Partners

And so the fall TV season officially begins tonight — with a bit of a whimper in the new (though it already feels a bit musty) CBS sitcom Partners (8:30/7:30c). Remember how groundbreaking Will & Grace was back in the day? Also how hilarious it was? Hold on to those memories, because Partners is neither. Based on the friendship and partnership of the two guys who created Will & Grace — one straight, one gay (premise alert!) — this buddy sitcom feels contrived, derivative (instead of Megan Mullally, we get a stereotyped sassy and buxom Latina secretary) and sadly lacking in essential chemistry.

Louis and Joe have been best friends since childhood, as we learn through flashbacks that open both of the episodes I've screened. Maybe a comedy about kids dealing with their differences might have been fresh — Louis is flamboyant and "different," Joe is nerdy and serious — but as grown-up architects, one a fantasist and the other a pragmatist, they're reduced to making lame jokes about a Clay Aiken butt tattoo. Ugly Betty's Michael Urie as the drama-queeny Louis gives it his sparkling all, but David Krumholtz as Joe is less successful at finding the funny in being a mopey wet blanket. It's like Joe is the straight and more boring version of Will and Louis the gay version of Grace (which may be a bit redundant) laced with traces of "Just Jack." Just making this comparison makes me really miss the old show.

The set-up for Partners keeps finding ways for Louis and Joe's bromance to get in the way of their actual romantic relationships: Louis lives with a guileless male nurse (Brandon Routh, so stiff under his peculiar helmet of hair you want him to feel for his own pulse) and Joe has just proposed to the beautiful jeweler Ali (Sophia Bush). Louis in particular can't stop meddling in his buddy's love and sex life, and does this sort of thing ever go well? A running gag in next week's episode has Louis not being able to look Joe in the eye when called out on his antics. I empathized, finding Partners hard to look at or listen to. Given the pedigree (including the master James Burrows as director), this qualifies as one of the season's major creative disappointments.

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In other CBS comedy news, How I Met Your Mother (8/7c) kicks off its eighth season by once again doing the time shuffle, an act that has grown awfully old and tiresome. "It's a long story," drones Ted Mosby as the episode begins. Is it ever. We're back at Barney and Robin's wedding day, with both anxious parties showing signs of cold feet, but before you know it, we're forced to flash back to the dead zone of last season: Barney still dating stripper Quinn, Robin stroking her hunky boyfriend Nick's abs and Ted stealing off-and-on girlfriend Victoria away from her own wedding, leading to a locked-door farce involving leaving a note for the dumped groom. All of these current mates are clearly not meant to last, so why are we still wasting time with them? And while I know we're supposed to feel a frisson of wonder at the foibles of fate every time the unseen girl with the yellow umbrella appears, so near and yet so far from the actual meeting of the future "mother," I find it hard not to stifle a yawn. Move on, show, and please give serious thought to wrapping things up this season while we might still care.

Not available for review: the second-season opener of last year's breakout hit 2 Broke Girls (now airing at 9/8c), with Steven Weber guest-starring as Caroline's jailed father; and Mike & Molly (9:30/8:30c), in which the newlyweds return from their honeymoon in Paris.

SONG VS. DANCE: The reality-competition wars get real as NBC's The Voice (8/7c) continues its irresistible "blind audition" rounds while ABC unleashes its first "all-star" edition of the venerable Dancing With the Stars (8/7c), with past winners (Kelly Monaco, Drew Lachey, Helio Castroneves, Shawn Johnson, Emmitt Smith, Apolo Anton Ohno) squaring off against fan favorites including Kirstie Alley, Pamela Anderson, Gilles Marini, Sabrina Bryan — and reality-TV junkie Bristol Palin. Both shows go head-to-head with two-hour episodes, with the expectation that Dancing will draw a larger audience, while Voice will attract a younger demographic, giving each potential bragging rights.

A DRAMATIC SHOWDOWN: NBC got good news last week when nearly 12 million tuned in for the first episode of Revolution (10:01/9:01c). The real test comes this week, when the fantasy-adventure faces new episodes of returning hits on the rival networks. The main storyline of tonight's episode (not previewed) involves Uncle-Ninja Miles (Billy Burke) seeking reinforcements for their fight against the Militia, taking Charlie's gang on a search for rebel leader Nora (Daniella Alonso). 

Meanwhile, the rabid "shipper" fans of ABC's Castle will not want to miss the sexy opening act of the fifth-season premiere (10:01/9:01c), which finds Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Beckett (Stana Katic) in "morning-after" bliss that quickly turns into rom-com wackiness as they desperately try to hide their now-consummated romance from others, including his family and her co-workers. No rest for the sexually satiated, however, as the threat against Beckett — in the form of Tahmoh Penikett's hit man Cole Maddox — leads the now-rogue team of Beckett (resigned from the force), Esposito (suspended) and Castle (persona non grata to the nasty Capt. Gates) to keep investigating in hopes of smoking out the source of Kate's troubles. Which goes all the way up the power food chain to a smarmy U.S. senator (Jack Coleman) who brings out the worst, as in the best, of badass Beckett.

For those who prefer more explosive mayhem in their TV diet, CBS' Hawaii Five-0 (10/9c) aims to please with an over-the-top conclusion to last season's melodramatic cliffhanger, which left off with Kono drowning, Chin Ho's wife bleeding out in his arms and McGarrett coming face to face with his long-missing/thought-dead mom (Christine Lahti), aka the mysterious "Shelburne." With Mommy Doris sequestered in a safe (but just how safe?) house under the protection of Steve's squeeze Catherine, the action reaches berserk levels as the evil Wo Fat yet again manages to escape custody — the "how" is a doozy — and teams up with the crooked Delano (William Baldwin) to pull off a violent caper, while the Five-0 team goes gunning for vengeance and blood, much of which is spilled by the end.

WHAT ELSE IS ON? Good news and bad news for Fox on this night. The good: the durable Bones (8/7c), where Bones and Booth are seen sniping at each other at a crime scene — "Don't step on the brain, Booth!" — hinting at unresolved issues over her three-month absence. This week's case, dealing with the grisly death of a high-priced divorce lawyer, forces them to assess the state of their own uneasy union. ... The bad news: a second episode of the ludicrous The Mob Doctor (9/8c), which opened last week to such poor ratings and blistering reviews that it's now high on handicappers' first-show-canceled lists. The best thing about tonight's episode: guest star Terry Kinney as a mobster whose life-threatening condition Dr. Grace is ordered to diagnose. ... From the world of even lower-rated cellar dwellers: The CW's Canadian import The L.A. Complex, which has the cultiest of cult followings, signs off with back-to-back episodes (8/7c). ... PBS' great American Masters explores the legacy of one of the nation's most popular and populist poets in The Day Carl Sandburg Died (check tvguide.com listings), marking the 45th anniversary of the Pulitzer winner's passing.

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