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Critical Mass

Sabrina, Gilmore Girls, The West Wing and Ed are back - do you need to be told to watch?



TV critics never know when to just shut the hell up, do they? How many more times can you have it beaten into your skull that The Sopranos is the single greatest achievement in the history of mankind, or that you’re a complete fuggin’ moron for not watching weepy dreck like Once & Again? Don’t even get me started on Sex and the City.

Tube StopsThursday, Oct. 4: Charmed (The WB, 7 p.m.) Season Premiere! Prue’s dead body is colder than a witch’s you-know-what, and here’s new sister Paige (Rose McGowan) to take her place with Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) and Piper (Holly Marie Combs). The Power of Six remains unbroken!

Friday, Oct. 5: Sabrina the Teenage Witch (The WB, 7 p.m.) Season Premiere! Sisqo is a vampire (yep, he gets to suck at something else besides music), but the importance of the cheerleader outfits cannot be emphasized enough. Maybe It’s Me (The WB, 7:30 p.m.); Reba (The WB, 8 p.m.); Raising Dad (The WB, 8:30 p.m.) Series Debuts! Watch: Maybe It’s Me—big funny. Avoid: Reba and Raising Dad—no funny whatsoever.

Saturday, Oct. 6: Billy Joel: In His Own Words (A&E, 7 p.m.) The Piano Man plays hits and answers audience questions at Sony Studios. No. 1 inquiry: “Was Christie Brinkley great in the sack or what?”

Sunday, Oct. 7: The 53rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards (CBS, 6 p.m.) Important Hollywood stars try to act humble in light of terrorism, which is convenient, them being actors and all. Live From the Red Carpet (E!, 6 p.m.) Joan and Melissa Rivers annoy the crap out of important Hollywood stars trying to act humble in light of terrorism.

Monday, Oct. 8: Late Show With David Letterman (CBS, 10:30 p.m.) If musical guests Garbage and that Scottish tart Shirley Manson can’t cheer Dave up, what in the world can? Hope she wears the cheerleader outfit.

Tuesday, Oct. 9: Gilmore Girls (The WB, 7 p.m.) Two-Hour Season Premiere! Just watch it already! Roswell (UPN, 8 p.m.) New Network Season Premiere! The teens from another planet still have big probs, ’cause being young, white and pretty on Earth is really hard!

Wednesday, Oct. 10: Dawson’s Creek (The WB, 7 p.m.); Felicity (The WB, 8 p.m.); The Job (ABC, 8:30 p.m.) Season Premieres! The Dawson gang goes to college; Felicity (Keri Russell) and her hair are still in college; NYPD cop Mike (Denis Leary) would just pistol-whip ’em all.

Just once, I’d like to see some snooty “real” TV critic soak his relaxed-fit Dockers over something like, say, Sabrina the Teenage Witch (The WB; returns Friday, Oct. 5—finally): “The powerful characterizations of Melissa Joan Hart are simply unmatched in the landscape of modern television, moving between the personas of spunky blonde coed and spunky blonde witch with a Shakespearean grace that has all but redrawn the boundaries of talking-cat sitcoms. This is truly landmark television.” Naw, all you have is a malcontent like me saying, “Check out the season premiere of Sabrina, ’cause Hart and Soleil Moon ‘Punky Brewster’ Frye will be jumping around in tight little cheerleader outfits—and there’s a talking cat!”

Then again, critical overkill sometimes works for good, not evil—take Gilmore Girls (The WB; returns Tuesday, Oct. 9) for example. The virtual oil tankers of spilt ink praising this seemingly doomed little comedy-drama (Why is it referred to in shorthand as a “dramedy” but never as a “comma”?) facing off against Thursday-night juggernauts Friends and Survivor last season actually paid off. So what if I’m perhaps a bit guilty myself of TV-critic browbeating here? Everyone I’ve ever convinced to watch it is now hopelessly hooked, and damn well they should be. Plus, Season 2 for Gilmore Girls kicks off in the less-competitive environs of Tuesday night opposite the likes of JAG, Dharma & Greg and Emeril. OK, probably not Emeril for much longer.

Does Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) finally choose between lovable diner lug Luke and her daughter’s high school teacher? Does said daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) stick with her mop-headed boyfriend? Does personification-of-teen-angst Paris (Liza Weil, the new sex symbol of the tightly-wound millennium) get some more screen time? Only the last one can be answered with a definitive yes; the rest are what season-ending cliffhangers are for, silly. I’m not ruining nothin’ for nobody.

Two rungs below The Sopranos on the critical-mass ladder is The West Wing (NBC; returns Wednesday, Oct. 10), a show that’s become so ridiculously self-important that creator-writer Aaron Sorkin deemed it necessary to the national psyche for him to slap together a special Oct. 3 stand-alone episode dealing with September’s terrorist attacks. What is this guy, on dope? Oh yeah, never mind …

“Aaron is a brilliant writer who has something he wants to say,” said NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker about the hastily produced ep. “We have great faith in his abilities to interpret last month’s events in a manner that will make this an important hour of television.” Sorkin was doing beer-bong hits at his laptop and unavailable for comment, issuing only this statement through an assistant: “Dude, it’s gonna be sooo sweet … did you hear something outside the window?”

The real season premiere episode is oblivious to the tragedy, the most important thing on President Bartlett’s (Martin Sheen) mind being whether or not he’s going to run for re-election after admitting to hiding his multiple sclerosis condition from the country. Anyone who considers this is a big mystery probably also believed that Bill Clinton “did not have sexual relations with that woman” and Monica Lewinsky just got careless with a hair-gel dispenser (don’cha miss Slick Willy jokes?). Of course Bartlett’s going to run for another term; of course he’s going to win (after smacking around a cartoonish Republican opponent, no doubt), and of course The West Wing is one hell of a great drama—just quit shoving it down our throats already (don’cha miss Monica jokes?).

Ed (NBC; also returns Wednesday, Oct. 10) lies somewhere in the middle—a quirky, well-written comedy that attracts just enough attention to itself to stay afloat without getting clingy about it. On the downside, Ed has also forced America to deplete its reserves of “quirky,” and an embargo may soon be levied against hack TV critics unless they cut back usage.

When we last left Ed (Tom Cavanagh), he was caught between the affections of hot blonde Carol (Julie Bowen) and hot brunette Bonnie (Rena Sofer), an enviable problem easily solved on late-night Cinemax (cue wah-wah pedal), but not in NBC’s seven o’clock family hour, unfortunately. Might I suggest leg wrestling in wholesome cheerleader outfits, ladies? Just a thought; I’m here to help.