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It’s always convenient when the major trends of a fall television season present themselves in neatly identifiable packages, and such is the case as Tube 2005 approaches.

“Reality TV” mania finally, mercifully, seems to have crested. While stalwarts like Survivor (in Guatemala Sept. 15), American Idol and The Amazing Race may roll forever, Martha Stewart’s prison-rehab version of The Apprentice (8 p.m. Wednesdays, NBC) and Amy Grant’s tear-provoking Three Wishes (9 p.m. Fridays, NBC) are the only newcomers to the game.

That distant roar you hear is the sound of actors and Writers Guild members in Hollywood jumping for joy.

Everybody misses Raymond (especially CBS) because the art of the sitcom has not been completely recaptured. Thus, ha-ha hopes are greatest for Everybody Hates Chris (8 p.m. Thursdays, UPN), the semi-autobiographical childhood of the funniest man in America, Chris Rock. Produced and voiced by Rock himself, the series will have viewers falling in love with wide-eyed youngster Tyler Williams in the title role, and is the best new comedy on television. (This also marks the first time UPN has had the word “best” attached to any of its offerings.)

Alternately, My Name Is Earl (9 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC) may not be the sharpest knife in the humor drawer, but it is the most daring. A single-camera, antihero folly starring Jason Lee as a white-trash wastrel determined to atone for his misdeeds, Earl is the type of iconoclastic comedy usually reserved for premium cable. It’ll be an instant water cooler classic or leave a ring around the bowl.

Above all, prepare to be scared. Ironically, one season after the last Star Trek franchise, Enterprise, sputtered into the stratosphere, the networks are digging deep into their x-files for an unprecedented slate of science fiction, layered heavily with pseudo-thriller, generally creepy overtones.

CBS is pushing Threshold (9 p.m. Fridays) with Carla Gugino (screwed twice before on the tiny tube with Spin City and Karen Sisco) joining ex-Trekker Brent Spiner to confirm the presence of alien life on Earth. NBC is breaking Surface (8 p.m. Mondays), following the impact of a mysterious new strain of aquatic life, while ABC offers the double whammy of Invasion (10 p.m. Wednesdays), with space intruders suspected of triggering huge natural disasters (wonder how well this will play in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina), and Night Stalker (9 p.m. Thursdays), an updating of Darren McGavin’s 1974 reporter-chasing-paranormal adventure with Stuart Townsend assuming the Kolchak role and Gabrielle Union providing eye candy.

The WB gives us Supernatural (9 p.m. Tuesdays), from McG, the superhot producer of The O.C. You may already have seen FOX’s big whoop, Prison Break, a sort of antiseptic Oz that could make a cover boy out of hunky Wentworth Miller, who impressed in the film The Human Stain. But Killer Instinct (9 p.m. Fridays, FOX) has the potential to be every bit as dark and frightening.

What’s behind this sudden surge of shock value? The nets could be trying to piggyback the box office success of recent horror hits like Saw and Dawn of the Dead, or noticed the maturation of cable’s Sci-Fi Channel and its widespread praise for Battlestar: Galactica. More likely, they want to copycat the phenomenon that is ABC’s Lost, opting for cheap(er) thrills rather than duplicate producer J.J. Abrams’ formula of diverse characters and intricate scripts. Whatever the reason, Count Scary would be proud.

Thank the TV gods no one attempted to ape ABC’s other 2004 blockbuster with Distressed Househusbands or some such. Nor has another Law & Order or CSI been spawned. Instead, the networks have lured big names to the hour-drama format. Mandy Patinkin heads CBS’ best offering, Criminal Minds (9 p.m. Wednesdays), while Geena Davis becomes Commander-in-Chief (9 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC) over Donald Sutherland’s protestations, ready to pick up disenchanted West Wing voters. Don Johnson returns in Just Legal (9 p.m. Mondays, WB), while Benjamin Bratt and Dennis Hopper (really?) uncover the Pentagon’s secrets in E-Ring (9 p.m. Wednesdays, NBC), both from Detroit native epic producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Guilty pleasure? FOX’s Head Cases (9 p.m. Wednesdays) with Chris O’Donnell and Adam Goldberg as mismatched wacko attorneys. Lotsa luck: Henry Winkler and Stockard Channing in Out of Practice (9:30 p.m. Mondays, CBS), a sitcom about mismatched wacko attorneys. Imponderable: Why CBS axed the enriching Joan of Arcadia to bring on Ghost Whisperer (8 p.m. Fridays), which walks essentially the same astral plane with a less appealing star, Jennifer Love Hewitt.

And is it just me, or do the on-air promos for the new syndicated Tyra Banks Show, (weekdays, FOX2) make it look like the dumbest hour in TV history?

Jim McFarlin is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]

About The Author

Jim McFarlin

Jim McFarlin, former media and entertainment critic for the Metro Times and The Detroit News, is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in People, USA Today, Black Enterprise, HOUR Detroit, and many other publications. His latest book, The Booster, about the decline and fall of U-M’s Fab Five, is...
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