The most noteworthy TV trend of the new year is the marked upgrading of syndicated programming. Traditionally, cut-rate syndicated offerings have been the F Troop of TV entertainment: a ludicrously ragtag bunch of misfits. Sold to independent UHF stations desperate for product to fill their schedules, syndicated shows during the '80s tended to be feeble sitcoms—laugh-a-leap-year comedies such as Out of this World, Double Trouble, My Secret Identity, She's the Sheriff and Small Wonder. By syndicated standards, the anemic Charles In Charge was positively Shavian. Lately the dominant syndicated genre has become the hour-long action drama, primarily because this type of show is easy to move on the lucrative overseas market. (Comedy doesn't ever travel well, but syndicated sitcoms don't even own luggage.) Suddenly this month a number of big-budget syndicated shows are hitting the airwaves: Deep Space Nine, Time Trax and remakes of The Untouchables and Kung Fu. You can thank Star Trek: The Next Generation for broadening your viewing options. It pioneered the concept that well-produced new programming can exist and thrive in the syndication ghetto.

Syndicated (Check local listings)

C+

In 2193, an ignoble scientist (Peter Donat) has found a unique sanctuary for society's worst criminals: He has sent 200 of them into the past—our present—using a time machine. Enter police captain Darien Lambert (Dream Street's Dale Midkiff), a fugitive-retrieval specialist. He's sent from the future to bring the bad guys back. Midkiff carries with him Selma, a tiny talking computer disguised as an AT&T MasterCard that can assume human holographic shape (Liz Alexander). The special effects of this series, set in America but shot in Australia, are on an unimpressive par with the syndicated Superboy. Still. The Terminator Meets Quantum Leap premise is ingenious for two reasons. It allows for broad plot latitude and, since most of the action is contemporary, it saves the producers a bundle; on those expensive, demanding, futuristic gizmos and sets. Mia Sara (Legend) and Henry Darrow (The New Zorro) costar.

CBS (Sun., Jan. 24, 9 p.m. ET)

C+

Of the now ubiquitous fact-based TV movie, there are three varieties: the shocking, the inspirational and the weepy. This one qualifies for the final category. Treat Williams plays a man with mental retardation in a farming community who falls for a woman (Kelly McGillis) who has been twice divorced and had her children taken away by authorities for negligence. She finds herself returning the affection of this sweet, simple soul. But Williams's overprotective family is bound and determined to keep the couple apart. Williams gives a game but not terribly convincing portrait of a man with a mild mental handicap. McGillis, on the other hand, is very strong, giving her best performance in some years as a woman who has ridden a hard road but still responds to tenderness. Unfortunately, when it comes to attempted rending of the heart, this movie is flagrantly guilty of piling it on. Grace Zabriskie, Steve Railsback and Hal Holbrook costar.

Syndicated (Check local listings)

B

This series about Prohibition-era crime fighter Eliot Ness owes more to Brian DePalma's 1987 film version than it does to the stark. gritty show that aired on ABC in the early '60s. As Ness, Tom Amandes is more of a bleeding heart a la Jimmy Stewart (whom he resembles) than a Robert Stack, who as Ness was a righteous sword-of-God automaton. In the original series, Al Capone had already been packed off to prison. In this richly textured remake, Scarface is front and center and played with enormous vigor by sleepy-eyed B-movie bad guy William Forsythe.

TNT (Tues., Jan. 26, 8 p.m. ET)

B+

Alan Arkin gives a lovely performance as a onetime star pitcher for the fictional Chicago Barons. He tends to get a little cranky each year when the inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame are announced and he's not on the list. This year has been particularly galling because his best friend and former battery mate (Graham Greene), from whom he parted bitterly, has just gotten into Coopers-town. But Greene died right before the announcement and has come back to haunt Arkin. So begins a touching comic odyssey up the East Coast in a Lincoln convertible.