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Picks and Pans Main: TV

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American Idol

FOX, Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET/PT, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

REALITY

After all the buildup, Ellen DeGeneres skipped making a grand entrance onto American Idol Feb. 9. Instead she slipped into place alongside Simon Cowell, smiled at him wryly and said, “So this is it, huh? I come on, you leave.” The fact is the significance of DeGeneres taking over from the dippily mercurial Paula Abdul has been eclipsed by Cowell’s decision to quit and start another talent show, the upcoming X Factor. An army of managers, press agents, entertainment lawyers and executive suits will be taking on the burden of replacing him. Good luck! In her Idol debut DeGeneres was in terrific form—observing the goings-on with a birdlike alertness, using jokes to break tension and infuse a little charm into the atmosphere. Post-Cowell, she could turn out to be the best judge.

Castle

ABC, Mondays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

MYSTERY

When Castle premiered last March, I faulted it for being Bones with less edge. In its second season the show is more like a hipper Murder, She Wrote—which is an improvement. This is solid, comfortable entertainment. Nathan Fillion, as a crime novelist paired with a detective, is charmingly flippant. Stana Katic, as the partner, is his straight (wo)man, with occasional charges of personal anguish. The show is lightly constructed—a Castle of sand instead of stone—and the minutes tick by enjoyably.

Being Erica

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

COMEDY

Now in its second season, this gentle Canadian import starts with a TV staple—single career girl—and weaves in self-help, time travel, alternate reality and both love and death as she confronts past regrets with the aid of a mysterious therapist. Any show that can make all that work—it’s like Fringe meets Eat, Pray, Love—must have its own magic. And Erica does: Her name is Erin Karpluk. In the title role she has a frank, appealing openness, regardless of the era she lands in.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Starz, Fridays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

DRAMA

Spartacus doesn’t need your stinking respect—it’s already been renewed for a second season. Shot in a style close to that of the box office smash 300, it serves up the adventures of the rebellious fighter slave (Andy Whitfield) as a cheesy, pulpy CGI showcase. The viscera goes splurting, like overripe eggplant dropped into a centrifuge. History probably shouldn’t be so mindless. But gore? It’s more fun this way. Nor is Spartacus stingy with the sex. The actors who play free citizens and overlords, at least, get to act with the sort of decadent archness typical of the genre. Meanwhile, the warriors apparently scarfed down every available ounce of protein in the Roman empire.