Your Monday night could be anything you want. You’re looking for mindless distraction? Flip to ABC. Funny, or at least supposed-to-be funny? CBS.
Actually funny, or at least funnier than nerds trying to get laid? Turn on The CW.
Sad? Scary? Hard? Occasionally triumphant? Fox would be your network for the night.
Nerdy, unreal and more than a little mysterious? Ahh, NBC. You’re the one.
The networks are leaving this up to you, mixing up the old with the new, looking for combinations that will stick.
One combo that might be a safe bet is Heroes and Journeyman. Last year’s breakout show about a group of regular-folk-turned-superheroes will be followed by the tale of a time-traveling newspaper reporter. He doesn’t know why it’s happening to him, and neither do we. What we do know: He’s changing people’s lives and must avoid changing his own.
If you thought swatting a butterfly might alter the universe, imagine what happens when a man is pushed from the path of a streetcar, or a woman is persuaded to keep her baby.
The supernatural side of both shows might give them the same audience.
Technically, the same could be true for The Big Bang Theory on CBS. It’s a comedy mixed with other comedies, right? But it turns out that bad shows with silly plots don’t make good party guests in a TV lineup, even in similar company.
If you want funny company, you wouldn’t want this show to crash your party.
ABC: Samantha Who?, 9:30 p.m.; premieres Oct. 15
What: A woman wakes from a coma with no memory of her past—including that she’s a snotty alcoholic who cheats on her boyfriend and hates her mother.
Who: Christina Applegate, Jean Smart, Jennifer Esposito, Kevin Dunn, Barry Watson, Melissa McCarthy, Tim Russ.
Why: It’s a comedic burst with familiar faces scheduled between two reality shows; it’ll change time slots midseason to be paired with Notes From the Underbelly.
How: Samantha (Applegate) wakes up from an eight-day coma with no memory of her past. It doesn’t take long, though, to discover that she was lying, cheating, cold-hearted, hot-bodied witch—and that’s the kinder spelling. Now she must discover and decide what true friendship, love, devotion and values are, without baggage of past experiences to help her decide.
Applegate is a card, Smart and Dunn are pretty great as her parents, and Watson is instantly likeable as the boyfriend who knows she takes cream in her coffee and always sneezes three times in a row. Here’s hoping that Samantha learns to love that guy, if only to keep the character around longer.
CBS: The Big Bang Theory, 8:30 p.m., premieres Sept. 24
What: Nerds—hard-core nerds with marginal social skills—try to woo their blond, perky neighbor.
Who: Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar.
Why: CBS needs a comedy to fill the space between How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men.
How: When Penny (Cuoco) moves into the building, physicist Leonard (Galecki) is immediately taken by the blond beauty who waitresses at The Cheesecake Factory and aspires to act. (Imagine that.) Sheldon (Parsons), his equally brilliant physicist roomie, is less swept by the idea—he’d rather watch Battlestar Galactica and play Klingon Boggle, like usual. The nerds are torn between impressing her and loathing her; she’s just content to hang out with guys who will retrieve her TV from her meathead ex.
There’s a lot of time spent showing the intellectual and physical distances between beauty and the geek, but Penny will have to surprise us with some smarts and Leonard with some social prowess if this is going to be anything more than a stereotype comedy.
The CW: Aliens in America, 8:30 p.m., premieres Oct. 1
What: An exchange student from Pakistan comes to Wisconsin, finally giving the dorkiest guy in school a friend.
Who: Dan Byrd, Adhir Kalyan, Scott Patterson, Amy Pietz, Lindsey Shaw.
Why: Occasionally, serious, real-world issues make for great comedy.
How: This was supposed to be Justin Tolchuk’s year. He (Byrd) got his braces off. Girls talked to him. Bullies ignored him. And then he showed up eighth on the list of Most Bangable Girl at his high school in Medora, Wis.—six places behind his newly developed younger sister—and it was all downhill. His micro-managing mom (Pietz) brought an exchange student to town, thinking a handsome boy from London might give her son a friend and make him cool; instead, they got Raja (Kalyan), a Pakistani Muslim who seems even more awkward than her son. The parental Tolchuks think they’ve made a mistake as Medora reels from its newest resident—“a real, live Pakistani!” one teacher exclaims—but Justin really has found his kindred soul.
This show is hilarious. Cavemen on ABC tries to be a commentary on race and stereotypes in the United States, but this show actually succeeds with great humor and sensitivity. It’s almost as if the staff of The Onion was in on the writing; it’s funny because it’s true. The difficult thing will be successfully not overstepping the thin line between funny and offensive.
Fox: K-Ville, 9 p.m., premieres Sept. 17
What: Cops try to rebuild and stay sane in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Who: Anthony Anderson, Cole Hauser, Maximiliano Hernndez, Blake Shields, Tawny Cypress, John Carroll Lynch.
Why: Crime procedurals are big this year, and this one offers a sense of place and time everyone recognizes from the news.
How: Marlin Boulet (Anderson), a police officer from the Upper Ninth Ward, has to reconcile with a partner who went AWOL during the hurricane, a family that fled to Atlanta and a city that nobody else seems to want to save. His new partner (Hauser), a guy from Cincinnati with high standards and no history, has his own demons to wrestle.
The show is a curious mix of typical police action-show shots and commentary on New Orleans’ struggles since all the news cameras left. In addition to all the cop-show, crime-solving stuff, there’s a serious look at the power of local culture and how the city’s social and economic differences have affected it. It’ll be interesting to see what residents of New Orleans have to say about the show. It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s fiction.
NBC: Chuck, 8 p.m., premieres Sept. 24
What: A big-box computer store nerd becomes a secret agent after downloading a server’s worth of government data into his brain.
Who: Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Joshua Gomez, Sarah Lancaster, Adam Baldwin.
Why: It’s about time we had an action-comedy instead of an action-drama. Imagine if Sydney Bristow dated a Yaris-driving store clerk who wears Converse high-tops.
How: Chuck’s brilliant gymnast roomie got him kicked out of Stanford and stole his girlfriend five years ago. Chuck (Levi) is still not over it; in fact, he manages the Nerd Herd at Buy More, and that’s all. But when his old roomie, now a CIA agent, delivers sensitive data to Chuck as his dying act, the nerd becomes a supernerd with a giant head filled with government secrets. Now, he has to try to get over the past while being a secret agent and a nerd.
Dramas always seem to put regular guys in the role of superhero; this is what a regular guy would look like when suddenly given a special power. Funny, funny stuff.
NBC: Journeyman, 10 p.m., premieres Sept. 24
What: A San Francisco newspaper reporter travels through time and changes people’s lives but still has to handle his own job and family.
Who: Kevin McKidd, Brian Howe, Gretchen Egolf, Moon Bloodgood, Reed Diamond.
Why: Quantum Leap was a while ago; we could use another sci-fi life-changer.
How: One day, Dan Vasser (McKidd) fell asleep in a cab and got out of another one—several years in the past. It keeps happening and seems like it could ruin his job at the newspaper, not to mention his marriage.
He leaps from year to year, changing people’s lives, maybe messing with his own. Cues from music, magazines and fashion let us know when he leaps, but he has to find the person he’s supposed to be protecting.
McKidd is solid in the role, and the pilot is intriguing. It’s worth it to keep watching, especially while it’s up against a CSI franchise and a dying reality show.
The Bachelor, 10 p.m. Sept. 24, ABC: Season 8,641 (or 11) of the matchmaking show features Brad Womack, 34, an entrepreneur bar owner from Austin, Texas. And guess what? He’s ready to find his soul mate! On reality TV!
How I Met Your Mother, 8 p.m. Sept. 24, CBS: The second season finale left us with the news that Robin is not, in fact, the kid’s mother. She and Ted broke up just as Lily and Marshall were getting married. Oh, what twists will the third season hold?
Heroes, 9 p.m. Sept. 24, NBC: The finale of last year’s breakout show featured a cheerleader torn, two brothers exploding in the night sky and a trail of evil blood leading to a cockroach. Then, we see Hiro in 1671 and a solar eclipse. The first season was “Genesis,” the new one is called “Generations.”
Suggestions for how to plan your night of couch potato-ing:
Watch: How I Met Your Mother, Aliens in America, Heroes, Journeyman.
Record: Chuck, K-Ville, CSI: Miami.
Forget: Two and a Half Men, Rules of Engagement, The Bachelor.