FOX (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET)

Harsh Realm is "a virtual-reality game used to teach situational war strategy," a vaguely sinister Army colonel explained in the Oct. 8 premiere of this series. "Pardon me for asking, sir," said Lt. Thomas Hobbes (Scott Bairstow), "but what does that have to do with me?" My thought exactly. Harsh Realm looks to be capably acted and artfully creepy, but I'm not sure I care to get involved in another dark, paranoid drama from Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files and Millennium.

Hobbes (he just happens to bear the name of the 17th-century philosopher with the rather dim view of mankind) gets drafted into the game and finds himself cut off from the real world and his lovely fiancée Sophie (Samantha Mathis). Now, there's a female in the game who looks exactly like Sophie, but Hobbes is told she's a Virtual Character, or VC (note Vietnam allusion). Hobbes gets most of his information about Harsh Realm from Mike Pinocchio (D.B. Sweeney), a discourteous veteran combatant whose nose is a normal length but whose tongue may, for all I know, be forked.

"Harsh Realm is all that matters," Pinocchio declares. "Why, if it isn't real?" Hobbes rejoins. Bingo again, Lieutenant. I don't mind a show that makes me tense and depressed, but I'd rather do my suffering in the service of actual reality.

Bottom Line: Well done; no fun

CBS (Mondays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Like ABC's Odd Man Out, this new sitcom concerns a poor guy who's outnumbered and outargued by the females in his house. Here the besieged male is not a teenager but a father of three, and he's played by British actor Alfred Molina (Boogie Nights), showing lots of teeth and talking like a regular American fella. Sharon Lawrence (NYPD Blue) has a large chip on her shoulder as his current wife, and Park Overall (Empty Nest) takes potshots as his ex. The comedy tends to be forced and obvious, but a few flavorful lines are granted two deserving veterans: Betty White (The Golden Girls, etc.) as Molina's verbally uninhibited mother and Stephen Root (NewsRadio) as his ribald buddy.

Bottom Line: Pretty routine

The WB (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

"Okay, I'm still confused," human high-schooler Liz (Shiri Appleby) says to alien classmate Max (Jason Behr) in episode two of this drama series. "If you really crash-landed in 1947, are you really 16 or are you like 52 in a 16-year-old's body?" Max, an ostensible earthling who confided his extraterrestrial origin to Liz in the Oct. 6 pilot, replies with some nonsense about emerging from an incubation pod in Roswell, N. Mex., in 1989. But here's all the explanation anyone needs: Teen shows are the rage this season; it's handy to combine elements of The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and hey, logic is irrelevant.

Though it seems a product of calculation more than inspiration, Roswell has appeal. There's a sweetness to the two-different-worlds romance of Liz and Max, and you'll appreciate the plight of Michael (Brendan Fehr), a less friendly teen alien stuck in a trailer park with a nasty human foster father. But Liz's voice-over diary entries are dispensable, and Majandra Delfino provides too little comic relief as Maria, her self-described "wacky friend."

Bottom Line: Contrived but intriguing

CBS (Fridays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

This labored new sitcom was originally titled Love or Money, as in "Ugh, I wouldn't watch that thing again for love or money." The ampersand can't hurt, but it doesn't add much to the quality of the show.

In the Oct. 8 pilot, heiress Allison (Paget Brewster) got frigid feet on her wedding day, locked herself in the bathroom of her family's sumptuous New York City apartment and made steamy whoopee with building superintendent Eamon (Brian Van Holt), an old flame who had entered through the window to liberate her. Since Allison's odd brother (John Livingston) calls their father (David Ogden Stiers) a "tyrannical billionaire...who can't express love," you can bet Daddy Warbucks ain't thrilled when Allison takes up with the unsuitably working-class hunk.

The only pleasure here is watching Stiers and Swoosie Kurtz (as his snooty but dizzy wife) go professionally through their paces, albeit in stereotypical roles. But in the second episode, we're expected to laugh when Mother says Allison had "sex with the super" and howl when Father recalls that she "decided to get jiggy with the super." They can reiterate the premise all they want; there's still nothing super about it.

Bottom Line: Not a lot to love

>Sunday, Oct. 17 SILK HOPE CBS (9 p.m. ET) It's planting season for Farrah Fawcett as she tries to save the family farm in a TV movie.

Monday, Oct. 18 PRACTICAL MAGIC HBO (8 p.m. ET) Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock make a pretty pair of potion-mixers in this 1998 comedy-drama.

Tuesday, Oct. 19 NOVA: THE KILLER'S TRAIL PBS (9 p.m. ET) The science series puts Sam Sheppard's controversial murder conviction under the microscope.

Wednesday, Oct. 20 THE WEST WING NBC (9 p.m. ET) Could be a constitutional crisis. The President (Martin Sheen) pressures the staff to sample his chili.

Thursday. Oct. 21 ER NBC (10 p.m. ET) Flying leaps have painful consequences as a couple of unlucky skydivers land in the hospital.

Friday, Oct. 22 EVOLUTION'S CHILD USA (9 p.m. ET) In a TV movie with a fertile imagination, a woman is inseminated with the sperm of a Bronze Age man.

Saturday, Oct. 23 CONCERT OF THE CENTURY VH1 (4 p.m. ET) Garth Brooks, Aretha Franklin and Bono are on the star-packed bill.

>Linda Dano

During her 17 years as romance novelist Felicia Gallant on NBC's Another World, daytime doyenne Linda Dano went from the sacred (posing as a nun) to the profane (going undercover as a prostitute) and even got trapped in a gorilla cage for one caper. Felicia's marital history was no less bizarre. "I was married six or seven times—I've lost count. Most of them died," says Dano, 56, who has been wed for 19 years offscreen to Frank Attardi, 65, an advertising exec with whom she lives in rural Connecticut.

World came to an end last spring, but thanks to ABC, the Emmy-winning Dano has found a new home—on four other soaps. She returned in June to One Life to Live as Rae Cummings, the role she first played in 1978-79. Rae, now a relationship counselor, will also pop up occasionally on Port Charles, All My Children and General Hospital to search for her deadbeat spouse. Some World fans may still be looking for Felicia. Years back, says Dano, "a guy on the street grabbed me and said, 'You didn't tell me you were leaving Bay City [the soap's fictional burg].' I said, 'No, it's a quick trip. I promise I'm going back this afternoon.' "

  • Contributors:
  • Erik Meers.