This week, top shows not to be missed

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Last week, the final hour of prime time resulted in a battle that turned out like this: In the weekly Nielsen ratings, ABC's "20/20" just made the Top 30, CBS' "Picket Fences" just missed the Top 40, and NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street" just missed the Top 80. This is what we in the TV critic game call a shame, because "Picket Fences" and "Homicide" should be seen by everyone.

* "Ancient Prophecies II" (8-10 p.m., Channel 2) -- More mumbo-jumbo for morons. I don't mean to poke fun at anyone's fervent beliefs, but the insidious, insulting and insipid way in which these "Ancient Prophecies" are described and re-enacted should make disbelievers out of us all. NBC.

* "M.A.N.T.I.S." (8-9 p.m., Channel 45) -- Consider, if you will, that tonight's "M.A.N.T.I.S." is treading into "Twilight Zone" and "X-Files" territory, exploring a world of another dimension. One beyond sight and sound, but within reach during sweeps month. Fox.

* "The X-Files" (9-10 p.m., Channel 45) -- Last week, "The X-Files" brought Scully (Gillian Anderson) back from the brink of death. This week, she and Mulder (David Duchovny) go to the brink of an active volcano, where a robot explorer uncovers evidence of a humanoid life form living deep within. Fox.

* "Homicide: Life on the Street" (10-11 p.m., Channel 2) -- If you like your TV dramas to contain genuine and suspenseful surprises, this is the place to turn tonight. I won't say what happens to whom, but there's a scene that's a gasper. Lauren Thom guest stars. NBC.

* "Picket Fences" (10-11 p.m., Channel 11) -- Last week, "Picket Fences" showed Wambaugh (Fyvush Finkel) having a heart episode and being sent to Chicago Hope, where he was diagnosed by guest star Mandy Patinkin. Tonight, Wambaugh and Littleton (Don Cheadle) argue their case before the U.S. Supreme Court. CBS.

Cable

* "To Grandmother's House We Go" (8-10 p.m., FAM) -- Tomorrow night on ABC, the twins from "Full House," Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, star in a new telemovie. Tonight, the Family Channel presents one of their previous movies, a 1982 Christmas comedy that's every bit as entertaining as tomorrow's offering. Which is to say, not at all.

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