Skip to main content

It happens every year right around now. The new TV season inevitably brings with it a heightened sense of anticipation for most normal folks. Even those who only watch TV occasionally are aware something big is about to happen, and it always takes place in mid-September. For months, broadcasters have been anxiously waiting to serve up their precious new product to an unsuspecting public, and the last few weeks have seen around-the-clock on-air promotion for the new-season arrivals. You can run and hide, but you can't avoid the hype.

In keeping with previous years, the new fall season includes something old, something new and some shows that were simply a terrible idea in the first place. As with most things out of our control, it's best not to try and fathom the motives of networks and cable outlets. That way lies madness.

To that end, the intent behind this issue of Globe Television is help readers navigate their way through the new TV season. The pages ahead feature reviews of each and every offering from broadcasters this fall. Please keep in mind that each new show has been judged from the pilot episode only (sometimes they get better, but not very often), and remember that the grades assigned are strictly the opinion of the reviewer. The best advice, as always, is to use your own best critical judgment. Enjoy the new season.


Hockey Night in Canada

7 p.m., CBC

Starts: Oct 8

Setup: Cue the famous Hockey Night in Canada theme music. The return of the venerable Saturday-night shinny telecast doesn't qualify as new fall TV product, but some viewers may require a re-introduction. Canadians haven't seen an NHL contest since June 7, 2004. Last season was one long tease for fans; every time the owners and players seemed to get close to an agreement, something happened and everyone's hopes were dashed. It went on that way for months until the league finally cancelled the season and announced they would try again this fall. And now, the time has come.

The good news: The arrival of veteran commentator Jim Hughson to the HNIC broadcast team. Hughson is one of the best play-by-play announcers in the game today, and will call the second game of each Saturday-night NHL doubleheader. Also returning are stalwarts Bob Cole, Harry Neale, Greg Millen, Scott Oake, Kelly Hrudey and Elliotte Friedman. And of course, HNIC will again feature their weekly Coach's Corner segment, with Ron MacLean and Don Cherry. You just don't mess with some traditions.

The bad news: There was concern the recent CBC lockout (which is still ongoing as this issue closes) could effect the return of hockey, but the network claims it's business as usual for our beloved national pasttime. The worst-case scenario: If the CBC lockout is still on when HNIC returns next month, it's entirely possible viewers may receive the on-ice visuals but without the informed commentary. It's an odd but workable solution. In fact, CBC employed the same technique last month on their CFL broadcasts, and it seems more viewers tuned in. Go figure.

Chances: Are you kidding? This is the great Canadian game. The return of the Saturday-night institution is the best news of the season. Hockey Night in Canada has been a TV staple since 1952, and on radio long before that. Just drop the puck already.



5 p.m., CTV;

Fridays, 8:30 p.m., WB

Starts: Sept. 16, WB; Oct. 9, CTV

Setup: Fraternal twins Mitchee (Sara Gilbert) and Farrah (Molly Stanton) are diametric opposites. Mitchee is a sharp businesswoman who dresses like a homeless person; Farrah is less intelligent, but more famous since she's a superstar lingerie model. Both women work for the successful lingerie company owned by their parents. Mitchee takes after their brilliant designer father, Alan (Mark Linn-Baker, Perfect Strangers), while Farrah is more in line with her dizzy mother, Lee (Melanie Griffith), herself a former lingerie model. What a wacky family!

The good news: Here in Canada, it's airing on Sunday afternoon, so most people will miss it.

The bad news: Where to begin? The sexist setup aside, it's just a dreadful concept for a sitcom. The pilot script is rife with groaners and obvious gags. And the unspoken theme -- that pretty girls get all the breaks, while ugly girls get stuck with all the work -- will eventually receive some manner of payoff. What a great message! Also: Melanie Griffith just looks weird.

Chances: If The WB were smart, they'd cancel production and destroy all existing tapes of the show. And let us never again speak of Twins.

Score: 0

The War at Home

8:30 p.m., Fox/Global

Starts: Sept. 11

Setup: Although working-class family man Dave (Michael Rapaport) is only in his 30s, he misses the good old days. Dave is nostalgic for the era when kids respected their parents and he takes any opportunity to tell his long-suffering wife Vicky (Anita Barone) all about it. The couple are increasingly concerned about their own three children: 15-year-old Larry (Kyle Sullivan) has been caught dressing up in women's clothes; the interests of 13-year-old Mike (Dean Collins) are confined to sex and PlayStation; and their early bloomer daughter Hillary (Kaylee Defer) wants to start dating college boys.

The good news: None, seriously.

The bad news: Rapaport has long been an annoying presence in feature films. Now he's an offensive boob in this travesty of a sitcom. At best it's a crude throwback to earlier Fox sitcoms, like Married. . .with Children, except nowhere near as funny. Married. . .with Children was Chaucer compared to The War at Home. The focal father figure is misogynist, homophobic and even manages to work in a racist bent, which he displays when his daughter brings home an African-American youth. Welcome to George Bush's America, pardners.

Chances: We'll optimistically predict that most viewers will be offended by The War at Home, and will stay away in droves. But what's that old saying about how nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public?

Score: H

How I Met Your Mother

9:30 p.m., CH;

Mondays, 8:30 p.m., CBS

Starts: Sept. 19

Setup: It's a story from the not-too-distant future. Told entirely in flashbacks (with voiceover by Bob Saget) it involves a decent single guy Ted (Josh Radnor) recounting the story of how he met the love of his life, Lily (Alyson Hannigan from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Set in New York in present day, the show's other primary players include Ted's bachelor pals, the insecure, marriage-minded Marshall (Jason Segel) and the slickster Barney (Neil Patrick Harris, aka Doogie Howser, M.D.), an unrepentant ladies man.

The good news: A good cast of proven young talent, especially Hannigan, who has been missing in action since Buffy folded three years ago. It's nice to see Doogie Howser again, too.

The bad news: The womanizing male characters will likely hold limited appeal for female viewers. The show's writers also try to squeeze too many one-liners into the half-hour format.

Chances: It's nothing spectacular, but still better than most of the sitcoms currently clogging the airwaves. How I Met Your Mother does possess a sly charm, but it's doomed going up against Desperate Housewives.

Score: HHH

Out of Practice

10:30 p.m., CH;

Mondays, 9:30 p.m., CBS

Starts: Sept. 19

Setup: Poor Ben (Christopher Gorham) can't catch a break. Although he's worked hard to become a certified psychologist, he's still considered the black sheep of his family, which is stacked with licensed doctors. Ben's older brother Oliver (Ty Burrell) is a hotshot plastic surgeon. His sister Regina (Paula Marshall) is a doctor in a hospital emergency room. His divorced parents (Henry Winkler, Stockard Channing) are also highly-regarded medics. All of them would love to see Ben enrolled in medical school, but he's quite content with his job counseling couples.

The good news: Next to Scrubs, it's the only sitcom on TV set in the medical field. Also: Channing's skill as a comedic actress is put to good use.

The bad news: It's a weak concept, poorly executed. Gorham is a welcome new arrival as the mild-mannered Ben, but most of the residual cast members are decidedly unpleasant people.

Chances: There are all kinds of problems with the show, but the most telling forecast is evident in its thankless timeslot, both in Canada and the U.S. There's not much hope for Out of Practice, which is no small mercy to viewers.

Score: H



8 p.m., NBC/CH

Starts: Sept. 19

Setup: Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. All is calm under the sea, until strange and slimy beasties start to turn up in fishing nets and elsewhere -- and it's happening everywhere! From the Antarctic to the Gulf of Mexico! The largish creatures are unlike anything ever seen before and authorities are bewildered: Is it a new species of sea life? Is it alien? How would it taste deep-fried? These answers are expected from a team of marine biologists and science types (played by Carter Jenkins, Lake Bell and film veteran Jay Ferguson). Look out, Nessie!

The good news: It's the return of the underwater drama! There hasn't been a decent one since Lloyd Bridges donned scuba gear on Sea Hunt back in the '50s. And the earth is two-thirds covered by water, you know.

The bad news: There's a reason why TV rarely goes underwater: It's pretty boring down there. The pilot meanders off in several directions that seem to be going into the team members' personal lives, which doesn't look promising. The hook of Surface wrests entirely with the sea monsters, which are shown only after unbearable buildup and then fleetingly. The CGI effects pale next to those employed in feature films. There were scarier octopuses on Sea Hunt.

Chances: Surface is an odd addition to primetime, particularly on a Monday night. It's another experiment by NBC in their attempt to climb out of the fourth-place cellar. Last fall it was a show about Hawaiian cops and the Heather Locklear drama LAX; this year it's an X-Files clone about sea monsters. Call it Voyage to the Bottom of the Ratings.

Score: HH

Kitchen Confidential

8:30 p.m., Fox/Global

Starts: Sept. 19

Setup: Based on the book by celebrity gourmand Anthony Bourdain, it's the story of a young chef gone wrong. The chef in question, improbably named Jack Bourdain (Bradley Cooper from Alias), was the hottest chef in the Big Apple but became a little too familiar with those old demons, booze and drugs, which rendered him unemployable. Once he sobers up, the only job Jack can hold down is slinging pasta at an opera-themed chain restaurant. Then, out of the blue, Jack is hired as head chef at a five-star New York eatery owned by a dotty restaurateur (Frank Langella), with a sassy, attractive daughter. Jack is back!

The good news: The New York setting seems authentic. And you'll see enough behind-the-scenes kitchen sloppiness to swear off eating in high-end restaurants, which will save you money.

The bad news: Kitchen Confidential is too hip for its own good, or at least it tries to be. The show is the long-awaited follow-up from Sex and the City creator Darren Star, who is still fixed in the same New York fantasy dreamscape. All the kitchen staffers are stereotypical twentysomething, latte-fueled underachievers. The show is broken into rapid breakout scenes, a la Scrubs, but the writing doesn't measure up to the technique. And it's difficult to generate any attraction for the ego-driven main character. Jack is a jerk.

Chances: It's assumed that Fox thought Bourdain's name would draw viewers, but how many people really watch the Food Network? Kitchen Confidential is too slick by current sitcom standards and seems unlikely to garner a devoted audience. Fox will stick with it for a while, but don't expect a second course after their baseball coverage in October.

Score: HH

Prison Break

9 p.m., Fox/Global

Starts: Began August 29

Setup: An intense young engineer named Michael (Wentworth Miller) intentionally breaks the law in order to be incarcerated in the same penal institution where his brother, Lincoln (Dominic Purcell), is currently residing. Lincoln is sitting on death row for murdering the vice-president's brother, you see, but it's a bum rap. Michael's master plan to extricate his big brother has so far involved the recruitment of a string of inmate confidantes. And Michael knows his way out of the joint: He went in with a very detailed but well-disguised blueprint of the prison tattooed to his torso. Now that's brotherly love.

The good news: The show is pretty much summed up in the title. The first few outings of Prison Break have been rippingly good, and the authentic institutional setting (it was filmed at Chicago's infamous Joliet Prison) bestows an appropriately dank tone. Rarely has prison life looked this unpleasant.

The bad news: None apparent from the first few shows. Although the two male leads are mostly unknowns (Purcell's only prior experience was in the short-lived John Doe; Miller was in the feature film The Human Stain), they're both properly simmering figures, and very believable as the brothers. They even look alike.

Chances: Prison Break is Fox's boldest offering of the new season -- their best hour-long show since 24, in fact -- that should only benefit from its early start date. The first episodes showed great promise as the storylines are already reaching outside the prison walls and into the government conspiracy that framed poor Lincoln. Like 24, Prison Break is a serialized weekly saga that could easily become appointment viewing on Monday nights. Maybe it already has.

Score: HHHH

Just Legal

9 p.m., WB/A-Channel

Starts: Sept. 19

Setup: Testy lawyer Grant Cooper (Don Johnson) was formerly a high-end corporate legal eagle, but is now reduced to running a rundown legal office in Los Angeles. Enter David "Skip" Ross (Jay Baruchel), a 19-year-old law-school graduate and legal prodigy still too young to work at a real firm. This naturally leads to the old war horse Cooper grudgingly taking on the young pup, and together they defend the weak, the poor, the oppressed, that sort of thing.

The good news: L.A. looks very cool in a pilot that is visually dazzling. The show was created by film and TV kingpin Jerry Bruckheimer -- the man behind the curtain of the CSI franchise -- and there is clearly great expense and effort put into the "look" of the pilot, which is terribly slick by television standards. In fact, it looks just like an episode of CSI.

The bad news: Again, the show was created by Jerry Bruckheimer. The man is long known for putting style above substance and his record remains intact on Just Legal. Despite the sizzle, it's just another sophomoric legal drama, the type of dull-witted show people may have watched in the '70s. And some of the writing on Just Legal is excruciating. There's no concern for smart dialogue or storytelling; instead, this appears to be a star vehicle for Don Johnson -- and there's a sentence most of us probably thought we'd never hear again. To that end, Johnson looks craggy and tired. There have been some hard miles logged on his face between Miami Vice and this show.

Chances: It's rather sad the WB believes there's a fan base for Don Johnson out there. As the sidekick, Baruchel is more irritating than precocious, and any chemistry between the two is forced. If the TV gods are merciful, it will suffer a quick death due to low ratings.

Score: H


Close to Home

8 p.m., CTV; 10 p.m., CBS

Starts: Oct. 4

Setup: Spunky Annabeth Chase (Jennifer Finnigan) is a city prosecutor with a perfect conviction record. When she returns to work after giving birth to her first child, it's with a newly acquired resolve to clean up her own suburban neighbourhood, which is apparently rife with crime and heinous criminals. On the home front, Annabeth is the perfect mother and has a solid support system in her handsome and easygoing husband, Jack (Christian Kane).

The good news: If nothing else, it takes the spectre of crime out of the city and places it in suburbia. It's not exactly a momentous change, but at least it's something different.

The bad news: It's more low-concept TV fodder from Jerry Bruckheimer, who in this case delivers a lifeless, generic legal drama. Finnigan is a fine actress but her character appears overwrought by newfound motherhood. She takes far too much interest in her cases to be believable. Also: talented actress Kimberly Elise (Diary of a Mad Black Woman) is wasted in a support role.

Chances: Close to Home is presumably CBS's unofficial replacement for Judging Amy, a much better legal drama that departed last season. Both shows focused on a crusading female authority figure balancing home life with a career in the legal profession. Close to Home seems intent on fostering paranoia toward crime and hidden enemies; the only difference this time: The evildoers live in the suburbs. Bring back Judging Amy, I say.

Score: HH


8 p.m., Fox/Global

Starts: Sept. 13

Setup: Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) is a famed forensic anthropologist and the author of several bestselling novels. Her uncanny ability to cull astounding information simply from looking at old bones makes her a valuable commodity to law-enforcement officials, who bring her in on tough cases. Most often the call comes from plainclothes homicide detective Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz), a former army sergeant who distrusts science and all that newfangled DNA evidence. The pair unavoidably disagree on most things, but there's an obvious physical attraction, too.

The good news: It's a fresher take on the crime-scene genre. Deschanel is a lovely new addition and her slightly quirky portrayal of Temperance works. Also: Many viewers will be glad to see the return of Boreanaz, formerly of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, who is still a formidable TV presence.

The bad news: There are early signs that writers are keen on spreading the stories outside the Temperance-Seeley duo, which is probably a mistake. Their combative relationship is the best reason to watch.

Chances: Bones is based on the experiences of real-life anthropologist Kathy Reichs, who has sold millions of books. If those readers follow her exploits over to television, the show could click. It's in a wide-open timeslot, the pilot has good energy and the two leads are truly likeable. Bones is CSI for younger viewers, with more emphasis on the living than the dead.

Score: HH


9 p.m., ABC/CTV

Starts: Sept. 27

Setup: Isn't it funny how things work out? Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis) is the first female vice-president in U.S. history. The current president chose her as running mate as a gimmick to help win the election. They won, but now the president is fatally ill and he asks Mackenzie to step aside and allow someone "more appropriate" to take the job. Not a chance, says Mackenzie, who moves right into the Oval Office. The feisty lady takes on the most important job in the world, which isn't as easy as it looks. In addition to balancing duties as mother of twin teens and a six-year-old daughter, it seems her politician husband Rod (Kyle Secor of Homicide: Life on the Street) is threatened by her promotion. Away from the home front, she's forced to deal with tricky Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton (Donald Sutherland), who seems intent on unraveling Mackenzie's term in office.

The good news: It's a complete fantasy, sure, but still a darn good time. Davis is completely believable as the bewildered but extremely capable Mackenzie. Her big-screen experience serves her well in the show. Sutherland is wonderfully malicious as her political nemesis.

The bad news: None, really, although the actress playing her young daughter is rather irritating.

Chances: Commander-In-Chief should be this fall's top-rated new drama, thanks to Davis's presence. It wouldn't work with any other actress in the role.

Score: HHHH

Da Vinci's City Hall

9 p.m., CBC

Starts: Oct. 18

Setup: After a high-profile decade as Vancouver's crusading coroner, Dominic Da Vinci (Nicholas Campbell) runs for the office of mayor -- and darned if he doesn't win!

The good news: The concept picks up where Da Vinci's Inquest leaves off after several seasons. The clever switch: Da Vinci now sits atop the same bureaucratic machine he previously railed against.

The bad news: No preview tape was made available for review, but that's forgivable given the current labour disruption at CBC.

Chances: City Hall will unavoidably be measured against Da Vinci's Inquest. As with that show, the task of elevating the proceedings falls to Nicholas Campbell -- arguably this country's best dramatic actor. Campbell created a TV original as the driven coroner Da Vinci and there's no reason to believe the character will soften once he's transferred into the mayor's office.

Score: No pilot made available.

My Name is Earl

9 p.m., NBC/CH

Starts: Sept. 20

Setup: Low-rent crook and certified redneck Earl (Jason Lee) is thrilled beyond belief when he wins the state lottery. Then he walks into the path of a moving car. While recovering in the hospital, and tuned up on morphine, Earl has a life-altering epiphany: A TV program with Carson Daly introduces the concept of karma to impressionable Earl, who is immediately convinced his accident was no accident. Hence, Earl sets about making amends with the hundreds of people he's done wrong. It's a noble gesture with disastrous results.

The good news: There has to be at least one funny new show each year, and this is it. My Name is Earl is sharply written and makes judicious use of narration to drive the story along. And it has the season's best casting decision in Lee as the scruffy, slow-witted Earl, whose heart really is in the right place. He's the drunk in the midnight choir, a lost soul trying to put things right. Earl's not the kind of guy you'd want to know, but he's fun to watch from a safe distance.

The bad news: None evident in the first few shows. It could have used a better timeslot, though.

Chances: It has some serious ratings competition on Tuesday nights -- especially when The Amazing Race returns -- but My Name is Earl has very good buzz going into the new season. And if the American lowlife concept seems déclassé, remember that Roseanne ran for nearly a decade.

Score: HHH


9 p.m., WB/Citytv

Starts: Sept. 13

Setup: Twentysomething brothers Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles) cruise the highways of middle America in their nicely-restored 1967 Chevy Impala. The extended road trip appears to be a fulltime job for the grim-faced brothers, who apparently have the dual mission statement of tracking down their missing father and investigating instances of paranormal activity. And Sam and Dean have a knack for finding evil wherever it lurks.

The good news: That's a pretty sweet ride the boyos are driving.

The bad news: The two male leads, presumably chosen for their model-type appearances, are complete unknowns, and neither is a very good actor. And they look nothing like brothers. The leaden pilot devoted too much time to the missing-father subplot, which will inevitably be revisited territory. And the scary bits aren't the least bit scary.

Chances: It's Ghostbusters meets The Hardy Boys meets Route 66. The WB basement is full of shows like this one: Fast, forgettable filler with hunky lead characters. The WB cranks them out for younger viewers and sometimes they work (like Smallville), but more often they just quietly disappear after a few months, which is likely the fate awaiting Supernatural. Nice car, though.

Score: H


10 p.m., Citytv

Starts: Sept. 13

Setup: Lieutenant Conrad Rose (Gary Cole) is a LAPD veteran on a mission: He's assembled members of various law-enforcement agencies into an elite group of crime fighters. Their mission: Track down and apprehend the 100 most-wanted criminals in Los Angeles. The hit list ranges from white-collar criminals to violent desperadoes.

The good news: Wanted comes from the U.S. cable channel TNT, which means it's much grittier than network cop shows. Also: Gary Cole is a solid choice as the central character. His talents are put to better use here than the two seasons he spent on The West Wing.

The bad news: It just seems juvenile by current cop-show standards. Much of the screen time is devoted to corny cop-talk, or hackneyed cop scenarios, including macho police raids and takedowns and endless SUV chases, which now seem somewhat wasteful in these fuel-conscious times.

Chances: Like The Shield, it's a cop show for adults, but not necessarily thinking adults. Wanted is a perfectly decent new show that will appeal to fans of the genre. Those expecting finely etched portrayals of the men and women behind the badges will be disappointed; those who crave flat-out action will love it.

Score: HH



7 p.m., CTV; 8 p.m., ABC

Starts: Sept. 21

Setup: A peaceful locale near Dade County, Fla., is abruptly flattened by a hurricane. While sifting through the aftermath, local park ranger Russell Varon (Eddie Cibrian) becomes suspicious. His young daughter Rose (Ariel Gade) claims to have seen hundreds of lights floating over the ocean; his ex-wife, Mariel (Canadian actress Kari Matchett) was found naked in the water the following morning, with no memory of how she got there. Ranger Russell shakes off the conspiracy theories espoused by his addled brother-in-law, Dave (Tyler Labine), who prophesizes an alien invasion. But it's inviting territory for the ranger's new wife, Larkin (Lisa Sheridan), a local TV reporter.

The good news: Fine special effects abound. The storm sequence is spectacular, and there are a few really creepy moments in the pilot.

The bad news: There's potential for too many characters going in too many directions. The premise isn't terrible, but the contrivances are showing already: Ranger Russell's nemesis is the obnoxious local sheriff (William Fitchner), who seems to be covering up the pending alien invasion. The evil sheriff also happens to be married to Ranger Russell's ex-wife. Sure, it's a small town, but still . . .

Chances: Invasion is a big dumb lug of a show; you know there's something up straight away and it does a credible job of holding viewer attention, at least through the pilot episode. It's probably the weakest of the alien-themed entries this fall season, but its lack of pretense could make it a surprise hit. Most critics said The X-Files wouldn't last one season.

Score: HHH

The Apprentice: Martha Stewart

8 p.m., NBC/Global

Starts: Sept. 21

Setup: Well, look who's back! If you've ever seen Martha Stewart put together a dinner party on her old series, you'll know the lady likes to do things in a big way. Most recently it's been her grand TV comeback, which began last week in her daytime syndicated series. That show seeks a slice of the lucrative Oprah/Dr. Phil market, but more viewers will watch this spin-off of The Apprentice. From early indications, it's a virtual clone: Sixteen hungry yuppies -- 10 women, six men, aged 22 to 42 -- are split into teams for a three-month marathon of business challenges. The challenges naturally fall in the realm of home design or towels or whatnot. Martha is counseled by two helpers: her daughter Alexis and Charles Koppelman, who runs her company. Each week brings a boardroom ejection sequence, and the last man or woman standing is awarded a job in Martha's business empire.

The good news: The Apprentice concept should work better with Martha. She's surely easier to take than The Donald, she has one of the sharpest business minds going, and she isn't known for holding back her opinions. If the contestants are paying attention, they might actually learn something.

The bad news: The Donald himself will inevitably drop in a few times, just to remind viewers that his original version of The Apprentice airs Thursday nights. Also: At press time, Martha hadn't settled on a trademark tagline to oust contestants. May we suggest: "Get the hell out!"

Chances: Let's be honest: Everyone will watch the first few weeks just to see Martha. She was freakishly famous long before her recent prison holiday. Now she's more famous than ever and she's unstoppable, like Godzilla or The Terminator; stock in her multimedia company has only risen in the past few months. Martha can pull this off; it's a piece of cake -- and just wait and see if she doesn't score higher ratings than The Donald.

Score: No screener available.

Criminal Minds

9 p.m., CBS

Starts: Thursday, Sept. 22, 10 p.m.

Setup: There just seems no end to the specialty departments at today's FBI. This show is set in the bureau's Behaviour Analysis Unit and revolves around "mind hunters" who assemble psychological portraits of killers and other criminals. The unit is headed by a rather stuffy chap named Gideon (Emmy winner Mandy Patinkin), who has devoted his life to studying the criminal mind. Gideon is put in charge of an elite squad that includes the earnest Hotch (Thomas Gibson) and a rookie profiler named Elle (Lola Glaudini).

The good news: The show was created by film fixture Mark Gordon (The Day After Tomorrow) and the pilot moves at a breakneck pace.

The bad news: Patinkin remains as annoying as he was back on Chicago Hope -- maybe even more so now.

Chances: CBS already has hits in NCIS, Without a Trace and a half-dozen CSI shows. This is an obvious attempt by the network to squeeze in just one more procedural crime show, and it just doesn't work. Enough.

Score: H

Head Cases

9 p.m., Fox/CH

Starts: Sept. 14

Setup: Preppy-boy lawyer Jason Payne (Chris O'Donnell) is on the career fast track at an L.A. law firm and living the good life -- until his wife leaves him. Jason has a nervous breakdown and spends several months at a "wellness centre." Upon release, his therapist assigns him an appropriate sponsor: A fellow lawyer, named Shultz (Adam Goldberg), with a volatile personality disorder. Naturally, they join forces and open a law firm.

The good news: Both the male leads are well cast. O'Donnell nicely plays buttoned-down counter to Goldberg's disheveled character. There's chemistry between these guys.

The bad news: The actors are better than the material. The writing is flat and there are reams of unnecessary legal material inserted into the script. And when the subject veers away from the two main characters, the story suffers.

Chances: No one's really certain whether Head Cases is a drama or a comedy, but it probably doesn't matter. The show tries to take a clever, quirky drama approach to the legal profession, a la Boston Legal, but it comes off more as a goofy buddy-comedy. Head Cases would have worked better as a sitcom.

Score: HH


9 p.m., Global

Fridays, 9 p.m., CBS

Starts: Sept. 16

Setup: While on routine duty, a naval cargo freighter makes the most astounding discovery in modern history: An alien craft has landed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The U.S. government reaction is to call in Dr. Molly Anne Caffrey (Carla Gugino), a "contingency analyst" who specializes in planning for worst-case scenarios. The good doctor's first move involves assembling a team of savvy experts -- an engineer, a communications expert, a linguistics professor and so on -- to respond to the crisis. Her next action is to implement Operation: Threshold, the government's long-dreaded game plan to deal with a full-blown alien invasion. Look to the skies!

The good news: There's no shortage of jolts and thrills in the sharp pilot episode. Gugino is very good as the lead character and there's some creative casting among the supporting cast, most notably former Star Trek: The Next Generation mainstay Brent Spiner as the microbiologist Nigel.

The bad news: How many alien invasions can the viewing public sit through? Through no fault of its own, Threshold will inevitably be compared to the similarly themed new shows Invasion and Surface.

Chances: It's the scariest of the new alien series, if that's worth anything. Forget about the Canadian broadcast; the future of Threshold depends entirely on its timeslot in the U.S., where it has surprisingly slight competition on Friday nights. It's creepy, and it's a keeper.

Score: HHH


9 p.m., NBC/Global

Starts: Sept. 21

Setup: Welcome to life inside the Pentagon -- or at least life as seen through the eyes of U.S. army major Jim "J.T." Tisnewski (Benjamin Bratt), a decorated Green Beret who's newly located in those hallowed halls. His unofficial mentor is one Colonel McNulty (Dennis Hopper), a career military type who deals in global security and takes his job very seriously.

The good news: The series provides viewers with their first look inside the Pentagon, which has cooperated fully with the project.

The bad news: There's far too much flag-waving. The first episode of E-Ring is crammed with more jingoistic speeches about home security and the great American way than you'd see in an army recruiting commercial. Also: Bratt is a good supporting actor, but not strong enough to take on a lead role. And the decision to cast Hopper as the dour colonel seems to be an in-joke. Wasn't he one of the hippies in Easy Rider?

Chances: It's another show from Jerry Bruckheimer, who just keeps turning them out. Once again, the focus is on style over substance, and most of the first-season plots involve some manner of hidden terror that's lurking out there, just waiting to attack innocent people. There's a lot of ego at work on E-Ring: Americans think everyone is out to get them. There's no way to calculate whether there's an audience for this type of rah-rah program. Then again, nobody would have ever guessed NCIS or JAG would become hits with American viewers.

Score: HH

The Closer

10 p.m., CH

Starts: Sept. 21

Setup: Lady cop Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) brings a good deal of baggage to her new position of Deputy Chief of L.A.'s Priority Murder Squad. She's a CIA-trained detective who is considered peerless when it comes to obtaining a confession out of a suspect. Hence her nickname: "The Closer." Brenda's arrival to the elite squad isn't without a few hitches: She was promoted ahead of several LAPD veterans in line for the job, which creates instant resentment; and her new boss is an old boyfriend (J.K. Simmons) who tossed her aside to marry another. Still, Brenda doesn't seem fazed by the distractions. She is The Closer.

The good news: It's probably the best new cop show of this season, if not the last few years. Sedgwick is a very attractive woman and remarkably effective in the lead role. Her character's response to receiving the cold-shoulder treatment from her new co-workers is to give it right back to them -- twice as bitchy. Anyone doubting Sedgwick's mettle as an actress will be bowled over by the interrogation-room scenes, which reach such a level of intensity that it's almost unbearable to watch.

The bad news: There are no real standouts among the support cast, and the storytelling suffers whenever Sedgwick isn't on the screen.

Chances: Segdwick is the best new female TV character in years. She's entirely believable as a tough lady cop. Originally created for the U.S. cable channel TNT, The Closer debuted to rave reviews earlier this summer and should exist for years. Score: HHHH


Young Blades

8 p.m., A-Channel

Starts: Began Sept. 1

Setup: It's a flashy costume drama, set in 17th-century France, about a sassy young lady named Jacqueline (Canadian newcomer Karen Cliche) who disguises herself as a boy in order to join the famous Three Musketeers. She finds a mentor at the academy -- the kindly Captain Duval (Bruce Boxleitner) -- who immediately identifies her as a swordplay prodigy and before you know it, young Jacqueline is right in there protecting the royal family from the villainous Cardinal Mazarin (Michael Ironside) who has designs on the throne.

The good news: The costumes are quite nice, and there's clearly been attention paid to the set designs (the show was filmed in the Maritimes). Also: It was filmed in high-definition.

The bad news: The dashing and derring-do gets tiresome after the first 15 minutes. Also: Some odd casting choices, which include former pop diva Sheena Easton as Queen Anne.

Chances: It's obviously aimed at a family viewership -- it airs on Pax TV in the U.S. -- so Young Blades is best judged on that level. Kids should be drawn to the swordfights and action, and parents needn't worry about gratuitous violence or naked people. Anybody else will change the channel.

Score: HH

Everybody Hates Chris

8 p.m., Citytv

Starts: Sept. 22

Setup: Think The Wonder Years as interpreted by Chris Rock. The simple premise is framed around the edgy comedian's childhood days growing up in Brooklyn, circa the mid-'80s. The show marks the arrival of young Tyler Williams, who is most effective as a pint-sized Rock. And in Wonder Years fashion, Rock himself narrates the stories, which alternate between his younger version's perilous times in an all-white school, and quality time spent at home with his loving but tightly-wound parents (Terry Crews, Tichina Arnold).

The good news: It's all good news. Everybody Hates Chris is probably the hottest new show going into this fall season, and sometimes the praise is warranted. Rock has worked his odd childhood stories into his standup act for years, and they translate perfectly into a TV format. The cause is helped immensely by Williams as young Rock. This kid is going places.

The bad news: Since it airs on UPN, Everybody Hates Chris will rank low on the U.S. ratings radar, which doesn't bode well for the show's future.

Chances: Everybody Hates Chris is our one blessed gift this fall. It's the sweetest new show of the season, and if it doesn't find an audience, there's chaos in the universe.

Score: HHHH


9 p.m., Fox/CH

Starts: Began Sept. 8

Setup: Rewind to the mid-'80s: Six young people become Big Chill-style close friends in college, and stay that way right through to graduation day. Fast-forward 20 years to the present day: One of the six friends has been murdered, and there are indications the killer came from the same group. The murder brings in a dogged detective (Mathew St. Patrick of Six Feet Under), who's forced to solve the crime by unraveling the last 20 years.

The good news: You have to admit it's ambitious. The plan for Reunion's producers is to roll out the story, year by year, and drop hints along the way. The pilot moves briskly, and keeps the viewer guessing.

The bad news: No marquee value whatsoever. All the actors in the six principal roles are very attractive, but they're still unknown quantities. Also: The storyline is so complicated, and so serialized, that if viewers miss a week, they'll be hopelessly lost.

Chances: Reunion may be too smart for its own good. Kudos to Fox for attempting something different, but it's hard to imagine the show garnering the same devoted following as, say, 24. It should squeak through at least one season.

Score: HHH


The Night Stalker

9 p.m., ABC

Starts: Sept. 29

Setup: All of Los Angeles is shocked when a pregnant woman is kidnapped out of her own home and whisked into

þcontinued on page 62

þcontinued from page 12

the night. It turns out the crime is of particular interest to reporter Carl Kolchak (Stuart Townsend), whose wife was kidnapped and murdered in a similar fashion months several months before. Teaming with fellow reporter Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union), Kolchak doggedly tracks the killer around the country and in the process stumbles over a succession of heinous supernatural crimes.

The good news: TV hasn't had any decent supernatural investigators since The X-Files went off the air.

The bad news: The show suffers from a no-name cast and low-rent production values, which might explain why no Canadian network picked it up.

Chances: It's a remake of the 1972 series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, in which Darren McGavin created the delightfully indelible wisecracking reporter who always wore a seersucker suit. This version is woefully inadequate compared to the original. There's no heart, no humour and a distinct minimum of chills. They should have brought back McGavin, or at least borrowed the suit.

Score: H

Ghost Whisperer

8 p.m., CBS/CTV

Starts: Sept. 23

Setup: Melinda Gordon (Jennifer Love Hewitt) is partner in an antiques store, but also possesses a rather unique talent: She sees dead people. More accurately, the earthbound spirits of the deceased are forever contacting poor Melinda and very often they're asking her to pass on messages to living relatives. The problem is the messages are often garbled and Melinda is the only one who can decipher them. Her unique gift amuses her business partner and friend Andrea (Aisha Tyler), but it's a cause for her concern for Melinda's hunky new husband, Jim (David Conrad).

The good news: At least the dead have found somebody new to talk to.

The bad news: It's simply awful. Hewitt has one expression -- wide-eyed disbelief -- which she maintains at all times. She was a slight TV presence on Party of Five, and that was a decade ago. There's no rational explanation why somebody thought she could carry her own show. Also: What's with that Mary Tyler Moore '70s-era hairstyle?

Chances: It's far too similar to NBC's Medium, which is infinitely superior. Most critics have already savaged Ghost Whisperer, but keep in mind many of them haven't forgiven Hewitt for her wincing portrayal of Audrey Hepburn in a TV movie several years back. Still, there's a demonstrated appetite for supernatural shows. Friday night is wide open and Ghost Whisperer's only direct competition will come from Supernanny. It all depends on who viewers find more terrifying.

Score: H

Three Wishes

8 p.m., NBC/Citytv

Starts: Sept. 23

Setup: It's a reality outing in which pop singer Amy Grant travels from town to town, looking for people in need. Sometimes the people need home repairs, which is why Amy brings along Trading Spaces carpenter Carter Oosterhouse, and a contractor and architect. Sometimes the people need medical attention, which calls for the airlifting of the best health professionals money can buy. Amy's goal is to make dreams come true.

The good news: For a reality show, it's sort of sweet. This is the first time Grant has hosted a show and she's surprisingly good at it. You can believe she really cares about these people.

The bad news: There's a lot of crying on Three Wishes. Plus: Isn't this the exact same show as ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition?

Chances: Three Wishes is manipulative, but still qualifies as constructive use of the reality-TV genre, and that doesn't happen often. It could be the dark-horse hit of Friday night.

Score: HHH

Killer Instinct

9 p.m., Fox/Global

Starts: Sept. 23, Fox; TBA, Global

Setup: San Francisco police detective Graham Hale (Johnny Messner, The O.C.) is shaken by the death of his partner and takes a year off. When he returns to active duty, Hale signs up for the department's Deviant Crimes Unit. He's partnered with a rookie detective named Ava (Marguerite Moreau), who talks tough but isn't. And Hale receives sage counsel from his new boss, Lieutenant Matt Cavanaugh (Chi McBride).

The good news: There's always room on TV for a disenchanted cop, and Messner can brood with the best of them. The pilot episode was appropriately jittery, not unlike an alternative music video, and there's less emphasis on blood and more on the perpetrator's psyche.

The bad news: It's grim territory previously covered on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and, before that, Homicide: Life on the Streets. There's too much screen time devoted to Hale's female partner, a poorly-written character. And viewers could quickly weary of the dark and somber tone of the show. Also: It's not a good sign Fox keeps changing the name: It began as Deviant Behavior, then became The Gate before they settled on Killer Instinct.

Chances: It's one of the better hour-long efforts from Fox in recent years, but still an acquired taste. There's an X-Files feel to the show, but any fans who supported that show on Friday nights have grown up and moved on long ago. Killer Instinct will pull a fast fade, which is unfortunate.

Score: HHH

Hot Properties

9:30 p.m., ABC/A-Channel

Starts: Oct. 7

Setup: They are the ladies who lunch, and sell real estate. Set in a Manhattan real-estate office, the show focuses on four lady agents, each with considerable baggage: Ava (Gail O'Grady) is married to a twentysomething boytoy who is resisting her desire to start a family; Chloe (Nicole Sullivan) is a neurotic type obsessed with self-improvement; Lola (Sofia Vergera) recently ended her 10-year marriage after discovering her husband is gay; and the newest addition, Emerson (Audra Blaser), is a naïve rich girl. The members of the quartet will, occasionally, go out to show a loft, but mostly they sit around the office and talk about their personal problems.

The good news: Finally, a method of recycling those old boxes of Designing Women scripts.

The bad news: Designing Women was a terrible show.

Chances: Once again, it's an idea that would have been wildly outdated even 10 years ago. Even though the women are well cast, and there are few fine moments in the pilot. It's impossible to imagine people standing around the watercooler discussing Hot Properties. Who'd admit they were watching?

Score: H


10 p.m., NBC/CTV

Starts: Sept. 23

Setup: The health professionals at the Family Options Fertility Clinic know everything about birthin' babies. The clinic is owned and operated by renowned fertility expert Dr. Malcolm Bower (Jonathan Cake) and his lawyer partner Rachael Lew (Ming-Na, ER). The more notable employees include shrewd psychologist Lydia Crawford (Alfre Woodard) and no-nonsense nurse Patrice (Joelle Carter). Although everyone working at the clinic is fully consumed by their work, there's always time for social activities, which naturally means inter-office dating, hubba-hubba.

The good news: The cast was bolstered recently with the arrival of Angie Harmon (Law & Order) as one of the clinic's doctors. It's a true ensemble drama, with a cast of nearly a dozen. The storylines in the lively pilot were spread evenly among the regulars.

The bad news: Too many characters! The pilot rambles off in all directions. It's confusing and too much work for viewers on a Friday night. There's also an overwhelming dependency on medical jargon.

Chances: Inconceivable's fatal flaw is its setting. There has to be a limited number of stories involving couples that want babies, and the list will run dry after a half-dozen shows. It's best not to get too attached to Inconceivable.

Score: HH