Some random TV thoughts:

Each week since its overly somber premiere, ABC's Brothers & Sisters has improved, slowly becoming a more entertaining, if not yet compelling, family drama. The most recent episode, involving a series of eventful dates for most of the major characters, had a mostly deft light touch, showing (I think) the influence of Everwood's Greg Berlanti on the creative direction of the show.

It's becoming a more suitable companion for Desperate Housewives, which also has improved from last season's doldrums. Housewives is still far from perfect, but give me some Edie Britt bitchiness, a little manipulative scheming from Bree and several mysterious twists (why was Mike Delfino's phone number etched in ink on the season's mystery corpse?), and I'm relatively satisfied. I can even get past the tiresome Gabby-Carlos feuding and Nora meddling in the indifferently plotted Lynette-Tom story line. (Did you notice, by the way, a walk-on by Who Wants to Be a Superhero's Major Victory in the opening montage of suburban housewives sabotaging their mates?)

But back to Brothers. While matriarch Nora was too babbly throughout, whether nervously guzzling martinis at dinner with Treat Williams or baiting her daughter's hedge-fund capitalist boyfriend (good riddance), Sally Field is such an asset to the show, bringing much-needed warmth and humor to the role. Opinionated to a fault and just as screwed-up as her kids, she's so refreshing that I almost feel guilty admitting I'd rather be spending the entire hour over at Rachel Griffiths' home. While I'm still not buying Calista Flockhart as Kitty, much of the rest of the cast is beginning to gel.

Most notably Matthew Rhys as Kevin, the uptight gay son who has learned to stand up to his mother and, thanks to his new crush, Scotty (who's becoming a little less annoyingly aggressive, thankfully), is learning to be more comfortable in his own gay skin. Did anyone else notice the irony that this episode, which featured two kisses between the gay characters, was cowritten by David Marshall Grant, who made TV history when he played a postcoital gay scene in a famously controversial episode of thirtysomething? That breakthrough series dared to try to make a homosexual encounter seem as commonplace as all of the straight relationships on the show. Only now can a prime-time drama, albeit one much less distinctive, revisit such material without the walls crashing in. But maybe that's only because the Parents Television Council probably hasn't been tipped to it yet.

Speaking of sex on TV, I was sent advance copies of this week's episodes of three of CBS' Monday-night comedies, each one seemingly attempting to be racier than the next. (The fact that The Class wasn't included might be an ominous sign for that show's uncertain future.) While I'm not the biggest fan of smirky innuendo, it mostly worked, in a goofy sort of way. Or maybe, given the tonnage of series drama I digest on a weekly basis, I was just in need of a few easy, cheap laughs.

How I Met Your Mother was sparked by a great guest shot by Jane Seymour as Marshall's smoking-hot constitutional-law professor, "the Cougar" (Barney's term for an "older single woman on the prowl"). What seemed an easy conquest for Barney proved anything but when she turned out to be as tough a grader of his sexual technique as she was of Marshall's law papers. Great to see Malcolm in the Middle's Bryan Cranston as Ted's boorish boss, though the penis gags about his disastrous architectural design were a bit much.

Two and a Half Men was much funnier, but mainly because it dealt in part with Holland Taylor's dragon-mother character, inviting a number of choice quips from Conchata Ferrell as the snarky housekeeper Berta. (The funniest episode to date this season involved Charlie's tortured relationship with his mother, capped by an outrageous sight gag of Evelyn sporting enormously swollen lips from her latest plastic surgery.) Any episode without these two women in support is almost always a letdown. The joke this week revolved around Charlie inadvertently dating a carbon copy of his mother: monstrously rude, hypercritical and vain. The jokes in which the new girlfriend needled Charlie about his technique under the covers were, even by this show's standards, incredibly blue. Little Jake, meanwhile, scored great comic mileage over flaunting pretend boobs. "Boy, puberty is going to hit him like a shovel," Charlie said. Every so often (twice so far this season), this show can be a hoot.

I've also grown more attached to Julia Louis-Dreyfus' The New Adventures of Old Christine lately. She's very good at the zany-funny shtick, and the supporting cast is settling into a nice groove, especially Clark Gregg as her ex and Hamish Linklater as her slacker brother. This week brought back the always-welcome Andy Richter as "sad dad" Stan, to whom Christine is embarrassingly drawn against her better judgment. We finally learn why, but in a roundabout way wherein Stan's sexual prowess is never explicitly explained... and yet somehow we still know. (It was reminiscent of classic Seinfeld tropes like "The Contest" and Elaine's "sponge-worthy" criteria.)

These may not be the most classic of comedies, but they work, even when they go a bit gamy. I'm not always proud to say I laughed, but I'd be lying to say I didn't.