Picks and Pans Main: TV

UPDATED 11/08/2010 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/08/2010 at 01:00 AM EST

The Walking Dead

AMC, Oct. 31, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

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A zombie-apocalypse fantasy set in Atlanta, this is the scariest series I've ever seen. Did I enjoy it? No. The sight of rotted flesh and exposed entrails swinging loose like wind chimes tends to make me put down my sandwich. But Dead is undeniably a landmark in bringing brain-splattered, movie-quality horror to TV. Based on comic books by Robert Kirkman, it doesn't mess with the rules. No need to: Zombies are modern horror's most disturbingly elemental monsters-stumbling, gangrenous cannibals, they're life reduced to blind hunger, mastication and digestion. Andrew Lincoln (a British actor featured in 2003's Love Actually) plays a rural sheriff who links up with a band of terrified survivors trying to get away from the monsters. This is not for kids. Or vampires, who tend to be sensitive.

The Defenders

CBS, Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

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Unlike so many of the new fall series, the Vegas-set Defenders at least has a sure grip on its tone. This town is one big sleazy circus, where even the criminals can be depended on for seedy, if short-lived, entertainment. Better still, Jim Belushi, a lump of a man whose most expressive feature is his jowls, is surprisingly well paired with glib, pencil-slim Jerry O'Connell as his law partner. If you want class and subtlety, there's always The Good Wife. These guys are just a mindless good time.

Cougar Town

ABC, Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT|

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Now in season 2, Courteney Cox Arquette's sitcom has grown beyond its initial premise. The opening credits on a recent episode even certified it as "100% Cougar Free." What we have is a light, fast show about friends and couples who hang together, banter together and drink together. But there's a screwball brightness that's exaggerated-it even defeated recent guest star Jennifer Aniston. Cox, in particular, pounces too hard on her lines. She needs to pull in her claws a little.

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