Marg Helgenberger

Before ABC's Revenge came along to revive the prime-time soap in all of its shamelessly melodramatic splendor, there was an irresistible British potboiler called Mistresses, a sort of Desperate Housewreckers about four glam chums with a knack for making a mess of their torrid relationships. Of which they've had plenty.

"There's baggage — and there's Terminal 5," moans Siobhan (Fringe's Orla Brady) to a new love interest, midway through the third and final juicy season, kicking off tonight (after a several-year delay) on BBC America (10/9c). Siobhan, fans may recall, is the one who got pregnant with a co-worker while trying to conceive with her infertile (oops) husband, who's now out of the picture. Not so the dreamy baby daddy, who's brought his perky American fiancée for a visit but naturally can't get the alluring Siobhan out of his head. And vice versa.

That's how it goes on Mistresses. The heart wants what it wants, even when it shouldn't. Secret desires inevitably lead to deliciously disastrous, possibly even tragic, consequences. In this climactic season, even the core friendships are threatened, as Dr. Katie (Sarah Parish) finds herself uncomfortably drawn to Richard, the affable "Mr. Mom" who turns to her for solace when he feels diminished by the success of baking-magnate wife Trudi (the delightful Sharon Small).

"What has brought you to this?" snaps Katie's disapproving dragon-mother (Absolutely Fabulous' Joanna Lumley, a welcome if frosty addition), who's hidden the truth about her own late husband's longtime infidelity from her daughter from years. "I don't know who'd have me anymore," wonders Katie. Fact is, we'd have as much of these lusty ladies' company as we could get — and that includes Terra Nova's Shelley Conn as reformed party-girl Jessica (who memorably fell for Anna Torv in the first season), who's now pining for motherhood while the rest of her life falls apart. Three seasons isn't nearly enough time to spend with these ladies, but at least we still have Revenge.

Speaking of which, according to ABC's description of tonight's Revenge (10/9c), Daniel is planning to propose (how romantic) while good-old-boy Jack is endangered by a betrayal (how unfortunate). What a fun nightcap this show has become.

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CSI-YA-LATER: It's the beginning of the end for Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) in the first of a violent two-part CSI case (10/9c) that shakes the long-time criminalist to the core and sets up the departure of the show's most prominent remaining original cast member in next week's episode. Catherine blames herself in the aftermath of a bloody professional hit that wipes out an entire divorce-law office, which she had recommended to her longtime friend Laura (Annabeth Gish), who's now missing and feared dead. Chief suspect is Laura's skeevy mega-bucks gun-running husband (Titus Welliver at his most creepily contemptuous), and as he comes under scrutiny, the FBI is called back in, with Grant Show and Matt Lauria reprising their roles from an earlier episode. Naturally, it ends on a cliffhanger, so we'll continue this discussion next week.

DIAGNOSIS ESCAPISM: USA Network's soufflé of a medical dramedy, Royal Pains (10/9c), resumes its third season of endless summer in the aftermath of Divya's potentially fatal prescription to diabetic head-turner/guest patient Wilmer Valderrama. (That'll teach her to work two jobs and keep one of them a secret from Hank.) The usual romantic twists and turns — a proposal here, a possible break-up there — keep things from ever getting too weighty, and I'll welcome any excuse to see Tom Cavanagh back in action, returning as the charming golf pro who comes to Hank for a routine check-up that I suspect will lead to future complications.

IDOL IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL: Tonight's big TV news, of course, is all about the return of Fox juggernaut American Idol (8/7c) for its 11th season, once again fending off speculation that this could be the year that it finally loses its luster, thanks to potential format exhaustion engendered by the underwhelming performance of The X Factor (which wrapped not quite a month ago) and the much-anticipated return of NBC's The Voice in just a few weeks. My expectation is that the show will open huge again, as Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson head to Savannah for the first night of auditions — good, bad and excruciating — in a two-hour extravaganza that will continue Thursday and Sunday (in a special episode following the NFC championship). There really is no escaping it. Or is there?

ODDS AND ENDS: Harry Connick Jr. begins a recurring role on NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (10/9c) as a prosecutor who captures Benson's fancy. Hope it goes better for him than Connick's other current gig, the misbegotten Broadway revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever that's closing at month's end. ... David Cross returns to ABC's Modern Family (9/8c) as Claire's nemesis, her rival for the town council seat, as they prepare for a debate. But it's little Lily whose words (especially a naughty one) are attracting the most attention. ... PBS literally goes Inside Nature's Giants (check local schedules) in a four-part series that begins with the dissection of a 45-foot deep-sea sperm whale. Call it Jonah's revenge.

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