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Monkey business, aliens and that sinking feeling

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NBC/Sept. 26/7 p.m.


Starring: Justin Kirk, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Tyler Labine, Bobby Lee, Betsy Sodaro, Kym Whitley and Crystal the monkey


A brilliant but socially inept veterinarian -- he loves animals, but doesn't care for people all that much -- is forced to reconsider his approach when an ex-girlfriend who also happens to be the hospital owner's daughter takes over as the facility's new manager.


The mere idea of a show with a monkey in it might be enough to turn off some viewers (this critic included), but Animal Practice is actually better than its advance billing. Too bad so many U.S. viewers already hate it because of the clumsy way NBC shoehorned a preview episode into the middle of its coverage of the London Olympics 'closing ceremony.


"She's just super-cool. Like, she's the most famous monkey in Hollywood, so you try to be cool around her. We just presented an award together at the Teen Choice Awards, so we hang out off set, too." -- series star Justin Kirk, on simian co-star Crystal, who has more than 20 movie credits on her resumé.

Bottom line: Despite all the monkey business -- both on the set and in NBC's scheduling department -- there's a lot to like about this show.

ABC/Sept. 26/7:30 p.m.

(premieres Sept. 29 on CTV)


Starring: Lenny Venito, Jami Gertz, Simon Templeman, Toks Olagundoye, Clara Mamet, Tim Jo, Ian Patrick, Max Charles and Isabella Cramp.


Harried New Yorker Marty hopes to provide a better life for his family by purchasing a home in a gated New Jersey community called Hidden Hills. The house is lovely, but all the neighbours turn out to be aliens from the planet Zabvron.


At first glance, this looked like the most harebrained new offering in the fall schedule. But a second look at the series pilot revealed that there's an unexpected, good-natured charm to what's admittedly a rather stupid show. Quotable:

"A couple of years ago I went to visit my mom, and she lived in one of those gated townhouse communities. (The townhouses) were all identical. ... She never spoke to any of her neighbours; they never spoke to her. And it was the impetus behind the idea of, "Who are these people that she's living between?" And I started wondering, what if they were all aliens that my sweet Mom was living amidst?" -- series creator Dan Fogelman, on the suburban inspiration for an otherworldly idea.

Bottom line:

If viewers stick with it for a couple of episodes, they might warm up to it. But if first impressions drive The Neighbors' ratings, ET'll be going home early.

NBC/Global/tonight/7:30 p.m. on NBC; 8:30 p.m. on Global


Starring: Jesse Bradford, Zach Cregger, Anthony Anderson, Jamie Lynn Sigler and Tempestt Bledsoe


A trio of thirtysomething pals tries to maintain their manly youthfulness while attending to their responsibilities as new fathers.


Late-night host Jimmy Fallon is one of creators/producers of this series, which he pitched to NBC under the somewhat off-colour title DILFs. Despite a pretty strong cast, the pilot episode plays as not much more than a one-joke premise. Might be worth a second look, but it'll have to improve quickly.


"We just want to have a good time. It's not really about what a drag it is to have kids. It's more like, 'I'm bringing the kid to the baseball game, and I forgot diapers. How do I make a diaper out of a hot dog wrapper and a napkin?'" -- series co-creator Jimmy Fallon, admitting this show isn't seeking to redefine the sitcom genre.

Bottom line:

Might be best to hold off on planning any birthday parties for the show's toddlers.

CBC/Sept. 19/9 p.m.


Starring: Neve Campbell, Kevin Zegers, Chris Noth, Sir Derek Jacobi, Alessandra Mastronardi, Billy Carter, Bramwell Donaghey, Martin McCann and Opheila Lovibond


An eight-part period drama that chronicles the creation and construction of the world's biggest ocean liner, from the perspective of the people who designed, built and launched it on its ill-fated maiden voyage.


A massive international co-production involving TV networks from Canada, Ireland, Italy, Spain, England, Germany and the U.S., Titanic: B&S comes from the creative team that brought us The Tudors and Camelot, so there's reason to believe the attention to period detail will be exquisite. It's an oft-told story, but this view of the Titanic saga seems fairly unique.

Bottom line:

Episode 1 is a slow-moving affair, but the characters are engaging and the idea of examining the Titanic story from first rivets to final iceberg is intriguing. Committing a few couchbound hours shouldn't give anyone a sinking feeling.

ABC/Oct. 10/9 p.m.


Starring: Connie Britton, Hayden Panettiere, Powers Boothe, Charles Esten, Eric Close, Clare Bowen, Jonathan Jackson, Sam Palladio and Robert Wisdom


Country music's reigning queen is trying to maintain her stardom in a business that favours youth, and her efforts are made much more difficult when a young and sexy but somewhat talent-challenged upstart decides that she wants to be country's biggest female act.


For this critic, the most compelling new-drama pilot of the fall season. Britton, who was ever so brilliant in Friday Night Lights, is similarly great as fading diva Rayna James, and Panettiere is an able foil as her upstart challenger. The pilot was written by Oscar winner Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise).


"For me, it's a dream come true, as an actor, to have the opportunity to stretch my muscles in this way. I have sung my whole life, but not really professionally. Not really professionally at all." -- series co-star Connie Britton, on the daunting challenge of playing a country singer.

Bottom line:

Has all the makings of a chart-topper.

NBC/Global/Oct. 10/9 p.m.


Starring: Jesse Spencer, Taylor Kinney, Eamonn Walker, Charlie Bennett, David Eigenberg, Monica Raymund, Lauren German, Teri Reeves and Merle Dandridge


A workplace drama that follows the professional adventures and personal lives of the men and women at Chicago's busiest downtown firehall.


Given that it comes from the production company of the king of procedural dramas -- Law & Order kingpin Dick Wolf -- this newcomer is a bit of a departure in that it spends as much time delving into the personal lives of its characters as it does following their harrowing on-the-job adventures (we never learned anything about the L&O types' at-home travails). It has its moments, but it's not as exciting as a show of this type should be.


"Frankly, the reason I went to Chicago is that I thought that we've done New York -- I've been on the on the streets continuously for the past 25 years in New York, and I wanted the opportunity to show another great city. And there aren't many that have the same kind of mass as New York. And Chicago has been fabulous." -- executive producer Dick Wolf, explaining why this show isn't called New York Fire.

Bottom line:

Needs to generate a bit more heat if it hopes to ignite audience interest.


The X Factor (tonight, Fox/CTV)

Dragons' Den (Sept. 19, CBC)

Survivor: Philippines (Sept. 19, CBS/Global)

The Middle (Sept. 26, ABC/Citytv)

Criminal Minds (Sept. 26, CBS)

Law & Order: SVU (Sept. 26, NBC)

Modern Family (Sept. 26, ABC/Citytv)

C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation (Sept. 26, CBS/CTV)

Supernatural (Oct. 3, CW)

Suburgatory (Oct. 17, ABC/Citytv) Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 12, 2012 D3

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