FOX (Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET)

[STARS 2]

I don't know how to say this, so I'm just going to say it: You're going to die today."

Tru (Eliza Dushku from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) may not know how to say it, but she's evidently going to be saying it a lot in this erratic new series, which blends elements of Six Feet Under, Crossing Jordan and Early Edition. Freshly graduated from college, Tru takes a job at the city morgue because she thinks the résumé entry will help her gain admission to medical school. Naturally the rookie finds herself all alone on the first night and hears spooky whispering coming from the crypts. When curious Tru opens one, a female corpse says, "Help me" in a tone of irresistible urgency. At this point a higher power hits rewind and Tru's day starts over. Her mission: Do some preventive detective work and keep the newly deceased from being killed.

Pay close attention during the Oct. 30 premiere and you'll hear a minor character say Tru used to be a track star. This key bit of background explains why she goes dashing through the streets like a gold medalist every time the script calls for fast action. (One word, Tru: Taxi!) The opener never really makes us care whether the dead woman gets a renewed lease on life, and it contains a clumsy late twist with no clear purpose except to establish that this show ain't over till it's over.

Surprisingly, the drama gets better in-the second episode, in large part because the Dead Person of the Week is a hand-some fireman who strikes romantic sparks with Tru. I don't know how often she can fall for a guy who enters her workplace on a slab, but the love element gives this particular story extra poignancy. Also on the plus side, Tru gives the running a rest.

"She's hot—weird but hot," a morgue staffer says of Tru. Dushku has the sex appeal, all right, but her character doesn't strike me as especially strange for someone in direct communication with the dead. This show needs to make the supernatural seem less ordinary.

CRIME DRAMA

CBS (Fridays, 10 p.m. ET)

[STARS 3]

Remember Wiseguy? Wish you could forget Fastlane? There's no use pretending that a TV show about undercover law-enforcement officers is a revolutionary idea. But this new series stands out by virtue of its attention to detail, concern for character development and sense of humor.

Fresh from his Emmy-winning stint as loose-cannon mobster Ralphie on The Sopranos, Joe Pantoliano steps confidently into the part of Joe Renato, trainer and leader of an FBI undercover team. Joe sometimes seems like more of a street-theater director than a crime fighter as he casts operatives in the right roles, critiques their acting and listens to their complaints. The other agents are a nice mix: Lily (Anna Belknap), a willing but nervous rookie; Darnell (Hill Harper), a black veteran tired of portraying thugs and dope dealers; and Heather (Lola Glaudini), a born actress who's always ready for her close-up. Still, I thought Joe was too colorful to be limited to a supervisory position, so I was glad to see him posing as a bank robber (and encountering an old flame) in the third episode. Now if he'd just lose that silly little hat he wears so often.

DOCUMENTARY

PBS (Wed., Oct. 29, 9:30 p.m. ET)

[STARS 2.5]

Get up offa that thing and let out a primal scream. This profile offers dynamic performance clips that amply illustrate why James Brown owns the title of hardest-working man in show business, and it does a commendable job of explaining how his rhythm-driven music connects gospel, soul, funk and hip-hop.

Unfortunately, the film is far less assured in its handling of the 70-year-old Brown's turbulent personal life. His marriages are treated as virtual footnotes. The Rev. Al Sharpton traces Brown's multimillion-dollar tax troubles to enemies in government fearful of the singer's power as a black leader. That's quite a charge to air with no rebuttal. On-camera interviews with Brown aren't particularly revealing. One senses he's here not to bare his soul but to confirm his preeminence.

DRAMA

FOX (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

[STARS 3]

"Know that we are all safe and that we will continue to be safe," President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) declared in the second season finale of 24. Yeah, right. And then someone tried to kill him.

On Oct. 28 the series that strains our nerves and our credulity returns with more hour-by-hour suspense, and amazingly it still works. Three years have passed, and Palmer, in the midst of a re-election campaign, learns that terrorists are threatening to unleash a deadly virus if a drug kingpin isn't sprung from prison. Proven world-saver Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) of the Counter-Terrorist Unit should be the go-to guy in a spot like this, but Jack has a secret weakness that may hamper his heroics.

Sutherland is excellent as a man on the verge of coming apart, and once again the taut editing will raise your pulse rate even if you've vowed not to get sucked into another doomsday scenario. Though now a CTU staffer, Jack's daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) remains an annoyance. But Chase (James Badge Dale), Jack's young partner, looks like a positive addition to the crisis crew.

HOTTEST SISTER ACT

Friends (NBC, Oct. 30, 8 p.m. ET) Christina Applegate does another guest-star turn as Rachel's sister Amy, who agrees to mind baby Emma for a while. Uh-oh. Wasn't Applegate in Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead?

BEST REASON TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL

THE O.C. (FOX, Oct. 29, 9 p.m. ET) The summer hit has its first new episode in six weeks, with outsider Ryan trying to enroll in school so he can study (or not) with the rich kids. Meanwhile Marissa's recovering from an overdose, and her mother warns Ryan to stay away.

SUREST SIGN OF FALL

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (ABC, Oct. 28, 8 p.m. ET) Who can even think about Halloween without a rerun of this 1966 classic?

CELEBRITIES BEWARE

Punk'd (MTV, Oct. 26, 9 p.m. ET) Gotcha, Demi. Just kidding. Prankster Ashton Kutcher returns for an eight-episode run of his reality series.

Battlestar Galactica

A quarter century after the Star Wars-like series ended, Battlestar Galactica lives on as a cult hit. A DVD of the show's single season was released last month, and in December a miniseries remake airs on the SciFi Channel. "It's amazing that a show that was only on for 24 hours altogether had such impact," says star Richard Hatch. Here's what the original cast is up to now.

Dirk Benedict (Starbuck) The show's heartthrob starred in The A-Team and a few films in the '90s before taking a break to raise his two sons in Montana. "When I die, I may have regrets," says Benedict, 58, who is divorced. "One of them will not be that I didn't spend time with my kids."

Richard Hatch (Apollo) Hatch, 57, has written six novels inspired by the series and is coproducing the 2003 Galactica fan convention. When cast members reunited to tape commentary for the DVD, "it was as if 25 years had never gone by," says the single Hatch, who lives in L.A.

Herbert Jefferson Jr. (Boomer) Post-Galactica, Jefferson, 57, acted on TV and in films, including 1995's Apollo 13. Today he says he's most proud of his daughter Rebecca, 18, who "watches [Galactica reruns] as long as there's nothing else on."

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher,
  • Cynthia Wang.