TV on Monday nights used to be all about two things: football and 24. But the NFL's been sidelined to cable's upper echelons, and the Jack Bauer Power Hour won't ramp up until the world needs saving in January.
Prison Break provided a quick fix, but the moment the tattooed dude and his convict compadres made good their escape, the show's raison d'être went on the lam as well. And Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, touted as the return of smart drama to network TV, has been more about creator Aaron Sorkin shouting, "Look at my big brain!" than "Let me entertain you!" It has been picked up for a full first season, though.
The surprise of the night - maybe of the entire fall season - is the flying, mind-reading, time-travelling indestructible X-folks over on Heroes. With its serialized mystery - who is Sylar? which side is Horned-Rim Glasses on? will New York really explode? - and distinct lack of spandex, Heroes isn't just for comic book geeks.
But while the new Monday-night mantra is "Save the cheerleader. Save the world," I'm left wondering, what about What About Brian?
I know, I know, I'm probably the only one. Except I'm obviously not. This Thirtysomething update (gone are the suspenders and old-fogeyish East Coast neuroses, replaced by angsty Gen-X ennui and California sunshine) has just been picked up for its first full season after a strong showing as a spring replacement. So somebody's watching. Then again, somebody watched Diagnosis Murder for nine seasons, too.
At first glance, What About Brian looks like just another soapy dramedy - Desperate Housewives with less cellulite, or Grey's Anatomy without all the high school hijinks.
Look a bit more closely, however, and you'll discover a smart, guycentric show that rises above its "I'm supposed to be an adult, so why don't I feel like it?" clichésomething premise.
Brian (Barry Watson) is the last single among married friends who are forever trying to hook him up and settle him down, even if they're unconvinced of their own wedded bliss. They may have the careers, kids and luxury cars, but Brian has lots of sex with all kinds of hot women.
Naturally, each finds a lot to envy in the other. Sensitive, studly Brian really does want to grow up; he just also happens to want to grow old with his best friend's girl. Meanwhile, the best friend in question would rather hang out with strippers, and one of the married couples want to scratch their seven-year itch by giving an open relationship a go - and, no, it wasn't the guy's idea!
Sure, it can be a bit silly at times, although no sillier than any John Cusack rom-com, but the writing is smart without being too clever, and the cast never bites off more than it can chew.
And unlike Grey's Anatomy, which builds a completely frivolous soap opera around some very serious surgical procedures, What About Brian takes the time to let a story develop without feeling the need to rush to the next inevitable romantic entanglement. As a result, you get the sense that these characters take themselves as seriously as the show wants us to take them.
At the same time, they don't belabour the point. Brian's unrequited love for Marjorie, which is about as original as an old Cars tune, is used as a mere springboard to look at early-30s male singledom, when you're looking around at how grown up all your goofball friends have suddenly become.
While there are plenty of women in the cast - from too-good-to-be-true Marjorie (Sarah Lancaster) to Brian's widowed and pregnant big sis (Rosanna Arquette) - this is a relationship show about men. Yes, they're portrayed as video-game-playing, hoops-shooting horndogs, but they're also allowed to act like three-dimensional characters who genuinely care for and support each other, and not just in a high-fiving kind of way.
So if you're already watching Studio 60 on Sundays and are sick of the forensic porn and David Caruso's painfully pained delivery on CSI: Miami, what about watching What About Brian? After all, 24 is still two months away.
What About Brian airs Mondays at 10 pm on ABC.
What to watch this week
Thursday, November 16
Underdogs Wendy Mesley battles big business in this consumer-complaints-based reality series.
8 pm on CBC
Tuesday, November 21
Boston Legal James Spader, William Shatner and the most un-PC primetime dramedy.
10 pm on CH
Wednesday, November 22
Day Break Taye Diggs as an accused cop having a Groundhog Day with guns.
9 pm on ABC