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New TV shows for fall

Science fiction/fantasy

1. Invasion (Wednesdays, 9 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) opens with a bang — under the cover of a hurricane, lights fall from the sky in what is some sort of alien invasion. The story centers on a Florida family — the cast includes William Fichtner, Eddie Cibrian, Lisa Sheridan, Kari Matchett and Tyler Labine — at least one of whom seems, um, different after the storm.

At first glance, this looks a lot like a lot of other shows that have ripped off "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." But there is hope — without giving too much away, this series appears to be headed in directions other than the obvious. And, with "Lost" as a lead-in, it should have the time to head off in those directions.

Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 21

2. Supernatural (Tuesdays, 8 p.m., WB/Ch. 30) is about two brothers (Jared Padalecki of "Gilmore Girls" and Jensen Ackles of "Smallville") who didn't get the best start in life — their mother was (apparently) burned up by some sort of demon, and their father has turned into a demon hunter. Now young adults, they take off across America in search of their missing father and fight ghosts and demons and other "Supernatural" stuff along the way.

This show is pretty entertaining. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and it's got two hot-guy stars who will appeal to the teenage girls who make up a big chunk of the WB's audience. And it's airing on the night and network where "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was so successful. It won't take magic for "Supernatural" to succeed.

Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 13

3. Surface (Mondays, 7 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) is another alien-invasion show, only in this one we're being invaded by sea creatures. And they aren't from outer space. At least I don't think so. But some of them are big enough to chomp on nuclear subs, some drag divers to their deaths and some lay eggs that hatch and wreak havoc if you take them home and put them in your aquarium. Really.

Like "Invasion," this show features a large cast (including Lake Bell, Jay R. Ferguson and Carter Jenkins). The pilot is intriguing, but you've got to wonder whether it will hold up as a weekly series. And the time slot isn't going to help.

Premieres Monday, Sept. 19

4. Night Stalker (Thursdays, 8 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) has a lot in common with its predecessor, the 1970s series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" — Carl Kolchak (Stuart Townsend) is a newspaper reporter who investigates supernatural happenings. This time around, however, he's suspected of having murdered his wife, and his newspaper co-worker (Gabrielle Union) thinks he's nuts.

Despite the title, "Night Stalker" isn't really a remake of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." It's a remake of "The X-Files" (a show the executive producers of "Night Stalker" count among their credits). Think about it — this is about a guy who believes in all these strange phenomenon teamed with woman who doesn't. It's dark and foreboding, like "X-Files," with none of the humor that was the best part of "Kolchak." Whatever it's remaking, it's not working.

Premieres Thursday, Sept. 29

5. Ghost Whisperer (Fridays, 7 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) isn't exactly like NBC's "Medium" — just mostly. Jennifer Love Hewitt ("Party of Five") stars as a young woman who sees and talks to dead people, helping to solve crimes and bring closure to survivors.

If this were the first show of its kind on TV, it would be tiresome. And, what with an overdose of syrupy schmaltz, it could quickly become unbearable.

Premieres Friday, Sept. 23

6. Threshold (Fridays, 8 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) has still more aliens invading — these seem to be from a different dimension, and their intentions don't appear to be good. They make bugs and fish move in circles (really), kill lots of people when they appear — and "change" the people they don't kill. "Threshold" is the plan worked up by a scientist (Carla Gugino) to deal with a first-contact situation. And her government boss (Charles S. Dutton) essentially kidnaps a team of experts (Brent Spiner, Rob Benedict, Brian Van Holt and Peter Dinklage) to help her.

Maybe it was alien overload, but by the time I got to this pilot I was just plain bored with the phenomenon. And the collection of characters is so far from engaging you almost hope the aliens will get them.

Premieres Friday, Sept. 16, with a two-hour episode

Comedies

1. How I Met Your Mother (Mondays, 7:30 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) is the single best sitcom pilot of the season and one of the best we've seen in years. Ted (Josh Radnor) is a young guy who thinks he might be ready to settle down like his best friend/roommate, Marshall (Jason Segal of "Freaks and Geeks") and Marshall's new fiancee, Lily (Alyson Hannigan of "Buffy"). On the other hand, his obnoxious buddy, Barney (Neil Patrick Harris of "Doogie Howser"), encourages Ted to stay single . . . but then Ted meets Robin (Cobie Smulders).

"Mother" is loaded with laughs, gifted with great writing and an outstanding cast . . . but there are a couple of question marks. It is told as a series of flashbacks from a quarter-century in the future — a device that might not hold up. And there's a big twist at the end of the pilot that'll make your jaw drop, but what it means to the series as it continues is sort of scary. If the show can live up to its pilot, though, "Mother" could be around for a long, long time.

Premieres Monday, Sept. 19

2. Everybody Hates Chris (Thursdays, 7 p.m., UPN/Ch. 24) is sort of "The Wonder Years" without the wonder. Inspired by the real-life experiences of comedian Chris Rock — who narrates the series — it's the story of 13-year-old Chris (Tyler James Williams), who's growing up in 1982 Bedford-Stuyvesant, the oldest of three kids in a nuclear family that's struggling to make ends meet. He's the only African-American kid in a white school in Brooklyn, adding to his struggles.

This is great stuff — smart, funny and a bit edgy. It's also a show about a family whose members obviously love each other, even if they're (sometimes) yelling at each other. It will make you laugh out loud, and it's got heart. There aren't a lot of shows like that on TV.

Premieres Thursday, Sept. 22

3. My Name Is Earl (Tuesdays, 8 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) feels an awful lot like the 1987 movie "Raising Arizona" — offbeat, odd and decidedly funny. Earl (Jason Lee of "Almost Famous") is a low-life kind of guy whose life has gone wrong in myriad ways. When he wins the lottery, he decides (while watching "Last Call with Carson Daly") that the true road to happiness is helping other people, so he sets out to make amends to the long list of people he's wronged over the years.

The pilot of "Earl" is quite good and amusing. But . . . it's an open question as to whether the premise (and the quality) can hold up week after week. And, quite frankly, American viewers have not embraced offbeat TV comedies ("Scrubs," "Arrested Development," etc.) . . . so, even if "Earl" is good, that doesn't guarantee success.

Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 20

4. Out of Practice (Mondays, 8:30 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) is about the ultimate dysfunctional family full of doctors — with the exception of the central character, Ben Barnes (Christopher Gorham), who's "only" a therapist. His internist father (Henry Winkler) and surgeon mother (Stockard Channing) have just been through a nasty divorce; his plastic surgeon older brother (Ty Burrell) is an arrogant womanizer; his ER doctor sister (Paula Marshall) is a neurotic lesbian.

This is actually one of the better sitcoms to come along in a while — not great, but it has possibilities. The people behind the scenes have huge talent (they used to run "Frasier"), but they've also had huge misfires ("Bram & Alice"). Still, this is a show worth keeping an eye on. And, as part of CBS's Monday lineup, it should be around for a while.

Premieres Monday, Sept. 19

5. Kitchen Confidential (Mondays, 7:30 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13) is a workplace comedy set behind the scenes at an upscale New York restaurant. Based on Anthony Bourdain's autobiography, it's about a superstar chef (Bradley Cooper of "Alias" and "Jack & Bobby") who brought about his own downfall with sex, drugs and alcohol — but he suddenly gets a second chance. The cast includes Nicholas Brendon ("Buffy"), Owain Yeoman, John Francis Daley ("Freaks and Geeks"), Jaime King, Bonnie Sommerville ("The O.C.") and (from time to time) Frank Langella.

This filmed comedy — no studio audience, no laugh track — is pretty good. There are laughs to be had, characters who grow on you and loads of possibilities for future stories.

Premieres Monday, Sept. 19

6. Hot Properties (Fridays, 8:30 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) is sort of "Sex and the City" cleaned up (a bit) for network TV. It's about four women who work as real-estate agents but spend most of their time talking about sex. There's the fortysomething former tramp (Gail O'Grady of "American Dreams") who hasn't told her 25-year-old husband her real age; the neurotic current tramp (Nicole Sullivan of "King of Queens"); the Latin bombshell (Sofia Vergara) who just got a divorce from her gay husband; and the rich girl (Christina Moore) who just joined the team. Oh, and a receptionist, a dermatologist and a therapist to trade dirty jokes with.

"Properties" might be "Hot," but it's certainly not funny or entertaining. It won't last long.

Premieres Friday, Oct. 7

7. Love, Inc. (Thursdays, 8:30 p.m., UPN/Ch. 24) is a bang-out-the-punchlines sitcom about the staff at a dating service, which is led by a woman (Holly Robinson Peete) whose marriage has just broken up. And the matchmaking staff includes another woman (Busy Philipps) who can find love for others but not for herself.

"Love, Inc." is chiefly notable for the fact that UPN execs insisted, after buying the pilot, that Shannen Doherty ("90210," "Charmed") be fired from the role Philipps assumed. The bigger news, however, is that this is just another dreadful, humorless, loud, obnoxious sitcom from UPN.

Premieres Thursday, Sept. 22

8. Twins (Fridays, 7:30 p.m., WB/Ch. 30) combines family comedy, workplace comedy and low-brow comedy. It's about two very different twin sisters — the smart one (Sara Gilbert of "Roseanne") and the dumb, gorgeous one (Molly Stanton of "Passions") — who are taking over their parents' lingerie business. The parents are a dim-bulb mother and nerdy father improbably played by Melanie "What Happened to My Career?" Griffith and Mark Linn-Baker ("Perfect Strangers").

And it's more proof that the creators of "Will & Grace," who are behind this abomination, are under the impression that tasteless vulgarities are funny. They're not. And neither is this show. Which, hopefully, will die a quick and deserved death.

Premieres Friday, Sept. 16

9. Freddie (Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) stars Freddie Prinze Jr. as a young, hip, single chef whose life and home are overrun with his female relatives — his divorced sister (Jacqueline Obradors); her 13-year-old daughter (Chloe Suazo); his widowed sister-in-law (Madchen Amick); and his grandmother (Jenny Gago), who refuses to speak English. (Her Spanish is subtitled.)

It's not a bad idea, but it's a bad show. Really, really bad. Lame. Stupid. Unfunny. Amateurish. Utterly unconvincing. And, given that Prinze is not only the star but is credited as executive producer, co-creator and writer, he's not going to be able to blame anybody else for this impending disaster.

Premieres Wednesday, Oct. 5

10. The War at Home (Sundays, 7:30 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13) is a "family" comedy with a Fox flavor — meaning it's loud, obnoxious and in extremely poor taste. Michael Rapaport and Anita Barone star as parents who have little clue how to deal with their three teenagers. So there's lots of yelling and lots of "jokes" about sex.

If you didn't know better, you'd almost think Fox and the show's producers set out to make a dreadful, unfunny and vulgar show. If they did, they've certainly succeeded.

Premieres Sunday, Sept. 11

Comedy/dramas

1. Just Legal (Mondays, 8 p.m., WB/Ch. 30) is about a legal prodigy (Jay Baruchel of "Undeclared") who can't get a law firm to hire him because he's only 19. The only job he can get is with a broken down, ethically challenged has-been (Don Johnson of "Miami Vice") with whom he forms an odd-couple relationship.

The show is, well, OK. Baruchel is funny and charming. Johnson is, well, Johnson. And, quite frankly, none of the WB's viewers are even going to know who Johnson is — they weren't watching "Nash Bridges" (1996-2001) and they weren't born when "Miami Vice" was on (1984-89).

As for "Just Legal," it's a long shot at best.

Premieres Monday, Sept. 19

2. Head Cases (Wednesdays, 8 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13) is about crazy lawyers. Really. Chris O'Donnell plays a high-profile attorney who loses his job when he has a nervous breakdown. Unable to find work, he teams with another lawyer (Adam Goldberg) who seems certifiable. And the two of them take on the only clients they can get — weird underdogs.

When, exactly, mental illness became funny I'm not sure. Actually, it's not. This series labors mightily to be quirky and funny without much success. It's hard to believe you could make lawyers look bad, but "Head Cases" manages to do it.

Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 14

Related (Wednesday, 8 p.m., WB/Ch. 30) can't be ranked or even evaluated at this point. We know it's an hourlong, ensemble comedy/drama about the four Sorelli sisters (Jennifer Esposito, Kiele Sanchez, Lizzy Caplan and Laura Breckenridge) who range in age from 19 to mid-30s. We know they're always interfering in each other's lives. We know the producers include "Friends" and "Sex and the City" alumni.

But . . . we also know that cast changes were made after the pilot was shot. And no pilot has been provided to critics yet. (Which is never a good sign.) So whether this is any good is still anybody's guess.

Premieres Wednesday, Oct. 5

Dramas

1. Prison Break (Mondays, 8 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13) is a taut action/drama about a guy (Wentworth Miller) who gets himself sent to a maximum security prison so he can help his brother (Dominic Purcell) — wrongly convicted of killing the vice president's brother — escape. It's full of mysteries and plots within plots that make for a show that will reach out and grab you.

Well, this series — the first fall 2005 show to premiere — proves you don't always save the best for last. It's a whiz-bang adventure in the "24" mode.

Premiered Monday, Aug. 29

2. Commander in Chief (Tuesdays, 8 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) casts Oscar-winner Geena Davis as the first female president of the United States — a position she achieves when the president dies in office, right after telling her to resign so the male speaker of the House (Donald Sutherland) can take over. She doesn't, of course, or there would be no series.

"Chief" is sort of a cross between "The West Wing" and "Family" — President Mackenzie Allen is handling the White House staff, politics and foreign crises while at the same time dealing with a husband (Kyle Secor of "Homicide") and three children.

If you can get past the sort of preposterous premise and overwrought drama in spots, the characters in "Chief" ring surprisingly true. There are definite possibilities here — this one could be a winner.

Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 27

3. Reunion (Fridays, 8 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13) is nothing if not ambitious. It follows a group of friends over 20 years, from their high-school graduation to the present day, over the course of a season. In the present day, five of the friends are attending the funeral of the sixth, who has been murdered. And they, apparently, are suspects. We'll find out who's dead in a few weeks; the answer to whodunnit won't come until the end of the season.

The "Reunion" pilot is extremely promising. Essentially, it sets up a big-time soap opera with an attractive cast (Will Estes of "American Dreams," Sean Faris, Alexa Davalos, Dave Annable, Chyler Leigh and Amanda Righetti). The test will be how well the succeeding episodes build on the strong start.

Premiered Thursday, Sept. 8

4. Close to Home (Tuesdays, 9 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) is sort of "CSI" crossed with "Judging Amy." Jennifer Finnigan stars as an assistant district attorney/wife/new mother who prosecutes crimes that take place close to her suburban home. There's the element of forensic investigation, but this show is driven by the character's passion.

It's not exactly a new and different show, but it is a pretty good one from Jerry Bruckheimer's team — the folks behind "CSI," "Without a Trace," "Numbers" and more. Finnigan provides a compelling performance in a show that should do very well in the slot formerly occupied by the canceled "Judging Amy."

Premieres Tuesday, Oct. 4

5. Sex, Love & Secrets (Tuesdays, 8 p.m., UPN/Ch. 24) is sort of a 21st-century "Melrose Place," as a group of (mostly) gorgeous young adults go through various soap-opera permutations in Los Angeles. Only with less campiness. This group of pals (Denise Richards, James Stevenson, Lauren German, Omar Benson Miller, Eric Balfour, Tamara Taylor and Lucas Bryant) live in Silverlake — right next to Hollywood — and include an aspiring musician, a doctor, a hairdresser and lots of sexy goings on. And then there are a few secrets that are rather intriguing.

It's certainly not great art or food for thought, but this TV junk food could turn out to be decent soap opera.

Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 27

6. Inconceivable (Fridays, 9 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) is a trip inside the wonderful world of infertility. Really. It's sort of a cross between "ER" and "The Love Boat." The staff at the Family Options Fertility Clinic — Jonathan Cake ("Empire"), Joelle Carter ("American Pie 2"), Angie Harmon ("Law & Order") and Ming-Na ("ER") — interact with various people experiencing various problems having children. Some of the stories are funny, some serious — and there's a soap-opera element that runs through the episodes.

All of which adds up to a wildly inconsistent hour that's trying to do too many things without doing any of them particularly well.

Premieres Friday, Sept. 23

7. Bones (Tuesdays, 7 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13) is an attempt to do "CSI" with a Fox attitude. "Inspired" by the experiences of forensic anthropologist/novelist Kathy Reichs, it's about a (you guessed it!) forensic anthropologist (Emily Deschanel) who works at the "Jeffersonian Institute," writes novels and is often loaned out to the FBI to help solve murders by examining badly decomposed remains. Backed by a bunch of quirky associates, she teams up with an FBI agent (David Boreanaz of "Angel") with whom she has a hate/love relationship.

While some procedural crime dramas have little in the way of character development, "Bones" has too much — the characters are just weird and unlikable. Even with the requisite icky stuff and whiz-bang gadgets, this is no "CSI."

Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 13

8. Criminal Minds (Wednesdays, 8 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) is a procedural crime drama about "mind hunters" — the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit, who work up profiles of horrendous criminals and hunt them down. Mandy Patinkin plays their leader; Thomas Gibson ("Dharma & Greg") is part of the team.

This show is the affirmative answer to the question of whether CBS — the network of three "CSIs," "Without a Trace," "Cold Case," "NCIS" and "Numb3rs" — can go one step too far with procedural crime dramas. It's not just that this is more of the same, this show is just plain unpleasant. Hey, anything that wastes Patinkin's talent deserves to get clubbed.

Premieres Thursday, Sept. 22, at 9 p.m. before moving to its regular time slot on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

9. Killer Instinct (Fridays, 8 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13) is yet another look behind deviant crimes. (Major ick warning.) Stop me if you've heard this one before — police detective (Johnny Messner), still reeling from the death of his partner, tackles tough crimes while butting heads with his tough boss (Chi McBride) and adjusting to a new partner (Kristin Lehman).

Well, the San Francisco locations in the pilot are nice. The spiders aren't. And this show is so derivative of so many other shows it looks like it was a cut-and-paste job from old scripts.

Premieres Friday, Sept. 23

10. E-Ring (Wednesdays, 8 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) is an (allegedly) taut action show about a top-secret team inside the Pentagon that tackles tough tasks around the globe. Benjamin Bratt stars as the irreverent, resourceful Army major who puts plans into action; Dennis Hopper plays his boss.

Well, it had to happen. Jerry Bruckheimer and his team — who have had so much TV success with all the "CSIs," "Without a Trace," "Amazing Race" and more — have laid an egg. "E-Ring" is just plain awful. The characters are utterly unbelievable, the writing stinks, the direction (from Taylor Hackford in the pilot) is lousy, and the acting is, at best, weak. At worst, Hopper looks just plain foolish. The biggest explosion on this action series is the bomb it's going to end up as.

Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 21

Reality shows

1. Three Wishes (Fridays, 7 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) is NBC's answer to ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Led by host Amy Grant, a team (that includes Carter Oosterhouse of "Trading Spaces"; Eric Stromer of "Clean Sweep;" and Diane Mizota of "Trading Spaces: Boys and Girls") descends on a different small town each week (including Cedar City) and grants wishes to deserving people.

I've got some concerns about the "Queen for a Day" aspect of "Wishes," but this looks like the sort of feel-good reality that could catch on. And Grant is nothing short of charming.

Premieres Friday, Sept. 23

2. The Apprentice: Martha Stewart (Wednesdays, 7 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) is self-explanatory. (Which won't prevent me from explaining it.) Stewart makes like Donald Trump, overseeing a group of reality-show contestants who want to be her protege, who compete at various tasks and get themselves eliminated one by one.

There's certainly going to be a big tune-in factor here, but adding a second hour of "Apprentice" every week when the first hour has been trending down in the ratings — and Stewart will be available five days a week on her new syndicated talk show — doesn't seem like the smartest of programming ideas.

Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 21