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Fall is make-a-wish time

And there's hope in the air (gesundheit!) as the networks roll out their new series.

September 14, 2008|Robert Lloyd | Times Television Critic

As the planting defines the harvest, so have the patterns of the TV spring defined the new fall season. Last season's crazy broken rhythms -- increasingly the natural condition of network television, but exacerbated by the writers strike -- had new series seeming to end almost before they'd begun, and some, barely glimpsed, are now coming back. And with relatively few new shows coming from the broadcast networks, it seems less like the big, old-fashioned fall TV season than another midseason recalibration.

It is also coming, to the bedevilment of a "fall preview," both early and late. Several shows have begun and others are still so far off that no review copies are yet available. The critic is therefore forced to take the networks' word not only for what these shows are about but also for how good they are. And they are all, apparently, great.

Observable trends:

One: Fantasy is going strong. Even the cop shows are couched in sci-fi.

Two: If you want to play an American lead, it helps to be British (or, failing that, Australian). Trend continues from last year.

Three: Recycling is cool. Adaptations of shows from England, Australia, Israel and even Japan abound, alongside resurrections of and sequels to old American shows. Nothing succeeds like somebody else's previous success.

Still, the season is not without a few original ideas. See if you can spot them!



True Blood

Working from the novels of Charlaine Harris, Alan Ball ("Six Feet Under") turns from the dead to the undead. In this semi-satirical Southern-fried Gothic romance, vampires -- freed from murder by the invention of synthetic blood, sold in six-packs -- have "come out of the coffin" to become yet another misunderstood, exploited minority. With Anna Paquin as a telepathic waitress and Stephen Moyer looking good for 173.

HBO, 9 p.m.


Raising the Bar

Prosecutors and public defenders face off by day and party on by night in this overwrought but sincere drama from Steven Bochco, of "NYPD Blue," "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law" and so on. Jane Kaczmarek ("Malcolm in the Middle") is the strict yet arbitrary judge who confuses them all.

TNT, 10 p.m.



Brand revival of the godmother of the modern teen soap opera, with tonal borrowings from "Gossip Girl" and more location shooting than the original "Beverly Hills, 90210." Still, it's more of a small-town story than a big-city drama. (It has sports! And school plays!) Alumnae Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth recur as the voices of experience.

CW, 8 p.m


The season's slickest pilot launched this moody, propulsive sci-fi thriller, with FBI agent Anna Torv (Australian, playing American) stumbling on a world-altering techno-conspiracy. John Noble and Joshua "Pacey" Jackson, appealingly matured, follow along as a recovering mad scientist and his estranged son. From J.J. Abrams ("Lost") and the team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.

Fox, 9 p.m.


A Sandra Bullock vehicle in all but the presence of Sandra Bullock. Her nascent journalism career having abruptly tanked, plucky JoAnna Garcia -- "Freaks and Geeks" class of 2000 -- takes a job tutoring mega-wealthy Palm Beach teens Lucy Kate Hale and Ashley Newbrough. It won't be easy! Anne Archer plays their cosmetics tycoon grandma.

CW, 9 p.m.


BET's first-ever scripted series has an easy charm. Writer and star Hadjii (just Hadjii) picks up where his 2006 independent film left off, as a motley crew of friends transition from college life to real life. (Well, some of them do.) Filmed on location in the verdant university town of Athens, Ga.

BET, 10:30 p.m.


Sons of Anarchy

A Northern California outlaw motorcycle club is the vehicle for this deft mash-up of "The Wild Angels," "The Sopranos" and "Hamlet." Katey Sagal, the former Peg Bundy, is in fine form as the gang's tough mama; husband Ron Perlman, with his own face for a change, is its president; Charlie Hunnam is her melancholy babe.

FX, 10 p.m.

Do Not Disturb

Niecy Nash, funny-ha-ha on "Reno 911!" and funny-strange as the host of "Clean House," moves up to a broadcast network as the human resources chief of a chic New York hotel. Jerry O'Connell is its flirty general manager. The year's one new traditional workplace comedy and, to judge by the first episode, almost completely about sex.

Fox, 9:30 p.m.


Hole in the Wall

American version of the simple yet fascinating Japanese-sprung worldwide sensation in which contestants contort themselves to fit through differently shaped openings in a moving wall. "Why didn't I think of that?" you are probably asking yourself right now.

Fox, 8 p.m.



Worst Week

Adapted from the British series "Worst Week of My Life" but fundamentally "Meet the Parents" strung out to series length (and better than that sounds). Kyle Bornheimer ("Jericho") takes the Ben Stiller-ish role of a man whose every effort to impress his girlfriend's upright parents leads to farcical, slapstick disaster.

CBS, 9:30 p.m.

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