DRAMA

TNT (Mondays, 9 p.m. ET)

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Clichés and visual clutter plague the July 19 premiere of this four-week series about an American-British effort to thwart a terrorist plot. But by the second episode the story gets a grip on us.

"This is our worst nightmare....The genie is out of the bottle....You will be a team player." Too much dialogue in the two-hour opener seems to have come straight from the spy-thriller manual. When you hear that an FBI agent (Dylan McDermott) lost his best friend in the attack on the World Trade Center, you know it won't be long before he says his counterterrorism mission is "personal...very personal."

In its zeal to establish documentary-like authenticity, The Gridprovides onscreen I.D.s for nearly every character—complete with name, job title and organizational affiliation. We do need help in sorting these people out, but often we feel as if we're poring over their personnel records.

The strong cast includes Julianna Margulies as a National Security Council official who warns of a possible terror threat to the New York City subway system, Tom Skerritt as a CIA schemer out to undermine her, and Jemma Redgrave as a major player in British intelligence who's wary of interfering Yanks. The series is most involving, however, when it focuses on two lesser-known actors: Piter Marek as a CIA analyst, viewed with suspicion by superiors because of his Muslim faith and Arab background; and Silas Carson as an Egyptian doctor and devout Muslim drawn into the terrorists' orbit. The inner conflicts of these characters are The Grid's chief power source.

DRAMA

ABC (Mon., July 19, 9:30 p.m. ET)

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"If watching Kelly Ripa and me get down and dirty with whipped cream and chocolate syrup is your thing, then you've come to the right place," host Faith Ford says—or should I say warns?—on this Museum of Television & Radio special. Fortunately, the food fight from last year's Hope & Faith premiere is only a small part of the 90-minute program. Funniest Families contains a number of clips that justify the title, from The Honeymooners and All in the Family to Roseanne and King of the Hill.

The interviews aren't much more than filler, except for Everybody Loves Raymond co-creator Phil Rosenthal's suggestion that he might prolong an argument at home to get material for the show. The segment on extended families casts an awfully wide net to bring in clips from Seinfeld and Friends. But the special is good for a few summer laughs.

DOCUMENTARY

Bravo (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

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While amiable and inoffensive as reality series go, this new one has a slight credibility problem.

Both parties in a long-term relationship pick their partner's worst habits, giving the list to the producers but not to each other. Then cameras record their daily lives so a panel can decide whether the man or the woman is more irritating. But surely the two partners have an inkling of the other's pet peeves. Since the person judged less annoying wins a prize, don't you think they'd try to be on their best behavior? Nah. In the July 20 premiere, we see the guy belch often and unabashedly, while the gal dotes disgustingly on their dog.

Though the show is too long at a full hour, it has its pluses. There's a new couple every week, so you'll never lack for fresh foibles to study. The first twosome, coworkers at a radio station, stay likable even when complaining. And host Mo Rocca has the right wry attitude.

REALITY

HBO (Sundays, 10 p.m. ET)

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If you automatically expect a new HBO series to be edgy or innovative, you'll be disappointed in this one. It's basically just a sitcom—but it has the advantage of being funny.

Vince (Adrian Grenier from Hart's War) is a rising young movie star whose success seems entirely attributable to his sex appeal. To give his Hollywood lifestyle a touch of Queens, he surrounds himself with a crew from the old neighborhood: Eric (Kevin Connolly), a former restaurant manager now serving as Vince's all-purpose adviser; Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), a goofy gofer who shamelessly invokes his famous friend's name to impress the ladies; and Vince's half-brother Drama (Kevin Dillon), an obscure actor constantly trying to puff up his minor credits. Dillon is note-perfect in this part, maybe because in real life he has been somewhat outshone by his brother Matt.

The buddies' conversation is loose and amusing ("The bigger the head, the bigger the star," Turtle says, meaning actual skull size) and Jeremy Piven seizes his every scene as Vince's obnoxiously aggressive agent. Take a pass if you've had it up to here with inside-showbiz jokes; otherwise, Entourage is worth a look.

COMEDY

A&E (Thurs., July 22, 10 p.m. ET)

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There's good stuff to be found in this two-hour special on political spouses, but sometimes it's about as exciting as a candidate's canned speech.

The documentary follows the wives of Senators John Kerry and John Edwards during the primary season—before their husbands went from rivals to running mates—and captures some revealing moments: Teresa Heinz Kerry showing her maternal side at a school for troubled children; Elizabeth Edwards trying to curb her then-5-year-old daughter's antics while Daddy gives a talk. But an interview with Howard Dean's wife, Judy Steinberg Dean, yields little we haven't already heard, and the commentary of writer-socialite Sally Quinn is largely superfluous.

DOCUMENTARYSongwriters Hall of Fame (Bravo, July 18, 9 p.m. ET)

Inductees Don McLean and Hall & Oates perform at the 35th annual event, with musical contributions from India. Arie and Macy Gray.

The Days (ABC, July 18, 10 p.m. ET)

A 15-year-old boy keeps an online journal and views family life with a cynical eye in the debut of this comedy-drama series.

Da Ali G Show (HBO, July 18, 10:30 p.m. ET)

The British prankster (real name Sacha Baron Cohen) returns for a second season of put-on interviews.

Rescue Me (FX, July 21, 10 p.m.ET)

Denis Leary stars in this series premiere as a New York City firefighter with a broken marriage and a troubled mind.

Studio 7(WB, July 22, 9 p.m. ET)

It's a new reality game show. Seven contestants live together for four days—stoking the rivalries—then compete in a quiz for $77,000.

RENO 911!: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

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(Paramount, $26.99) Watching this improv-based Comedy Central series about seven dumb cops on the beat, you wonder if it isn't time for the traditional set-bound sitcom to be toe-tagged in the morgue. The on-the-street sketches are fast, vulgar and deadpan ridiculous, and every characterization is sharp as a badge pin—right down to that blowsy showgirl with eyeglasses and a crutch. Extras: Deleted scenes and alternate takes, none as good as those that made it onto the air, and four episodes with commentary, also pretty ho-hum. (Critically speaking, a misdemeanor.) But I did like actor-producer Robert Ben Garant's description of implosively angry Officer Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui): "Like Barney Fife—if Barney Fife [had] shot several men." That's the tone, right there.

SIX FEET UNDER THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON

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(HBO, $99.98) Proving its wondrous debut season was no fluke, this wickedly dark series about a family of funeral directors perfected its mix of dysfunction, pathos and pitch-black humor for its 2002 sophomore year. Extras: Five illuminating writer and director commentaries, highlighted by a terrifically sardonic track from writer Jill Soloway; a lively look at how the prosthetic-effects team creates the show's chillingly realistic corpses (lots and lots of silicone).

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher,
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Jason Lynch.