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Even the losers

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My eyes are as bulging and bleary as SpongeBob's, my mind a fevered blur of images, actors and subplots. And I did it all for you.

The coming of the fall television season typically sends a TV reviewer deep into his home entertainment grotto for hours, watching each new series the networks offer up. I've re-emerged into daylight and, in order of their premiere dates, here are the standouts I've found, both good and bad.

The Winners

K-Ville, FOX (Channel 2), premieres 9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17: This is inspired. And New Orleans, what better backdrop for a police drama? Filmed entirely on location (pumping money back into the Crescent City's economy), the hour bursts with vibrant, sometimes gruesome scenery, music, colorfully eccentric characters and great bursts of action. Star Anthony Anderson, not a particular favorite of mine, acts his ass off here.

Back to You, FOX, premieres 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19: As close to a can't-miss as there is among fall's new shows. Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, two dominant figures in sitcomedy in recent years, combine talents as feuding news anchors at a Pittsburgh TV station, with Fred Willard leading the supporting crew as the witless sportscaster. Marked by the sharp, sophisticated writing and well-drawn characters that defined Frasier, the pilot seems to score one good laugh every 20 seconds. Only concern: TV shows about TV (Sports Night, WIOU) tend not to fare well.

Cane, CBS (Channel 62), premieres 10 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25: Brilliant on so many levels, even its title is a play on words: Cane as in sugar, which could become the new oil if the government approves it for ethanol production, and as a homonym for Cain and Abel, since the war between brothers for control of the family sugar crop and business fortunes fuels the conflict. This is the Hispanic edition of Dallas, a prime-time soap with a Cuban beat. And at the top of the ensemble, Jimmy Smits is TV's Gable, smoldering, virile and ultimately irresistable.

Aliens in America, CW (Channel 50), premieres 8:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1: Though it shamelessly rips off the essence of the hit Canadian series Little Mosque on the Prairie on CBC, Aliens is sweet and disarming and funny in an oh-the-pain-of-growing-up kind of way. There's a lot of Wonder Years charm here. It's the story of nerdy small-town Wisconsin high schooler Justin Tolchuck (Dan Byrd), who is so alienated from his classmates that his parents decide an exchange student might elevate his coolness and provide him a best friend — until the student turns out to be Raja (Adhir Kalyan), an equally nerdy Muslim teen from Pakistan who sends the mostly lily-white village into terrorist alert.

The Losers

Bionic Woman, NBC (Channel 4), premieres 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26: Once-proud NBC basically has become the network of Deal or No Deal and well-worn hours like ER and Law & Order: SVU. They got really lucky last season with Heroes, then come back with a '70s retread like this. Pity. Sometimes it's better to leave the past in the past: While British actress Michelle Ryan is mighty fine to look at, the story she's trapped in has been mucked up with a lot of top-secret government hooey, and then Isaiah Washington was added to the cast.

Moonlight, CBS, premieres 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28: TV series about vampires tend to suck, and this one was shown to critics as a "presentation," not a complete pilot episode, which also doesn't bode well. A Friday night slot, even following an established hit like Ghost Whisperer, could prove the ultimate bite of death. The sneak peek suggests the production will be lavish and atmospheric, but can a Beauty and the Beast-type love story with a vampire (Alex O'Loughlin) who doubles as a private eye and doesn't bite anybody draw more than a cluster of romance-happy schoolgirls?

Cavemen, ABC (Channel 7), premieres 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2: When a sitcom is made out of a stupid ad campaign, you can't expect much. I didn't. I wasn't disappointed. There wasn't a whole lot to build upon from the commercials to begin with; surprisingly, Cavemen is less comedy than social commentary. The three main throwbacks (who are virtually indistinguishable from each other) represent America's aggrieved minority, stereotyped and discriminated against. They're called "maggers" (short for Cro-Magnon), a slur very close to that word we buried in Detroit this summer. I can't imagine how some people of color won't find this series patently offensive; don't be surprised if Al Sharpton weighs in shortly.

Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.

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