FOX (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Season before last, Judd Apatow was executive producer of Freaks and Geeks, a show about high school that was funny, smart and exceptional. This new college comedy isn't quite in the same class, but it captures the atmosphere of the dormitory as minimum-security madhouse.

Undeclared (as in "What's your major?") features freshmen on a fictional California campus: awkward Steven (Jay Baruchel); babe magnet Lloyd (Charlie Hunnam), his British roommate; dry wit Ron (Freaks grad Seth Rogen); Lizzie (Carla Gallo), instant winner of Steven's heart; nervous, sexy Rachel (Monica Keena); and aspiring rocker Marshall (Timm Sharp). But more laugh credits are earned by nonstudents like Hal (Loudon Wainwright III), Steven's straining-to-be-cool dad, and Eric (Jason Segel, also from Freaks), Lizzie's insanely jealous boyfriend. Education is a low priority here, though Saturday Night's Live's Will Ferrell has a ball Oct. 9 as a speed-fueled "townie" who cranks out academic papers for hire.

Bottom Line: Enroll provisionally

CBS (Sunday, 8 p.m. ET)
show of the week

bgwhite    



"Relentless, obnoxious know-it-all" is how Max Bickford is described in this worthy new drama series. In other words, a role tailor-made for Richard Dreyfuss.

Nothing personal, understand. Dreyfuss just seems so well-suited to playing smart, voluble, abrasive characters. He's totally in his element as Max, a contentious, self-righteous but stimulating history professor at fictional Chadwick College who'll lecture you on anything from the New Deal to the cheese sandwich. Issues? Max has lots. He's a widower and recovering alcoholic with two children, a nice 11-year-old (Eric Ian Goldberg) and a difficult Chadwick freshman (Katee Sackhoff). He just lost a promotion to an ex-Harvard prof (Pollock Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden) who was once his student and lover and now represents a school of thought he can't stand. His best friend (Helen Shaver) on the faculty recently had a sex-change operation, which Max takes as some kind of betrayal.

Clearly, Max has a good deal to learn about parenting, personal relations, even pedagogy. But right or wrong, he's never speechless. That's why Dreyfuss is the man for the job.

Bottom Line: Star power on campus

HBO (Sat., Oct. 13, 9 p.m. ET)

Gary Gilmore spent more than half of his 36 years in one prison or another before a firing squad shot him through the heart in Salt Lake City in 1977. In the months before he was put to death for two cold-blooded killings, Gilmore was a celebrity. For one thing, his was to be the first execution in the country in a decade. The convict, who proved to be surprisingly articulate (even mediagenic), insisted on the sentence being carried out.

To his youngest brother, rock journalist Mikal Gilmore, fell the task of deciding whether the family would petition for a stay of execution or let Gary follow his own course to oblivion. In a few death-row meetings, Mikal, after struggling for years to distance himself from his family's grossly dysfunctional past, at last began to know this unknowable man.

Based on Mikal Gilmore's memoir, this movie just can't seem to get the brothers' tortured, tenuous relationship in focus. The sepia flashbacks of the Gilmores' wretched childhood are dramatically limp. Giovanni Ribisi plays Mikal with a bit too much quaking intensity. Elias Koteas's Gary is thuggish, more Raging Bull than raving maniac.

Bottom Line: Brother, where art thou?

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

Though overequipped with distracting extras—-flashes of fantasy, slapstick sound effects—-this dark comedy definitely grows on you.

In the Oct. 2 premiere, interns "J.D." Dorian (likable Zach Braff), Chris Turk (Donald Faison) and Elliott Reid (Sarah Chalke) started work at a hospital that appears hazardous to staffers' mental health. Dr. Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins), chief of medicine, masks his seething hostility with smiley pleasantries. Dr. Phil Cox (John C. McGinley), J.D.'s unwilling mentor, flaunts his cynicism and insensitivity yet sometimes makes a stunning amount of sense. Nurse Carla Espinosa (Judy Reyes) is savvy and sexy—just ask Turk—but a bit intimidating.

The Oct. 16 episode, in which J.D. befriends an old woman (The West Wing's Kathryn Joosten) who calmly refuses life-prolonging treatment, occasionally strains for wackiness but ends by approaching wisdom.

Bottom Line: Vital signs okay

ABC (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

The concept is pretty good: Bob Patterson (Jason Alexander) may be "America's No. 3 bestselling self-help guru," but in private he exudes almost as much negativity as Alexander's George did on Seinfeld. Alas, the execution is pretty bad: After a funny infomercial spoof, the Oct. 2 pilot turned strident, crude and desperate. Robert Klein was awfully broad as Bob's partner Landau, and Alexander's screechy tone betrayed his urgent need for better material. (When Landau called Bob "creatively constipated," he could have been diagnosing the show.)

A future episode has Bob dumping John Tesh as his infomercial cohost. There's little sign of improvement unless you've always wanted to see Tesh's wife, Connie Sellecca, spoof herself as a leather-lunged dominatrix.

Bottom Line: Sitcom, help thyself

PBS (Sun., Oct. 14, 9 p.m. ET)

This finely wrought documentary closes with a note that more than 10 million copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald's books have been sold since 1940, when he died—sadly out of fashion—at 44. DeWitt Sage's film should have even more readers turning to the author of The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night.

F Scott Fitzgerald: Winter Dreams is a literary biography rather than an A-to-Z life story. At times moody and impressionistic, it relies primarily on a combination of evocative images and Fitzgerald's own words, with Amy Irving reading from his fiction and Campbell Scott giving voice to his first-person observations. There are talking heads here, but their purpose is to elaborate on themes or share memories, not simply to fill in narrative. Novelist E.L. Doctorow comments on Fitzgerald's sense of inauthenticity and his crippling disillusionment. Professor James L.W. West of Pennsylvania State University points out the tendency of Fitzgerald and his troubled wife, Zelda, to make their own lives into myths. Eleanor Turnbull Pope, a fascinated neighbor of the Fitzgeralds in her childhood, realizes now that the charming author's "warm, woodsy smell" came from gin and cigarettes.

If anything seems out of place, it's the clips from the 1974 movie version of Gatsby and the 1976 film of Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon, both of which proved that ultimately there's no substitute for a good book.

Bottom Line: Literary success

Sunday, Oct. 14 BEHIND THE MUSIC: AALIYAH VH1 (9 p.m. ET) Interviews and clips chronicle the too-short career of the late R&B star.

Monday, Oct. 15 WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE ABC (8 p.m. ET) Bet they use their laugh lines. Denis Leary, Kathy Griffin and Caroline Rhea play in a comedy edition.

Tuesday, Oct. 16 BREAST HEALTH NEW HOPE Discovery Health (8 p.m. ET) Host Julianna Margulies starts a three-part series on breast cancer.

Wednesday, Oct. 17 COREY HAIM: THE E! TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY E! (8 p.m. ET) Finally, the truth on Corey Feldman's spiritual twin.

Thursday, Oct. 18 DIARY MTV (10:30 p.m. ET) Drew Barrymore confides to the camera in the season premiere.

Friday, Oct. 19 MIRRORBALL BBC America (9 p.m. ET) The stars of Ab Fab take on new roles in this comedy special set in London's West End theater district.

Saturday, Oct. 20 BIOGRAPHY: GLORIA AND EMILIO ESTEFAN A&E (8 p.m. ET) Get to know Miami's musical power couple.

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto.