WB (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week


A teen Superman on The WB? You know, like kryptonite crashes into Dawson's Creek! It sounds like someone's idea of a joke, and frankly I was hoping this new series would be spoofier. To appreciate Smallville, however, you have to realize that the producers are fairly serious about reworking the Superman story.

In a contemporary Mid-America where nobody seems to remember TV's The Adventures of Superman and Lois & Clark or four Superman movies, farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent (John Schneider and Annette O'Toole) live on their Smallville farm with adopted son Clark (the appealing Tom Welling), who turned up during a 1989 meteor shower. Since then the town has been plagued by all sorts of weirdness, and Clark has grown into a handsome teenager (Welling's 24, by the way) with amazing strength and speed. Judging by early episodes, Clark will save lives and avert disasters weekly without fully grasping his mission or publicly donning the mantle of a superhero. He's not even part of the cool group in high school.

Clark has already battled a nerd who turned into a predatory insect and a football coach who started fires telepathically, but the freak-show action is merely a sidelight. What I like here are the relationships: Clark's tentative friendship with future villain Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) and his unspoken love for Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), who would be perfect if not for her kryptonite necklace.

Bottom Line: Entertaining, though short of super

FOX (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

Ho-hum. Another comedian tones down his act to play a dad on TV. Well, not exactly.

In a promising series the network describes as inspired by his real life, Bernie Mac portrays a married stand-up comic who takes in two nieces and a nephew because their mother can't cope. "Yeah, my sister's on drugs," Bernie says to the audience. "That's okay. Some of your family's messed up too." You don't hear that on the average sitcom.

Likewise, you seldom hear a TV father figure talk about busting kids' heads or breaking their necks, as Bernie does in the Nov. 14 pilot (airing at 8:30 p.m. and followed by a second episode in the regular time slot). Some of the humor here won't go down well in every home. But if you stick with the show through episode two, you'll see it's about the gap between Bernie's defiantly unsentimental attitude and the reality of his new role as a surrogate parent. The laughs come from watching him soften a bit while pretending not to.

Bottom Line: Big Mac attacks

A&E (Sun., Nov. 18, 9 p.m. ET)

The Copacabana. The Mocambo. The Coconut Grove. The names conjure up an era of showbiz excitement that The Nightclub Years tries—with some success—to recapture. The two-hour special can't hope to be thorough in covering nightlife from the '20s to the '60s. Mob influence over Las Vegas is a documentary subject in itself. Still, you get performance clips of Jimmy Durante, Sophie Tucker and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, along with the memories of Harry Belafonte, Buddy Hackett and Alan King. Not bad considering there's no cover charge.

Bottom Line: Book a table

Comedy Central
(Mondays, Nov. 12-Dec. 17, 9 p.m. ET)

It seemed final when Comedy Central aired a two-hour Absolutely Fabulous called "The Last Shout" in 1997 (after three six-episode seasons), but the wild British series is back with six new episodes, and there's still a lot of shouting going on.

For those just tuning in, Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) are fast London friends who chase fashion trends, abuse various substances and brazenly refuse to let middle age force them into maturity. The slapstick grows strained when Edina tries frantically to lose weight or stiffens all over after too many wrinkle-removing injections. The put-downs become repetitious when Patsy and Edina trade the usual insults with the latter's uptight, plain-Jane daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha). An overenthusiastic studio audience seems to spur the actors to ever higher decibel levels. Yet there are times when the revived Ab Fab really is riotously funny. One of these high points comes Dec. 10, when Saffy writes an anguished memory play and discovers that her life plays like a comedy onstage.

Bottom Line: Darling, it's just a tad less fabulous than before

CBS (Sun., Nov. 18, 9 p.m. ET)

This Hallmark Hall of Fame production is no Band of Brothers—a contrast that may be refreshing to those who prefer their World War II dramas with hardly any violence. Unfortunately, its pure heart and lovely scenery can't compensate for a pace so leisurely that you want to remind the characters there's a war on.

Shot on location and based on a true story, In Love and War follows British commando Eric Newby (Cal-lum Blue) as he's captured by the Italian army, imprisoned in a small town under relaxed conditions, freed when Italy quits the war, then hunted through the countryside by German soldiers retreating northward. Along the way Eric falls in love with future wife Wanda Skof (Barbora Bobulova), a beauty of anti-fascist bent who teaches him Italian and eventually risks her life to warn him that the Germans have discovered his mountain hideout.

Blue and Bobulova, English and Slovakian respectively, are new faces who make an attractive couple—a good thing since we spend lots of time looking at the love light in their eyes. The supporting characters, from the veddy British captain (John Melville) to the salt-of-the-earth Italians, tend to be stereotypical.

Bottom Line: Love conquers too slowly

Sunday, Nov. 18 THE FACTS OF LIFE REUNION ABC (7p.m.ET) My, how they've grown. The Eastland girls from the '80s sitcom return for this TV movie.

Monday, Nov. 19 MONACO: KINGDOM OF WEALTH Travel Channel (9 p.m. ET) Visit a glittering principality that's filthy rich.

Tuesday, Nov. 20 JENNIFER LOPEZ IN CONCERT NBC (8 p.m. ET) It's J.Lo's first music special, taped in Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, Nov. 21 ON STAGE AT THE KENNEDY CENTER PBS (9 p.m. ET) Whoopi Goldberg gets the Mark Twain Prize for humor at a big whoop in Washington, D.C.

Thursday, Nov. 22 MACY'S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE NBC (9 a.m. ET) The Today team describes the 75th annual event in New York City.

Friday, Nov. 23 'N SYNC SPECIAL CBS (10 p.m. ET) No strings attached to these teen-pop idols as they sing in Miami Beach.

Saturday, Nov. 24 BUY0L0GY TLC (9 p.m. ET) Just the thing after a hard day at the mall: a study of our shopping obsession.