD Blue withdrawal, this is its 21st century equivalent. The fourth season introduces Glenn Close as the new captain of the precinct, which allows new viewers to discover story lines and departmental politics along with her. While star Michael Chiklis garners all the awards hardware, The Shield boasts one of TV's best ensembles, including the cool, controlled C.C.H. Pounder as the straight-arrow detective (and would-be captain) whom Close has outmaneuvered--for now.
DEADWOOD (HBO, SUNDAYS, 9 P.M. E.T.) Think of this revisionist western as the Desperate Housewives of the 19th century. Granted, its characters swear more and bathe far less often. But both series take two mythic American settings--the frontier and the suburbs--and expose their ugly secrets. In the second season, the arrival of corporate interests in a gold-rush town gives viewers a fresh starting point (a DVD of Season 1 is also out). It's an engrossing story of how the West was won--or bought.
LOST (ABC, WEDNESDAYS, 8 P.M. E.T.) Each week a band of unfortunates narrowly escapes deadly pitfalls in pursuit of a shadowy mystery. Not the characters--the writers. They've recklessly piled on several seasons' worth of plot twists in one year. Yet the show has stayed just this side of ridiculous, through grounded performances and a flashback device that keeps it all from getting too claustrophobic--and helps newcomers get to know the cast.
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (SCI FI, FRIDAYS, 10 P.M. E.T.) Intelligent life in space? The most anyone could have expected from a remake of the campy '70s series was better haircuts. Instead, Galactica has been reborn as a dark, thrilling story of a deep-space war between humans and the Cylons, a race of robots created by mankind that can disguise themselves in human form. In an intriguing twist on the old series, the new Cylons have a religion and justify their genocide as punishment for humans' corruption. The humans must weigh fear vs. liberty and military vs. civilian authority. As a spacebound parable of the war on terrorism, this series hits eerily close to Earth.
VERONICA MARS (UPN, TUESDAYS, 9 P.M. E.T.) A high school girl detective (Kristen Bell) is trying to find the stranger who drugged and date-raped her, solve the murder of her best friend and unearth secrets of her own past in the process. It may sound like The O.C.S.I., but Mars is much better than its high-concept premise. Bell is a captivating star, with a girl scout's face and Philip Marlowe's jadedness. And like its godsister Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mars uses its pulp premise to dramatize a universal teen experience: that growing up means sleuthing out the mystery of who you really are.
HOUSE (FOX, TUESDAYS, 9 P.M. E.T.) Perhaps because watching one snide Brit isn't enough for America, Hugh Laurie has reaped the benefits of airing after Simon Cowell's American Idol. Laurie camouflages his English accent, but not that British gift for precise derision, as Dr. Gregory House, a brilliant but nasty diagnostician. House is so gifted not in spite of but because of his cynicism--his misanthropy and suspicion make him the ruthlessly probing skeptic his patients need. And Laurie's portrayal turns House from a routine disease-of-the-week exercise into a chess match with illness, in which his not-nice guy finishes first. --By James Poniewozik