Sandra Oh in Grey's Anatomy by Bob D'Amico/ABC
Now that's what I like to see on TV's most overcrowded night: TV's top crime drama and TV's top medical soap back in fine form, the two most-awaited season premieres of the week delivering on the hype. And the icing on the cake? Another sensational episode of AMC's summer holdover Mad Men, the one show I never want to see end. I'm going to miss that one when it goes away in a few weeks. As much as I enjoy CSI and Grey's Anatomy, combatants of the highest and most satisfying order, they feel like old hat compared to this scrumptious, provocative period piece.

First off: Big sigh of relief that Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) lives on. As Michael Ausiello reports in his exhaustive interview with the star, her days on CSI may still be numbered, but for now, Grissom's lady love is still kicking, no matter how bloodied, battered and sunburned. The teaser for next week's episode reveals, no surprise, that the course of true love isn't going to run smooth for these coworkers, but there was no doubting the deep compassion in William Petersen's expressive face as he rode aside her in the 'copter, anxiously awaiting the moment when her eyes locked onto his. Fade out.

The hour was an extreme nail-biter, a grueling ordeal of kidnapping and torture that left Sara trapped under a car in a desert culvert as a flash flood threatened to drown her. (The water actually helped to free her, and if she'd just stayed by the car, she would have been a lot better off.) Jessica Collins was, as in last season's finale, chilling as the deranged Miniature Killer who captured Sara to exact revenge on Grissom for the death of the only person she ever loved. Natalie may not have finished her murderous task, but she did effectively blow their clandestine relationship out into the open. Well done, killer.

The shifts in time, cutting between the frantic manhunt and Sara's desperate efforts to survive her dark-and-stormy-night ordeal, made for terrific suspense. After watching her fight so hard, against Natalie during the drive to the desert and later against the elements of Mother Nature, I knew Sara wasn't going to be a goner this week. TV is almost never that cruel. A great start for a show that typically sets the bar for the entire procedural genre (only Bones comes close).

As for Grey's Anatomy: Shonda Rhimes promised things would lighten up, and while there was still plenty of emotion and heightened melodrama, and the usual quota of aggravating eye-rolling moments, the tone (which matters most to me) was back to the scintillating laugh-one-minute, cry-the-next form of entertainment we've come to expect. Watching Cristina snarl at the new interns was a joy. Same goes for Bailey refusing to let the Chief off the hook for not naming her chief resident, instead making Callie's first day on the job a living hell of insecurity and humiliation. As for poor, bitter, frustrated George, who's repeating his year as an intern: Watching Lexie Grey remind him how awesome he is was pure Grey's magic. Also enjoyed the Bambi metaphor, which applied not only to George but to Izzie ("We're all freaking out") and the stricken deer she goofily brought back to life, to the dismay of her disgruntled interns. Theme of the night: "We either adapt to change or we get left behind." Not a bad motto for a show to embrace as it enters its fourth season, having experienced dizzying highs and lows along the way. And also not a bad motto for knee-jerk fans to consider before writing this show off. For the moment, Grey's looks to be back on its game. Wonder if Kate Walsh will regret leaving. Unless Private Practice gets better and fast, I know I would.

Does any of this mean I'm crazy about the mutual declarations of love between George and Izzie? Hardly, but given how reliably this show forces people to face the consequences of their bad decisions, I'm expecting plenty of juicy fallout very soon. And while I empathize with those "'shippers" who wish they'd stop putting obstacles between Meredith and McDreamy, I thought Derek voiced his concerns quite reasonably when he defended Mer's ambivalence to McSteamy. Nothing in her sad, rocky life has prepared her for this relationship, so they're broken up. For now. They may say, "It's done," but it is so not done. After all, their breakup sex is hotter than most people's makeup sex. And with Addison and (for the moment) Mer out of the picture, are Derek and Sloan about to enter a new J.D./Turk phase in their fractured male-bonding relationship? I'm hooked all over again.

But not like I'm hooked on Mad Men. I wish I had time to rewatch these episodes. They're so gorgeous to look at, and with so much saucy material to savor. Best lines as usual went to secretary sex-kitten Joan (Christina Hendricks in one of the year's juiciest performances). Getting ready for a hot night on the town, she tells her gal pal: "I feel like I'm stuck somewhere between Doris Day in Pillow Talk and Midnight Lace. What I need to be is Kim Novak in just about anything." Spoken like someone who deserves to be on the American Movie Classics channel. She goes on: "1960, I am so over you." I am so not over Joan, or Mad Men.

Major plot twist as Roger Sterling (John Slattery, so much better used here than as Gaby's husband on Desperate Housewives) suffers a serious heart attack while "entertaining" twin models in his office after hours. This will have major repercussions on the work front next week (in an equally excellent episode). The look on Roger's face when his wife Mona comes to the hospital, so full of childlike chastened terror: incredible acting.

And who does Don Draper (played by discovery-of-the-year Jon Hamm) go to for solace after witnessing all this? Not his wife. Not his bohemian mistress. Instead, he climbs into bed with department-store magnate Rachel, whom he sees as a soul mate. And here's something I never expected to see: Don turning down a cigarette! After sex! Rachel must have been McFabulous, and that's a phrase those bad ad men never would have coined back in the day.

Otherwise, summing up Thursday in short: loved Ugly Betty. Yes, the death of Santos is a downer, but what a touching way to get inside Hilda's grief. The rest of the episode was a hoot. However long they keep Earl in prison in My Name Is Earl ( hate those flabby supersized episodes!) is too long. Randy and Joy, however? Funny stuff. Survivor: China? Looks great, less filling. Big Shots should be retitled "Big Drips." Worst ABC hour since October Road. Will catch up with The Office (an hour for several weeks running? Really?) and Without a Trace later. Smallville looks like fun. Wish I were still watching. Maybe this season. In my dreams.