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'My Own Worst Enemy' isn't the fall season's worst new series

Rick Kushman
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

This season's most heavily-promoted show - thank you, NBC Olympics - is "My Own Worst Enemy," which could also describes NBC's programming department.

Except in this case. The series premieres tonight (at 10) and here's the surprise: It's not bad. It's not particularly wonderful, but it's watchable, decent escapism, and NBC has done much worse (see: "Knight Rider").

"Worst Enemy" is the tale of a super spy named Edward and his alter ego, named Henry. Both are played by Christian Slater, but you already know that if you saw more than a few seconds this August of the Olympic Games. Slater promos got more screen time than Michael Phelps.

The show is better than the promos and seems to have potential to improve once all the introductions and setups are handled. Possibly. The cast is good, including Slater being fairly likeable, Alfre Woodard as his spy boss, and, though I never thought I'd write this, an intriguing friend in Mike O'Malley of "Yes, Dear." There. I said it. Mike O'Malley's pretty good here.

Anyway, Edward is a top asset - spies are now all "assets" thanks to the Bourne movies - but he only exists when he's working. Then his super-duper, double-secret spy agency puts that personality to sleep and awakens good ol' Henry, an everyday guy with a job, a wife and two kids. Edward knows about Henry, but Henry knows nothing.

Although Woodard gives us some mumbo jumbo about medial temporal lobes or something, no one ever explains why this is necessary. Haven't they heard of being covert? Didn't they see "True Lies?"

Either way, despite the fairly cliche chitchat around the Henry household, Slater is more interesting when he's Henry. Edward is sort of James Bond lite, soul-less and seemingly impervious. Henry is scrambling, just in normal life, then even more when the wall between the two personalities breaks down.

It all unfolds without any great "wow" moments, but after a slow and predictable opening scene with spy guy Edward, it's relatively painless and sometimes even fun.

It also appears that NBC and the producers will let the episodes be self-contained, and they're not loading up on the unending back stories, cliff-hangers and ridiculous twists in logic that can drive viewers nuts (see: "Heroes").

As for the rest of this week's What to Watch (or Not), let's start with tonight:

"Samantha Who" (9:30 p.m. on ABC): Last season's best new comedy returns in good form. Sam (Christina Applegate) still has amnesia and tonight she gets tangled up with a ballroom dancing nemesis (Cybill Shepherd). Who doesn't have one of those?

Tuesday:

"Frontline: The Choice" (9 p.m. on PBS): "Frontline's" season opens with its usual excellent and thorough job of profiling the presidential candidates and detailing their positions and records in this two-hour installment.

"Eli Stone" (10 p.m. on ABC): The quirky, charming show about the nice lawyer with musical visions is back for a second season. And we find Eli (Jonny Lee Miller) has been vision-free for months. Instead, his brother is the one seeing things.

Wednesday:

Presidential debate III (9 p.m. on all major networks and news channels): Soon there will be an actual election.

"Time Warp" (8 p.m. on Discovery Channel): This new series panders blatantly to our infatuation with odd spectacle. Yet it sounds cool. It uses super extreme slow motion cameras to show how things happen. This week we can watch a martial artist break a stone slab, an industrial-strength blender obliterate a video camera, and a dog catch a Frisbee.

"Pushing Daisies" (8 p.m. on ABC): Ned, Chuck and Emerson pose as investigators from the Vatican to look into the murder at Olive's convent. Yes, it sounds silly. It sorta is. It's also cute.

"Project Runway" (9 p.m. on Bravo): President, shmesident. Now we're talking about a choice that resonates: the season finale and a designing winner.

Thursday:

"The Office" (9 p.m. on NBC): Jan's getting close to having her baby, so Michael, with his usual finesse, practices birth scenarios with Dwight.

"Supernatural" (9 p.m. on The CW): A demon kills people at an Oktoberfest. Apparently, nothing is off limits for demons.

Friday:

"Crusoe" (8 p.m. on NBC): Shipwrecks, action, adventure pirates, cannibals, romance and tropical beaches. Plus a tree house. What's not to love? The series appears way too good for a Friday night, when few people watch TV. One warning for literary literalists. It takes a few liberties with the Daniel Defoe novel "Robinson Crusoe."

"Crash" (10 p.m. on Starz): This is a pay cable series with a theme based on the feature film. No characters made the leap from the big screen, but the messy complications of race and society are there. Dennis Hopper stars.

Saturday:

"Hulk Hogan's Celebrity Championship Wrestling" (8 p.m. on CMT): Not my usual sort of pick, but look at how many jokes you can find just in the title. And it features can't-get-rid-of-them C-listers like Frank Stallone and Danny Bonaduce.

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