CTV, 9 p.m. Sergeant Ali McCormick (Julie Stewart) is in a seriously bad mood as the fifth season opens. She's lost another partner (Stephen McHattie's character was dumped; personnel changes are an annual tradition for the show) and she doesn't really like the new guy assigned to her (fresh-meat cast member Matthew Bennett). Her mood, however, has more to do with the case they're working: the murder of a doctor who performs abortions. With this episode, Cold Squad seems to have matured into a decent drama. Stewart and Bennett's character have a delicious antagonistic relationship, the script for the most part is tight, and Stewart's layered performance is entertaining. Let's hope the rest of the season is as good as this episode.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent
NBC, CTV, 9 p.m. The third instalment in the Law & Order franchise actually tweaks the Emmy-winning format. Instead of a strict break between the police investigation (led in this series by Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe) and the trial (prosecuted by Courtney B. Vance), this series gives viewers more details about the killer and his motives. It works because it fleshes out the interesting bad guys whose evildoings aren't always fully explained in the traditional Law & Order formula. Law & Order fans will make this appointment TV, but it airs against CBC's Da Vinci's Inquest, which is a much better show. (See John Doyle's Short List on Page 1 for more details on Da Vinci's season opener.)
ABC, 9 p.m., CTV, 7:30 p.m. This is one of those new fall shows that may not survive the new mood of the land. In fact, at press time there were rumours it might not air at all. In the wake of the devastating terrorist attacks in the United States and the perception that U.S. spy agencies were asleep at the wheel, perhaps a show about double agents within the CIA isn't the best of ideas. Of course, it didn't seem that way before Sept. 11. If you do choose to tune in, Alias is a good show. Jennifer Garner is believable as a student who moonlights as a secret agent and there's enough action, nifty spy gadgets, plot twists and heart-wrenching drama to keep you glued. Victor Garber plays Garner's aloof dad, who has a secret spy life of his own. On ABC the two-hour premiere airs without the usual commercial breaks since one sponsor is promoting the whole shebang. CTV airs the series (with the usual commercial breaks) earlier.
ABC, CTV, 9 p.m. Created by Seinfeld alumnus Jason Alexander, this sitcom is terribly disappointing. After viewing the pilot episode, it's unlikely that anyone who likes laughing at George will crack much of a smile at the antics of low-rent motivational speaker Bob Patterson (Alexander). The pilot is full of cringe-inducing one-liners accompanied by an irritating laugh track. There may be some hope for the show, however, with the recent cast addition of Patterson's son Jeffery, who appears in later episodes. He's played by James Guidice, who is 17, short, overweight and definitely not an actor, yet he impressed Alexander and the producers with his brash Brooklyn attitude. If Guidice and Alexander can make it work on-screen then Bob Patterson may be worth a second look.
Human Edge: Fashion Victim
TVO, 10 p.m. Fashion Victim: The Killing of Gianni Versace is a seductive and smartly done documentary. It's an investigation into what's called "the ultimate celebrity killing" and Versace's hedonism, which his own publicist describes as "Versailles before the storming of the Bastille." The hour is full of sexy clothes, pouting models, home video of Versace's opulent mansions, behind-the-scenes footage of his last show and interviews with those who knew the designer and those who knew his killer, Andrew Cunanan. What saves the documentary from being a paper-thin treatment are the observations from designer Alexander McQueen, Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth and other fashion gurus who shed light on a life and a lifestyle so foreign to our own.
Opening Night: A Passion for Verdi
CBC, 8 p.m. The performing arts showcase returns for Season 2 with 22 more nights of high culture in an otherwise culture-less medium. It opens with a performance by Argentinean tenor José Cura in A Passion for Verdi. The concert was taped in February at London's Barbican Concert Hall with soprano Daniela Dessi. Cura performs solos and duets from Verdi's operas, including Il trovatore, Il corsaro, Don Carlos, Aida and Otello. He also borrows the baton to lead the London Symphony and show off his talent for conducting. Linda Griffiths hosts the episode, but a variety of familiar faces will also take turns introducing Opening Night this season, including Richard Bradshaw, John Fraser, Molly Johnson, Mark Gotlieb, Don McKellar, Bob Rae, Albert Shultz and Eleanor Wachtel.
Royal Canadian Air Farce
CBC, 9 p.m. Without John Morgan this year, the three full-time Farcers - Roger Abbott, Don Ferguson and Luba Goy - will be working with different guest stars each week. Sean Cullen and Sheila McCarthy take part in tonight's hourlong ninth-season opener. Comics Jayne Eastwood, Colin Mochrie (who's also taking Rick Mercer's spot on This Hour Has 22 Minutes) and Jonathan Torrens appear in upcoming episodes. Returning the same week as Canada: A People's History, Abbott expects Air Farce will continue with more of their skit, Canada: A Mildly Informative, Not Overly Long People's History. "Anything that takes itself that seriously is fun to poke at," he says. A more serious issue is how to cover the terrorist attacks in the U.S. "Sometimes people look to us for a way to handle a sad situation," he says. "We've got to find something we can touch on with honesty and irreverence."
WTN, 8 p.m.
WTN, 11 p.m.
Lovers of feel-good dramas have two more options tonight: Strong Medicine stars Janine Turner (Northern Exposure) as a high-strung surgeon. It's the better of the two series, interesting to watch as a running critique of the U.S. medical system. Turner's co-star is Rosa Blasi, a doctor with a working class-practice that clashes with her partner's high-end patients. The Division is about female cops in San Francisco. Familiar faces star here, too: Bonnie Bedelia (Die Hard) runs the unit while Nancy McKeon (The Facts of Life) is a break-the-rules kind of cop. It's really NYPD Blue with chicks, but there's a good scene involving women packing heat at a baby shower.