Now that we’ve had time to recover from the November Sweeps, it’s time to answer some really important questions… Are you sick to death of the musical pablum factory that is “”American Idol””? Have you had enough of creaky sitcoms like “”Frasier”” and “”Friends””? Does the blatant propaganda of “”Threat Matrix”” give you the chills?
9 GOOD REASONS TO KEEP WATCHING TV:CarnivaleThe best new series of the season, “”Carnivale”” is the story of Armageddon – set against the dust bowl of the midwest during the 1930s. The hero is a convicted murderer, the villain is a minister and True Believer. The story plays out with the pacing of one those British spy movies of the 60s and 70s – deliberately, taking the time to addlayers to the characters and story arc, alike. It’s not everone’s cuppa, but the production is first-rate in every respect: writing, direction, performance, photography – and it’s that rarest of birds, an original take on a classic theme.Final Grade: A+Joan of ArcadiaThe best new network drama of the year. In a show that features a teenage girl who talks with God, it would be easy to settle for pat answers and platitudes. Instead, “”Joan’s”” writers tackle heavy questions and refuse to wrap things up in neat little bows. “”Joan”” is also remarkable for giving Joan’s parents as much development as Joan and her siblings, and the way the writers occasionally have God’s “”errands”” put Joan in harm’s way – either physically, as in the pilot, or by having her decide to achieve a good end through the wrong means. The show started well, and has improved with each new episode.Final Grade: A+AliasSeason three is turning into the most convoluted season, yet. Sloane is allegedly a humanitarian; The Covenant appears to be responsible for Sydney’s missing two years; Vaughn got married; Dixon is the boss; there’s a new weasel in town – NSC head Robert Lindsey [who has it in for Jack and Syd]; the Rambaldi Device appears to have returned as a focal point; Allison and Will have returned. The pacing is frantic, the characters are more developed, Syd looks better than ever and the thrills are at a peak. “”Alias”” remains one of the most entertaining hours on network TV.Final Grade: A24 Miracle of miracles, it’s in top form after an almost hallucinatory second season. The plot is rooted in reality, though the many things that go horribly wrong are still pushing our suspension of disbelief – but Kim hasn’t done anything truly stupid, yet, and the ensemble is taking their scripts and making them sing. Final Grade: AAngelRedemption has been the keyword in this moody horror/comedy/drama from day one. This season, with Angel & Co. taking over the L.A. offices of Wolfram & Hart, temptation has been added to the mix in a big way. The new, “”Moral Dilemmas R Us”” scenario has rejuvenated the series. It’s still not up to the standard of “”Buffy”” in its prime, but with its willingness to experiment and take chances [like the homage to Mexican Luchadores movies of the 40s & 50s], “”Angel”” remains near the top of the heap.Final Grade: A-Arrested DevelopmentBy far the smartest, nastiest sitcom to come down the pike in years, it gives the audience credit for having a functioning brain [no laugh track].The situation is that Michael Bluth [Jason Bateman] has to keep his family’s business afloat while his father [Jeffrey Tambor] is in prison for all sorts of business crime. Other than Michael, his son and his niece, the rest of the family are spoiled, vicious brats.FOX deserves a lot of credit in giving the low-rated sitcom a full-season order. Now all it needs is for discerning viewers to give it a shot.Final Grade: A-Jake 2.0 This mix of superhero/action/science-fiction turns out to be a quietly delightful series. Making a computer geek a superhero/secret agent could have been a bad idea, but the writing plays up Jake’s character, which remains lovably geeky, even as he becomes a very competent agent. Christopher Gorham [Jake] is a star in the making.[pagebreak]The supporting cast is excellent, and the stories feature interesting twists on SF and superhero conventions. UPN did us all a favor by picking up the low-rated series for a full season. It’s better than anything they’d be liable to replace it with, and nothing else they could air in that timeslot would do any better in the ratings, so why not go with a quality show?Final Grade: B+ Karen SiscoAlready on the bubble, but not yet cancelled, “”Karen Sisco”” features the lovely and talented Carla Gugino in the title role as a U.S. Marshal who works on warrants. The series is an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard character and, for the most part, manages to balance humor and noir drama in a manner worthy of the Leonard name.The scripts have been consistently good, and Gugino really owns the role [she’s infinitely better than the J-Lo version in the movie “”Out of Sight””]. Robert Forster is also excellent as her PI father. Whatever happens to the series [which returns in March, we’re promised], neither should have any trouble finding work after its run.Final Grade: B+Navy NCIS: This “”J.A.G.”” spin-off is probably most notable for instantly being much better than the show that spawned it. Once you get past the redundancy of the title, this is a series that has interesting characters and intriguing situations.The smartest thing about “”NCIS””, is that while there are nifty forensic toys and bizarre cases to solve, the series features a group of people who are willing to combine their spiffy scientific toys with such old school concepts as hunches, and breaks.My favorite character is Amy, the Goth Girl forensics scientist, who plays loud music and hangs her often gruesome forensics-inspired artwork in her lab.Final Grade: B+