TV Eye

Crazy Like a Mediocre Lineup

<i>Standoff</i>
Standoff

Fox is first out of the gate with its new fall TV premieres, and while the onetime rogue network was known for offering some of the most cutting-edge work on network TV, it seems that this year, it has opted to play it safe. With lukewarm sitcoms and less-than-dynamic dramas (except for Standoff; see below), this might be the first season that Fox's existing series (24, Prison Break, the now-cancelled Arrested Development) have more appeal than the new wares. Here's what tops and what tanks:

Justice (Wednesdays, 8pm)

What it is: High-powered lawyers take on the legal troubles of the rich and powerful with an equal eye toward media spin. Why watch: Victor Garber's turn toward slick, just-shy-of-sleazy attorney Ron Trott is a fun departure from his pinched role on the former Alias. The new hair ink is dandy, too, as is Katherine La Nasa as Suzanne Fulcrum (LOL), the self-righteous host of a crime talk show. Trott and Fulcrum's bloated egos and disdain for one another bring levity to the otherwise serious show. Where it falters: Another law show? If there's something Jerry Bruckheimer (CSI, Without a Trace) is good at, it's sucking you into an hour of mindlessness that fools you into thinking you're watching high drama.

Vanished (Mondays, 8pm)

What it is: A serialized drama that starts with the kidnapping of a senator's wife. The rest of the series follows the twists and turns toward finding her. Why watch: Zzzzzzzzz. Where it falters: While it professes to have the "non-stop pace of 24 and the investigative twists and turns of CSI," its soapy performances (particularly from Ming-Na, who brings the same performance to every role) and situations (Rebecca Gayheart as an ambitious TV reporter who plays well with boys) slows the series to a hand-wringing pace.

Standoff (Tuesdays, 7pm)

What it is: A pair of FBI crisis negotiators with contrasting approaches defuse volatile situations with talk and a shoulder to cry on. Said negotiators are lovers, but they're not supposed to be. Yet, splitting the team would be oh so wrong. Why watch: Is there anyone more charming than Ron Livingston? His Matt Flannery, the negotiator who relies on his gut in the heat of the moment, is a welcome addition to network TV. And Gina Torres (Alias, Firefly) is my girl. Here, she plays Cheryl Carrera, head of the Los Angeles Crisis Negotiation Unit, where Flannery and girlfriend Emily Lehman (Rosemarie DeWitt) work under constant scrutiny once their relationship is revealed. Where it falters: DeWitt doesn't match Livingston's charm factor.

'Til Death (Thursdays, 7pm)

What it is: Sitcom featuring a been there, done that middle-aged couple and their breathlessly happy newlywed neighbors. The focus is on the man-pal relationship between the jaded Eddie Stamm (Brad Garrett) and the idealistic Jeff Woodcock (Eddie Kaye Thomas). Why watch: Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) is amusing. Where it falters: It's not a good sign when you can utter the punch line before it's delivered.

Happy Hour (Thursdays, 7:30pm)

What it is: Small-town young man (John Sloan) follows his cutie-pie girlfriend to the big city only to be dumped and then find himself jobless and homeless. Player (Lex Medlin), earnestly trying to channel Dean Martin, befriends him. Why watch: Medlin's doofy Larry Cone is strangely likable. Where it falters: Could the women on this show be more one-dimensional? An airhead, a bitch, and a neurotic. Throw in a virgin and an earth mother, and the all-star team of female stereotypes is nearly complete.


Noteworthy

The 4400 (USA) will return for a fourth season. Thirteen new episodes have been ordered... This from the duh! files: TheWashingtonPost.com reports that Nielson Media Research has not only raised its estimate of TV viewers to 283.5 million, but says that "one of the fastest-growing demographic categories is people age 55-64 – the same demographic most snubbed by the TV networks." New series premieres on deck: Men in Trees, Sept. 15, 8pm, on ABC. Talkshow With Spike Feresten, Sept. 16, 11:30pm, Fox. The controversial new season of Survivor (the teams are split along racial lines) premieres Sept. 14, 7pm, CBS.

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