Picks and Pans Main: TV

UPDATED 01/25/2010 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/25/2010 at 01:00 AM EST

24

FOX, Jan. 17, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

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DRAMA

After two flabby seasons, the FOX action series is back in bang-up shape—at least for its first four hours, airing on two consecutive nights. Now in New York City, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is preparing to take up retirement in L.A., where he'll presumably get all the adrenaline he needs taking his granddaughter on Space Mountain. But first he's sucked into fresh counterterrorist work: An assassination threat at the U.N. could scuttle historic negotiations between America and a (fictional) Islamic country. And that's just the tip of a highly explosive iceberg. Things take an extreme turn at the end of hour 4 when an agent displays a sickening enthusiasm for torture. The brutal bloodiness of it all stuns even Bauer, who ordinarily wouldn't think twice about waterboarding a kitten. Looks like a good 24 this time.

The Deep End

ABC, Jan. 21, 8 p.m. ET/PT |

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DRAMA

Five young associates start work at a high-powered law firm in Los Angeles. They're smart, driven, flirty, ethically troubled and well-groomed: in other words, legal-eagle versions of the young doctors on Grey's Anatomy. The premiere delivers a show that's more winkingly cute than it really needs to be—these attorneys wouldn't survive Damage's Glenn Close, or Judge Judy. Billy Zane is fun as Cliff Huddle, a partner who's as sleek and mean as a panther. "Now leave," he commands one associate, "before I set you on fire."

Life Unexpected

CW, Jan. 18, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

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DRAMA

After rolling out shows high on camp and cattiness, the CW introduces a series that has an unfiltered warmth reminiscent of Gilmore Girls. Britt Robertson plays a Portland, Ore., teen named Lux (the name refers to her blonde hair, not her clothing allowance). After years in foster care, she establishes contact with her birth mother (Shiri Appleby), a radio personality, and father (Kristoffer Polaha), owner of a bar. Both parents, estranged since high school, are extremely ambivalent about raising this acerbic kid. The tenuousness of the situation, and the underlying hope for emotional growth by all, makes for a touching hour.

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