Kristin Chenowith in Pushing Daisies by Scott Garfield/ABC
The early ratings are in, and it looks like the combination of aggressive promotion and laudatory media buzz paid off for the first round of ABC's delightful Pushing Daisies, which handily won its time period Wednesday and is off to a solid start. Honestly, though, if any of the reality alternatives had prevailed (especially CBS's snooze-inducing Kid Nation and the is-that-still-on stupid briefcase show over on NBC), I think I'd be wearing a black armband in to work for the rest of the season. I'm dying to see a second episode of Daisies, and am trying to pretend I'm not worried that ABC hasn't supplied one yet. (A year ago, I was dazzled by the pilot of The Nine, an episode the series never again lived up to.) Still, after watching an opening hour as filled with wonder and whimsy as Daisies' pilot (or "Pielette," as the episode was titled), how can anyone express anything but hope?

My other top Wednesday night priority was seeing how Private Practice and Bionic Woman held up in their second episodes. Not so much in ratings (which are decent, but like everything else this season, hardly spectacular) but in quality. From my couch, I give Private Practice a "marginally improved," and Bionic Woman a "colossal bore, much worse than the first."

Practice is still far from perfect, and at times can't even achieve mediocre as its doctors act like giggling schoolkids (lookee, a stripper in the office!). If Amy Brenneman had any sense, she would have climbed aboard the bicycle Violet bought for her ex and pedaled away in search of a role with even a shred of dignity. Poor Amy. At this point, Audra McDonald is carrying the show with her presence and wry humor, even when forced to act jealous over her ex Taye Diggs being set up with said hooker by his sophomoric co-workers. (Note to Audra: Taye is not worthy!) But what redeemed this episode was a strong and at times even moving medical storyline involving switched babies (one with an incurable disease) and understandably traumatized parents, a plot that brought the Oceanside clinic and St. Ambrose Hospital together without feeling overly forced. The fact that this story involved the show's two most compelling characters, Naomi (McDonald) and Cooper (Paul Adelstein, still bringing more charm than the role requires), didn't hurt.

Meanwhile, Addison looked like she was dressed for a cocktail mixer ( Gossip Girl, anyone? SUCH the most enjoyable show in this time period right now) rather than work, and watching Kate Walsh and Tim Daly spar over kisses and who's mad at who is beyond tiresome. Private Practice still needs serious tone surgery, but it is getting more watchable. By baby steps.

Whereas the second Bionic Woman felt like the worst episode of Alias ever. That thought occurred to me during the moment when Jaime's bratty sister called her to whine about a missing Tenacious D T-shirt while Jaime was hiding from military mercenaries or whoever in the town of dead people. Miguel Ferrer, still channeling the grouch he played on Crossing Jordan, and Molly Price are so mannered in their terse barking, the arrival of an enigmatic Isaiah Washington as Jaime's new handler was actually welcome, the lame meet-cute in the bookstore aside. The least I've come to expect in modern genre programming is convincing special effects, but could Jaime's rescue of the roof jumper have been edited any more awkwardly? Why not just go back to the slo-mo of the original series? Actually, the least I've come to expect in this genre is entertainment value, which is sadly lacking in this self-important, glum misfire. I perked up a bit when Jaime went to the lab with her ringing ear and was chided by a tech for having used a Q-Tip. But what that mainly did was make me miss Alias's Marshall (Kevin Weisman, currently wasted on CBS's Moonlight). What will it take for the new Jaime Sommers to be worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Sydney Bristow and Buffy Sommers? A miracle, it's beginning to appear.

Speaking of strong women, I was crushed when Casey collapsed in the Top Chef finale. I had hoped a woman would finally win this competition, but it was pretty clear from not only the judges' reactions but her own flustered attitude (to the Aspen altitude among other things) that she'd gone pork-belly up. Hung was never my favorite contestant, but he stepped up at the end and finally put some soul into his ambitious cooking, thus trumping the more lovable Dale. The only downside to Hung's jubilant win: the thought that it even remotely vindicates his buddy, last season's twerpy foam freak Marcel.