CSI: NY (Friday, 9/8c, CBS)
Ever since JAG signed off nearly six years ago, one of the most frequent topics in my mailbag is the hope that David James Elliott (last seen in ABC's short-lived Scoundrels last summer) will find his way back to CBS. For at least one week, his fans get their wish, as Elliott guests as the FBI agent ex-husband of Sela Ward's Jo. (Do we sense a triangle brewing?) In the case of the week, a guy dressed as a clown shoots a bakery owner, and the investigation reveals a skeleton in Det. Flack's past. (Presumably not wearing floppy shoes.)
Downton Abbey (Sunday, PBS)
Masterpiece Classic gets back to basics with an instant-classic four-part miniseries reminiscent of Upstairs Downstairs, set at a country estate beset by inheritance intrigues after several heirs are lost in the sinking of the Titanic. The large cast of Downton Abbey, comprising members of the embattled family and its devoted (and sometimes devious) staff of colorful servants, includes Hugh Bonneville as the master of the estate, Elizabeth McGovern as his American wife — who only bore daughters, adding to the legacy complications — and the peerless Maggie Smith as the cantankerous dowager aunt. Is this sort of thing is your proverbial cup of tea, prepare to be delighted, and give over your next few Sundays.
Episodes (Sunday, 9:30/8:30c, Showtime)
A great TV comedy about the making of a terrible TV comedy, Episodes is from Friends/The Class writers David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, who take an unsparingly biting approach to Hollywood satire. The series is getting a lot of attention (deservedly) for Matt LeBlanc's winning, and rather brave, portrayal of himself as a sheepish former superstar desperate to put the Joey debacle behind him and find a new hit. But first, we meet a married pair of droll British comedy writers (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, both brilliant) whose prize-winning series about a wise and witty headmaster is bought by a U.S. network (think NBC at its most clueless) and mutated into a vehicle for LeBlanc's comeback — as a wisecracking hockey coach.
Shameless (Sunday, 10/9c, Showtime)
On the same night as Episodes, which deals with a U.S. network badly remaking a British series, Showtime presents its own remake of a British original, but this time the results (though uneven) are far from shameful. Shameless transplants the action from grungy Manchester to the slums of Chicago, where a scrappy family scrapes by with little help from their degenerate drunk dad (William H. Macy). Emmy Rossum steals this darkly comedic drama as the eldest daughter Fiona, who acts as den mother and protector of her endearingly rowdy siblings. If you ever wondered what a family drama on no-holds-barred pay cable would look like, look no further.