Family feuds, lawyers who long to be sane and mysterious aliens are just a few of the elements that pop up in this fall's new broadcast series. You'll spot famous faces from films, along with a spate of newcomers.
Six series start this week, one (CBS's "Threshold") with a two-hour debut. And the premieres continue: TV Week's Sept. 18 issue will include previews for more than a dozen new broadcast series. Now, let the shows begin.
"The War at Home"
Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on Fox
The tagline you'll never see: The return of Al Bundy.
The basics: Dave (Michael Rapaport) is mad at the world, and he blames it all on Mary Tyler Moore's character in the classic sitcom. As explained in an opening rant (one of several he delivers in the episode), that perky career girl is responsible for the breakdown of the American family. Take, for instance, his family. He gets along fine with his wife, Vicky (Anita Barone), but then there's his obnoxious 13-year-old son hyped up on hormones, 16-year-old daughter of questionable morals who refers to herself as a "technical virgin" and 15-year-old son Dad thinks is gay. Turns out he's not, but he does get a kick out of trying on Mom's clothes.
The lowdown: Fox conjures up the spirit of "Married . . . With Children," one of the network's first major hits, which centered on the extremely dysfunctional Bundy family and often crossed the line of good taste. Whether viewers will be attracted to a reincarnation of the obnoxious clan remains to be seen. Fox hopes the show will fit in with its Sunday night block, which includes "King of the Hill, "The Simpsons," "Family Guy" and "American Dad," all of which focus on families dealing with their own form of dysfunction.
Reality check: A few chuckles creep into this otherwise mean-spirited show where the insults fly fast and furious. In the pilot, daughter Hillary screams "I hate you!" to her parents not once, but twice. Rapaport, who's done some memorable work on the big screen, plays the Angry Dad character ably enough as he tries to balance his old-fashioned tendencies with his tolerance of modern-day realities. But, unfortunately, the writers too often resort to obvious jokes that keep the humor level below par.
-- John Maynard
Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox
The tagline you'll never see: It's like "Angel" without the interesting characters, smart writing or intriguing plots.
The basics: Based on the novels of real life forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschan-el), aka Bones, is an expert who solves baffling murders using an unorthodox methodology. While cracking the cases, she exchanges suggestive playful banter with FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (the newly buff David Boreanaz of "Angel" fame). The one-hour drama is set in the District at the Medico-Legal Lab of the fictitious Jeffersonian Institution. Funding must be pretty good, because Bones and her colleagues -- played by Michaela Conlin, Eric Millegan and T.J. Thyne -- have some pretty nifty high-tech toys at their disposal.
The lowdown: Between the ripped-from-the-headlines plots (first up, a missing woman accused of having an affair with a congressman) and the "CSI"-like investigation, "Bones" is a tad too familiar. It's great to see Boreanaz sinking his teeth into a new series, but it's too bad he chose this bland, uneven drama as his first post-"Angel" project. At least his character is better-developed than the rest of the gang's. Jonathan Adams ("American Dreams") is barely seen as boss Daniel Goodman. And it's never a good sign when the pilot fills time with three musical montages.
Reality check: Thanks to those desperate housewives, this is the year of the woman in TV. But the lackluster Deschanel fails to pop off the screen. She keeps saying she relates better to dead people; perhaps we should take her word for it and leave her alone?
-- Amy Amatangelo
Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on WB
The tagline you'll never see: Gloomy "Ghostbusters."
The basics: The Winchester brothers ain't afraid of no ghosts. They just hate them a whole lot, and with good reason. When they were still in short pants, Mom was swooped away in a ball of fire while pinned to the ceiling of their house -- a scene you have to see to believe in the opener. Along with Dad, the boys pursued Mom's assailant (whatever it was) and, in the meantime, picked up some skills that turned them into ghost-hunting pros. Younger brother Sam (Jared Padalecki) grew tired of the chase and gave college a try. That's where we find him in the first episode, when big brother Dean (Jensen Ackles) shows up with the news that Dad's gone missing.
The lowdown: "Supernatural" is the first of several new fall shows dealing with things that go bump in the night. Networks hope they can duplicate the success of "Lost," ABC's paranormal series that delivered both ratings and critical raves last season.
Reality check: Some genuine bone-chilling moments will make this series appealing to those who enjoy a good scare. Beware: There's also a good amount of gore that adds to the horror level. The brothers Winchester are likable enough and, this being a WB show, are extremely easy on the eyes. Some good one-liners, are thrown in, although they come across a bit snarky at times. Sounds kind of like those smart-alecky kids from Fox's "The O.C." -- which just happens to share an executive producer (McG) with "Supernatural."
-- John Maynard
Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox
The tagline you'll never see: A quirky little search for sanity.
The basics: Jason Payne's sole focus is being a hot-shot lawyer in a big firm. So he's blindsided when his wife kicks him out of their posh digs, even though he's long neglected her and their 8-year-old son. He's so shocked, in fact, that he has a breakdown, landing in a mental institution for three months. When he's sprung, it's on the condition that he buddies up with Russell Shultz, an oddball lawyer in therapy to control his explosive outbursts. The two decide to practice law together with the aim of tackling some crazy cases, all while keeping each other sane.
The lowdown: "Head Cases" is one of four new shows up against ABC's powerhouse "Lost," and viewers who care more about the abnormal than the paranormal just might want to watch this Fox show. Its lead-in -- "Stacked," with Pamela Anderson -- isn't likely to deliver the right kind of viewer for this oddball hourlong drama. On the plus side, Chris O'Donnell, a big-screen actor best known for movies such as "Scent of a Woman" and "Batman & Robin," brings considerable star power to his take on the angst-ridden Payne.
Reality check: O'Donnell effectively plays the straight man to Adam Goldberg's ("Saving Private Ryan") quirky and eccentric Shultz. The pair have good on-camera chemistry and are convincing in their roles. But it's doubtful whether this solid show can survive in its tough time slot.
-- Debra Leithauser
Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on WB
The tagline you'll never see: Twice as bad.
The basics: Dad (Mark Linn-Baker) is the brains and Mom (Melanie Griffith) is the beauty behind a successful lingerie business that they are turning over to their twin daughters. The kids are proverbial chips off the old block, with Mitchee (Sara Gilbert) as the brainy underwear designer and Farrah (Molly Stanton) as the beautiful model -- featuring such outstanding products as the "Butt-Pucker."
The lowdown: "Twins" joins WB's Friday comedy lineup as the lead-in to "Reba," and perhaps the network is hoping Melanie Griffith's star power will get more viewers to tune in. David Kohan (who is a twin) and Max Mutchnick, who gave us the NBC hit "Will & Grace," created and executive-
Reality check: Speaking to critics about her character, Griffith said, "Hopefully I'll be able to show other sides besides just being blonde and dumb. There's a lot of blonde people in America." But unless the characters develop substantially beyond flat stereotypes, it remains to be seen whether there are a lot of dumb people also.
-- Judith S. Gillies
Fridays at 9 p.m. on CBS; special two-hour premiere this week
The tagline you'll never see: "CSI: Jupiter."
The basics: When a mysterious extraterrestrial space craft attacks a Navy ship, it's war of the worlds, TV-style. Molly Anne Caffrey (Carla Gugino) assembles her hodgepodge team of social outcasts (um, experts) who have a knack with otherworldly phenomena. Molly lives alone with her dog and is prone to eating prepared meals. And she's the authority on worst-case scenarios; she just never thought one of her contingency plans would come to life. Not even her team of crackerjack whizzes can figure out what the aliens want and why they're busy altering human genetic material. Don't you hate it when that happens?
The lowdown: This is one of the better sci-fi shows cropping up this season. The cast, including Peter Dinklage ("The Station Agent"), Brent Spiner ("Star Trek: The Next Generation"), and Charles S. Dutton ("Roc"), is top-notch, and the pilot ends with a gasp-out-loud moment. Not since "The X-Files" has a freaky Friday show been this good.
Reality check: Molly's dream sequences are eerie, but did she really need to be running around in a revealing nightgown? Women dressed like that usually die on CBS's crime dramas. -- Amy Amatangelo
* 8: The Simpsons, Fox
* 9: Family Guy, Fox
* 9:30: American Dad, Fox
* 8: Wife Swap, ABC
* 8: The Biggest Loser, NBC
* 8: Gilmore Girls, WB
* 9: House, Fox
* 8: Survivor: Guatemala, CBS
* 8: What I Like About You, WB
* 9: Reba, WB
* 9:30: Living With Fran, WB
* 11: MADtv, Fox