Fans of white-knuckle television now have a night to call their own. Viewers can flip from the can't-miss "24" (8 p.m., Fox) to "The Shield" (9 p.m., FX), the terrific, if hyper-violent, cop show that has become one of my favorite dramas.
Not for the squeamish, "The Shield" begins its sophomore season with a horrific scene of brutal violence perpetrated by Mexican drug barons on their reluctant competition. Det. Vic Mackey (Emmy-winner Michael Chiklis) also has his share of woes. The private investigator he has hired to track down his missing wife and children wants $25,000 just to start. And Mackey's corrupt crew of accomplices embroils him in a brewing turf war over cocaine trafficking. It's a good thing for Vic that his politically ambitious boss, Capt. Aceveda (Benito Martinez), offers him a tentative olive branch. It's a very strong episode of a superior series.
The last time we caught "24," both Jack and Nina were trapped in a flaming jet seconds from fiery death. It was presumably targeted by the same bad guys who downed the helicopter of a less-than-friendly Middle Eastern ambassador.
With its ticking-clock premise, "24" recalls the shameless pleasures of old one-reel serials and even silent-movie thrillers. What's next -- will Jack, or better yet his annoying daughter, be tied to the railroad tracks? Sometimes the more old-fashioned a drama becomes, the hipper it seems.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, "Kofi Annan: Center of the Storm" (8 p.m., PBS) offers a slice-of-life view of the Secretary General of the United Nations between October 2001 and May 2002, a time when the world body adjusted to the realities of post-Sept. 11 geopolitics. Directed by David Grubin, "Storm" is unabashedly positive about the Ghana-born diplomat and 2001 Nobel Prize winner.
If you tune in to the Travel Channel for harmless armchair adventure, you might have problems with "Probable Cause: Human Factors" (8 p.m., Travel), a harrowing look at how human error and mechanical failures have lead to some of history's worst aviation disasters.
Tonight's other highlights
- A tornado changes everything on a two-hour episode of "Smallville" (7 p.m., WB).
- Nick's new client's (guest star Corey Feldman) parents accuse him of abuse on "The Guardian" (8 p.m., CBS).
- "Spies that Fly" on "Nova" (7 p.m., PBS) looks at the history and development of spy planes, from the U-2 to futuristic flying drones as tiny as flies.
- Amy tries to make amends with Lauren on "Judging Amy" (9 p.m., CBS).
- Scheduled on "Dateline" (9 p.m., NBC): a profile of an upstate New York teen who planned a violent assault on his high school.
- A carjacking story seems fishy on "NYPD Blue" (9 p.m., ABC).
A general blames a surgeon for his daughter's death on "JAG" (7 p.m., CBS) ... Finch meets George Lucas (as himself) on "Just Shoot Me" (7 p.m., NBC) ... On back-to-back episodes of "That '70s Show" (Fox), Kitty plans a dinner party (7 p.m.), college tours (7:30 p.m.) ... Bridget balks at college prep on "8 Simple Rules" (7 p.m.).