"What's with all the carnage lately?" a viewer e-mailed me recently. He has a point. The body count on TV this season has been unusually high.

For some, these tragic twists seem like cheap stunts, a real turn-off. For me, they're a reason to tune in. Not because I'm blood thirsty. But on shows where the stakes are high — shows like 24, Lost, The Shield, The Sopranos, even a fantasy like Smallville — I expect to be taken out of my comfort zone into a world where bad things can happen at any time to characters we care about.

Facing mortality is essential to any morality play. When Shannon was fatally shot by Ana Lucia on Lost, it cast a pall of suspicion and grief over the merging of the survivors. When Smallville's Clark Kent lost his beloved father figure Jonathan to a heart attack, it was a necessary rite of passage for this superhero-in-the-making.

Nowhere has the death rate been higher than on 24, with former president Palmer and ex-CTU heroine Michelle killed in the season's opening minutes. More recently, lovable computer geek Edgar and Michelle's husband, Tony, died violently in successive episodes. Overkill? Not for a terrorism thriller so ruthless that the clock never stops ticking. There's little time to grieve, no matter who drops.

But the most shattering death occurred on the cliff-hanger of The Shield, when Shane murdered his Strike Team partner Lem, who was caught in an Internal Affairs trap. Offing Lem with a grenade that didn't even kill him instantly, Shane sobbed, "I'm so sorry, buddy," before covering his tracks.

TV this riveting isn't pretty, but it's so exciting you could almost die.

A Colossal Dud
The best news about ABC's unnecessary, instantly forgettable remake, The Ten Commandments (April 10 and 11 at 9 pm/ET), is that ABC is still planning its annual broadcast of the classic movie version. If you crave your yearly Commandments fix — and millions do — best to skip the drab new miniseries and wait until Saturday (April 15 at 7 pm/ET) for Cecil B. DeMille's enduringly enjoyable 1956 masterpiece of reverent kitsch.

This new version violates the primary commandment of epic filmmaking, biblical or otherwise: Thou shalt not bore.

As the mopiest Moses in film history, Dougray Scott seems emotionally constipated. Fits right in with a plodding adaptation that lacks narrative sweep, urgency and, most critical, passionate showmanship. Even the digital effects are a letdown. And the international cast seems intent merely to prove that bad acting is a universal language. As chosen ones go, choose Charlton Heston.