REFRESHINGLY CRUEL, FOX'S PROFIT, a prime-time soap about corporate skulduggery, is the most exciting new show I've seen so far this year. This hour-long series (launching with a special two-hour movie on Mon., April 8, at 8 p.m. ET, an hour before its regular slot) is perfect for an age of downsizing conglomerates and incredible shrinking employees. Watching Profit is like visiting a hive in crisis. The bees prowl the honeycombs of power, buzzing with anger, stingers at the ready.

Adrian Pasdar plays Jim Profit, an ambitious young executive, newly hired at a fictional FORTUNE 100 company called Gracen & Gracen, the exact business of which is kept nebulous, almost abstract. Profit, who has his eye on the chief of acquisitions job, swings up the rungs of the corporate ladder with unnerving ease. He does this by scrupulously abandoning all principle. He breaks into computer files, blackmails his assistant and discreetly murders one major obstacle.

None of this is meant to be terribly plausible, but in the four hours I've seen, the complications click into place with satisfying precision. Adding a special, nasty kick is the damp perversion just beneath the gleaming office interiors. Why does Profit, padding around in the nude in his apartment at night, disappear into a secret compartment? We soon learn that this has something to do with his nightmarish childhood and that his drive for power is a case of psychological overcompensation. In fact most people in this show seem hardly more than a few baby steps from a breakdown. Joanne Meltzer (Lisa Zane), the corporate-security chief, intuits how dangerous Profit is after a single encounter, but her own traumatic memories keep burbling up and throwing her off track.

Profit should make a star of Pasdar, a 30-year-old actor probably best known for his role as a grungy vampire in the 1987 cult movie Near Dark. There are times when his sexy, coldly robotic performance feels too familiar: It's the same suave-creep number that's Kyle MacLachlan's specialty. What I like, though, is that Pasdar doesn't play the role with the inner smile that lets you know he enjoys being bad. He's nothing like Ian Richardson as Prime Minister Francis Urquhart in PBS's The Final Cut. Urquhart destroyed careers with a chipper briskness that seemed recreational. Pasdar whispers his lines with a deadness that has none of the fun of deadpan. You don't root for Profit. You don't like him. Yet you watch. He has a sick integrity.

UPN (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

D

Borderline Parody would be a more accurate title for this so-called reality-based series. Ordinary folk reenact encounters with aliens, spirits, Big Feet—everything but jabberwocks. The production values are ludicrously low. In one segment, the flimsy, stick-figure extraterrestrials make you believe there must be balsa wood and glue on distant planets.

ABC (Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m. ET)

B-

Technically, the title of the former SNL comic's half-hour sketch show changes according to his commercial sponsor. The premiere episode was The Taco Bell Dana Carvey Show. When I tuned in the second week, the show had been rechristened The Mug Root Beer Dana Carvey Show. Whatever the title, it was a rapid series of precise parodies of Entertainment Tonight, Oliver Stone's Nixon and Charles Grodin's talk show. If Carvey were actually funny and not just dead-on, I guess this would be brilliant.

Fox (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

B

This new hour-long series is generously indebted to the movie Interview with a Vampire, from the opening shot of the Golden Gate Bridge to the profile of chief bloodsucker Mark Frankel, who has the same nose as Tom Cruise. Even so, Kindred, about gang warfare among wealthy West Coast clans of the un-dead, is fun, swanky nonsense. As surely as fang marks indicate a vampire, that description should tell you the show comes from the gold-plated crypt of Aaron Spelling.

PBS (Thurs., April 11, 9 p.m. ET)

B+

In this episodic four-hour Mystery! series, a young divorcée (Catherine Russell) and her ex-sister-in-law (Barbara Flynn), a barrister's wife, form a detective agency specializing in cases of marital infidelity. The premise suggests a more ladylike Cagney & Lacey, but Chandler turns out to be a shrewd exploration of the painful ways in which relationships go wrong. It's worth tuning in for the first hour just to hear host Diana Rigg rip into the phrase "in flagrante delicto."

ABC (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET)

D+

As the nifty animated title sequence explains, a suburban widower falls in love with his alien abductor, a divorcée, and returns to Earth with her and her three kids (he has two himself). As for the show, its sarcastic sitcom brightness is grating, and the alien kids, designed by Jim Henson Productions, are unpleasant. They look like mackerel spawn in various stages of development.

>Nancy Travis

PERFECT TIMING

When Nancy Travis made the career move from films (Three Men and a Baby, Internal Affairs) to the CBS sitcom Almost Perfect (as cop-show producer Kim Cooper), she desperately wanted the show to be a hit. "I'd run out to get the newspaper every Wednesday when the ratings were listed," she admits. "I'd come back very frustrated." Fortunately, since moving from Sunday to Monday nights last month, Almost Perfect's ratings have soared 30 percent, and a second season looks likely. We recently caught up with a much-reassured Travis, 34, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband of nearly two years, Savoy Pictures president Rob Fried.

Were you always a big TV fan?

Growing up, I was allowed to watch only one hour a day. I always chose Here Come the Brides. I couldn't live without seeing it. I loved the romance of it, and seeing Bobby Sherman probably had something to do with it too.

Do you get recognized more now that you're on television?

Yes. And more now than when the show was on Sundays. Of course it's always during those embarrassing moments, like when I'm walking my dogs and picking up the excrement in a plastic bag. Hopefully people will think, "At least she's picking it up."

Have you ever wondered how Nielsen arrives at the ratings?

Actually my husband and I got to be a Nielsen family once. We got the ratings book in the mail, so we just put down the names of all our friends' shows. Funny how they never sent us another one.

  • Contributors:
  • Craig Tomashoff.