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What to Watch

The networks make a comeback this season.

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What's both new and good this season? Here are my top five favorites. And if you're not watching them already, you might want to sample them — or at least be aware of them, because a few are beginning to pop up as midlevel topics in otherwise intelligent conversations.

1. "Desperate Housewives"has to lead the list. "DH" and another ABC show, "Lost," have helped the alphabet network join the ranks of those who have enough viewers to brag about. (More about "Lost" in a moment.) Narrated by a dead woman, "DH" is a darkly comedic, prime-time soap that manages to surprise and shock viewers in some fashion every week. I won't even get into the controversy surrounding the way ABC decided to promote it at the beginning of a Monday night football game recently.

"DH" makes you wonder what June Cleaver really did while Ward was at the office and Wally and the Beaver were at school. "DH" turns suburbia upside down and inside out, and just when you think you have one of the Wisteria Lane residents pegged, she winds up committing adultery or arson or dumping her kids or scrubbing blood from a hit-and-run off the asphalt in front of her house. The five actresses who play the eponymous housewives all are wickedly perfect, but pay special attention to Teri Hatcher and Marcia Cross: They were born to play these roles.



2. I can't figure out why more people are not watching "Jack & Bobby." Well, I can figure it out as far as Richmond is concerned, since we don't have a WB network outlet here and the best WB shows are carried in the dead of Saturday night and Sunday morning on WWBT-TV 12. But that's why we have VCRs, DVRs and TiVo, right? And we should be grateful that Channel 12 does us this service.

Set in the present, but with flash-forwards that tell us about Bobby's career-to-come as president of the United States, "J&B" is a smart, clever, witty and gritty look at two bright young brothers growing up under the pot-stained thumb of their oddball single mother, played by Christine Lahti in tour-de-force style. We know Bobby will someday be president, and watching the forces that shape him is compelling.



3. I tried really hard to ignore ABC's "Lost." Monster movies have never been my thing. Fortunately for me, "Lost" has been downplaying the fantasy side of this intriguing new drama almost from the beginning. The premise is not new, but the approach is: A plane breaks apart in midair and crashes on a Pacific island. The 48 survivors salvage what they can from the plane. Some panic. Some obsess about a rescue. A few find inner strength. Their island has many secrets, but the one that scares the pants off of them is the source of the mysterious howls that emanate from the jungle interior. With a cast this large, this series could run for years as we learn the survivors' back stories and watch them interact. "Lost" is far better than I hoped for.



4. & 5. Rounding out my top five 2004 favorites are Fox's "House" and NBC's "Medical Investigation." Both continue a TV tradition that was firmly established by Richard Boone, who epitomized the doctor as cranky and all-wise in "Medic," a series from TV's infancy. "House" focuses on diagnostic medicine, and "MI" sets its sights on epidemiology. Both new dramas are driven by their lead characters.

On "House," Hugh Laurie, a Brit who has absolutely perfected an American accent, is a brilliant but flawed diagnostician. Chief among his foibles is that he can't abide patients. On "MI," the chief doc is played by Neal McDonough, who heads a team from the National Institutes of Health that smokes out the causes of unexplained and fearsome diseases. The chief's main asset is that as each episode nears its climax, he "visualizes" his way to the solution.



If you're keeping score, give network TV high marks for its new crop of shows. This is probably the best season for new entries in the past decade. S



"Desperate Housewives" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on ABC. "Jack & Bobby" has aired at 3 a.m. Sunday mornings on NBC, but showtimes will vary in the coming weeks. "Lost" airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC. "House" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on FOX. "Medical Investigation" airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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