TV

updated 10/17/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/17/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

CRIME

Close to Home
CBS (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET)

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Annabeth Chase has returned to work as a prosecutor after giving birth to an adorable baby girl, and now a new, gauzy tenderness seems to have blurred her notion of the law. In the premiere, her colleagues are baffled when Annabeth takes what looks like a slam-dunk case—a mother trying to burn down the house with herself and her kids in it—and instead charges the woman's husband with abuse. Her superior finally puts it to her: "You have got to stop making decisions with your hormones or your emotions or whatever it is you're not thinking with and start thinking like a prosecutor again." Not a bad point. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was already raising a kid while attending law school in the '50s, but I bet her glasses wouldn't fog up watching Jennifer Finnigan as Annabeth. Finnigan has a shiny-eyed zeal that sometimes suggests Jodie Foster in take-charge, Joan of Arc mode. Other times she has a melting maternal purity. It's a look Britney Spears should cultivate for the paparazzi.

Still, Finnigan's performance dovetails perfectly with Close's neat if heavy-handed dramatic concept: The show, coproduced by Jerry Bruckheimer, will be able to trumpet the values of family life (Annabeth will specialize in crimes committed in her surface-pretty suburban neighborhood) while trotting out the repulsive debris of human behavior. Smart! And then there's that bossy supervisor. She's played by Kimberly Elise, a superb actress of clean, unfussy authority.

The Hunt for the BTK Killer
CBS (Sunday, Oct. 9, 9 p.m. ET)

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That was quick. Dennis Rader, Wichita's notorious 'BTK' serial killer, was sentenced to 10 life terms in August, and here's the movie. Hunt is mostly about the bizarre, year-long police pursuit that began in March 2004. Rader, a churchgoing dogcatcher whose signature "Bind, Torture and Kill" murders had never been solved through three decades, suddenly began taunting authorities with notes about still being on the loose. This time they got him.

The movie avoids being lurid, despite flashbacks of the murders, but it doesn't have the excitement of the chase either. As Rader, Gregg Henry sometimes looks disconcertingly like James Lipton of Actors Studio fame, but he comes close to catching some essence of the monster's life—horrific yet pathetic. "I don't think it was actually the person I was after," he tells the police of his murders. "I think it was the dream."

COMEDY

Related
The WB (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

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Jennifer Esposito has the right kind of beauty for comedy—conventional, but not quite. In her face are traces of Keira Knightley, Jennifer Aniston and even a little Edie Falco. The body's an asset too: Hers is a conventionally attractive figure, but she knows how to tweak her posture for effect. Here, playing a Manhattan attorney who happens to be the oldest of four close-knit sisters, she teeters along on her power heels and has a charming way of gesticulating—deferring, awkward little strokes, like a marionette that wishes the puppeteer had a better grip on the strings. She's very good.

And so is the show. Related is basically Sex and the City and Hannah and Her Sisters: In addition to the newly pregnant Ginnie (Esposito), the Manhattan-based Sorelli girls are Ann (Kiele Sanchez), a therapist suffering through a bust-up with a restaurateur (Dan Futterman); Marjee (Lizzy Caplan), who works low on the totem pole for an awful events organizer; and Rose (Laura Breckenridge), a student who just switched from premed to experimental theater. The banter is warm and fast and easy, and the sisters' personality types balance out well. But Esposito is first among equals here. The other Sorellis should probably know that.

Extras
HBO (Sundays, 10:30 p.m. ET)

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Ricky Gervais became a star with The Office, the BBC series that remains the exemplar of a genre Gervais himself helped create—the sitcom of discomfort. His follow-up is a looser show, another comedy of frustration, but with a feckless sweetness (which is exactly what My Name Is Earl lacks). It's like a very ugly cat that crawls onto your lap for attention. Then you love the thing.

The simple setup—Gervais is a movie extra struggling to get so much as one line—allows for appearances from real stars having a ball playing themselves. Patrick Stewart rambles on with a Benny Hill fantasy of having the mental power to make women disrobe. But the real find is Ashley Jensen as Gervais's friend, another extra who furrows her brow over big questions. "Would you rather die of the cold or die of the heat?" she asks. "Would you rather be trapped in a freezer or trapped in a microwave?" Trapped with her is fine.

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