Vincent Kartheiser from 'Mad Men': The third season of "Mad Men" is right around the corner, and as we've been frantically trying to catch up with Season 2, we're still struck by Kartheiser's quietly desperate exec Pete Campbell, whose worminess always walks a thin but magnetic line between tragedy and comedy. Maybe it's because he looks like a lost sketch creation by "The Kids in the Hall's" Dave Foley.

Joe McPhee's 'Nation Time': We completely slept on this reissue from the fantastic indie label Atavistic's "Unheard Music Series" back in 2000, but we advise you to seek out this unearthed 1970 live recording before the decade ends. Imagine the rich, edge-of-chaos blowing of Ornette Coleman teamed with an airtight guitar-and-keyboard ensemble as funky as James Brown's backing band. It's acid jazz that burns.



'Top Chef Masters': While our foodie cup runneth over watching all-star chefs compete for charity, something's been missing in this unscripted spinoff from Bravo. We initially loved being spared the backstabbing and pointedly edited personality conflicts that make up the original series, but we're surprised to find that great skills combined with mutual respect leaves us with a show that simply needs more spice.

Indie ingenues: This summer it's Zooey Deschanel, last summer (and next, given the coming "Iron Man" sequel) it was Scarlett Johansson, and many summers before that it was Winona Ryder. Nothing against future starlets who will like the Smiths, cover Tom Waits or find that reality bites, but surely there's more to courting the "alt" fanbase than an aloof detachment, big eyes and inability to play more than one character.

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