CBS (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

Sure, this show is derivative. It derives from all over: The Six Million Dollar Man, Heaven Can Wait, Damn Yankees, James Bond. Action, romance, comedy, fantasy—whatever creator Glenn Gordon Caron (Moonlighting) hath wrought here, it's stylish, clever and unpredictable.

In the September pilot, John Goodman played an insurance executive run over by a New York City subway train. The government harvested his brain and placed it in the newly built body—sleek and super-strong—of a secret agent (Eric Close) assigned to dangerous dirty work. But though Close is Goodman on the inside, his handler (a coolly condescending Dennis Haysbert) bars him from contacting Goodman's beloved wife (Margaret Colin) or befuddled best friend (Gerrit Graham). While Close is busy breaking that rule, he combats terrorism and other evils. I'd rather Goodman were present in more than spirit, but I'm too hooked to quibble.

Bottom Line: A little of everything, a lot of fun

NBC (Fridays, 10 p.m. ET)

This inconsistent hour-long comedy (with no laugh track, thank goodness) could develop into an enjoyable show if granted time to find itself. But weak early ratings don't bode well for its life expectancy.

Based on a successful British series, Cold Feet concerns three young Seattle couples. Adam (David Sutcliffe) and Shelley (Jean Louisa Kelly) are trying to work out a live-in relationship despite a mutual fear of commitment. Pete (William Keane) and Jenny (Dina Spybey) find their married life disrupted by the arrival of a new baby. And the marriage of David (Anthony Starke) and Karen (Alicia Coppola) seems strained, even when they're not disagreeing about how to raise their toddler. The plots so far have ranged from sitcom-standard (Pete advises Adam to assert his independence from Shelley; Karen advises Shelley to put her foot down with Adam) to out of left field. (In the Oct. 29 episode, Adam discovers Shelley's little secret: an estranged husband.) But Kelly, Starke and Sutcliffe clearly have a feel for their characters, and on occasion—such as when David tells off a coworker who sees parenting as a competitive sport—truth and comedy converge.

Bottom Line: Still in the warm-up stage

PBS (Sun., Oct. 31, 9 p.m. ET)

Frustrated by a childproof cap on a medicine bottle, she says, "How they expect children to open that, I just can't imagine." Trying to sell her house, she disarms potential buyers by dwelling on its defects. Annie Longden is an unselfconsciously eccentric charmer, and 88-year-old Thora Hird plays her to perfection in this touching, warmly humorous film on Mobil Masterpiece Theatre. Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father) is effectively low-key as her middle-aged son, writer Deric Longden, who adapted the teleplay from his memoir. Deric affectionately calls his mum "not daft, just different," and the mother-son bond only strengthens as a series of strokes gradually robs Annie of intelligible speech. In the end, theirs is a love beyond words.

Bottom Line: Expresses itself quite well

HBO (Mon., Nov. 1, 8 p.m. ET)

In his 1991 book What's Wrong with Sports, Howard Cosell modestly called himself "a living legend." The controversial sports broadcaster died in 1995 at age 77, but the legend survives in this appreciative but balanced profile.

His former ABC colleague Al Michaels says here that Cosell was one of America's "five most famous people" in the late '70s and early '80s. He was certainly one of the most mimicked. Michaels, Frank Gifford and Billy Crystal can't relate Cosell anecdotes in Telling It Like It Is without attempting to approximate the great man's portentous, staccato delivery. But the documentary's tone is largely serious as it probes the many Cosellian contradictions—between his massive ego and his gnawing insecurity; between his slashing, opinionated style and his hypersensitivity to criticism; between his love of TV fame (from Monday Night Football, Wide World of Sports, Olympics coverage and even a flop variety show in 1975-76) and his sense that he was wasting his prodigious brainpower on trivial pursuits. Boo him or-cheer him, this hour will have you marveling that there was ever a sports-caster who seemed so worth arguing about.

Bottom Line: Emerges victorious

FOX (Mondays, 9 p.m. ET)

FOX (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET)

"There is sex in the air—that's all I can say," a witness states in the Nov. 1 episode of the hour-long Ally McBeal. The witness is testifying in an unusual sexual-harassment case (female coworkers sue a woman for being "too sexy" in the office), but she might as well be summing up the show as it enters its third year.

In the Oct. 25 season opener, Ally (Calista Flockhart) has steamy sex with a stranger (Jason Gedrick) in a car wash and acts as counsel to a woman trying to keep her wedding plans on track even though the minister (Ray Walston) recently spotted her having sex with a guy other than the groom. In episode two, while Ally's old flame Billy (Gil Bellows) mans the defense in that excessive-sexiness suit, Ally and her femme-fatale colleague Ling (Lucy Liu) suddenly feel an urge to, uh, experiment with each other. And let's set aside the question of whether "The Biscuit" (Peter MacNicol) gives Nelle (Portia de Rossi) a satisfying spanking. Ally McBeal, this year's Emmy winner for best comedy series, continues to amuse, surprise and, yes, titillate. But you get the feeling that creator David E. Kelley is overdosing the characters on his brand of, aphrodisiac.

As for Ally, the half-hour version fashioned out of recycled footage and outtakes, it has been hit-and-miss since its September debut. Sometimes a single plot fills the slot neatly; other episodes seem incomplete and out of context, as if an announcer forgot to say, "We now join Ally McBeal, already in progress."

Bottom Line: Still stimulating but a bit much

>Sunday, Oct. 31 ANYA'S BELL CBS (9 p.m. ET) Touched by an Angel's Delia Reese stars in this TV movie as a blind woman who befriends a dyslexic boy.

Monday, Nov, 1 THE EARLY SHOW CBS (7 a.m. ET) Bryant Gumbel and Jane Clayson enter the lists against Today and Good Morning America.

Tuesday, Nov. 2 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN NBC (8:30 p.m. ET) Flawlessly handsome David Hasselhoff of Baywatch guest stars as a cosmetic surgeon.

Wednesday, Nov. 3 LAW & ORDER NBC (10 p.m. ET) Julia Roberts is a fundraiser linked to a big shot's death in this top-drawer rerun.

Thursday, Nov. 4 DIAGNOSIS MURDER CBS (8 p.m. ET) Seeing double? Dr. Sloan has a killer lookalike in a two-hour episode.

Friday, Nov. 5 CINEMA SECRETS American Movie Classics (10 p.m. ET) A new series on special effects looks into the making of epic battle scenes.

Saturday, Nov. 6 SAVING PRIVATE RYAN HBO (8 p.m. ET) Steven Spielberg does World War II in the 1998 blockbuster.

>Henry Louis Gates Jr. He got whipped by sand in the Sudan and suffered food poisoning in Timbuktu, but Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. shrugs off the travails he suffered while trekking through 12 African nations to film the six-part PBS documentary Wonders of the African World (Oct. 25-27 at 9 p.m. ET). "It was a fantasy," says the chairman of Harvard's Afro-American Studies department, who hosts the series. "Growing up [in Piedmont, W.Va.], there were almost no black people on TV. When there were, people would call and say, 'Colored on channel 5!' " The networks' color spectrum still hasn't widened enough, says Gates, 49, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., with garden-designer wife Sharon Adams, 49, and daughters Maggie, 19, and Liza, 17. "There are 35 million African-Americans," he says. "You can't just have Cosby representing all of them."

  • Contributors:
  • Anne Driscoll.