Critic's picks: Five new shows worth watching


Of the new network series available for preview, here are five worth going out of your way to check out this fall:

"Harsh Realm" (9 p.m. Friday, Fox) -- Chris Carter, creator of "The X-Files," came up with this high-energy action-adventure drama about a hot-shot army officer who finds himself living in the world of an incredibly violent computer game. Again, don't think too hard about the premise, just let yourself go with the bang-bang, rat-a-tat-tat flow of bullets as our hero joins an A-Team of misfits and battles his way across the dark, menacing, "Blade Runner"-like futuristic landscape that Carter paints. This is a world where bloodshed, not truth, will set you free. This is not a show that I find particularly appealing, but you have to admire Carter's ability to create a such a dark and frightening universe.

"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m. Monday, NBC) -- The title should really be "Law & Order II." Same graphics, same opening, same feel and, most of all, same high-quality cop drama. The only difference is that the hour is not split between police investigation and the legal system. It's all cops, but it's a great group of them. Mariska Hargitay ("ER") and Chris Meloni ("Oz") are the main detectives, though producer Dick Wolf added John Munch (Richard Belzer) from "Homicide: Life on the Street" over the summer. One of the best moments of the pilot finds everyone in the office turning on Munch as he launches into one of his monologues and saying in unison, "Shut up, Munch!" Dann Florek, who played the precinct captain originally in "Law & Order," is back as Capt. Donald Cragen.

"Once and Again" (10 p.m. Tuesday, ABC) -- With every other drama and sitcom set in high school and most of the rest in the apartments of people in their 20s, we could use a few good adult dramas. OK, I'll settle for a couple, and one of them is this story of romance between a single mom and a single dad, neither of whom has been active romantically since divorce court. Sela Ward ("Sisters") and Bill Campbell ("The Rocketeer") play the couple in this drama from Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick ("thirtysomething" and "My So-Called Life"). Zwick, who has directed such feature films as "Glory," directs the pilot, and it shows in almost every frame. Zwick's eye and Herskovitz's script lay bare the interior lives of these two people so quickly, you feel like you've known them for years by the second commercial. By the end of the hour, you'll care about them, too.

"Roswell" (9 p.m. Wednesday, WB) -- Don't even try to understand the premise that three of the main characters are descendants of beings aboard the alien spacecraft that was supposed to have crashed in Roswell, N.M., in 1947. This is a teen drama from the WB about alienation, and the idea is to feel the angst. I feel it. In fact, it hasn't hurt this good since "My So-Called Life." Producer Jason Katims ("Relativity" and "My So-Called Life") centers the story on the budding relationship between one of the alien descendants, Max Evans (Jason Behr), and an Earth girl, Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby), who's got the high school blues. Talk about us against the world, as the local sheriff starts to zero in on her boyfriend's secret. I told you to stay away from those Earth girls, Max.

"The West Wing" (9 p.m. Wednesday, NBC) -- If you liked "The American President," I guarantee you'll be a weekly visitor this television season to "The West Wing." Aaron Sorkin, who wrote "The American President" and "A Few Good Men," is the creator-producer on this drama about life backstage at the White House. The pilot opens in a bar late at night with a reporter pumping a White House aide, played by Rob Lowe, for information while the aide tries to make eye contact with a prostitute at the other end of the bar. The prostitute seems like an absolute class act compared with the reporter. The hour is filled with such moments of cynical insight, but the ending is all Frank Capra once the president, played by Martin Sheen, arrives. David E. Kelley is good but rarely as wise as Sorkin when Sorkin is on his game, as he is here.

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