Matt Roush

Roush Riff

The bad news: Fox Family's charming new comedy-drama State of Grace ends its first season this week (August 27, 9 pm/ET). The good news: Even though the cable channel has been sold and will soon be transformed into ABC Family, Grace won't get lost in the shuffle and is expected to return in January with 13 new episodes. If your family hasn't yet discovered this nostalgic and often touching series set in 1965 North Carolina about 12-year-old Hannah (Alia Shawkat), a Jewish girl enrolled in a Catholic school, who befriends the free-spirited Grace (Mae Whitman), what are you waiting for?

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Fall Forecast Adventure galore but few laughs

The official launch of the new fall season is about a month away, but in the spirit of putting this depressing TV summer behind us, I'll let you in on what we'll be talking about soon, if not soon enough.

In a word: action. Thrillers that thrill provide the fall's most stimulating flavors. The top prospect: Fox's 24, which won't show up until October 30 (thanks to postseason baseball) but is definitely worth the wait.

The season's riskiest yet most rewarding storytelling experiment, 24 is an immediately gripping yarn about an assassination plot, with CIA anti-terrorist chief Kiefer Sutherland distracted on the home front by the disappearance of his rebel daughter. What makes 24 distinctive is that the entire season plays out over a single day, with each episode representing one hour, the clock always ticking.

24 makes sophisticated use of split-screen editing to heighten suspense. It's a great idea, visually and viscerally exc read more

Roush Rave

If the boo-hooing Bunky seeks a pick-me-up upon exiting Big Brother, he should look no further than So Graham Norton, the hilariously bawdy talk-comedy import on BBC America (Fridays, 11 pm/ET). Norton, a pixieish gay Irishman who manages to be shockingly naughty and endearingly sweet simultaneously, presides over an anything-goes format in which Ivana Trump is likely to be found speaking on a kitty phone to a German phone-sex operator. (That episode airs August 17.) My wish is for Norton to someday hook up with Martin Short's Jiminy Glick, a cross-cultural crossover that would be pricelessly funny.

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Hell House Summer Doldrums on Big Brother 2

There are times I almost envy the wretched prisoners of CBS's Big Brother 2 house. At least they're spared having to watch themselves on TV.

Not that you could budge many of these self-absorbed malcontents from the mirror or from the lenses of the omnipresent cameras. When these (mostly) hard-bodied homebodies aren't preening and scheming in narcissistic rapture, they're whining and crying in repugnant displays of pathetic immaturity.

I never thought I'd say it, but I almost miss Survivor's criminally overexposed Richard Hatch. The token gay in BB2's caged-rat environment is a weepy, wimpy and alarmingly hirsute Chia Pet of a lump named Bunky, whose coy manner of coming out to his roomies was just one of many cringe-inducing elements in this most bleak and unpleasant of "reality" series.

Hands down the worst TV show of 2000, Big Brother returned this summer with the repellent promise of spicing things u read more

Emmy Ennui Snubs, Flubs and Lazy Nominations

Because the list is so much shorter, let's start with the very few causes to celebrate the recently announced and predictably disappointing Emmy award nominations.

Malcolm in the Middle and its young star Frankie Muniz broke through in the major comedy categories (a year late, but that's actually pretty fast for the notoriously behind-the-curve Emmy voters). ABC's outstanding Anne Frank and Judy Garland miniseries were rewarded with multiple nods (including for both of the sterling actresses who played Garland, Judy Davis and Tammy Blanchard).

And that's about it. The rest of the field is littered with tiresome repeat nominees, especially among the contenders for best drama, where the same five shows will face off for the third consecutive year.

No argument that The Sopranos and The West Wing earned th read more

Roush Rave

There was madness in the Method acting of the tormented young James Dean, suggests TNT's new biographical docudrama. James Franco (Freaks and Geeks) appears possessed by demons of his own in this fascinating, emotionally intense interpretation of the reckless and mercurial star. Veering from displays of awkward shyness to swaggering arrogance, Franco captures the doomed Dean's wired allure. Turbulent scenes with his own distant father (Michael Moriarty) echo Dean's nervy breakthrough work on East of Eden, a shattering example of art mirroring life.

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Glove Story A Hero, Armored and Dangerous

For cult-show junkies who despair of continually justifying their addiction to something called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, imagine explaining getting hooked on Witchblade.

Granted, this new TNT series (Tuesdays, 9 pm/ET) is nowhere near Buffy's league, especially when it comes to wit and wisdom, but as a stylized supernatural action thriller it does fill a void left by the deprogramming of La Femme Nikita and the grisly demise of Xena: Warrior Princess.

Proudly joining a take-no-prisoners sisterhood of bone-crunching do-gooders, Sara Pezzini (Yancy Butler, of the statuesque frame and the piercing gaze) is an intense New York City detective whom her friends call Pez. While she may qualify as eye candy, she's a jawbreaker (among other extremities) of the first order.

Sara's tough-chick act has only intensified since she came into contact with a mystical bracelet. When triggered by confronti read more

Roush Rave

Call me an escapist — with Big Brother back on the air, can you blame me for wanting out? — but what a pleasure it is this summer to return in time, via cable, to two of TV's most distinguished and emotionally wrenching dramas: the Vietnam saga China Beach (the History Channel, weeknights, pm/ET), with landmark performances by Dana Delany (soon to be seen in Fox's new soap Pasadena) and Marg Helgenberger (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), and the revolutionary domestic chronicle thirtysomething (Bravo, Mondays-Thursdays, 10 pm/ET). Both were canceled by ABC exactly 10 years ago. And some of us have been missing them ever since.

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Roush Riff

At least no one has eaten live bugs or swallowed worms — yet — on NBC's summer curiosity The Downer Channel, which the downer network of Fear Factor and Spy TV is ominously promoting as a "reality/sketch comedy series." Made for viewers with the attention span of a gnat (and with almost as much bite), this rapid-fire blur of groaner jokes wastes some strong talent (notably, Wanda Sykes of The Chris Rock Show) and made me laugh just once in two episodes, during a reality segment in which a woman confessed her phobia of clowns. It might have made a great sketch. On another show.

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Goofballs Clowning Around with Jack, Glick

During this TV summer of our discontent, I've actually found myself yearning for reruns. Anything but another low-rent "reality" show aiming as low as humanly possible, not to mention the flotsam of all those failed network series (Kristin, The Beast).

Which may explain why I've happily embraced the return to TV of Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman) and Martin Short, each adopting a wacky persona to spoof game shows (Reubens's You Don't Know Jack) or celebrity talk shows (Short's Primetime Glick). Their comeback vehicles are broadly, sophomorically silly, but at least they entertain without being degrading or disgusting. These days, that's an evolutionary step up.

As Troy Stevens, the mop-topped lounge-lizard host of ABC's Jack (Wednesdays, 8:30 pm/ET), Reubens reveals traces of his old Pee-wee impishness as he blithely badgers willing contestants through madcap rounds with inane categories like &quo read more

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