Tonight alone marks the debuts of CBS' "Mike & Molly" and "Hawaii Five-0" (9:30 and 10 p.m., Channel 3), NBC's "The Event" and "The Chase" (9 and 10 p.m., Channel 10) and Fox's "Lone Star" (9 p.m., Channel 29) as well as the returns of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" and "Castle," CBS' "How I Met Your Mother," "Rules of Engagement" and "Two and a Half Men," NBC's "Chuck" and Fox's "House."
I can't tell you how many of these shows to watch - only you know what you're capable of. But here's how the evening breaks down for me:
What's new: Nothing, but all-new episodes of returning shows, so no reruns, either.
Things to consider: You don't need a TV critic to tell you Bristol Palin isn't a star, but if youcan resist the ever-present possibility of tabloid train wrecks on "Dancing with the Stars" (doesn't the best stuff land on YouTube, anyway?), "Chuck" and "House" both make compelling arguments for continued devotion in tonight's season openers.
Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) launches a secret-from-the-CIA search for his long-lost spy-mother (played by Linda Hamilton) while a confused House (Hugh Laurie), in the throes of something that looks very much like love with an equally confused Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), tries to duck calls from the hospital.
I haven't seen the season opener of "How I Met Your Mother," but, as always, there have been hints that the mother's just over the next hill. Do let me know if you spot her.
What I'd watch: "House."
What I'd record: "Chuck," and maybe "How I Met Your Mother."
What's new: CBS' "Mike & Molly," NBC's "The Event" and Fox's "Lone Star."
What to consider: This is a tough slot even for people who haven't been watching the two-hour "Dancing." "Mike & Molly" and "Lone Star," made my Top 5 for the new season, and though it's hard to tell from the pilot, which doesn't give much away, "The Event" could still turn out to be pretty good, too.
"Lone Star," which had the best pilot of the three, stars James Wolk ("Front of the Class") as Bob, a second-generation con artist living a double life in Texas, where he's both selling shares in oil wells he doesn't own and working for a company that owns them.
Oh, and he's also living - pretty happily - with two different women, played by Adrianne Palicki ("Friday Night Lights") and Eloise Mumford, much to the consternation of his grifter father (David Keith), who thinks he needs to start distinguishing between wives and marks.
Less cheesy than "Dallas" or "Dynasty," "Lone Star" is a prime-time soap for a post-Madoff, post-Enron era and an audience that might root for a charming liar who'd like nothing more than to make everyone happy.
It's too soon to tell if "The Event," the latest entry in the networks' race to find the next "Lost," isn't merely the next "FlashForward," since, by the end of an intriguing-enough pilot, you won't know much more than you did coming in (including whether NBC's willing to hang in there long enough for us to get some answers).
But the cast is good: Jason Ritter, Blair Underwood, Haddonfield, N.J.'s, Scott Patterson, Laura Innes, Bill Smitrovich - and Zeljko Ivanek ("True Blood," "Damages," "Big Love"), an actor whose appearance in any show is enough to make me sit up and pay attention.
In moving "The Big Bang Theory" to Thursdays at 8, CBS wisely replaced it with another show from Chuck Lorre and one of his fellow "Two and a Half Men" producers, Mark Roberts.
"Mike & Molly," a romantic comedy about two people (Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy) who meet at Overeaters Anonymous, is, like most Lorre shows, a conventional-looking sitcom that manages to be very funny in a format that's been around for more than 50 years.
Though it stands out for being one of the few scripted shows whose leads resemble many of the people watching at home - overweight Americans being a largely invisible majority outside of shows where they're expected to puke on treadmills for entertainment - it's not really a show about weight, much less weight loss.
Gardell ("My Name Is Earl") plays a cop named Mike and McCarthy ("Gilmore Girls") a teacher named Molly and together they're funny and very sweet.
But then Gardell would probably be funny talking to himself.
There's still work to be done here. The writing for secondary characters, including Swoosie Kurtz as Molly's mother and Reno Wilson as Mike's partner, comes off as a little too sitcom-y and the lines for an African character (Nyambi Nyambi) who keeps talking about how much more Americans eat than people in his country are downright cringe-worthy.
But I'm not worried.
Having seen Lorre spin success out of slimmer premises - "Dharma & Greg," anyone? - I'm not about to start betting against him now.
What I'd watch: "Lone Star."
What I'd record: "Mike & Molly," "The Event."
What's new: CBS' "Hawaii Five-0," NBC's "Chase."
What to consider: Besides the season premiere of "Castle," where all those hurt feelings left over from May's season finale come to the fore when Beckett (Stana Katic) slaps handcuffs on Castle (Nathan Fillion) - and not in a fun way?
If your heart's not already with "Castle," or, if, say, you're wondering where your David Caruso fix went (CBS has moved "CSI: Miami" to Sundays and it returns Oct. 3), you have your choice of action adventures. If it were merely a matter of opening credits, then the reboot of "Hawaii Five-0," with its iconic theme music and those big waves, would get the nod.
CBS has been focusing a lot on that music, maybe because what follows is such a huge letdown.
Alex O'Loughlin ("Moonlight," "Three Rivers"), the Australian actor CBS seems determined to turn into a star, plays Steve McGarrett, who, like the character Jack Lord last played from 1968 to 1980, is a former naval officer appointed by Hawaii's governor (played in this version by Jean Smart) to lead a state police task force.
O'Loughlin's American accent has long proved a hindrance, tending to leave him sounding flat and wooden, but he's hardly helped by the writing, which makes even the far more talented Smart sound not so smart, or the plotting, which is dark, and not in a good way.
Scott Caan ("Entourage") co-stars as a cocky, conflicted Danny Williams, and, boy, is it excruciating to suffer through the machinations necessary before O'Loughlin can finally say "Book 'em, Danno."
As for Daniel Dae Kim ("Lost") and Grace Park ("Battlestar Galactica"), who eventually round out McGarrett's squad, they're two of my favorite actors. I'm seriously thinking of putting together a team to free them.
Or maybe I could enlist the services of Deputy U.S. Marshal Annie Frost (Kelli Giddish), of NBC's "Chase," though her specialty is chasing down fugitives, not freeing good actors from bad shows.
The latest attempt to sprinkle that Jerry Bruckheimer magic dust on a network that's not CBS, "Chase," created by a former "Cold Case" producer, Jennifer Johnson, is a very competent action-adventure with a heroine who's so far not as interesting to me as, say, the deputy U.S. marshal Mary McCormack plays on USA's "In Plain Sight."
That could change, though, if I gave her a chance, and for adrenaline junkies who appreciate the professionalism Bruckheimer's company brings to just about everything it produces, this is certainly a better way to spend an hour than wishing that guy would stop talking so you could get a better look at Hawaii.
What I'd watch: "Castle."
What I'd record: "Chase." *
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