BEST NEW PILOT
The CW, 9/13
It's Sarah Michelle Gellar's TV comeback--or rather, comebacks. In this noirish thriller, the former Buffy plays Bridget, a recovering drug addict, as well as Siobhan, her estranged, wealthy twin. When Siobhan goes missing and is presumed dead, Bridget decides to try on her life for size. Can Gellar slay personal demons as well as she did vampires?
UP ALL NIGHT
If you're watching TV because your newborn has finally fallen asleep in your lap and you don't dare move, this is the show for you. Starring Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as sleep-deprived new parents, the comedy was being retooled over the summer (partly to beef up the role of co-star Maya Rudolph), but in an early version screened for critics, Applegate and Arnett share a frazzled charm.
THE X FACTOR
Good news, America: Simon Cowell is back, and he is still deeply critical of you. Fox's high-profile fall singing competition aims to be the Pepsi to American Idol's Coke (each cola sponsors one or the other show) but with competitions for both individuals and groups. Plus what Fox promises will be the most elaborate reality-TV production values yet. Plus the return of Paula Abdul. We'll soon know if America's got talent-show exhaustion.
PERSON OF INTEREST
Lost's charismatic villain Michael Emerson (reuniting with Lost creator J.J. Abrams) plays a good guy this time, albeit a shadowy one: a software billionaire who uses a surveillance network to predict murders and hires an ex--intelligence agent (Jim Caviezel) to prevent them. The case-of-the-week structure feels familiar; whether the series can do anything with its larger privacy themes will determine if Person of Interest is of interest.
Mad Men won't be back until next year, so the networks have set the Wayback Machine for the early '60s, with NBC's ludicrous The Playboy Club (being a Bunny was empowering?) and this stylish flight-attendant drama. The pilot's a bit overstuffed (the first episode, not the guy flying the plane), but the show has a jet-age visual flair and a keen attention to women taking advantage of an opportunity to get their wings.
It seems as if this sci-fi drama--in which humans time-travel to the Cretaceous Period to escape a polluted earth--has taken as long to evolve as the dinosaurs did, but this ambitious Steven Spielberg--produced series will land on the fall schedule with a brontosaurus footprint.
America's ban on alcohol in 1920 is famous now as a case of government overreach and a windfall for criminals, but Ken Burns' latest documentary lays out the conditions that drove America to dry up. Prohibition swept in on the same reformist tide that gave us workplace laws and women's suffrage, though with far more sobering consequences. If you're going to watch the second season of HBO's Boardwalk Empire, this 5½-hr. history makes a nice chaser.