Ugly Betty

ABC/John Clifford

UGLY BETTY
ABC: Thursdays, 8-9 p.m.
Premiere: Sept. 28
Starring: America Ferrera, William Abadie, Alan Dale, Mark Indelicato, Ashley Jensen, Eric Mabius, Becki Newton, Ana Ortiz, Tony Plana, Michael Urie, Vanessa Williams
Review: Ugly Betty? As if! A more appropriate title might be Adorable Betty. Or Loveable Betty. Or, hey, maybe just Betty. After all, that's what this show is about. This dramedy based on the Columbian telenovela Yo Soy Betty, la Fea--which had a similarly ironic title--is about an ambitious, intelligent and sweet girl from the Bronx who jumps at the chance to work for Daniel Meade, who has just taken the reigns of Mode Fashion magazine from his father. So what if Betty was only hired because Daniel's father knew she was the one woman in Manhattan his son wouldn't sleep with? A fish out of water, with her coke-bottle glasses, primary-colored poncho and plump figure, Betty has a hard time fitting into the superficial fashion world--though, of course, she is the prettiest one on the inside, and eventually, that should help her persevere. And once you meet Betty, you'll want to be along for the ride.
Bottom Line: Bette La Fea--or America the Beautiful? America Ferrera sells Betty as a breakout hit.

BIG DAY
ABC: Thursdays, 8-8:30 p.m.
Premiere: TBA
Starring: Marla Sokoloff, Josh Cooke, Kurt Fuller, Wendie Malick, Stephen Rannazzisi, Miriam Shor, Stephnie Weir
Review: If season six of 24 were Jack Bauer's wedding day, and he spent 24 episodes dealing with his future in-laws and dodging wedding crises instead of end-of-world crises, we'd have a show similar to Big Day. The series starts at 8 a.m. on the morning of Alice (Sokoloff) and Danny's (Cooke) nuptials. Though the young lovebirds seem sweet and very much in love, their family and friends present a parade of problems that plague their special day. And while Big Day does have charm, those problems are actually more foolish than funny. The bride's sister sleeps with the best man and accidentally drinks his contact lenses. The mother of the bride butts heads with her daughter over the reception salad, and the father of the bride tries to stop her from going through with the ceremony. The show as a whole isn't awful but merely cute at best.
Bottom Line: Crash this wedding only if you've got nothing better to do.

'TIL DEATH
Fox: Thursdays, 8-8:30 p.m.
Premiere: Sept. 7
Starring: Joely Fisher, Brad Garrett, Kat Foster, Eddie Kaye Thomas
Review: 'Til Death pairs up comedic mastermind Garrett with the talented and likeable Fisher. Sounds like a winner, right? And the premise is charming, too: Fisher and Garrett star as a seasoned married couple living next-door to two newlyweds--promising young actors Thomas and Foster. You're setting your TiVo, aren't you? And it all comes from the network that gave us Arrested Development. It screams Emmy contender. And yet somehow, despite all this promise, the show doesn't quite live up. The laugh track is distracting, and the script relies on lowest-common-denominator zingers like making fun of the younger couple's last name (Woodcock). Still, Garrett and Fisher are so watchable and so perfectly matched, you'll likely keep tuning in each week just to see if the writing gets better. Okay, maybe not till death, per se, but at least for a few episodes...when nothing else is on.
Bottom Line: Will there be life after Death's first episode? The jury's still out.

HAPPY HOUR
Fox: Thursdays, 8:30-9 p.m.
Premiere: Sept. 7
Starring: John Sloan, Lex Medlin, Beth Lacke, Nat Faxon, Jamie Denbo, Brooke D'Orsay
Review: Straight man Henry (Sloan) moves in with wacky, martini-mixing man Larry (Medlin) and, well...that's about all that happens in the first episode of Happy Hour, which, unfortunately, is a ho-hum hour at best. Though the cast is talented, and Sloan and Lacke (the girl next door) are likeable and charming, the writing and plot development need a bit of help. Still, you can't judge a book by its cover--nor an entire series by its first episode, so here's hoping that Happy Hour, like the fine liquor Larry likes to stir up at, yes, his daily "happy hour" in their apartment, gets better with age.
Bottom Line: Given the heated competition on CBS, NBC and now even ABC, poor Happy will need to find a new home--or face last call.

NOTES FROM THE UNDERBELLY
ABC: Thursdays, 8:30-9 p.m.
Premiere: TBA
Starring: Sunkrish Bala, Peter Cambor, Melanie Paxson, Rachel Harris, Michael Weaver, Jennifer Westfeldt
Review: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage. But what if the ratings never do? This seems to be the question plaguing Notes from the Underbelly, which has its moments as a cute-ish, funny-ish, Sex and the City-ish comedy but doesn't seem to jump out of the box enough to actually grab a mainstream audience's attention--certainly not a quality-demanding audience who is waiting around for Grey's Anatomy to begin. The premise is simple: Andrew and Lauren are having a baby. And while he's excited, she's still coming to terms with saying goodbye to her martinis, Manolos and little black dress. The lead actors are likeable enough, as is the premise, but the jokes need to be pumped up like breast milk (much like that pun) to make this show funny enough to watch each week.
Bottom Line: Belly up with low expectations, and you might be pleasantly surprised. 

SIX DEGREES
ABC: Thursdays, 10-11 p.m.
Premiere: Sept. 21
Starring: Erika Christensen, Hope Davis, Jay Hernandez, Dorian Missick, Bridget Moynahan, Campbell Scott
Review: This guy walks into a bar and meets a guy whose son he'll someday be stranded on a strange island with. Sound familiar? Yeah, that's one of those little "Easter egg" connections on that other JJ Abrams show, Lost. And it's that very kind of coinky-dink that Abrams' new series, Six Degrees, is all about. This compelling, character-driven show revolves around six strangers on another island, Manhattan, who are all struggling and striving for different things that end up having a heck of a lot to do with each another. Moynahan will strike a chord with the female audience in her Sex and the City-ish role--remember how Big cheated on Bridget's character with Carrie? Well, Bridget's significant other may be at it again, tsk, tsk. And Christensen and Hernandez are also compelling as star-crossed lovers who can't possibly find one another in this huge city...or can they? Six Degrees is one of those shows that's just impossible to explain in words. You just have to watch it for yourself, and chances are you're gonna love it.
Bottom Line: With a lineup of Ugly Betty, Grey's Anatomy and this gem, Thursday nights are all about ABC.

SHARK
CBS: Thursdays, 10-11 p.m.
Premiere: Sept. 21
Starring: James Woods, Jeri Ryan, Sophina Brown, Sarah Carter, Alexis Cruz, Sam Page, Danielle Panabaker
Review: This smartass Shark is a network exec's wet dream. Following in the footsteps of House, Shark is a procedural drama that stars a brilliant leading man with character-actor chops and great comic timing. It can play out on a few inexpensive sets. It can be stocked with a supporting cast of low-cost young hotties. And the high-concept hook--evil defense attorney has a change of heart and decides to use his powers for good--could even be replicated with another lead. (Think Chicago-Style Shark or Shark in Seattle.) Spinoff opportunities notwithstanding, Shark's appeal is something mainstream audiences will want to sink their teeth into. The courtroom has never been this fun and flashy.
Bottom Line: Take a bite out of this Shark.

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