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MONDAY

9:00 pm (NBC) HEROES

What if you woke up one day and discovered you could fly? That you could paint the future? That you couldn’t die? That you could manipulate time? Pretty cool, huh? Yes, pretty cool, except on this show. Lugubrious, snail-paced, and dark –and I mean that literally and figuratively – this one looks promising in the promos but does not deliver. Didn’t care about the characters, kept looking at my watch… The better choice at this hour is…

9:00 pm (FOX) VANISHED

A stylish-looking one hour from one of the co-executive producers of CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION, this is one old-fashioned drama. By that I mean it’s an elegant, tautly-paced, beautifully shot hour. (To be honest, there are moments when it may borrow a little too closely from CSI’s signature snap-zoom style.) A senator’s wife disappears in the blink of an eye, and her secrets vanish with her. Who is she really? What is it that she wanted to tell her husband but didn’t get the chance? Who are the good guys and the bad guys?

Here’s one clue: If you’re going to take on a serialized story, make your audience want to come back. The creative team behind VANISHED clearly gets that, and they have crafted a terrific mystery, with the kind of spooky tentacles that reach out and grab you. One concern: actors who are talented, but would work better for me if they weren’t coloring so perfectly inside the lines: Gale Harold, who plays the lead FBI agent, needs to lighten up and loosen up, and Ming-Na, who plays his partner, should do the same, though I fear she may be miscast. Rebecca Gayheart, stereotypically described as the “ambitious” reporter, could be written less stereotypically as well.

10:00 pm (NBC) STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP

If you are a TV fan, you’ve already been hit by the hype that has preceded the new drama from the flawed but talented Aaron Sorkin (“Sports Night,” “West Wing”). Is it good? Of course it is – this guy can write, no question. Every sentence belongs in the script, and every word sounds like something an actual person would say. Same Sorkin rhythms, jumbles and half-finished thoughts, which some people find precious, but I like Sorkin for the same reason I liked David Milch’s work on “Hill Street Blues” and “NYPD Blue.” -- because the words they write and the stories they tell ring true.

And the cast? Well, it’s talent heavy, though I bought Bradley Whitford in this transition from White House Josh to conflicted writer more than I bought Matthew Perry’s Chandler-to-questionable movie roles-to “Saturday Night Live”-type show runner. But all the actors, including Amanda Peet and Timothy Busfield, do good work, make smart choices and serve Sorkin’s quirkiness beautifully.

But here’s the rub – this is a very inside show about the people inside a late-night sketch comedy – and does anyone on the outside really care about their day-to-day existence? The trouble with the outrageous behavior of actors, writers, producers and network execs is that anyone listening to them who functions in the real world thinks they’re spoiled, indulgent asses. And maybe you don’t want to spend an hour of your time watching them behave badly. (But hey, that’s what a lot of critics said about life inside the White House, and what did they know?) We’ll see if this is must-see. NBC wanted to give it a halfway decent shot, so the network wisely shuffled its originally announced Thursday time slot opposite “CSI” and “Grey’s Anatomy” to a much-safer berth on Mondays.

TUESDAY

8:00 pm (NBC) FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

There is a moment in the pilot where a little boy asks one of the Texas high school football heroes, “Does God love football?” to which the quarterback replies, “Everybody loves football.” Nuh-uh. And before you think I’m giving this the thumbs down because I’m a girl, you should know that I am most passionate about baseball and hockey, but just because I am, that wouldn’t guarantee I would like a show about either sport. TV has just never managed to capture the truth of why we are hooked, why we care, why we live and die by the teams we grew up loving. I think it has something to do with faking that connection, and trying to re-create the drama of sports for television. It just doesn’t play. I love Kyle Chandler, but I would rather they had let his bomb squad character on “Grey’s Anatomy” live to be spun off. You have two better choices at this hour -- what I hope will be a back-on-track Gilmore Girls or…

9:00 pm (FOX) STANDOFF

This is just one of those chemistry things wrapped around a somewhat original TV premise – a team of primo hostage negotiators, starring the very sexy and engaging Ron Livingston (who, I might add, I haven’t always responded to) and Rosemarie DeWitt. They’re partners, they’re sleeping with each other, they may be falling in love, and they’re good at what they do. I had to get by co-star Gina Torres’s rather over-blown boss – she needs to bring it way down, including the TV hair -- and my concern that a hostage-of-the week story could get a little old, but hey, that kind of premise worked for “Moonlighting” because of Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis, so maybe it can work here if Livingston and DeWitt continue to work together, and the writers hold up their end.

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www.Dishmag.com / Issue 60 - September 4117
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