Last week, Carrie Underwood got her "Idol" crown and our favorite castaways blew up the mysterious hatch, only to find ... a mysterious ladder. And with that, another TV season is in the books.

For me, the year was highlighted by a quartet of shows so ahead of the pack they can borrow the Beatles' moniker for this column. These were the Fab Four:

"Veronica Mars" was easily my favorite show of the year. Its writers know how to unspool a mystery: Give us so much stuff to think about (Is Duncan Veronica's brother? Is Keith Veronica's real dad? Can we trust Logan?) that the answer to "Who killed Lilly Kane?" could be right under our noses and still be a surprise.

I even popped in my "Veronica" tape before my "Gilmore Girls" tape after work on Tuesdays, and that's saying something.

I can't say Rory was entirely likable this season, but I did enjoy seeing the junior Gilmore girl squirm during the first day of her newspaper internship. No writing staff does "awkward" better. And the last 10 minutes of the season finale was both awe-inspiring and "aww"-inspiring. I loved how director Amy Sherman-Palladino lingered on Lauren Graham's uncharacteristically speechless face at two key moments: First, when her parents wrest Rory from her; second, when she listens to Luke's rant, inspiring the best "Will you marry me?" in recent TV memory.

"24" had another crackerjack day of thwarting terrorism. You have to wonder why Jack Bauer gets out of bed in the morning. (Answer: Because he's Jack Bauer.)

We don't have that option with every show, of course. The most saddening cancellation is "Judging Amy," which deserved one last season of Amy the Senator, Lauren the Rebellious Teenager and Bruce the Future Husband of Amy.

"Amy" will become a nostalgic Prime Time in the Daytime pleasure before long, but two other axed shows were instantly transporting: "American Dreams," a beautiful portrait (complete with gorgeous soundtrack) of the 1960s; and "Jack & Bobby," which actually gave heft to 2005 by allowing us to see it through the lens of 2040, when Bobby is the President.

But there's little time to mourn, because the end of the TV season simply means the beginning of the summer TV season. "The Inside," bursting with positive buzz, launches Wednesday. Who cares if it sounds like any old FBI drama? Tim Minear doesn't make bad shows, and his latest will be the best reason for staying inside this summer. I just hope it sticks around longer than "Wonderfalls."

JOHN HANSEN, entertainment editor, can be reached at john.hansen@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5863.

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