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The Season's Best, Ripe for Picking

America Ferrera as a plain Jane in
America Ferrera as a plain Jane in "Ugly Betty," which turns an ordinary girl's experiences in the world of high fashion into an extraordinary new comedy. (John Clifford -- ABC)

"Help Me Help You" needs help itself, as the plaintive title implies. Ted Danson follows -- very belatedly, of course -- in the noble footsteps of Bob Newhart, playing a psychiatrist with an assortment of flaky patients. The difference is that they meet in group therapy, each whining in turn; then we follow them home to see how badly their lives are going. Danson -- his appearance seemingly altered by extensive laboratory work -- makes a likably rumpled straight-arrow, although his counsel to patients seems about as profound and practical as the hooey dispensed by that dopey Dr. Phil. (Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m.; premieres Sept. 26.)

'The Nine'

"The Nine" has nothing to do with half a game of golf -- or with anything playful, as a matter of fact. It's one of several new series that would seem to work much better as a one-time theatrical or TV movie. The "nine" of the title are hostages held for 50 hours or so by a mixed-up bank robber who puts them through an awful array of ordeals (few of which we see in the pilot). Instead, the narrative hops around in time and place, fleshing out portraits of the hostages and their captors -- the prey and the predators. With Scott Wolf ("Party of Five"), still smiling boyishly, playing doctor, and Tim Daly as a cop with a gambling addiction, just about everybody is thoroughly screwed up and frankly, it gets a little wearisome. (Wednesdays, 10 p.m.; premieres Oct. 4.)

'Ugly Betty'

A scream, a howl, a hoot and a joy, this buoyant, poignant series about a less than gorgeous young woman working for a fashion mag is the season's best and most beguiling new comedy. "Ugly Betty," in fact, is one of the first shows in years to which one might apply the accolade "wonderful." Its wonderfulness runs merrily amok. America Ferrera -- that's what it says in the news releases -- plays Betty beautifully, treading lightly on both the pathos and the slapstick, which coexist seamlessly from scene to scene, smiling back at the world through thick glasses and sporting braces on her teeth -- and you can't help but love her. "Betty" was adapted from a South American hit that started in Colombia and was exported to many other countries. It hits the States not a moment too soon. (Thursdays, 8 p.m.; premieres Sept. 28.)

'Six Degrees'

Like more than one of the new fall shows, "Six Degrees" owes some of its inspiration to ABC's hit drama "Lost" (for the few who don't know, it involves a group of strangers trapped on an island by a plane crash). The concept of throwing strangers together and watching them interact obviously grew out of the "reality" show, especially "Survivor." In "Six Degrees," the island is Manhattan, and the strandees are lost in a kind of spiritual, philosophical sense for the most part. One of them, narrating the drama, utters this bit of news: "Anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person through a chain of six people," hence the title. But what an old idea that six degrees of separation is, and "Six Degrees" does very little to spruce it up and pass it off as fresh. (Thursdays, 10 p.m.; premieres Thursday.)

'Men in Trees'

Without much conviction, ABC is trying to pass off "Men in Trees" -- about a jilted "relationship coach" -- as a comedy. But there's little to laugh about in the misadventures of Ms. Coach, played by Anne Heche, as she stumbles around a small town in Alaska where she'd gone to plug her latest book, "I'm Getting Married and So Can You." In the premiere, she flirted with the town hunk, drank herself into a stupor and chased a raccoon that had run off with her wedding dress. That is all ye need know, unless you're the proverbial glutton for punishment and actually intend to tune in. (Fridays, 9 p.m.; already premiered.)

'Brothers & Sisters'

"Brothers & Sisters," no relation to last year's "Sons and Daughters" -- a much better series that unfortunately didn't make it to a second season -- brings Calista Flockhart back to network TV as a conservative political pundit named Kitty who's about to move up from satellite radio to television (assuming that is "up"). But the big star on the premises is not Flockhart and not Tom Skerritt as her father, but rather Sally Field (still looking great) as Mom. Unfortunately, the family's struggles and crises seem lame and stale, so having Field around comes off more as a waste than a wonder. (Sundays, 10 p.m.; premieres Sept. 24.)

CBS: A FEISTY, FORMIDABLE 'SHARK'

'The Class'


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