USA (Fridays, 10 p.m. ET)
Critic's Choice

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As I enjoyed this mystery series' second-season premiere (airing June 20), I recalled the satisfying feeling of watching Columbo in its prime.

Peter Falk's character had the rumpled raincoat, old-shoe modesty and fumbling manner. The buttoned-up Adrian Monk, played to perfection by Tony Shalhoub, suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. In both cases the detective's less than commanding presence tends to make the villains overconfident. There's extra pleasure in seeing evildoers humbled by a guy who doesn't look cool.

In the season's first episode, Monk knows in his bones that a smug prep-school teacher (guest star Andrew McCarthy) murdered a female colleague, despite the willingness of the police captain (Ted Levine) and his toady lieutenant (Jason Gray-Stanford) to write off the death as a suicide. "Nobody's smarter than you," Monk's assistant (Bitty Schram) assures him, but the sleuth is as vulnerable as he is brilliant. Straitjacketed by his psychological condition, he finds it impossible to finish printing his name on a classroom blackboard until each letter is flawlessly formed. You laugh at his plight, but never without empathy. And you root for him to get things exactly right.

BOTTOM LINE: Worth obsessing over

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

Though it looks a little funnier than his previous sitcom, the inaptly titled Encore! Encore! of 1998-99, this disappointing vehicle for talented Broadway star Nathan Lane (The Producers) seems unlikely to generate much interest.

Lane's Charlie is a former TV actor who has just been elected to Congress on the strength of his celebrity. The openly gay novice legislator puts a sexual spin on such terms as "bipartisan" and "majority whip," but the political humor in the June 15 premiere is tepid at best. You get the feeling that when Charlie runs out of showbiz jokes, he'll have to resign his seat.

BOTTOM LINE: Vote nay

WB (Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET)

I have one thing to say to the seven professional surfers who share a Hawaiian beach house in this new reality show from Survivor producer Mark Burnett: Save your breath and just ride the waves.

Taped last year as the athletes were taking part in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, the series opens June 18 with a slack, talky hour that belatedly comes alive when some actual competition gets under way. The rest of the time is spent establishing rivalries (22-year-old blonde Holly Beck thinks 22-year-old blonde Veronica Kay doesn't take surfing seriously enough), hyping the hard-partying lifestyle on Oahu's North Shore and belaboring the point that Sunny Garcia, five-time Triple Crown champion and the senior housemate at 33, is a world-class tough guy. Here's a suggestion, dude: Mellow out.

BOTTOM LINE: Flounders out of water

Lifetime (Mon., June 16, 9 p.m. ET)

Heartache, romance, a strong female overcoming incredible adversity—the true story of Joan Brock has everything on the "Television for Women" network's checklist for TV movies.

While teaching in a school for blind children, Joan (Carey Lowell) loses her own sight to the rapid onset of macular degeneration. Just as she's starting to cope with her handicap, her husband, Joe (Rod Wilson), develops a malignant sinus tumor that proves fatal. Is there no ray of hope in Joan's life? Enter Jim (Dylan Walsh), an old boyfriend who's now a sensitive butterfly expert.

This is three-handkerchief stuff, to be sure, but Lowell plays it with conviction and Jennifer Pisana lends sturdy support as Joan's bright, adaptable daughter. Despite a few mawkish moments, the drama is sometimes as inspiring as it wants to be.

BOTTOM LINE: Watchable weeper

AMC (Mon., June 16, 10 p.m. ET)

"I love it when people recognize me," says former Big Brother participant Tonya Paoni, effectively summing up this thin documentary about reality-show veterans seeking to stretch their 15 minutes of fame.

There's nothing here but Paoni, Chadwick Pelletier (Road Rules), George Boswell (also from Big Brother) and their fervent desire for exposure. Boasting that she's unbelievably sexy for a mother of five, Paoni yearns to appear in Playboy magazine. Pelletier, a struggling actor who solemnly declares that it's God's will for him to "reach the masses," complains about the editing of Road Rules and weighs whether to drop the demeaning reality entry from his résumé. Boswell's comparatively small ego makes him the most likable of the three. Hoping to launch a TV series on wacky Americana, he dons a pilgrim costume and tapes interviews at a small-town festival where folks eat turkey testicles. Nice try, George, but we can already see such snacks on Fear Factor.

BOTTOM LINE: Really, don't bother

Sunday, June 15 STRONG MEDICINE Lifetime (10 p.m. ET) In the season opener, Andy copes with her traumatic marital breakup.

Monday, June 16 THE VIEW ABC (10 p.m. ET) The talk show's first prime time special focuses on his-and-hers health issues with help from The Bachelor's Andrew Firestone and Jen Schefft.

Tuesday, June 17 ROKER ON THE ROAD Food Network (9 p.m. ET) Today's Al Roker meets colorful food lovers in a series premiere.

Wednesday, June 18 PARADISE HOTEL FOX (9 p.m. ET) Singles get a chance to laze at a posh resort in this reality show's debut.

Thursday, June 19 THE TONIGHT SHOW NBC (11:35 p.m. ET) Justin Timberlake and Drew Barrymore join Jay.

Friday, June 20 COUNTRY'S HOTTEST HOOKUPS CMT (8 p.m. ET) Deana Carter hosts a look at couples like Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

Saturday, June 21 CHILD STARS: THEN AND NOW NBC (8 p.m. ET) Curious about the kid who played Eddie Munster? Tune in this special.

CHUCK WOOLERY

Veteran game show host Chuck Woolery, 62, opens his life to TV cameras in the Game Show Network's new reality series Naturally Stoned, premiering June 15. The title? It comes from a Top 40 hit Woolery had back in '68. (Who knew?)

On the reason for the show: "Personally, I don't know. When they wanted to do this, I thought. I can't imagine anybody would watch my life. But after we got into it, I thought, 'If it's funny, they'll watch.' "

On rapping the show's theme song: "It was the producer's idea. I'd never rapped in my life. A choreographer was showing me all these hand movements [to do during the rap] and I said, 'I'm Irish. Have you ever watched Riverdance? Their legs are the only thing moving!' "

On why reality bites: "Your guard is down, so you watch sometimes and say, 'Did I say that?' And you wince."

On family feuds: "There's a part where they compare my two sons [ages 13 and 7] and say, 'Trust: Michael. Fear: Sean.' It's very cute, but Sean was terribly Offended by it. He said, 'Dad, tell them not to use that!' Hopefully, he'll like it when he's 15."

  • Contributors:
  • Amy Bonawitz.