COMEDY

FOX (Sundays, 9:30 p.m. ET)

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I'd call this the best new comedy of the fall, but that's not such an accolade considering the competition. Let's say it's the season's best new series, period. If you're attuned to the offbeat, the Nov. 2 premiere will have you leaning close to the screen to catch every joke, verbal and visual.

Retiring mogul George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor, in his finest form since The Larry Sanders Show) taps his spendthrift wife, Lucille (Jessica Walter), as the new CEO of the Bluth Co. That causes Bluth's diligent son Michael (Jason Bateman) to quit in disgust and signals to the rest of the profligate family that it's okay to keep feeding at the company trough. But the feds jail George Sr. for accounting fraud, and the Bluths soon realize they need Michael to sort through the financial wreckage.

Sounds like a satirical treatment of corporate ethics and the idle rich, and that's partly what Arrested Development is up to. But the show goes for laughs every which way. With funny names, for instance: George Michael (Michael Cera), Michael's 13-year-old son, has a crush on cousin Maeby (Alia Shawkat), and Michael's brother Gob (Will Arnett)—pronounced like the biblical Job—is a bad magician. The whole cast is right on pitch, and David Cross is hilarious as Michael's brother-in-law Tobias Funke, a delicensed doctor who longs to be an actor. Bateman lives down past flops (Some of My Best Friends) with his deft portrayal of a character who's only relatively sane.

COMEDY

PBS (Sun., Nov. 2 and 9, 9 p.m. ET)

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Love is "the only thing that makes life worth living," says Yury Zhivago (Hans Matheson) in this Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of Boris Pasternak's classic Russian novel. If you agree with this sentiment, you'll willingly follow the star-crossed poet-physician through four hours of suffering, even when it borders on soap opera.

The teleplay takes some liberties with the book, but its heart is here: Against the back- drop of war and revolution, Yury keeps a torch burning for beautiful Lara (Keira Knightley from Pirates of the Caribbean) despite his marriage to goodhearted Tonya (Alexandra Maria Lara) and hers to the idealistic but surprisingly ruthless Pasha (Kris Marshall). The new version has less sweep but more sex and intensity than the 1965 movie with Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. Knightley makes a sensual, complex Lara, and Matheson's eyes speak movingly of Yury's inner struggle with guilt and desire. As Komarovsky, who seduces Lara in her youth and haunts her thereafter, Sam Neill appears to enjoy his villainy a little too much.

DRAMA

UPN (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

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Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, are executive producers of this new sitcom, and Will is scheduled for a guest appearance Nov. 18. But All of Us doesn't have a whole lot else to recommend it.

Robert (Duane Martin) is a TV entertainment reporter whose ex-wife Neesee (LisaRaye McCoy) keeps barging into his house when he's trying to get cozy with new fiancee Tia (Elise Neal). Dirk (Tony Rock, brother of Chris), Robert's divorced pal and producer, describes women as "territorial and demented"—grossly unfair in general but sadly accurate in the case of catty Neesee and in-secure Tia. Someday the series may have interesting things to say about how divorced parents go about raising a young son (Khamani Griffin), but for now the grown-ups' immaturity fails to amuse.

COMEDY

(Mon., Nov. 3, 9 p.m. ET)

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"Calm down," the villain tells Diane Keaton's character late in this TV movie. Someone should have given Keaton that advice when the filming began.

Inspired by a true story, the drama centers on Patsy (Keaton), a struggling single mother of two in a depressed Midwest town. When she loses her job as a waitress in a greasy spoon and can't pay her younger son's medical bills, Patsy turns to low-level drug dealing and becomes addicted to crystal meth. The early scenes are effective at depicting the everyday humiliations of a hand-to-mouth existence, but Keaton soon turns the film into a one-woman orgy of crying, shrieking, raging and generally freaking out. "Lock me up in the apartment and don't let me out till I've kicked it," Patsy begs her boys. Keaton chews the scenery ravenously in the ensuing cold-turkey sequence-and still she's not satisfied. A wild-eyed Patsy winds up going after the local drug lord (Michael Rooker) with a shotgun, unintentionally engendering sympathy for the slimeball. It's one thing for Keaton to overemote, but no one should have to see her Rambo side.

DRAMA

HOTTEST GUEST VOICE

King of the Hill

(FOX, Nov. 2,7:30 p.m. ET)

In the season premiere, Boomhauer learns the love of his life is about to marry his brother Patch (voiced by that hunk of man Brad Pitt).

MOST BITTERSWEET COMEDY

8 Simple Rules

(ABC, Nov. 4,8 p.m. ET)

A family grieves, a series survives. Cate's parents (guest stars James Garner and Suzanne Pleshette) help the Hennessys cope with the unexpected death of Paul (the late John Ritter).

GRANDEST OLE OPRY

Country Music Association Awards

(CBS, Nov. 5,8 p.m. ET)

Vince Gill hosts and performs at the country bash in Nashville. Tim McGraw and Shania Twain sing too.

ROSS'S LATEST LOVE TRIANGLE

FRIENDS

(NBC, Nov. 6,8 p.m. ET)

Charlie (Aisha Tyler) has a Nobel Prize-winning ex-flame (guest star Greg Kinnear, Tyler's fellow Talk Soup alum), and talk about awkward: Her current beau, Ross, has to interview with the scientist to get a grant.

The Office

1: Because this British mockumentary series about modern worker bees is a refreshing break from prime time's predictable office comedies. A never-seen cameraman captures often hilarious footage of staffers bickering, goofing off and wasting their lives away at an agonizingly dull paper-supply company. "I'm boring myself talking about it," says one minion in one of the show's private confessions.

2: Because bosses don't come any smarmier than middle manager David Brent (Ricky Gervais, left, also the series' co-creator). Brent desperately craves attention and fancies him- self as quite the stand-up comedian, but he's clueless about how to interact with employees. During a job review, the receptionist tells him that she longs to pursue a career in illustration. "Keep up the doodling," he says. "Pipe dreams are good, in a way."

3: Because the office banter-funniest between nice guy Tim (Martin Freeman) and office brownnoser Gareth (Mackenzie Crook)-is absurdly real. When the two argue over shared desk space, Gareth marks an invisible line and says, "One word, two syllables: demarcation."

BBC America (Sundays, 9pm ET)

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher,
  • Amy Bonawitz.