Fringe | Tuesdays, 9 pm, FOX
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he super-expensive 90-minute pilot for J.J. Abrams' new show Fringe is available to watch for free at fox.com/fringe. An effective preview would be for you to watch it yourself, but since we're all here right now, I'll describe it a bit. It starts with an international flight plowing through an electric storm and a man injecting himself with something. He gets up and runs down the aisle with a stewardess yelling after him in German. When she catches up to the man he turns around and his face is diseased, falling off. He throws up in her face. Panic spreading, like in 28 Days Later, but the body horror is more gruesome. Everyone is infected now, melting down. The pilot turns on the autopilot controls and turns around to see his co-pilot screaming as his jaw drops off his head.
And that, I believe, is the best possible way to start out a sci-fi/horror/drama/mystery/thriller series. Abrams has listed X-Files and Twilight Zone among Fringe's influences; he wouldn't be the first to claim just that, but judging by the pilot, it might actually be true this time. The influence of Altered States and Michael Crichton can also be keenly felt.
-- Ben Kromer
Sunday Night Football | Sundays, 5 pm, NBC
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & f there's ever been a dream team for sportscasting, they're on this show. Starting in the booth, you get Al Michaels and John Madden -- the best duo in the biz. Madden is a force of nature all his own, with a videogame empire to go along with his weekly sermons on good football. The embarrassment of riches extends into the pregame and halftime shows, too, with Cris Collinsworth and Bob Costas -- the two smartest guys covering football -- tag-teaming with the old ESPN tandem of Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick. To just turn the whole thing up to 11, they also bring in Sports Illustrated's Peter King and ex-jocks Jerome Bettis and Tiki Barber, with Andrea Kremer roaming the sidelines during the game. And the production, guided by NBC guru Dick Ebersol, takes you, as the clich & eacute; goes, right into the huddle.
America is great at one thing, at least -- TV. And this show might just be live broadcasting's high water mark. These games are a joy to watch -- especially when the game is close, as should be the case on Sept. 21 (Cowboys at Packers), Oct. 12 (Patriots at Chargers) and Nov. 9 (Giants at Eagles). And starting Nov. 16, NBC guarantees the drama, as their flex deal with the NFL lets them pick up the best available game that week, rather than sticking with the schedule. Yeah, I'm ready for some football.
-- Ted S. McGregor Jr.
Hole in the Wall | Thursdays, 8 pm, FOX
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's not complicated, as the announcer explains in the opening sequence: "Make the shape, get through the hole and you get points. ... That's it." Yep, a game of human Tetris: A wall with a cutout figure moves toward contestants, who must pretzel themselves through the opening or get pushed into a pool of water. "It's time to face the hole!"
There are game shows and then there are Japanese-inspired game shows -- which, while short on meaning and concept, are long on fun and physical comedy (or so the thinking goes). Hole, based on a hit Japanese show, is FOX's answer to the success of ABC's Wipeout, which puts competitors through a series of intense, wipeout-inducing obstacle courses as we watch gleefully from our couches. By comparison, Hole seems tame.
You've got to wonder how long the show can keep audiences engaged with the refrain -- "It's time to face the hole!" We never want to face it ever again.
-- Jacob H. Fries
The Mentalist | Tuesdays, 9 pm, CBS
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & o, it's not a remake of USA's Psych -- you know, the one with the guy who pretends to be psychic to solve crimes and then goes through a series of hijinks before (you guessed it) successfully solving crimes. No, The Mentalist isn't that -- it's serious drama -- but at the center is a guy with uncanny powers of observation who (you guessed it) knows how to solve a crime or two. CBS seems to be banking on the lead, Simon Baker, to carry the show; perhaps he can pull it off.
But maybe this show could use a little of Psych's comic relief. Come on, there's only so much of the brilliant, hunky guy we can watch -- not matter how brainy -- before we long for a good laugh. For that, maybe we'll just flip the channel over to FOX for Hole in the Wall. (Premieres on Sept. 23.)
-- Jacob H. Fries
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia | Thursdays, 10 pm, FX
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & common and correct complaint about situation comedies is that the situations don't take place in anything resembling the real world. Besides the fact that most of them take place in L.A. or New York, what catches in people's craws are the ridiculously fabulous apartments characters get to live in. I assume this is because a) being poor isn't considered funny, and b) a huge apartment leaves plenty of room for a whole camera crew. This is a small but significant thing that sets Always Sunny apart from other sitcoms: The people in it live in small, crappy apartments and work in a small, crappy bar. This fundamental crappiness permeates the entire cast, and with the debatable exception of Charlie, they're all deeply terrible people. In fact, without the perennial victim (again, Charlie), the show would be almost unwatchable. According to previews, Charlie's teeth start falling out in this, the show's fourth season. And he experiments with cannibalism (probably sometime before his teeth fall out). Danny DeVito continues to co-star, and this season will also have episodes directed by Fred Savage (the Fred Savage) and appearances by Sinbad and Rob Thomas the singer -- plus jokes about pregnancy and abortion. Sound good? (Premieres on Sept. 18.)
-- Ben Kromer
Knight Rider | Wednesdays, 8 pm, NBC
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & BC's decided to build on the TV movie that built on the glory of the vintage 1980s David Hasselhoff show with its talking car, KITT. Now they're hell-bent on bringing Knight Rider and his souped-up Mustang to a whole new generation of young boys and gearheads. And who cares who plays the hero? Because, as the show's producers say, "the car is the star." Besides, just think of the merchandising -- remote-control cars, videogames, baseball caps -- and with plenty of time to build an audience before Christmas.
With executive producers like Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and Gary Scott Thompson (The Fast and the Furious), we're confident the show will be full of intrigue and that the action will be, well, fast and furious. However, without a hunky Hasselhoff for us to connect with, we're not sure what's left other than bright lights, revving engines and an updated soundtrack. Oh, that's right -- if we're lucky, we'll get a sweet RC car from Santa. (Premieres on Sept. 24.)
-- Jacob H. Fries
Desperate Housewives | Sundays, 9 pm, ABC
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & o the tornado wasn't enough. After near destruction of all the houses on Wisteria Lane, Season Four kept going. The twists and turns kept their audience riveted as a tsunami of story lines imploded each episode. The finale spun into a full hurricane when Katherine Mayfair (Dana Delany) revealed that she had accidentally killed her young daughter years prior and adopted another girl as a replacement. Who could forget Gary Cole's character as the abusive ex-husband who forced the secret out of Katherine at gunpoint only to be shot and killed minutes later by the angry and desperate Ms. Mayfair?
At the end of the season finale, the women on Wisteria Lane relax to a game of cards -- when suddenly the show leaps five years into the future. Five years?
"Let me explain a little bit about it," says show creator Marc Cherry. "At the beginning of last season, I started thinking about how large our stories had become. About how building one story on top of the next had taken away the smallness that I had loved about the first season."
So when the fifth season of Desperate Housewives begins, expect to find Gabrielle (Eva Longoria Parker) struggling to be a mom and Lynette (Felicity Huffman) struggling with her now teenage children played by an entirely new cast. The idea behind that was to develop a younger audience. Did Dawson's Creek move onto Wisteria Lane? (Premieres on Sept. 28.)
-- Tammy Marshall
Heroes | Mondays, 9 pm, NBC
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & "I & lt;/span & n every Hero, there could be a Villain," goes the promo. So expect that and more striking insights from the third season of Heroes, the comic book for people who can't read. Volume Three will be called "Villains" and it's about time. I don't know what the appeal is of a superhero story that's paced like a soap opera, but there were basically only two villains in the first two seasons and the rest of the show was just the Heroes bouncing off each other. The success of Heroes is based on the fact that super powers are cool and people like them. Heroes itself is apparently based on the idea that super powers are kind of a pain in the ass. This is evidenced both by the fact that almost every ability the heroes/villains manifest is kind of a superhero clich & eacute; (Shooting lightning? In 2008?) and the fact that none of them ever do anything cool with their new abilities, presumably due to budgetary and imaginative limitations. Hopefully Season Three will answer at least a few lingering questions, such as what the hell the Mexicans have to do with anything, and why did Veronica Mars get cancelled? (Premieres on Sept. 22.)
-- Ben Kromer
Dirty Sexy Money | Wednesdays, 10 pm, ABC
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he whole movie-stars-moving-to-TV thing really got busy with this show last year, as it featured not just Donald Sutherland, but also Jill Clayburgh. The supporting cast is solid, too, with William Baldwin, Peter Krause, Blair Underwood and, new this season, Lucy Liu. It had kind of a weird run, as many new dramas do as they teeter on the brink of oblivion: It just kind of ended in December after 10 shows. This year, there's a full 22 episodes on tap, so you can get addicted to the Darling family, who live somewhere between the Hiltons and the Kennedys on the tabloid spectrum. Nick George (Krause) is the family's fixer, torn by suspicion about his father's "accidental" death and the good things the Darlings can do with all that dirty, sexy money they've got. It's well-acted, over-the-top, escapist fun. (Premieres on Oct. 1.)
-- Ted S. McGregor Jr.
Dexter | Sundays, 9 pm, Showtime
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen it was announced that the TV series about a serial killer who moralizes his madness by only killing other serial killers was getting another season, some cheered while others continued their protest to ban the show.
Last season ended with the funeral of Sergeant James Doakes (Erik King). The emptiness of the room during the wake was flooded with the narration of the show's title character and serial murderer, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), as his thoughts meandered about the moral code he had adopted from his father. Doakes (whom Dexter framed as the Bay Harbor Butcher) should've been the hero but instead ended up dead and outcast, lying in his casket as Dexter decides to rewrite ethics.
This third season will continue with Dexter hunting for murderers and haphazardly coping as a sociopath. He got away with about a dozen or so murders by blaming them on Doakes, so will the killer strike again?
Jimmy Smits signed on this season to play an ambitious assistant district attorney named Miguel Prado. Valerie Cruz will also join the cast as Smits' wife.
The question isn't whether Dexter will continues to kill. The blood will spurt for at least one more season. The question is, will he get away with it this time? (Premieres on Sept. 28.)
-- Tammy Marshall
Life on Mars | Thursdays, 10 pm, ABC
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & BC has been on a roll lately when it comes to dramas, with Boston Legal, Pushing Daisies, Private Practice, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Brothers & amp; Sisters filling the slots not taken by Dancing with the Stars. So between the crowded lineup and the devotion to quality, there was apparently only room for one new drama this fall, and Life on Mars it is. It's not entirely new, as it's based on a BBC show of the same name. But the concept here mashes up a few hot trends -- cop/gangster shows, a dash of sci-fi and the 1970s. (Me, I'm a total sucker for all things '70s.) Jason O'Mara plays a modern-day New York City cop who finds himself transported back to his same precinct, circa 1973, after being hit by a car. The time-jumping jet lag adds to the drama, as does his stumbling into a world of dirty cops. Really pumping up the anticipation, however, is Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) as a fellow cop and Harvey Keitel (seriously, Harvey freakin' Keitel!) as his no-nonsense boss. The time slot looks favorable, too, as the show's up against ER at the end of its long fade to black and Eleventh Hour, another new show in the already-done-to-death CSI tradition. This one could make it. (Premieres on Oct. 9.)
-- Ted S. McGregor Jr.
Kath and Kim | Thursdays, 8:30 pm, NBC
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ne thing's for sure: Dysfunction is now the worldwide term used to personify family. In the Australian-original Kath and Kim, Jane Turner plays mom Kath Day-Knight, a 50-year-old empty nester who's content with her life only to have her junk-food-eating daughter Kim (Gina Riley) trample back into her house. The series focuses not just on family, but the quirkiness of the relationship between the not-so-perfect mother and daughter.
The Americanized version of the show hits small screens in the U.S. this fall. Starring Molly Shannon as Kim and Selma Blair as Kath, the show shares a premise with the original, while the actors look just a tad more attractive. No longer in her 50s, Kath is a now a 40-something hairstylist living in Arizona. Kim is in her 20s and just as witless as Riley's character in the original. Inspired by the success of Ugly Betty and The Office (both shows originating outside the U.S.), the show's creators decided to jump on the Kath-and-Kim train to create a version palatable to American viewers. The season opener promises to be just as funny the Australian version. But we'll see. (Premieres on Oct. 9.)
-- Tammy Marshall
SIX NEW ONES TO WATCH
True Blood | HBO, 9 pm
First it was gangsters, then morticians, then hipsters, then polygamists -- now it's a show about vampires. Based on the Southern Vampire series of novels, HBO recruited Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) to adapt this one to the small screen. Stars Anna Paquin.
My Own Worst Enemy | NBC, 10 pm
Hard to say if Christian Slater actually has the kind of following that will flock to this show, but he does have the kind of crazy stare to pull off a schizo hit man/family man. Olympics viewers who had the show pounded into their heads over the summer know that it premieres Oct. 13.
90210 | The CW, 8 pm
A spin-off of Beverly Hills, 90210 -- the show that basically defined the '90s (it ran on FOX from 1990-2000) -- this one also relies on that fish-out-of-water storyline. This time, it's the Wilson family that moves to the iconic zip code from Kansas City. Watch for Jennie Garth as a guidance counselor and Shannen Doherty on a four-show arc as director of the school musical.
Do Not Disturb | FOX, 9:30 pm
One of TV's most missed shows is Arrested Development, the deadpan sitcom about a family of riches-to-rags Californians that only lasted three seasons. Critics hope this story of a boutique hotel revives that show's vibe, and AR star Jason Bateman even directs two episodes. Starring Jerry O'Connell and Niecy Nash of Reno 911! fame.
Eleventh Hour | CBS, 10 pm
How many more versions of CSI do we really need? We'll find out as the same team that brought all three CSIs to life is behind this one about a nerdy genius (Rufus Sewell) who only comes out when everyone else is stumped -- at the "eleventh hour" -- to solve the mystery. (Premieres Oct. 9.)
Crusoe | NBC, 9 pm
Masterpiece Theater meets Lost? The Daniel Defoe classic gets an elaborate retelling, filmed in exotic locations with massive sets and real British actors. Sounds pretty good, but Friday night is usually where TV shows go to die. (Two-hour premiere is Oct. 17 at 8 pm.)
-- Ted S. McGregor Jr.