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Fall's So Last Year: Spring's Fresh Faces

Sunday, March 8, 2009

If your fall TV watching felt a little less than fresh, blame last year's writers' strike, which killed any chance of an autumn filled with colorful new characters and plotlines. Now, because of the delay, spring is swamped with new midseason shows. Here's a look at 10 with plots from the familiar to the completely farcical.

-- Emily Yahr

United States of Tara, Sundays at 10 p.m., Showtime

Plot: "Juno" breakout writer Diablo Cody is back! Cody collaborated with Steven Spielberg to produce this dramedy starring Toni Collette as a mom with dissociative identity disorder, and three (maybe four?) alternate personalities.

Tom Shales says: "It's fascinating, the television equivalent of the book you can't put down and maybe the jigsaw puzzle you never quite complete. But you keep trying."

Lie to Me, Wednesdays at 9 p.m., Fox

Plot: Eccentric scientist Cal Lightman (Tim Roth) knows when you're lying. Lightman, who has dedicated his life to studying facial and behavioral cues, runs a company that's hired by anyone -- from a local school to the military -- trying to discover if someone is telling the truth.

Tom Shales says: "Debuting with one of the best-looking pilots in a long time . . . 'Lie to Me' seems an unusually meaty, thoughtful and thought-provoking crime drama -- another police procedural, yes, but one with a dramatic and mesmerizing difference."

Trust Me, Tuesdays at 10 p.m., TNT

Plot: Eric McCormack ("Will & Grace") and Tom Cavanagh ("Ed") play happy-go-lucky BFFs who work at the same ad agency; drama commences when McCormack's character gets a big promotion, and a high-maintenance, frazzled woman (Monica Potter) joins the agency.

Tom Shales says: The show "combines the flip, snippy buddy language of 'Nip/Tuck' with the advertising-world setting of 'Mad Men,' thereby double-cloning two of cable's few scripted hits. But 'Trust Me' shares another characteristic of those series: dumb, numbing soullessness. It has the emotional intricacy of a Ritz cracker."

Dollhouse, Fridays at 9 p.m., Fox

Plot: Eliza Dushku plays Echo, a wide-eyed innocent who doesn't realize she's being controlled by evil scientists who program her for different jobs: One week she's a backup singer acting as bodyguard for a performer with a stalker, the next she's an assassin.

Tom Shales says: "A pretentious and risible jumble . . . were [the show] a piece of music, it would have to be some sort of funky-junky, hip-hop, rinky-tinky, ragtime madrigal. If that sounds like a mishmash of mumbo jumbo, good, because so is the show."

Kings, Premieres Sunday, March 15 at 8 p.m., NBC

Plot: Ian McShane ("Deadwood") is king (really!) in this alternate universe, where he deals with royal problems like rising tensions between neighboring nations. When a young soldier saves his son from the enemy, he becomes his protege.

Tom Shales says: " 'Kings,' billed as 'a contemporary retelling of the timeless tale of David and Goliath,' hasn't a great many attractive attractions, and it could be that TV's population of weird-and-wacky fantasy-dramas has reached its fateful tipping point." (See Page M3 for full review.)

Castle, Premieres tomorrow at 10 p.m., ABC

Plot: Famous mystery novelist Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion from "Firefly") is rich, hot and a lady's man. Wow, he's got it all, right? Not exactly: Murder scenes from his books start happening exactly the same in real life.

The buzz: While Joss Whedon's "Firefly" fans are psyched for Fillion's return, early reviews suggest the chemistry between his character and that of Stana Katic -- a beautiful NYPD detective and his obvious love interest -- should be much hotter.

Cupid, Premieres Tuesday, March 24, at 10 p.m., ABC

Plot: Trevor Hale is just another New Yorker with a dream -- he believes he's Cupid, the Roman god of love, and he must create 100 happy couples before he can return to Mount Olympus.

The buzz: Jeremy Piven got raves for the title role during the original series's short-lived run in 1998. But the big question is whether new leading man Bobby Cannavale, who has made a career of supporting roles, can win viewers' hearts.

In the Motherhood, Premieres Thursday, March 26, at 8 p.m., ABC

Plot: Based on a 2007 webisode series, Megan Mullally ("Will & Grace"), Cheryl Hines ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") and Jessica St. Clair ("Worst Week") star as three harried suburban moms. Their babysitter and confidant is played by . . . Horatio Sanz?

The buzz: Mullally and Hines have proven track records, but last-minute pilot reshoots and recasting of minor characters could spell trouble.

Harper's Island, Premieres Thursday, April 9, at 10 p.m., CBS

Plot: A group of gorgeous people gathers for a wedding on a secluded island in this 13-part miniseries; the bad news is that one person is murdered each week. (The press release: "They've come to laugh . . . to love . . . and, though they don't know it . . . to die.")

The buzz: With a quick and inevitable end date in place for the show after 13 weeks, critics are wondering whether this will be the new model for television if audiences flock to the "Island."

Parks and Recreation, Premieres Thursday, April 9, at 8:30 p.m., NBC

Plot: This mockumentary is set in the wild 'n' crazy world of municipal government, where "Saturday Night Live's" Amy Poehler plays Leslie Knope, a mid-level bureaucrat in an Indiana town's parks and recreation department.

The buzz: It's by the executive producers of "The Office," so hopes are high; popular supporting actors Rashida Jones and Aziz Ansari (MTV's "Human Giant") add to excitement.

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