NEW YORK – You say you like a drama where aliens imperil planet Earth? Well, brace yourself for three new intruders: ABC's "Invasion," CBS' "Threshold" and NBC's "Surface."
Chefs cook up comedy running restaurants on both "Freddie" (ABC) and "Kitchen Confidential" (search) (FOX). Lawmen mourn colleagues killed in the line of duty on "Criminal Minds" (search) (CBS) and "Killer Instinct" (search) (FOX).
In short, when you take a look at the networks' new fall shows, patterns begin to reveal themselves.
A year after "Lost" (search) and "Desperate Housewives" (search) reminded everybody that a defiantly original series can shake up the whole TV universe, not much about the freshman slate reflects their level of fresh thinking.
Among the lamest ahead: "Inconceivable," (search) a drama about a fertility clinic from NBC (where creative infertility has reached epidemic levels), and "Twins," a WB sitcom about odd-couple sisters who run a company that makes lingerie.
On the other hand, the fall crop should still have its pleasures, at least if pilot episodes are any predictor of their series' potential.
Consider two engaging comedy-dramas that adhere to this pattern: oddball lawyers who defend their underdog clients and each other's eccentricities.
— On FOX's "Head Cases," (search) Chris O'Donnell plays Payne, a slick L.A. lawyer who has a nervous breakdown. When he's ready to return to work, his posh law firm doesn't want him. Who does? Apparently only Shulz ( Adam Goldberg), an impetuous slob with whom Payne is paired by their psych-ward therapist as outpatient buddies. Shulz happens to be a lawyer. Thus is born of necessity a loopy new law firm, complete with shabby-chic offices at Venice Beach.
— Also at Venice Beach (could both firms maybe share a receptionist?) you'll find the mismatched attorneys of WB's "Just Legal": (search) a geekish teen prodigy (Jay Baruchel) and a courtroom burnout ( Don Johnson) who finds his passion for the law is reignited by this gung-ho junior partner. That is, when the kid's overeagerness doesn't drive him up the wall.
Five other new dramas are also worth checking out:
— Premiering Aug. 29, FOX's "Prison Break" (search) is the first fall series out of the gate, and looks to be the most inventive of all. It depicts the complex social order at a state penitentiary where one of the inmates has strategically gotten himself jailed in order to rescue his brother, who's on death row there for a murder he didn't commit. A nutty concept for a show? You bet. But its appeal is in its (pardon the term) execution. Once viewers get a peek at "Prison Break," for them there may be no escape.
— "Reunion" (search) employs the shrewdest time scheme for a series since another FOX breakthrough, "24." On this new melodrama-mystery, six friends graduate from high school in the summer of 1986 with their lives full of promise. But the premiere leaps forward to 2005 long enough for a funeral service remembering one of this group as "brutally murdered, in their prime, by an unknown assailant." But who? Each weekly episode will find the gang of six a year older and a year closer to the present, moving them toward their 20th anniversary reunion (with the murder solved) at season's end.
— Of the three new procedural crime dramas (among 19 crime dramas on the schedule), FOX's "Bones" stands out thanks to its star, Emily Deschanel. A forensic anthropologist with beauty, smarts and a knack for karate, headstrong Dr. "Bones" Brennan is saddled with an FBI agent (or is he saddled with her?) as a condition of her getting to move beyond ancient burial sites and dig into FBI murder cases. The fact that the agent ( David Boreanaz) is a handsome he-man seems beyond her concern. Here's hoping it stays that way. They make such a hot couple clashing, who needs romance?
— "Commander-in-Chief" (search) bears certain similarities to "The West Wing": (search) For instance, both are dramas about a U.S. president. But ABC's commander in chief is neither a Democrat nor a male — she's an Independent and a woman. Elected vice president, Mackenzie Allen becomes chief executive upon the death of the man who made her his running mate as a ploy to win female voters. Now can she weather foes in Washington plotting her downfall — particularly the sly Speaker of the House ( Donald Sutherland), who wanted her to step aside so he could claim the Oval Office? With Geena Davis as the very presidential President Allen, this show seems electable as a hit.
— Finally, a group of twentysomethings inhabit the hip, hilly neighborhood of Silverlake — as well as the sudsy UPN soap, "Sex, Lies & Secrets." (search) Seizing on a formula of sex, lies & secrets, this cool new melodrama picks up right where "Melrose Place" (search) (which was set in nearby Hollywood) left the genre six long years ago.
And it reaffirms a TV truism every viewer understands: Anything abandoned long enough can seem fresh.