Lone Star, The Event

Forget surviving Premiere Week. Just making it through Monday is going to take nearly superhuman endurance this season. So many diverse and worthy choices, I almost won't miss The Big Bang Theory being shuffled off to Thursdays.

Let's start with the new, and in each case, I'll reprint my Fall Preview blurb with some additional comments. And then on to the handful of returning favorites I've been able to screen in advance.

Want more Matt Roush? Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!

From the top, my favorite new drama: Fox's Lone Star (9/8c). "This fall's best and most original drama taps a gusher of intrigue and twisty romance, with star-is-born James Wolk the most irresistible con man since Lost's Sawyer. Where is this story going? Can't wait to find out."

To elaborate: Newcomer James Wolk is a classic example of TV's ability to create stars (much easier than repackaging them once they're famous), and the role of Robert/"Bob" Allen fits him like a perfectly tailored suit — or a pair of broken-in boots, depending on which persona he's playing that day. In this soapy drama, he's portraying a charming and super-slick grifter juggling a double life — until his heart gets in the way. Married to a wealthy oil heiress in Dallas (Adrienne Palicki from Friday Night Lights) whose mogul father (Jon Voight) welcomes him into the family biz, yet smitten by a girl-next-door (Eloise Mumford) from down-home Midland, where he's engineered an elaborate swindle under the supervision of his crooked dad (David Keith), Bob has his hands full. We may not approve of what Bob's up to, but that never stopped Dallas fans from hanging on J.R. Ewing's every sneer, and Bob's much more of a lovable softie. (In truth, he's more like a less sanctimonious, and thus more interesting, Bobby Ewing.) I am so curious to see how long they can play out this emotional tightrope act.

As the TV fates would have it, Lone Star faces another of the most-hyped and riskiest shows of the season: NBC's The Event (9/8c), about which I wrote: "This lavish and gripping high-concept conspiracy thriller is desperate to be the Next Big Thing, but risks being a Big Whatev if it doesn't pull back on the pilot's chaotic time jumps. Good thing Jason Ritter's hero makes us care what happens next."

To elaborate: NBC hopes this sprawling and gorgeously produced action series will be the next Lost-style buzz engine. Industry observers (and many critics) are skeptically reserving judgment, wondering if it will be the next FlashForward instead. A lot depends on the TV audience's willingness to get caught up in a new dense and multi-tentacled puzzle. The pilot is such a mixed bag it's hard to predict. Often very entertaining as it piles on the mysteries and cliffhanger climaxes, it's also hopelessly and almost comically convoluted, presenting scenes with a "23 minutes earlier" or "13 months earlier" or "11 days earlier" tag with such frequency you end up barely knowing, let alone caring, when and where you are at any given time. (When I left an early screening of the show last June, I turned to a colleague and said, "45 minutes earlier ... I was much less confused.") Even so, there's plenty to recommend here, especially Ritter's everyguy spin on the reluctant hero caught up in a cosmic catastrophe when his girlfriend goes missing from a tropical cruise vacation. Blair Underwood as an embattled president, Laura Innes as an enigmatic leader of a group of mysterious detainees, Zeljko Ivanek playing to type as a sinister adviser: All add to the allure of an escapist hour that wants more than anything to be the next appointment-TV "event" in your life.

And surely you've heard about CBS' new Hawaii Five-0 (10/9c). My take: "A robust reboot that feels can't-miss with explosive action, gorgeous scenery and equally hubba-riffic stars reinventing iconic roles. The sparring bromance between gung-ho Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan's wryly scene-stealing "Danno" helps brighten the often violent mayhem."

To elaborate: Hard to imagine lightning not striking twice as CBS revives one of its most iconic franchises, turning it into a camp-free A-Team about an elite task force that makes its own law as it goes after criminals who dare pollute this island paradise. This is CBS's third attempt to make Alex O'Loughlin (the new Steve McGarrett) into a TV star, and this time they've given him strong support with the very amusing Scott Caan as well as Lost's Daniel Dae Kim (Chin Ho, a disgraced former cop) and Battlestar Galactica's Grace Park (Kono, whose surfing sideline gives her ample time to strut around in a bikini). It's an awfully attractive cast, and while the pilot has an often grim tone, it's enjoyable to watch and should fit comfortably into the NCIS network's schedule.

The night's sole new sitcom, Mike & Molly (9:30/8:30c), is most decidedly not a glamour project, being a comedy (from Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory's Chuck Lorre) about seriously overweight romantics who meet at Overeaters Anonymous. My take: "While the too-crude pilot often stoops to get belly laughs from big-belly jokes, it's the gigantic heart displayed by its charming stars that will decide if we fall in true love with this larger-than-life couple."

To elaborate: Billy Gardell and Gilmore Girls' Melissa McCarthy are the very likable title characters, a Chicago cop and a sweet schoolteacher whose self-deprecating senses of humor can't mask the loneliness within their plump frames. The pilot finds them tentatively reaching toward a connection, while ducking crass but sometimes funny one-liners from Mike's wisecracking partner (Reno Wilson) and Molly's wacky family, including brash mom Swoosie Kurtz and Katy Mixon as an overbearingly shrill pothead sister. The show almost lost me early on with a clumsy gag when Molly's workout routine is upstaged by mom and sis eating chocolate cake right in front of her. (Who would do that?) But it gets better from there, although the whole enterprise seems like a lot of empty (for now) calories. Still, we've learned not to bet against Lorre, whose CBS track record is nothing short of stellar.

Last, and least, we have NBC's Chase (10/9c), which will have to run double quick to lure audiences away from the pre-sold Hawaii Five-0 and ABC's established sleeper Castle. My take: "These boots are made for yawning. A sprint to nowhere, this generic catch-the-fugitive procedural has one asset: Kelli Giddish as the feisty macho heroine. Run, Kelli, to find better scripts."

To elaborate: Must I? There's not much there here, as Chase engages in violent cat-and-mouse pursuits between a team of U.S. Marshals (led by Giddish's Annie "Boots" Frost) and psycho criminals on the lam. Action fans may appreciate how the show cuts to the (wait for it) chase, while others may wish there was a bit more dramatic meat to its familiar bones. Chase kind of made me pine for USA Network's In Plain Sight, a better show about a more intriguing female marshal.

And now, to pay some necessary attention to the returning shows on Monday. Starting with Fox's longtime hit House (8/7c), which is serious about scratching its seven-year itch. Alert to all "Huddy" relation-"shippers," this House-Cuddy fling is a serious adult romance with potentially show-altering implications (and it's about time). They're sexy and funny, and for much of the season opener, often very naked. Picking up immediately after last season's clinch, we are treated to scenes of raw intimacy — it can almost hurt to watch — and unbridled passion. "The hospital does not need your body. I do," House insists, keeping Cuddy from work and cloaking her from a crisis involving a sick doctor whose illness could shut down the ER. When House in next week's episode jokes to a hospital HR guy, "You ever see Wild Kingdom?" he's not kidding. They are wild together, and it revitalizes the show while re-energizing the title character. This twist is what the doctor should have ordered a long time ago.

Meanwhile, CBS' How I Met Your Mother (8/7c) kicks its new season off with the latest tease regarding Ted's future soulmate. Frankly, I'm getting a little tired of the teases, but this one appears to be built around a major event (itself a tease at the moment) that could urge some of the characters into new directions, which is exactly what this aging show so desperately needs. (I still haven't gotten over the writers breaking up Robin and Barney so quickly and returning him to horndog status quo.) There's a nice twist involving returning guest star Rachel Bilson (as the roomie of Ted's as-yet-unseen bride) and some very broad comedy from Cobie Smulders as Robin wallows in a post-breakup breakdown. "I'm getting a de-rection," mutters Barney, aghast at her decline. And complications naturally ensue as Marshall and Lily take baby steps toward parenthood. Still a fun show, and from what I've been told, there's reason to hope for a winning season.

In the same time period, NBC's little show that could, Chuck (8/7c), finds the title hero on a personal mission, tracking down his MIA spy mom (Linda Hamilton, very badass) while pretending to give up the spy game. (You know that won't last.) The guest cast includes Harry Dean Stanton as a ghoulish repo man, Dolph Lundgren as an icy Russian villain and Olivia Munn as a wooden new presence at a rebuilt and revamped Buy More—where a few fun surprises lurk. The best gags involve Chuck and Sarah turning to "sex-ting" to get them through the lulls in their long-distance relationship. But what happens when you need to send a serious "SOS" text and someone interprets it as "Skin on Skin?"

And last, but most certainly not least, ABC's disarmingly playful comedy-mystery Castle (10/9c) opens on a kicky note, with Beckett and Castle in a hall of mirrors, guns pointed at each other, then backtracks to tell us how they got there. (Nathan Fillion stopped by the office last week and told me that filming a hall-of-mirrors scene was high on his cinematic to-do list.) Does their standoff have anything to do with the fact that Beckett and her minions keep finding Castle at bloody crime scenes? Yes, but he's not a serious suspect. Rick Castle isn't a serious anything, which is why he's such good company. The detectives, including Beckett, pout and act jilted because Castle took a hiatus from their world between seasons to finish his latest Nikki Heat book. He and Beckett wager who will solve this case first, and it's all a win-win for fans of light-hearted mystery. If there's any reason to root for the train wreck of Dancing With the Stars this season, it's for the reality blockbuster to continue delivering a healthy lead-in to Castle. Given how much there is to watch on Mondays, we shouldn't take anything for granted.

What are you planning to watch on Monday nights?

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!