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Archive for Sunday, January 6, 2008

Even with writers on strike, there’s stuff worth watching

January 6, 2008

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Welcome to the nightmare after Christmas. With no end to the Writers Guild strike in sight, you can expect the airwaves to be clogged with reality shows, most of them more monstrous than anything chasing you in your sleep.

But don't go hide in the closet. Despite the circumstances, the next six weeks offer plenty of original programming, some of which is downright dreamy.

To help you navigate these not-so-shallow waters, we're spotlighting some of the most promising programs.

Hey, it's not paradise, but it's not purgatory, either.

Returning favorites:

¢ "The Wire"

Premiere: 8 p.m. today, HBO

Turnabout is fair play. For four seasons, "The Wire" has exposed the school system, City Hall, labor unions and the police department as broken machines. For its final season, the spotlight is on the media, and in the eyes of creator David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun cop reporter, it's just as hindered by politics, bureaucracy and inflated egos as any other institution.

The story's main drive continues to be an attempt to bring down the city's most dangerous drug lords, but this time the players include an unethical reporter willing to make up facts to feed both his ambition and his laziness, and a street-smart editor (played by former "Homicide" star Clark Johnson) whom, of course, nobody appreciates.

¢ "Law & Order"

8 p.m. Wednesdays, NBC

This 17-year-old institution never seems to run dry of bizarre cases or intense crimefighters. The most intriguing new blood: former BBC star Linus Roache, who's even more gung-ho than his predecessor, A.D.A. Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston), who's now in the chief's seat.

¢ "Medium"

Premiere: 9 p.m. Mon., NBC

Emmy winner Patricia Arquette gets some help for six episodes from an otherworldly being, also known as Anjelica Huston, playing an investigator trying to track down a missing boy.

¢ "Lost"

Premiere: 8 p.m. Jan. 31, ABC

Just when you couldn't care less who remained on the island and whether any of the survivors would run into Gilligan, the series left us with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger that has us on the edge of our lifeboats. Here's hoping last season's finale was a sign of things to come and not just a mirage.

¢ "Jericho"

Premiere: 9 p.m. Feb. 12, CBS

A well-organized "nuts" campaign saved this ratings-challenged drama from Armageddon, but Mr. Peanut himself couldn't turn this intriguing serial into a hit if it doesn't attract new fans who aren't too wrapped up in "Lost" to care about another group of castaways.

New series:

¢ "Breaking Bad"

Premieres: 9 p.m. Jan. 20, AMC

In this extremely promising new dramedy, former "X-Files" producer Vince Gilligan explores something else that's out there: the talent of "Malcolm in the Middle" veteran Bryan Cranston. No one on TV today does a finer job of presenting milquetoast characters who are mad inside, twitching to get out. That makes him the perfect actor to play Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher melting into middle-age mediocrity when he's rejuvenated by, of all things, lung cancer. The diagnosis triggers a decision to go into the crystal-meth business. Some will compare this to "Weeds," but there's room on the schedule for two drug-dealing geniuses.

¢ "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles"

Premieres: 7 p.m. Jan. 13, Fox

Arnold Schwarzenegger won't be back - and neither will director James Cameron or actress Linda Hamilton. But that isn't stopping Fox from revisiting a story line that's awfully rusty, despite impressive special effects and a new terminator (Summer Glau) who looks like she just beamed in from "The O.C."

¢ "In Treatment"

Premieres: 8:30 p.m. Jan. 28, HBO

Those who desire to eavesdrop on a stranger's therapy session probably need professional help of their own. But they'll be fascinated by this experimental series, which checks in with grim patients every weekday night, presumably to see if any of them have developed a sense of humor. Gabriel Byrne stars.

Reality shows:

¢ "American Idol"

Premieres: 7 p.m. Jan. 15, Fox

The networks are offering viewers "bonus" runs of their hit reality shows, but in the Season of the Strike, "bonus" means "desperation." To fill airtime, we've got "Survivor" (8 p.m. Feb. 7, CBS), "Big Brother" (9 p.m. Feb. 12, CBS) and the "Dancing With the Stars" spinoff "Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann" (8 p.m. Monday, ABC). It's business as usual, however, for "American Idol," which returns at its regular time with its regular hoopla.

¢ "How to Look Good Naked"

8 p.m. Fridays, Lifetime

Carson Kressley sweet-talks average American women into bringing out their inner divas in this well-meaning series. Only problem is that every episode is almost exactly the same, right down to Kressley's corny jokes.

Specials & miniseries:

¢ "Comanche Moon"

8 p.m. Jan. 13, 15 & 16, CBS

This prequel to 1989's "'Lonesome Dove"' was scheduled to air between Christmas and New Year's Day, also known as the time period from hell. That was before the writers' strike and, perhaps, before CBS executives realized just what they had on their hands. Bloodier and faster-paced than its predecessor, the miniseries still takes time to showcase its cavalcade of characters, most notably part-time philosopher/part-time gunslinger Gus McCrae. I would never have imagined stringy Steve Zahn in the same role as tough-as-horseshoes Robert Duvall, but he shows enough gumption and grit to erase any doubt. You don't have to revisit "Dove" before going back to the really Old West - but it wouldn't hurt.

¢ "High School Musical: The Music in You"

7 p.m. Jan. 20, Disney Channel

"HSM" fans don't have to wait until the third film to get their singin' and dancin' fix. This documentary, directed by Barbara Kopple, spotlights a Texas theater company putting together a stage version of the show.

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