Picks and Pans Main: TV

updated 10/05/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/05/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The Jay Leno Show

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



The more things change, the more they remain Jay Leno. In a radical shake-up of the prime-time schedule, NBC has scrapped its 10 p.m. series lineup for a safe, very familiar-looking show starring the former Tonight Show host—less than four months after he signed off. No one expected Leno to reinvent himself for the occasion by hiring Sarah Silverman as his Ed McMahon: His success was built on gruff bonhomie and a shrewd appreciation of how not to wear out his welcome. But that was late night, when the mind tiptoes off to sleep, and our lowering lids might have mistaken Leno for a friendly, unusually garrulous snow owl. Maybe we'll get used to having the TV set on at 10 p.m. only to watch Leno laugh his way through the same old bits—a monologue and skits without bite, stand-up comedy, celebrity guests. For now it's like stepping back in time—an hour and a half earlier.

The Middle

ABC, Sept. 30, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT |

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While you could argue that Patricia Heaton's sitcom doesn't do anything new, it's fairer to say The Middle has the comfortable, lived-in feel of a sofa that's learned to accommodate a growing family. Heaton plays a frayed Midwestern mother of three who juggles working at a used-car lot and looking after her kids and husband (Scrubs' Neil Flynn). Heaton alternates, believably, between smiling in a life-affirming way and gritting her teeth in a let-this-day-be-over way. The one surprise here, and the most realistic touch, is Eden Sher as Heaton's daughter. The girl is a total loser—a clumsy nerd—but has an optimism and yearning to be accepted that are very sweet.

NCIS: Los Angeles

CBS, Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

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This spin-off of the sturdy CBS hit preserves the best thing about the original, which is its tone—a light-hearted, even reassuring sense of camaraderie. You figure these elite crime-fighters must have a decent softball team. Los Angeles stars LL Cool J and Chris O'Donnell as agents in an undercover, high-tech special-ops force focused on national security. Why they operate out of what seems to be the lobby of a Spanish-style boutique hotel, I have no idea. Both stars have the requisite minimal cool for this sort of vehicle, although O'Donnell's character is allowed a few slow-rising bubbles of mystery in his background. Linda Hunt, looking like Edna Mode from The Incredibles, is predictably twinkly-crusty as their superior.

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