The bad news is that all of the new situation comedies, including "Joey," are lame-brained, reports Sunday Morning critic John Leonard. A prat falls in the forest and nobody laughs.
This leaves a handful of promising dramatic series:
For instance, "Veronica Mars," Tuesday nights on UPN, starring the superb Kristen Bell as a part-time high-school student, part-time private eye, and full-time mood swing, who used to run with the frat boys until her father lost his sheriff's job and Veronica's mother at the same time. Not only is high school once again a loony bin of blood feuds, eating disorders, class privilege and mob justice, but the town is even worse. Think "Heathers," "Clueless," "Freaks," "Geeks" and "Buffy".
Or "Jack and Bobby," Sunday nights on The WB, a sort of teenage "West Wing" with Matt Long as older brother Jack, Logan Lerman as younger brother Bobby, Christine Lahti as their remarkable college professor mom and Jessica Pare as the heartthrob who marries the brother who eventually becomes president of the United States. If Bobby is weird, Jack is only pretending to be normal. We look on as a future president acquires the moral and intellectual capital he will later invest in a better politics than we can imagine.
Plus "Lost," Wednesday nights on ABC. Matthew Fox will make house calls on a tropical desert island where 48 survivors of a plane crash must face up to their secret past, their immediate future, and some sort of beast who can't be seen, but is very much heard. Fortunately, Dr. Fox has some help. I shouldn't have to tell you to keep an eye on Evangeline Lily. She's more surprising than the island. Think "Lord of the Flies" meets "Jurassic Park".
Finally, "CSI: NY," Wednesday nights on CBS, with Gary Sinise as the latest in a very long line of forensic scientist-detectives who interrogate dead bodies - this time in the cathedral gloom of gothic-gray Manhattan. In last week's pilot episode, Sinise couldn't sleep because of the coincidence of murdered women on the anniversary of the 9/11 death of his wife. Maybe next week we'll hear a little more from Melina Kanakaredes, his equally workaholic partner, and Hil Harper, the latest in another long line of crazy coroners, who sleeps in the morgue. Meanwhile, the usual assortment of X-rays, spectrometers, computer imaging, and a slo-mo snorkel lens suggested that a serial killer might not have intended to kill his victims after all; he was practicing for something else.
I prefer CSI in New York to CSI in Miami because Gary Sinise is less self-righteous than David Caruso - whereas CSI in Las Vegas is pretty much perfect. And instead of telling you all over again how interesting these programs are to look at - Pop Art in Las Vegas and Miami, Goya in Manhattan - let me mention another distinguishing characteristic - all three CSIs solve crimes by intelligence and technology in tandem, instead of beating up a suspect.