ABC (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET)
DRAMA

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When you look at it closely, there's nothing very original in this new series about the not-so-quiet desperation of affluent suburban women. The show's Wisteria Lane is easy to place on the pop-culture map somewhere between Stepford and Peyton Place. But the Oct. 3 premiere is so cheeky, sexy and alive that you can't help enjoying it.

I say "alive" even though the narrator is dead. As Mary Alice (Brenda Strong) explains in the opening voice-over, she spent her days "polishing the routine of my life until it gleamed with perfection"—then she rather surprised the community by shooting herself in the head.

Now Mary Alice fills us in on the neighbors: Susan (Teri Hatcher), the love-starved single mom with a bracingly candid teenage daughter (Andrea Bowen); Edie (onetime Knots Landing bombshell Nicolette Sheridan), a divorcée who just keeps feeding her sexual appetite; Lynette (Felicity Huffman, in a glorious portrayal of domestic frustration), the successful career woman turned beleaguered stay-at-home mother of four; Bree (Marcia Cross), the frighteningly capable Martha Stewart clone who wants her unhappy husband and two restive children to savor their basil puree and shut up; and Gabrielle (Eva Longoria), who gets back at her nasty, mercenary husband by doing a Lady Chatterley number with the 17-year-old gardener.

When Susan and Edie vie for the attention of Mike (James Denton), a single plumber new in the neighborhood, his occupation gives rise to predictable innuendo about checking pipes and fixing clogs. But the actors deliver the jokes with a style that proclaims, "We know what we're doing and we love it." Though it's too quick to bring Bree's family situation to a head and a bit clumsy in planting a mystery behind Mary Alice's death, the Housewives pilot is worth staying home for.

CBS (Fridays, 10 p.m. ET)
DRAMA

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CBS has the right to use only lower-case letters in this new show's title, but it really should be changed to stars on the rebound.

Rob Lowe flopped last season in NBC's The Lyon's Den, as did Joe Pantoliano in CBS's The Handler. So here they are together in a series that looks like a shotgun marriage of disparate genres.

Lowe plays Billy Grant, a handsome, unconventional doctor who could be on any medical show from ER to Nip/Tuck but instead serves as house physician at a hotel-casino run by Tommy Danko (Pantoliano). Tommy walks and talks lickety-split, trying to prove he can handle more crises than the guys on NBC's Las Vegas. In the premiere, Billy ticked off Tommy by telling him that a star singer was too ill to perform in the casino's showroom. In the Oct. 1 episode, Tommy promotes a big fight and Billy tries to stop it because one of the boxers has a health problem. Next thing you know, the boss will blow his stack when the doc declares that poker chips cause cancer. The pace is fast, but the show is wholly artificial.

ABC (Thursdays, 9 p.m. ET)
COMEDY

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Suggested rule for this new show about teens with raging hormones: Any high school boy who talks to the camera gets a week's detention.

Hunky jock Dino (Sean Faris), sarcastic Ben (Jon Foster) and comparatively sensitive Jonathan (Chris Lowell) are buddies with two things in common: an obsession with sex and a compulsion to communicate directly with the audience. In the Oct. 7 premiere, Dino tells us how much he wants to deflower girlfriend Jackie (Missy Peregrym), while Ben confides a desire for extracurricular ecstasy with enticing English teacher Ms. Young (Marguerite Moreau), and Jonathan admits he'd like to do it with pal Deborah (Kelly Osbourne, fairly convincing away from The Osbournes) even though she's overweight. The characters tell us practically nothing in their frequent asides that we couldn't infer from the dialogue, raising the possibility that the writers think the viewers are a little dense.

Ambivalent Jonathan and increasingly possessive Deborah share a few truthful moments, but the teacher-student sexual tease has no class.

Comedy Central (Tuesdays, 10:30 p.m. ET)
COMEDY

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If you like Wanda Sykes's tangy standup routines or her appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm, chances are you felt let down by last year's lackluster FOX sitcom Wanda at Large. Well, prepare for more disappointment. This new show, a largely improvised comedy with touches of reality TV, had me fidgeting through the long, laughless stretches.

Each episode sets up a fictional situation that prompts Wanda to try a nonshowbiz job with help from real people. In the Oct. 5 premiere she has a go at auto repossession after a friend buys her old car but fails to pay. In the Oct. 12 episode, Wanda gets gambling lessons from a professional so she can get even with a Las Vegas casino that bumped her act. All the while, she banters and bickers with her prickly manager (played by actor Tim Bagley). Alas, the conversation is 90 percent pedestrian, and the occupational experiments have a paltry comic payoff.

PBS (Mon.,Oct. 4, 9 p.m. ET)
DOCUMENTARY

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The story of Robert F. Kennedy—hard-nosed campaign manager, crusading Attorney General, grieving brother of the slain President, charismatic senator cut down at only 42—has been told and retold. Still, this American Experience documentary uses the largely familiar material to fashion a portrait that makes us feel anew the loss of apolitical leader who seemed to be growing in wisdom and compassion when an assassin struck in 1968.

Though a major theme of RFK is Kennedy's deepening empathy for life's casualties, the film is particularly good at explaining his enmity toward his brother's successor, Lyndon Johnson. Publicly they clashed over Vietnam, but this fight was personal.

CBS (Sun., Oct. 3, 9 p.m. ET)
DRAMA

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Here's a TV movie that takes a tawdry true story and tries to do too much with it. In the process, though, it has a number of affecting and revealing moments.

The basis for Suburban Madness is the 2002 case of Houston-area dentist Clara Harris, who killed her husband and professional partner, David, by running him over with her Mercedes-Benz in a hotel parking lot. The film starts with the shocking crime, then backs up to tell the tangled tale of how Clara (Elizabeth Peña) and her step-daughter came to follow David (Brett Cullen) to the fateful tryst with his mistress (Kate Greenhouse).

The film takes the point of view of Bobbi Bacha (Sela Ward), the private eye hired by Clara to tail David, and it spends too much time exploring the influence of Bobbi's work on her cynicism toward men and her relationships with her husband (Matt Cooke) and daughter. But Peña gives a powerful performance as a wronged woman who goes from lashing out at her husband to piously forgiving him to desperately making herself over in a failed bid to win him back. Finally, Clara loses herself in rage.

PAX (Sundays, 10 p.m. ET)
REALITY

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Although it comes from a creator of NBC's less-than-edifying Average Joe, I was prepared to embrace this new show as a rare instance of reality television with redeeming social value. Now I'm entertaining a few doubts.

In the Oct. 3 opener, 10 heavy smokers gather in a spacious house, each lured by the prospect of participating in a different bogus reality series. But it turns out this is a show that requires them to try giving up cigarettes for 24 days. Host A.J. Benza (from E!'s Mysteries and Scandals) motivates the reluctant group with videos of loved ones urging them to kick the habit and save their lives. These messages alone give Cold Turkey a claim to public service.

Late in the premiere, however, we get a peek at future episodes, and they seem to go down the rutted reality road: hyped-up conflict in the house; challenges that offer cash prizes but appear unrelated to quitting smoking; and the arrival of a tobacco-pushing temptress. Any chance of snuffing this stuff out?

Cold Case (CBS, Oct. 3,8 p.m. ET)

In the second-season premiere, Lilly (Kathryn Morris) digs up a World War II mystery at a reunion of female factory workers.

American Dream (NBC, Oct. 3,8 p.m. ET)

She traveled with Paris; now she's going to '60s Philly. Nicole Richie warbles "Tell Him" while guest-starring as lead singer of the Exciters.

Strong Medicine (Lifetime, Oct. 3, 9 p.m. ET)

It's this series' 100th episode, and Camryn Manheim and Sara Gilbert guest-star as rivals in a child-custody dispute while Fran Drescher appears as a cancer patient.

Boston Legal (ABC, Oct. 3,10 p.m. ET)

Emmy winner James Spader is back at work and William Shatner plays the senior partner in the debut of this spinoff from The Practice.

Presidential Debate

(ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Oct. 8,9 p.m. ET) Voters ask questions in the second Bush-Kerry face-off.

EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON ($44.98)

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Viewers didn't really love Raymond in its low-rated 1996-97 debut season. Yet while most sitcoms take a year or two to hit their stride, Ray Romano's initial adventures with his dysfunctional TV family hold up amazingly well. Extras: The cast and crew recall Raymond's rocky beginning in enlightening commentaries and documentaries.

MAGNUM, P.I.: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON ($59.98)

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Tom Selleck's star-making turn as the genial private eye is still a delight, as is his repartee with John Hillerman (snooty major domo Higgins). Notable bad guys in the 1980-81 season include a pre-Cheers Ted Danson. Extras: Sharon Stone steams up a shower with Selleck in an alluring two-parter, among four bonus episodes from later seasons.

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher,
  • Jason Lynch,
  • Mike Lipton.