The 5 Best New Fall Shows!

1. Heroes (NBC, Mondays, 9 p.m. ET)
The first few episodes of NBC’s breakout hit about a mysterious, seemingly random little society of people with superpowers has done a great job teasing us with glimpses of those powers – and glimpses also of some nasty countervailing force that leaves its victims behind as really, really pitiful corpses. I’m hoping the eventual payoff is going to be stupendous. The cast, which includes Hayden Panettiere as a high-school cheerleader with an unhealthy compulsion to test her freaky ability to recover from injury, couldn’t be better.

2. 30 Rock (NBC, Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET)
Premiering on Oct. 11, Rock is the second new NBC series that imagines life behind the scenes at a show like Saturday Night Live. Aaron Sorkin’s drama, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, has an over-elaborate heaviness that seems at odds with the story: It’s like watching Amanda Peet and Matthew Perry dwarfed in the golden shadows of a Byzantine cathedral. 30 Rock is a sitcom – silly, light on calories, perfectly scaled to its premise: A sketch comedy show is thrown into panic when the network’s corporate daddy sends down a suit to run the thing. The suit is Alec Baldwin, a great comic actor who looks a little like a pompous seagull. With the addition of Tracy Morgan as a crazy but charismatic comedian, the interactions reach a level that’s closer to farce than sitcom.

3. The Nine (ABC, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.)
Probably the best pilot episode offered by the networks this fall. Now let’s see how the series goes. Nine hostages survive a 52-hour bank robbery, and we’ll trace their lives as they recover in the present, move toward their futures, and flash back to their brief, awful careers as captives. A little Lost, a little Rashomon, a little Six Degrees, a little group therapy. But I doubt that’s how it was pitched. The main emotion is bruised hope.

4. Ugly Betty (ABC, Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET)
This campy, satiric melodrama about the punishingly chic world of fashion publishing is actually very sweet. That’s because everything is seen from the wide-eyed perspective of a super-dowdy editorial assistant named Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), who sometimes suggests a partly waxed Cousin It. Betty cannot abide unfairness or mistreatment, least of all to the stuffed bunny she keeps on her desk. The point isn’t that beauty is skin-deep – it’s stupid. And Betty is smarter than everyone.

5. Dexter (Showtime, Sundays, 10 p.m. ET)
This may count as cheating (it’s a cable show, not network), but if I’m going to promote Heroes, I’d like to give equal time to this fabulous anti-hero. Dexter is a serial killer who kills two birds with one knife: A forensics expert, he tracks down and finishes off other serial killers – and in so doing, satisfies that deep-down homicidal hunger. This makes it sound like Hannibal Lecter doing an ad for Snickers. The show is funny, creepy, bloody and brilliantly acted by Six Feet Under‘s Michael C. Hall. He’s loathsome – his skin has a strange pallor, as if freckles had fled – and yet he’s oddly attractive.

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