Pop Culture

New fall dramas long to get ‘Lost’

Sex and crime will never go out of style on TV, but this season, inspired by the success of ABC's "Lost," there's a third element thrown into the mix: The supernatural. There's even a show called "Supernatural," as well as "The Night Stalker," "Surface," "Ghost Whisperer," and "Invasion," all of which get a bit spooky and peer beyond the realm of the realistic.

Sex isn't forgotten, though. In "The Bedford Diaries," sex is the subject of a college seminar at Bedford College. In "Sex, Love & Secrets," this year's "Melrose Place" wannabe, sex even sneaks its way into the title. And in "Inconceivable," it's the product of sex that takes center stage. Think "ER" in a fertility clinic.

But "CSI" is the top show on TV, and don't think the networks haven't noticed that. They're hoping fans of "CSI" don't get enough crime from the original-recipe show and its two offspring, "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: New York," and will tune in to one of the many new crime shows getting a shot this fall. You'll recognize them by their titles — "Criminal Minds," "The Evidence," "In Justice," "Killer Instinct." They all run together at the moment, but time will tell if viewers are willing to do the time to learn about the crime.    —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

“The Bedford Diaries”“Sex — it’s mysterious, serious – it’s God’s greatest gift, and it’s God’s greatest curse.” That concludes Prof. Jake Macklin’s (Matthew Modine) introductory speech to students in his Sexual Behavior and the Human Condition seminar at Bedford College,  setting for "The Bedford Diaries" (midseason, WB).

The assortment of students runs the gamut — Richard (Milo Ventimiglia), rich-guy editor of the Bedford Bugle; Sarah (Tiffany Dupont), seemingly straight-laced student body president; her little brother Owen (Penn Badgley); the notorious Natalie (Corri English), who is notorious for jumping off a campus building and living; Zoe (Victoria Cartagena), the spicy Latina; and Lee (Ernest Waddell), the naïve freshman. The students are required to record video diaries recounting some aspect of their sex lives for the class. The diary entries are interwoven through the show's narrative, providing insights not just into the students' sex lives, but into their personalities.

It makes for a compelling story. The topic of sex offers plenty of spice, but it's not the dominant theme of the show, which makes for intriguing viewing. The dialogue is realistic and well written, far from predictable. That comes as no surprise since the show is produced by Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, the masterminds behind the unsurpassable “Homicide: Life on the Street.” It’s too bad the WB isn’t starting this show in the fall. It could bring some must needed originality to the fall lineup.    —Denise Hazlick

‘Close to Home’The housewives don’t come any more desperate than in the new crime drama “Close to Home,” (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET, CBS) but nobody will miscategorize this hour as comedy. The latest in the line of Jerry Bruckheimer and company’s specialized procedural dramas (“CSI,” “Cold Case,” “Without a Trace”) zeroes in on domestic crime in the suburbs, and these cases aren’t pretty.  But Prosecutor Annabeth Chase is, as she returns from maternity leave and begins jumping between doting on her newborn and “nailing the S.O.B.s” with surprising ease.

Chase is played by Jennifer Finnigan, and nobody will confuse this role with her over-the-top ditz in “Committed.” She is totally in control, whether she’s dealing with a bad guy trying to shake her by snarling “I know where you live,” or her married-to-the-job supervisor played by Kimberly Elise (last seen in the title role of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”) or her supportive-but-not-perfect husband played by Christian Kane (last seen as a demonic lawyer on “Angel”).

Nobody will mistake Chase’s passion for justice for a post-natal hormonal imbalance, just as nobody will mistake the leather collar and chain found during the pilot for anything kinky. Between the extreme nature of the crimes involved and the super-mom crimefighter main character, the biggest challenge for “Close to Home” is being close to believable.    —Wendell Wittler

‘Commander In Chief’Remember that dress Geena Davis wore to the Oscars that made her look like Big Bird? She didn’t seem presidential. Surprisingly, “Commander In Chief”  (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET, ABC), which casts her in the title role, isn’t nearly as bad as it seems like it should be.

Davis plays Mackenzie Allen, a U.S. vice-president appointed as window-dressing who is unexpectedly vaulted into the top job. While her gender gets some attention, the opener wisely focuses on ethical dilemmas that Mackenzie’s ascension presents and on the introduction of the dauntingly large cast.

There are decent helpings of both comedy and drama here. The reliable Kyle Secor is Mackenzie’s husband, whose introduction to the director of protocol — a woman used to dealing with First Ladies — is the first sequence in years to find something fresh in Hillary Clinton jokes.

And while the show provides a predictable villain in a wicked Republican congressman (Donald Sutherland), it includes sympathetic characters of varying political stripes, which puts it a step ahead of “The West Wing,” its most obvious point of reference.

Whether viewers will embrace another White House drama remains to be seen, but for a show purporting to make Geena Davis the president, "Commander In Chief" is surprisingly engaging.    —Linda Holmes

‘Criminal Minds’Really smart good guys face off against really smart bad guys in “Criminal Minds” (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET, CBS). Mandy Patinkin plays The World’s Greatest Criminal Profiler, returning to work from an extremely-traumatic-stress-related leave. His very visible efforts to hold himself together totally upstage the rest of his behavioral-analysis unit.

Among the upstaged are Thomas Gibson (“Dharma and Greg”) as team leader, Patinkin’s watcher and world-class interrogation room bluffer, Matthew Gubler as a Doogie Howserish-genius with an encyclopedic memory — saving the show from innumerable “looking it up on the Web” scenes — and Shemar Moore and Lola Glaudini as standard-issue FBI team members working hard to be brilliant enough to keep up.

The pilot adds new twists to the usual "catch the maniac before he kills the woman he’s keeping in a cage" story. Moore's character even promises in one scene that the future will feature “the whole gamut of psychos.” The show’s dark but glossy visual style is well-matched with a constantly foreboding musical score. And an eye for detail — like scenes in Seattle when it’s actually raining — makes “Criminal Minds” one of the new season’s smarter shows, but can it outsmart the true evil geniuses behind “Lost”?      —W.W.

‘E-Ring’
The concept of “E-Ring” — an inside look at the inner workings of the Pentagon, seems better suited to a slower-paced HBO production than the wham-bam treatment it’s given in this new NBC drama (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET). Benjamin Bratt stars as Major Jim Tisnewski, a brash yet idealistic military man who’s just been assigned to the Pentagon. He's unfamiliar with the red tape and appears naive when set against a modern military machine. If only the series focused on Tisnewski trying to fit in with the complicated government bureaucracy — then we might see something original — but the creators walk a simplistic route, with the good major naturally inspiring those around him.

Dennis Hopper is the bright spot of this series as Colonel McNulty, a man who’s been in government too long and chills out by listening to ‘60s rock classics in his office. Bratt feels miscast as the rogue charmer he’s supposed to play. Perhaps his “Law & Order” role casts a long shadow, but Bratt's character seems like the kind of guy who would follow orders rather than break rules. The always-impressive Joe Morton plays Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Ops Steven Algazi.

Jerry Bruckheimer, along with "Ray" director Taylor Hackford, produced the series, and you can feel his influence in the show's “CSI”-style jargon. While the show promises some bright spots, the problems these guys solve take place all over the world. Yet they stay in the office while characters unknown to us do the dirty work. The series should have the urgency of “24,” but instead it feels removed. We're watching guys who are watching other guys solve problems. If Tisnewski eventually heads out into the field, the show could redeem itself. If he doesn’t, the series may go AWOL early.     —Paige Newman

‘The Evidence’With all the crime procedurals on the air today, new series need a hook to stand out from the crowd. ABC’s “The Evidence” (midseason premiere) begins each episode by listing off all of the pieces of evidence from a particular case. The intrigue for viewers is figuring out, as the investigation into the case unfolds, how each piece of evidence will help two San Francisco detectives crack the mystery.

But just having an intriguing premise won’t keep viewers hooked for long; luckily, the drama also has Nicky Katt (“Boston Public”) playing Inspector Sean Cole. Cole’s wife was recently murdered, and her killer went unpunished due to the mishandling of evidence. As you’d expect, Cole has difficulties with the people in the evidence lab, who are led by Dr. Sol Gold (Martin Landau in a droll, scene-stealing turn).

Balancing out Cole’s tendency to take the cases too personally, and providing much-needed comic relief, is his partner, Cayman Bishop (Orlando Jones). Their strong performances make this show a standout, and viewers might enjoy solving what has by now become a familiar puzzle — a criminal investigation — in a new and different way.    —Kim Reed

‘Ghost Whisperer’
Thanks to ‘Medium,’ ‘The Sixth Sense,’ ‘Crossing Over’ and others, the idea of people among us who can talk to or see the dead is hardly rare in pop culture. Jennifer Love Hewitt will have to fight to bring anything new to the séance table in "Ghost Whisperer" (Fridays, 8 p.m. ET, CBS).

Love Hewitt plays Melinda Gordon, a young bride who's had her supernatural gift since childhood. Her husband and friends all accept it as if she simply had an outstanding voice or a talent for foreign languages. Sometimes the ghosts she sees are just normal folks, a mom sitting across from her grown son at a coffeehouse silently harangues him to hit on a cute woman. Other times, they're horror-movie creepy, as when a soldier killed in Vietnam walks silently through Gordon's mansion-like home (enjoy a good laugh at how Hollywood types envision a fixer-upper starter home).

Unlike "Medium," Gordon doesn't solve crimes, at least in the pilot. She simply talks to dead folks, who apparently have been roaming around for decades waiting to find her. You're not surprised when their survivors don't believe her, because really, who would? Unless they're huge fans of Love Hewitt, it's unclear why the fans who regularly give "Medium" its high ratings would add "Ghost Whisperer" to their schedules. Its Friday time slot soon may end up looking like a ghost town.     —G.F.C.

‘Head Cases’The bar these days for a legal show is on the high side, and where “Head Cases” falls short is its inability to decide what it wants to be.

Hot-shot attorney Jason Payne (Chris O’Donnell) watches his career founder after he suffers a nervous breakdown, goes for an extended stay at the happy farm and then promptly gets fired. His therapist pairs him with Shultz (Adam Goldberg), a bottom-feeder of a lawyer who suffers from explosive disorder. (Yes, it’s real.) The opposites are set: Payne is all marble facade, his anxiety attacks a result of his obvious inability to vent; Shultz is all uncontrollable anger, his malady keeping driving him to assault anyone who triggers his temper.  Payne is robbed of his glitzy clients; Shultz scrapes by, representing nymphos and hookers, and isn’t afraid to bend rules to win a case. A partnership is forged.

Payne’s also trying to win back his estranged wife Laurie (Krista Allen) and son Ryan (Jake Cherry), a subplot meant to provide “Head Cases” with a sense of heart. Mostly it just feels tacked on.

That’s the overall problem, actually: Is this buddy comedy, family drama, courtroom soap, or what? Multifaceted is fine, but at some point you’ve got to choose your poison. The L.A. locale, and a lackluster backstory, add nothing, and O’Donnell strolls through his straight-man role. As a walking bundle of rage, Goldberg shows impressive physical comedy chops, but isn’t enough to spice up the whole package.    —Jon Bonné

‘Inconceivable’"Inconceivable" (Fridays, 10 p.m. ET), NBC's new drama about the goings-on in a fertility clinic seems modeled after the FX series “Nip/Tuck.” Like that show, it pairs two unlikely partners with opposite agendas. Ming-Na (Jing-Mei from “ER”) plays Dr. Rachel Lew, the co-owner of the clinic. Like Dylan Walsh’s character on “Nip/Tuck,” she’s the one with the moral conscience. Having been inseminated herself, she struggles with how to explain to her son why he doesn’t have a father.

The man who helped her with her procedure is now her partner, Dr. Malcolm Bower (Jonathan Cake), an arrogant but talented surgeon with an eye for the ladies and not a lot of scruples — much like Julian McMahon’s Christian Troy on “Nip/Tuck.” Cake provides devilish charm, and he and Ming-Na shine as opposites attracting. Don't be surprised if there were a romantic relationship between these two in the past that might be rekindled in future episodes.

Though this is a drama, the tone stays for the most part, almost “Housewives” light, with the supporting characters, like Nurse Patrice Lo Cicero (Joelle Carter), who’s having an affair with Bower, keeping things soapy and fun enough to keep the larger issues about how far people are willing to go to become parents from overwhelming the series. Alfre Woodard (who also appears on “Housewives” this season) also has a supporting role here as staff psychologist Dr. Lydia Crawford.

There's some sharp humor here. If the plots manage to stay fresh and Bower doesn't grow a pesky conscience anytime soon, the show is pregnant with good possibilities.     —P.N.

‘In Justice’It seems impossible that the networks could provide a new twist on the legal and criminal drama genre, until you watch ABC's "In Justice" (midseason premiere). In it, The National Justice Project, a nonprofit organization founded by publicity-hungry attorney, David Swayne (Kyle McLachlan), tries to reverse cases (based on true stories) and get innocent people out of jail.

It's unclear whether Swayne truly cares about the wrong that was perpetrated, or if he just wants his legal team to take on politically advantageous cases to further his own career. Visually, the show is bright and energetic without relying on the visual trickery popularized by shows like "CSI"; instead, simple white boards and on-screen text help viewers to keep up with increasingly complex cases.

The show doesn't get into the personal lives of its principals unless it's to explain their motivations for joining the team. One investigator (Larissa Gomez, "La Femme Nikita") had liberal political activists for parents, one (Daniel Cosgrove, "Beverly Hills 90210") is just looking for a good item on his résumé, and the former cop lead investigator (Jason O'Mara, "The Agency") feels guilty because about a mistake in his past. While the premise may get maudlin over the course of multiple seasons, at least for now, it's unique enough to capture interest.    —K.R.

"Invasion"Like “Lost,” the show it follows on red-hot ABC, “Invasion” (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET) is an ambitious mystery-fest, with a sprawling cast of characters, taut suspense and plenty of nail-biting moments.

The series blows onto the small screen with undeniable force, as Florida park ranger Russell Varon (“Third Watch’s” Eddie Cibrian) struggles to save his small town — and his extended family — from a devastating hurricane. The town survives, but something worse happens. What are those mysterious lights in the sky? Why are some of the survivors suddenly acting like pod people? Series creator and former Hardy Boy Shaun Cassidy (“American Gothic”) succeeds in creating a real sense of place in which to unfurl the alien-versus-human plot, laying the groundwork for plenty of intriguing life-or-death drama down the road.

Like “Lost,” “Invasion” unfolds slowly, and as long as viewers can postpone their need for instant gratification, the amped-up tension works well. Best of all, for a show about an alien takeover, “Invasion” isn’t overtly geeky. That means it could build a broad audience by appealing to not only viewers’ cravings for bug-eyed aliens, but their need for thought-provoking drama, too.    —Brian Bellmont

‘Just Legal’"Just Legal" (Mondays, 9 p.m. ET, WB) may remind viewers of “Doogie Howser” in a courtroom.

Jay Baruchel (fresh from his memorable role as addled boxer Danger in “Million Dollar Baby”) stars as 18-year-old lawyer David Ross, who’s jumped so many grades in school that everyone calls him Skip. But not many law firms want to hire an 18-year-old, so Skip finds himself working with burned-out, ambulance-chasing Grant Cooper (Don Johnson), who never met a case he didn’t want to settle.

While the young lawyer concept is fun, and Johnson and Baruchel make a good team, something seems overly familiar about this show. It’s tough to make courtroom drama feel fresh. We've seen the curmudgeonly judges and corrupt cops on a half-dozen other shows, and making one of the lawyers a teen doesn’t exactly re-invent the legal show genre.

Besides, it’s easy to see where this is going. Johnson’s character is going to imbue Skip with the street smarts he so desperately needs, while Skip is going to resurrect Johnson’s belief in the law. Such a well-worn concept just leaves no reason to tune in. Baruchel is definitely a young talent; hopefully he’ll find a better vehicle.     —P.N.

‘Killer Instinct’Have we reached the saturation point with procedural crime dramas yet? It’s certainly difficult to make one that feels fresh. Fox enters the fray with “Killer Instinct” (FOX, Fridays, 9 p.m., formerly announced as "The Gate") a show that focuses on San Francisco’s Deviant Crime Unit.

Johnny Messner (“The O.C.”) plays Detective Graham Hale, who took a year off after losing his partner. Hale is the kind of detective who passes the time by listening to a police scanner at home, prefers to work alone and uses as few words as possible. Chi McBride (“Boston Public”) plays the no-nonsense Lt. Matt Cavanaugh. Marguerite Moreau plays Hale’s new partner, the motorcycling-riding Det. Ava Lyford, who mysteriously requested to be partnered with Hale. According to Variety, Moreau’s character will be written out after the first episode. Kristen Lehman will then come on board as Messner’s new partner Det. Marcy Hess.

Though the show focuses on cases like most procedurals, what makes “Killer Instinct” different is Messner’s slightly mysterious past. It’s not clear what exactly happened with his partner and you get the sense that this story will be unraveled throughout the season. Messner comes off as a bit more dangerous than your average TV detective and there’s a coldness to him that works — he seems a little scary. It’s good casting, but with all the police dramas out there, it’s difficult to say if this one, buried on Friday night, will find an audience.     —P.N.

The Night Stalker’Charlize Theron’s significant-other Stuart Townsend may be Hollywood’s Next Big Thing, but in "The Night Stalker" (Thursdays, 9 p.m. ET, ABC), he seems little more than bored. A remake of the short-lived 1970s series that starred Darren McGavin as straw-hatted investigative reporter Carl Kolchak, the new version captures some of what worked about the cult-favorite original, but wraps it in a far less playful package.

This “Night Stalker” follows Townsend as Kolchak, Gabrielle Union as a fellow investigative reporter, and Eric Jungmann as a Jimmy Olson-like photographer as they search for whoever — or whatever — killed Kolchak’s wife, uncovering monsters and other creepy crawlies along the way.

McGavin’s bemused smirk and witty dialogue made the original a fun romp, elements that are — so far — missing from this incarnation. Executive producers Frank Spotnitz and Daniel Sackheim (“The X-Files”) are apparently making some tweaks to the pilot, including injecting more humor into the mix. Some wit would be a welcome addition, and may help to light a fire under Townsend’s workmanlike, often bland performance. They’re on the right track with the pilot’s nifty CG homage to McGavin. More clever turns like that, and “Night Stalker” might scare up an audience after all.    —B.B.

‘Pepper Dennis’Do we truly need another show about the unsettled lives of broadcast journalists? After “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “NewsRadio” and “Murphy Brown,” it's a well-traveled path.

Though “Pepper Dennis” (midseason, WB) returns us to the newsroom, its real inspiration can be found in the “Ally McBeal” law offices. At the show’s fictional Chicago TV station, news clearly takes a backseat to sniping, preening and interoffice lust.

Not that I should complain. The writers so badly botch their attempts at journospeak that “Spider-Man”’s J. Jonah Jamison looks like the real deal by comparison. The rest of the dialogue isn’t any better, and even “Melrose Place” took a more mature view of the workplace.

Rebecca Romijn falls short of her potential as the title character, an allegedly hard-hitting reporter who’s terrified of her soft side. (Sound familiar?) Tension begins when she beds thoughtful hunk Charlie Bishop (“McBeal” alum Josh Hopkins), who happens to have snagged the very anchor spot Pepper covets. Her news-director boss Jack (Brett Cullen) blandly alternates between pep talks and tongue-lashings. Pepper’s single-girl vibe is squelched when her sister Kathy (Brooke Burns) leaves her husband to crash and appears on the doorstep of Pepper’s impossibly stylish apartment.

While NBC’s “Just Shoot Me” banked on its seamless cast to rise above a silly premise, Romijn and Co. can’t hack it here. She turns in a weak imitation of Angelina Jolie in 2002’s painful “Life or Something Like It,” and gets no help from her obviously bored co-stars. The paint-by-numbers production is yet another leak in the boat.

One redeeming note: The chemistry between Pepper and Charlie is occasionally good enough that they can’t stay apart from each other for long. Which is good, because “Pepper Dennis” seems destined for the dramedy trash heap.    —J.B.

‘Prison Break’
"Prison Break"
(Mondays, 9 p.m. ET, FOX, premiered Aug. 29) has been described as "The Great Escape," but unfolding over 22 episodes.

Charming yet tough Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) intentionally gets himself thrown into the same prison where his brother (played by Dominic Purcell, who starred as "John Doe") sits on death row for a murder he claims he didn't commit.

Mike's calm yet cocky, and it's hard to believe he doesn't get shivved on his first day in the joint. But he slowly reveals a steel core, and plenty of secrets. While some of the plot calls for suspension of disbelief (the prison doctor is way too sexy and trusting), Miller has a magnetism that makes you start to believe that if anyone could pull off an escape, he could. (It helps that he was somehow involved in redesigning the prison before being tossed in it himself.)

Fox is hoping "Prison Break" will pull in the same kind of dedicated fans who tune in each week to see the "Lost" castaways over on ABC trying to break out of their own prison. If the writers are as good as those on "Lost," prison could almost be fun.   —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

‘Reunion’At first glance, “Reunion” (Thursdays, 9 p.m. ET, Fox) looks like a gimmick show, or a rip-off of “The Big Chill.” Six friends who graduated from high school in 1986 are seen both then and in 2006, where one of the six (we don’t know who at first) has been murdered. Each episode covers a different year between 1986 and 2006, filling in pieces of the past to help explain what led to the murder.

Characters fill stereotypes, yes — the rich boy, the beauty, the high-school sweethearts, the plain girl. And in true “Desperate Housewives” style, regular lives are turned upside down thanks to pregnancy, prison, infidelity and unrequited love.

But by the end of the pilot, I found myself taking an interest in the friends and their troubles. The 80s music and clothes are omnipresent but not annoying, and the cast, led by poor boy Will (Will Estes, late of “American Dreams”), feel fresh and believable. This is a “Reunion” I won’t be skipping.    —G.F.C.

‘Sex, Love and Secrets’It's hard not to know what L.A. neighborhood "Sex, Love & Secrets" (Tuesdays. 9 p.m. ET, UPN) is set in. Signs touting "Silver Lake" are shown more often in the pilot than the "Melrose Place" street sign was shown in the whole run of that show. And "SL&S" may in fact want to be "Melrose," but it's going to need a Heather Locklear moment, and some better writing. (One character actually says "Floss the plaque off your karma." Yeesh.)

Like "Melrose," the show focuses on a group of twentysomething pals whose romances and lives intertwine. The Alison and Billy alpha couple of "Sex" appears to be musician Hank (James Stevenson) and writer Rose (Lauren German). Clean-cut Hank supposedly fronts a nouvelle-punk band, but what punk band plays faithful Barry Manilow covers? It's only one of the numerous weird disconnects in the pilot. And the show loves to whip crazily from one scene to the next, zooming up hills and over freeways. Why the zooming? Is this a Mazda ad? Is the fast-forward button stuck? Does the cameraman have ADD? I sure have a headache.

Every one of the friends is seeking love or sex, and every relationship comes packed with at least one secret. The most intriguing in the pilot involves Charlie and Coop, pals who don't know they're dating the same woman. The woman is white, as is Charlie, while Coop is black. Will race play a role, or won't the show go that way? Could be interesting if they do.

"Melrose Place" stumbled at first, then found its juicy, soapy, Lockleary way. "Sex, Love & Secrets" could too, but by the time it does, I might be too sick from the camera tricks to be tuning in.    —G.F.C.

‘Surface’You know how by the end of the second or third “Jaws” movie you were sort of rooting for the shark? The tedium of watching “Surface” (Mondays, 8 p.m., NBC, originally titled “Fathom”) is relieved by playing a similar game.

Who will wind up as fish bait: the plucky single mom scientist? The mysteriously accented old guy with half the Pentagon at his command? The plucky moppet who has apparently watched “E.T.” too many times?

Of course not. Let’s kill off a good ol' boy from the South instead, so that we can add his brother, the requisite hunky young white guy, to this motley group of adventurers. Their mission: to find out what strange ton of blubber is suddenly cropping up all over the world in scenic watery locations. Your mission: to stay awake.

The producers (no one you’ve heard of) appear to have spent most of their money on location shoots and special effects, and some of it is definitely stunning. But the actors (no one you’ve heard of) don’t have much to do, and what they have is pretty silly. There’s not a lot of competition in this timeslot, but in a season full of “Lost” wannabes, “Surface” seems unlikely to stay afloat.    —Lori Smith

‘Supernatural’It would be easy to be cynical about “Supernatural” (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET, WB). Starring not one, but two WB heartthrobs (Jared Padelecki, Dean on “Gilmore Girls”, and Jensen Ackles, Lana’s ex on “Smallville”), this tale of two brothers on a quest to find their father while pausing weekly to hunt down assorted mystical baddies has a very painted-by-numbers feel to it.

But in the hands of former “X-Files” director David Nutter, the show shakes off its formula and delivers a genuinely creepy hour of television. No show exec-produced by McG (“Charlie’s Angels,” “The O.C.”), could lack style, but “Supernatural” manages to stay understated (and underlit) and earns its thrills with old-fashioned suspense instead of CGI.

Ackles and Padelecki are surprisingly believable as brothers, with Ackles in particular showing some range. Less surprising are the plot twists, but the show executes them so well that you really don’t care that you’ve seen it all before.

Despite Padelecki, pairing this show with “Gilmore Girls” is an odd choice; I suspect most “Gilmore” fans will turn to “House” or “Amazing Race” in this timeslot rather than get scared out of their wits on a weekly basis. However, anyone who watched “X-Files” for the monsters would do well to give “Supernatural” a chance.    —L.S.

‘Threshold’“Threshold” (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET, CBS), a drama about the sudden appearance of what appears to be an extra-terrestrial spacecraft, is a super-glued together amalgam of “The X-Files,” procedural dramas like “CSI,” and every invasion horror movie ever made.

It’s the kind of genre piece where people in distress non-ironically write “Help Us” on a chalkboard and a team of civilians assembled by the government is incapable of doing anything besides speaking in clichés. (“I’m not interested in the future, I’m interested in now.” “I think we have bigger fish to fry.” “What’s happening to us?”)

Produced by Brannon Braga, who to some is known as the person responsible for the decline of "Star Trek," the show throws up more than a few “Trek” references. But like everything else, even they don’t emerge organically. Comically bad CGI and allegedly hip music desperately try to live up the standards set by other dramas, but all that remains is a vaguely interesting premise for a serial drama. The supporting cast — including Brent Spiner, Peter Dinklage, Charles S. Dutton, and William Mapother — is the show’s savior, but these exceptionally strong actors don’t have a lot to work with yet.    —Andy Dehnart

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