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Capsule Reviews Of Broadcast Networks' Five New Series Premiering The Week Of Oct. 1

September 29th, 2007 9:49am EDT
Aliens In AmericaFive new prime-time TV series premiere the week of Monday, Oct. 1 (all times Eastern):

''Aliens in America''

What: A sitcom that mines humor from the miseries of adolescence as well as America's post-9/11 anxiety.

Where: The CW

When: Mondays at 8:30 p.m.

Who: Dan Byrd, Adhir Kalyan, Amy Pietz, Lindsey Shaw, Scott Patterson.

Why: As a reminder that everyone is alienated from some group - until they connect.

How: Justin Tolchuck (Byrd) is a sweet, bright kid who happens to be a social pariah at his Wisconsin high school. So his mom (Pietz) and dad (Patterson) hit on a plan: arrange for an international exchange student to live with their family. ''I think any teenager's lowest point comes when his mother decides she has to import a friend for him,'' says Justin, but he's game. Then comes the shock: Their exchange student is a 16-year-old Muslim from a village in Pakistan. Raja Musharaff (Kalyan) is kind, gracious and responsible. But that doesn't mean he's not an object of concern in his host community. Justin is quickly won over, but others won't be so readily accepting. ''What about the terrorist question?'' Justin's mother frets. ''They pose as students _ Bill O'Reilly said so.'' A charming, funny show, ''Aliens'' succeeds by facing honestly the fears (however sometimes misguided) people have in the terrorism age. And as Justin's fellow ''alien,'' Kalyan is a delight.

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''Cavemen''

What: A sitcom about dudes with 'tudes about their minority status in a post-caveman world.

Where: ABC

When: Tuesdays 8 p.m.

Who: Bill English, Nick Kroll, Sam Huntington, Stephanie Lemelin, Kaitlin Doubleday, Julie White.

Why: A misguided notion that characters whom viewers love from a TV commercial are natural candidates for a hit TV series.

How: Real-life cavemen may have discovered fire. But on ''Cavemen'' there's barely a spark. Granted, this isn't the first comedy about cavemen. (Besides ''The Flintstones,'' a franchise that has done pretty well since its debut in 1960, the live-action ''It's About Time'' was set in the Stone Age for a brief run 40 years ago.) It's not the first TV series inspired by a TV commercial. (From 2002, the short-lived ''Baby Bob'' comes dimly to mind.) ''Cavemen'' isn't even recorded history's worst sitcom. (Lukewarm praise, huh?) The show's producers insist the San Diego-dwelling cavemen aren't meant to be surrogates for any particular group. But though the oppressed-minority angle may make some viewers squeamish, it would be a mistake to look for social commentary here. ''Cavemen'' is just a single-joke comedy that's pretty unevolved.

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''Carpoolers''

What: A comedy about the life journey of men - back and forth in the diamond lane.

Where: ABC

When: Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.

Who: Fred Goss, Faith Ford, Jerry O'Connell, Jerry Minor, Allison Munn, Tim Peper, T.J. Miller.

Why: To set anybody straight who thinks men have progressed very far since Ralph Kramden in ''The Honeymooners.''

How: There's something goodhearted and eager-to-please about ''Carpoolers.'' It's fast-paced and slickly produced. It even has laughs. But there's an underlying bleakness always threatening to undermine the humor. Here are four guys who share little more than the same work destination and their stepped-upon status as men whose women seem to always have the upper hand. They bond in the claustrophobic comfort of one another's car, where they're grateful for this mobil retreat. ''This ride is the only peace that I have in my life _ 45 minutes, twice a day,'' says beleaguered family man Aubrey (Minor). The others know what he means. This would be funnier, if it didn't feel so tragic.

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''Pushing Daisies''

What: A magical, lovely-to-look-at fantasy.

Where: ABC

When: Wednesdays at 8 p.m.

Who: Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Ellen Greene, Swoosie Kurtz, Kristin Chenoweth.

Why: Miracles can't be explained.

How: Every new series arrives on the air with a pilot episode that was made as a sales pitch (to the network, so the series will get on the air) and as a promise (to viewers, that the series will be as good as this sample). Closing the sale is hard, but ''Pushing Daisies'' did it. Now, with its premiere, its pilot raises this question: Can lightning this intense really strike again, week after week? Maybe it's not fair to fret about a pilot for being too good, but this one has set the bar sky-high. The series, which calls itself ''a forensic fairy tale,'' is about a young man (Pace) who can restore the dead to life with just one touch, but, with a second touch, make them dead again. He's a piemaker who can revive dead fruit to glorious freshness for his fillings. He works with a private eye (McBride), getting murder victims he restores to life to identify their killers. And he is reunited - well, sort of - with his childhood sweetheart (Friel), who herself was murdered as an adult. (Can he find out who did it?) In sort, a description of this series sounds just crazy. But words fail. The best advice to viewers: Check this show out. Wherever the future of ''Pushing Daisies'' may take it, its pilot has a certifiable magic touch.

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''Life is Wild''

What: Wholesome drama about a New York City veterinarian who uproots his family for a game reserve in South Africa.

Where: The CW

When: Sundays at 8 p.m.

Who: D.W. Moffett, Stephanie Niznick, Leah Pipes, Andrew St. John, Calvin Goldspink, Atandwa Kani.

Why: There aren't many wholesome family dramas on the air.

How: Told from the perspective of teenager Katie Clarke (Pipes), ''Wild'' is the multigenerational saga of a father who felt his veterinarian skills were being wasted running a tony clinic in Manhattan. Meanwhile, his second wife (Niznik) worried that the kids they brought together with their recent marriage aren't getting along. Then, almost overnight, those four reluctant siblings are shocked to find themselves living in the middle of nowhere. ''Wild'' is replete with positive messages, good-looking young people, beautiful animals and a bit of adventure, all filmed on location in South Africa. It's got a little bit of edginess and plenty of tenderness, and promotes family values (in the apolitical, un-co-opted sense of the term). There's really nothing else like it on the fall slate, and it's a worthy addition.

By FRAZIER MOORE AP Television Writer


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