Andre Braugher ("Homicide") stars in "Thief" (9 p.m., FX) as Nick Atwater, a professional burglar who has always kept his wife and her adolescent daughter (Mae Whitman) in the dark about his profession. They seem to think he trades in antique cars.
The action begins during an elaborate jewel heist beneath the streets of San Francisco. But don't expect the ring-a-ding whimsy of "Ocean's Eleven" or the new NBC series "Heist." In the middle of the job, his cell phone rings, with his wife on the line. She's calling from the police station back home outside of New Orleans, where their daughter has just been arrested. Things at home are complicated, to say the least.
And they get stickier and stranger by the end of the pilot. Atwater's crew balks when his boss (Linda Hamilton, in an ominous and restrained performance) informs him that the jewels they snatched were not up to expectations. They also grabbed a bag of cash belonging to the wrong people - mobsters with the means to strike back. All of this bad news arrives on the heels of a personal tragedy that transforms Nick's life forever.
"Thief" does an excellent job of evoking the fear, anticipation and paranoia of the criminal life. Add complicated and unresolved family issues to the mix, and you have a riveting and addictive new series.
¢ Based on a British series, "Teachers" (8:30 p.m., NBC) focuses on the foibles of educators in an average to below-average New Jersey high school. Justin Bartha stars as Jeff, the self-effacing English teacher with a crush on Alice (Sarah Alexander), a colleague with a radiant smile and a British accent. He's slightly distracted by Tina (Sarah Shahi), a fetching substitute given to low-cut blouses. Kali Rocha impresses as Emma, the beleaguered principal, and Matt Winston plays Mitch, a nerdy math teacher who agrees with everything Emma says.
Moments between Jeff and Alice border on believable, but the laugh track intrudes to ruin the spirit. The best that can be said of "Teachers" is that it could be worse. Much worse.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ In my humble opinion, Ace is now the worst singer on "American Idol" (7 p.m., Fox).
¢ On back-to-back episodes of "Gilmore Girls" (WB), Lorelai finds April less than enchanting (7 p.m.), Emily invites Luke for dinner (8 p.m.).
¢ "Nova" (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings) explores the Pentagon's efforts to develop robots and driverless cars.
¢ Protecting a Mexican official proves more difficult than planned on "The Unit" (8 p.m., CBS).
¢ A mystery ailment leaves the team less than 24 hours to save a patient on "House" (8 p.m., Fox).
¢ "Frontline" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) looks at the race to replace Israeli leader Ariel Sharon.
¢ Sculpture lessons in Italy on "Amazing Race 9" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ Fin is conflicted after his son's arrest on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC).
¢ Alan loses his ability to speak coherently on "Boston Legal" (9 p.m., ABC)