FOX (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)
Show of the week

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If ever a man needed a break from work, it was Counter-Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) at the end of this suspenseful series' first season. In one exceptionally stressful day—covered hour-by-hour in two dozen episodes—Jack thwarted an assassination conspiracy against presidential candidate David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) and discovered the murder of his own pregnant wife at the hands of a traitorous CTU colleague.

As the second season opens, Jack is scruffy and grouchy after more than a year on inactive status. The last thing he needs is a call from now-President Palmer asking him to saddle up and stop some shadowy villains who are expected to set off a nuclear device in Los Angeles within—naturally—24 hours. But Jack comes back to the CTU because only he can get this dirty job done.

24 strains credulity here and there—even in an age when no form of terror is truly unimaginable—and some of the season premiere's doomsday dialogue smacks of parody. But the real-time format builds tension week-to-week as well as scene-to-scene, and Sutherland keeps adding depth to his portrayal of a man staggering slightly with the weight of the world on his shoulders. If you doubt that this series has what it takes to shake you up, check the contents of Jack's duffel bag in the Nov. 5 episode.

Bottom Line: Time well spent

CBS (Sun., Nov. 10 and 17, 9 p.m. ET)

If watching television weren't my sworn duty, I would have bailed out of this miniseries about Robert Hanssen (William Hurt), the FBI agent who pleaded guilty in 2001 to spying for the Soviet Union and later Russia. The acting in the first hour is artificial and the writing—by Norman Mailer, no less—is laughably obvious.

Take heart, though: Master Spy gets better as it goes along. Once you accept the stylized approach—Hanssen can't pass a mirror or a window without talking to his reflection—you begin to appreciate the script's insights into the complex personality of a superpatriot and devout Catholic who sells his country's secrets for more than 15 years and eagerly snaps nude pictures of his wife (Mary-Louise Parker) for the titillation of his best buddy (David Strathairn).

The duality of Hanssen's character is best illustrated by his ambiguous relationship with an exotic dancer (effectively played by Hilit Pace), whose body entices him while he speaks of saving her soul. Gradually, Hurt's performance reveals a man undone by a false sense of himself.

Bottom Line: Stay with this spy game

Jimmy Carter
PBS (Mon.-Tues., Nov. 11-12, 9 p.m ET)

For viewers who don't remember much about Jimmy Carter's one term in the White House, this two-part documentary is a useful overview of an Administration that reeled from crisis to crisis between 1977 and 1980—soaring inflation, a gasoline shortage, the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran. It's also a valuable character study that explains how the Georgia native's faith and principles have informed his public life, including the postpresidential work in conflict mediation that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in October.

Like Carter's Presidency, however, the three-hour film seems incomplete. Among other omissions, there's no mention of Cyrus Vance's resignation as Secretary of State or John Anderson's independent campaign for President in 1980. This is an American Experience that will leave you wanting more, and fortunately it will be followed on many PBS stations by an interview with Carter and his wife, Rosa-lynn, that was taped 10 days after the Nobel announcement.

Bottom Line: Worthy but spotty

Sunday, Nov. 10 AMERICAN DREAMS NBC (8 p.m. ET) Usher does a guest shot in the role of soul legend Marvin Gaye.

Monday, Nov. 11 KING OF QUEENS CBS (8 p.m. ET) Doug (Kevin James) gets carried away with a disposable camera at the wedding of a friend (guest star David Eigenberg).

Tuesday, Nov. 12 ACCORDING TO JIM ABC (8:30 p.m. ET) It's all in the ABC family as Jim's sister-in-law (Kimberly Williams) competes on The Bachelor.

Wednesday, Nov. 13 THE MARK TWAIN PRIZE PBS (9 p.m. ET) Fellow comedians honor droll Bob Newhart in Washington, D.C.

Thursday, Nov. 14 CONCERT FOR WORLD CHILDREN'S DAY ABC (8 p.m. ET) Celine Dion and Enrique Iglesias raise their voices in support of an international charity drive.

Friday, Nov. 15 MURDER IN GREENWICH USA (8 p.m. ET) Christopher Meloni stars in a drama about the Martha Moxley-Michael Skakel case.

Saturday, Nov. 16 HUNTER: RETURN TO JUSTICE NBC (9 p.m. ET) Fred Dryer dusts off his cop character from the 1984-91 series for a new TV movie.