Ellen Gray: Four series debut tonight

Posted: September 22, 2010

BROADCAST PREMIERE week continues tonight with the debuts of four new series and the return of several others.

What to watch? What to record? What to skip altogether?

8-9 p.m.

What's new: NBC's "Undercovers" (8 p.m., Channel 10) and ABC's "Better With You" (8:30 p.m., Channel 6) and at 8, the season premieres of Fox's "Hell's Kitchen" and ABC's "The Middle" (which has a very funny episode that briefly reunites Patricia Heaton with her "Everybody Loves Raymond" co-star Doris Roberts).

Things to consider: "Undercovers," about a pair of spies-turned-caterers-turned-spies, has two of the prettiest stars of the season in Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

But the show, which was co-created by J.J. Abrams ("Alias," "Fringe"), still feels a bit undercooked.

Lighter than "Alias" but not nearly as much fun as "Chuck," it's serving up a couple who are maybe a little too good to be true, whether they're freeing a fellow spy or heating things up in the bedroom.

Maybe they need to spend more time together in the kitchen? (No, not in "Hell's Kitchen.") I like these two enough to want them to be more interesting than they are so far.

ABC, meanwhile, has a fairly ho-hum comedy, "Better With You," sandwiched between "The Middle" and "Modern Family," and though it's better by far than "Hank," the short-lived Kelsey Grammer sitcom the network tried foisting on us a year ago, I still wish the much funnier "Better Off Ted" had gotten a chance in a time slot this good before being killed off.

"Better With You," which focuses on three couples at different stages of their relationships, stars Joanna Garcia ("Reba," "Privileged") and Jennifer Finnigan ("Close to Home") as sisters who approach commitment differently with their respective swains (Jake Lacy and Josh Cooke).

Kurt Fuller and Debra Jo Rupp play their parents, whose own commitment might at times feel more like an involuntary one.

It may not be an original setup, but the cast is good and the writing's better than you might expect from a former "Friends" writer who went on to produce "Joey."

What I'd watch: The ABC comedies, which fans of CBS' "Survivor: Nicaragua" (or the CW's "America's Next Top Model") might save for the DVR.

What I'd record: "Undercovers," at least for a few weeks, to see if things improve.

9-10 p.m.

What's new: No new series, but one of the more anticipated half-hours of the week in the Season 2 premiere of Emmy-winning "Modern Family" (9 p.m., Channel 6), as well as the Season 2 premiere of "Cougar Town" (9:30 p.m., Channel 6), the Season 6 premiere of CBS' "Criminal Minds" (9 p.m., Channel 3) and the two-hour Season 12 premiere of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

Things to consider: TV didn't get much better last season than "Modern Family," but "Lost" fans might be interested in "L&O: SVU," where Henry Ian Cusick - Desmond! - will be guest-starring, reportedly as a man found with a 10-year-old runaway.

What I'd watch: "Modern Family." And I might give "Cougar Town," where Courteney Cox's "Friends" pal, Jennifer Aniston, is guest-starring, one more try.

What I'd record: With "Glee" now on Tuesdays and all those gruesome crimes - and a screaming Gordon Ramsay - elsewhere? I'm going to let the DVR rest.

10-11 p.m.

What's new: CBS' "The Defenders" (10 p.m., Channel 3) and ABC's "The Whole Truth" (10 p.m., Channel 6).

Things to consider: The choices will get more complicated next week, when NBC's "Law & Order: Los Angeles" is scheduled to join the fray in the time slot where the now-canceled mother ship was docked for years.

And, yes, we're looking at an hour with a lot of lawyers.

I still haven't seen "LOLA," but "The Defenders," based on a documentary about a pair of hotshot Las Vegas lawyers, is easily the best thing to happen to Jim Belushi since "According to Jim" was canceled and people like me had to stop using him as a punchline.

Belushi and Jerry O'Connell play Nick Morelli and Pete Kaczmarek, only-in-Sin City defense attorneys who aren't afraid to roll the dice in court.

They're not the only fun characters. Jurnee Smollett ("Friday Night Lights") vaults from Dillon, Texas, high school student to newly minted law school grad Lisa Tyler, a former exotic dancer who's the newest associate at Morelli Kaczmarek, and Natalie Zea ("Justified") pops up as an opposing counsel whose negotiations aren't necessarily all conducted at the courthouse.

There's a slightly less flashy legal drama on ABC.

"The Whole Truth," created by playwright and Drexel Hill native Tom Donaghy for Jerry Bruckheimer Television, stars Rob Morrow ("Numbers") and Maura Tierney ("ER") as friends from law school whose jobs - he plays defense, she's a prosecutor - have them facing off most weeks in episodes where the audience gets to see the same case from both their viewpoints before learning in the final moments who was right and who wasn't.

I'm not yet crazy about the formula, but it's good to see Tierney back in a series and though "Truth" has a different look and feel than some of Bruckheimer's other series, the polish remains.

What I'd watch: "The Defenders."

What I'd record:"The Whole Truth" and FX's Shawn Ryan series "Terriers," which stars Donal Logue as a scruffy ex-cop turned unlicensed PI. Hint: If you're holding space for next week's "LOLA" or can only record one thing at a time, "Terriers" gets repeated at 11:03 p.m. *

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com.

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