The New Normal

NBC, Sept. 11, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT |

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COMEDY

Ryan Murphy's talents as a creator/producer of hour-long series are considerable and instantly recognizable-he's a pop brand. From Glee to American Horror Story, he knows how to goose a story: The color, pace and performances are vibrant, often crazily so. Apply all of this to a 20-minute sitcom pilot and you get an overexcited puppy that, one hopes, will grow up into a delightful, well-trained dog (like the one pictured above). I don't mean the show is a dog, only that it's pretty good and has real potential. An affluent L.A. gay couple (Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells) want to father a baby by surrogate. Their ultimate choice, named Goldie (Georgia King), is still living out in the Midwest. She already has a young daughter, as well as a mother who's one tough cookie and (because she's played by Ellen Barkin) a knockout. Uniting these characters requires a lot of furniture moving, and the dialogue is often too strident, emphatic and broad. What matters is that an essential silly sweetness smiles through, particularly thanks to King and Rannells, both as pleasantly soft as marshmallows. You won't ever get that from the formidable Barkin: When she's on-camera, everyone falls away like the Red Sea before Moses.

Wallander

PBS, check local listings |

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DRAMA

When last we saw Kenneth Branagh, he was proudly striding around London's Olympic Stadium in a top hat, watching smokestacks rise into the sky. I prefer him as Masterpiece Mysteries' Kurt Wallander, the rumpled, sad Swedish detective. These three cases find Wallander unable to live contentedly in his new country house, as death keeps turning up, often literally, on his doorstep. (There's one gorgeous moment with swans. Then someone sets them on fire.) Branagh is very fine as Wallander: The man would sink into despair over the world's evils if he didn't have the wits to combat them.

Copper

BBC America, Sundays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

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DRAMA

BBC America's first original scripted series-a disappointment-is Law & Order in the age of Gangs of New York. It's 1864, and Irish immigrant cop Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) and partner Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan) work the neighborhood of Five Points, a place of filth and gloom. If only everyone knew The Lion King would open in 133 years! The first episodes saw "Corky" venture into the homes of the wealthy on the trail of a pedophile, yet no matter where he goes, Copper lacks the brains or kick to lift it above being a period piece. It's listless. A New York minute must have come later.

Grimm

NBC, Mondays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

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DRAMA

Like ABC's Once Upon a Time, Grimm, which just launched season 2, is an example of how untethered fantasy can be successfully mixed in with TV's duller clay. Detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is also a Grimm, a human with the ability to perceive (and duty to destroy) fairy-tale beasts. They wander around in human disguise, much like space aliens or communists in the 1950s. The fairy-tale borrowings are clever-Nick's girlfriend, put in a coma by a hexed cat and awoken by a sinister sort of prince, served as Sleeping Beauty-and the overall mythology is sprouting nicely thorny tendrils.

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YOU'VE GOTTA SEE THIS ...

DANIEL TIGER'S NEIGHBORHOOD

Cartoon developed from beloved Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. PBS Kids, check local listings.

BREAKING BAD

In the final episode until next summer, Bryan Cranston gets even more scarily confident. AMC, Sept. 2.

STAND UP TO CANCER

This year's all-star telethon, airing across most networks, includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Rashida Jones and Julia Roberts. Sept. 7.

>Dear Susan Lucci: I never offered my sympathies when All My Children was thrown under the ABC bus. So how wonderful to see you again, if only hosting a ball of mozzarella called Deadly Affairs. The show consists mostly of cheap re-creations of cases in which a marriage is undone by infidelity-and murder. But then you turn up, legs on display, to give a fully ripened demonstration of how a real actress plays a man-eater. You purr, smile and say things like "Where there is tight, tanned flesh, there is trouble." You are trouble, Susan Lucci. Stay that way.

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SURVIVING DAYTIME TV

WHY DO A TALK SHOW?

I'd talked about doing a show for years but never really had anything to add to the conversation. But my life has changed now: I'm married and learning to be a dad.

HOW IS MARRIED LIFE?

I'm the happiest I've ever been. I was lucky to meet my wife [Lisa], who raised two kids with her ex [Mark-Paul Gosselaar] and loved them in a way that they were open to having another dad.

ARE YOU STILL HOSTING SURVIVOR?

Yes! The talk show shooting schedule ends in May, and then we shoot Survivor over the summer. It will make for a very long-but doable-year.

REVENGE: SEASON 1

Like all good melodramas, this ABC series is borderline ludicrous and absolutely addictive. Emily VanCamp is out to destroy some very rich Long Islanders, and everyone behaves like vermin.

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HOMELAND: SEASON 1

In this top-notch Showtime thriller, CIA analyst Claire Danes mentally unravels while sussing out a possible terrorist-can it be heroic Marine Damian Lewis? A Manchurian Candidate for our times.

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WHY I STEPPED AWAY

THIS IS YOUR FIRST ROLE IN A WHILE. DID YOU WANT TO BE A FULL-TIME MOM?

I didn't take time off specifically for the kids. It's waiting until something really good comes along. You can only be picky if you can still afford to be picky, so we can tell I haven't run out of money yet!

AT 56, IS IT HARDER TO FIND THOSE ROLES?

Definitely. In my 20s and 30s, it seemed like every year Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and Jessica Lange were nominated for great movies. I thought, "They're going to fix everything!" Everything didn't get fixed. So it's just a fact of the business.

DO YOU FEEL PRESSURE TO LOOK YOUNGER?

I don't. I don't see how it would make a difference! Even if I do something drastic, I'm not going to get cast as the 30-year-old love interest again.

HAVE YOUR KIDS SEEN YOUR MOVIES?

My twin boys [Kian and Kaiis] are 8, and my daughter [Alizeh] is 10, but I have movies suitable for all ages! They saw Stuart Little first, then Beetlejuice, and they just saw A League of Their Own.

WILL THEY BE ACTORS TOO?

I've always said if my kids don't become actors, I will have done my job.