Angie Harmon in Women's Murder Club by Danny Feld/ABC
My loyalties are so divided on Friday nights. I want ABC's so-so new crime drama Women's Murder Club to do well enough to bring some much-needed eyeballs to the charming romantic comedy Men in Trees, which finally returns from a cruel nearly eight-month hiatus. With James Patterson's name as a selling point for Murder Club (though he's not writing this series any more than he appears to be penning half of the books that go out with co-writers' names on his ubiquitous book jackets), the show certainly has a shot at commercial success, even on a night that's widely considered a graveyard. Remember: This same night, and this same time period (9 pm/ET), is where the original CSI launched to even less fanfare, and the rest is TV history.

But I also don't want anything to take audience away from Murder Club's competition, most notably NBC's ever-fragile Friday Night Lights, which offers another superb episode this week. Even if like many observers you're not crazy about the melodramatic dumping-a-dead-body subplot ensnaring Tyra and Landry, I defy you not to be moved by the final scene involving Adrienne Palicki and Jesse Plemons tonight as they confront with aching emotion the enormity of what they've done and what they now mean to each other. Meanwhile, Connie Britton is a mood-swinging marvel as Tami Taylor, overcome by the single-parent mess she finds herself in with her husband's absence. Kyle Chandler, babysitting a spoiled college player, has a much-needed epiphany when the bratty athlete he's escorting (and who benefits from Coach Taylor's adult guidance) asks him flat out: "What you doing in the car with me when you've got a new baby?" There is no good answer for that one, gotta say. Also terrific moments involving Julie and the heartbroken Matt, the sad-sack Buddy Garrity (pushed away from the team by the "hillbilly mouth-breather" new Panthers coach) and Jason Street, embracing what seems to be an irrational hope of physical recovery from his paralysis. Hope for a better, brighter future links most of the characters of this peerlessly humane show.

Friday Night Lights remains one of the year's best series, but there is genuine concern that its emotional content is too heavy for a night that leans toward escapism: CBS's supernatural combo of Ghost Whisperer and Moonlight, NBC's Las Vegas. In that light, and given how well CBS's above-par procedural Numbers has done on Fridays through its entire run, Women's Murder Club would seem to be a smart fit for a network desperate to launch a crime franchise. I just wish it were better.

Watching the completely overhauled pilot episode, which awkwardly tries to shoehorn Grey's Anatomy-style girl talk about relationships and personal fulfillment into crime scene investigations, it struck me that ABC is too determined to drain actual drama out of most of its dramas, out of fear of being seen as too dark or disturbing. These fizzy hours all begin to blur together so that it's getting harder to distinguish the good dramedies ( Brothers & Sisters, Grey's Anatomy, Dirty Sexy Money, parts of Desperate Housewives) from the bad ( Big Shots, Private Practice).

Women's Murder Club, with its strong female lead (Angie Harmon of the gorgeous looks and tough-girl husky voice), strikes me as a suitable replacement show for those bereft Crossing Jordan fans who still write me in despair. Harmon is by far the show's best asset, even when they make her mope about being forced to work for her ex (Rob Estes, who is not worthy). Her sidekicks in crime-solving include a prosecutor (perky Laura Harris, who's simply awful), a medical examiner (Paula Newsome, who brings some necessary mature gravity) and a cub reporter (blah Aubrey Dollar) who's desperate to break into this "club." It's all very ordinary, but we've seen worse. And if that seems like damning with faint praise, there's a lot of that going around this uninspiring fall season.

If the show were any darker, though, that would probably make it a less suitable lead-in for Men in Trees, which had just begun to develop its delightful ensemble when ABC yanked it into hiatus last February and chose to keep it in cold storage for the rest of the season. As the show's focus expanded beyond the core couple of Marin and Jack to embrace all the oddball residents of Elmo, Alaska (Jerome the barfly, Buzz and his mail-order wife Mai, Patrick and his winsome intended Annie, to name just a few), I become an unintended fan of a show I had earlier written off as a pale imitation of Northern Exposure. It's still far from perfect, and tonight's opener once again finds Marin tiresomely stumbling into a natural disaster out in the wilderness until she's rescued by you-know-who. But the show's heart is in the right place, and that counts for a lot. It's a guaranteed feel-good hour, and on Friday nights, I can think of few things that should be more welcome.