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Stand by for seasonal shuffling

Published January 5, 2006

[Photo: NBC]
Aidan Quinn, center, plays the Rev. Daniel Webster in The Book of Daniel, which tracks the life of the Episcopal priest and his family, played by, from left, Christian Campbell, Susanna Thompson, Ivan Shaw and Allison Pill.

[Photo: NBC]
From left, Seth Green, Todd Grinnell, Josh Cooke and Shane McRae star in the show about four friends.
[Photo: ABC]
Heather Graham is at the center of Emily’s Reasons Why Not.
Do the TV two-step
Keep track of your favorites with this rundown of the midseason shifts.

Now is the winter of television viewers' discombobulation.

Now is the time to learn how to use the onscreen channel guide.

Holidays in the rear view, television looks ahead, casting aside what didn't work (Martha Stewart's Apprentice, Threshold, Hot Properties).

Here's a look at the major new series starting this week (including one that debuts tonight), arranged from best to worst - and a scorecard to help track the rest of the schedule:

* * *

The Book of Daniel, NBC, 10 p.m. Fridays (special debut at 9 p.m. Friday, with a new episode following at 10) Grade: A.

The strongest of the midseason entries gets a weak time slot that may relegate this witty, touching, manic family drama to TV purgatory. What a sin.

Book stars Aidan Quinn (Empire Falls) as the soothing, solid Rev. Daniel Webster, an Episcopal priest in small-town New York.

From the outside, Daniel has the perfect life: a lovely, loving wife, two biological children plus an adopted son, a prominent father, a wealthy parish and a nice house.

But Father Webster has troubles. Adorable daughter Grace (Alison Pill) gets busted selling pot to pay for computer software; studious son Peter (Christian Campbell) is still halfway in the closet; adopted Chinese son Adam (Ivan Shaw) is girl crazy; and wife Judith (Susanna Thompson) struggles with the loss of a son to cancer, finding solace in alcohol.

Add a crazy sister-in-law who may or may not be having an affair with the woman who may or may not have run off with her husband (and may or may not have helped steal a $3.2-million church building fund); and a bishop (Ellen Burstyn) who is having an affair with Daniel's father, the retired bishop (who is still married to a wife in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease), and it's no wonder Daniel has developed a prescription drug "habit."

He also sees, and talks, to Jesus (who, it turns out, is not only wise, kind and attentive, but also has a wonderful, dry wit and is a backseat driver).

"It's a family drama dealing with these people and about their lives," Quinn said, talking with reporters by telephone in December. "Talking to Jesus, it's really kind of what Daniel's imagination of what talking to Jesus really would be like, and it's fraught with all of Daniel's limitations. . . . It's literally the internal dialogue of Daniel."

But viewers actually see Jesus, played by Garrett Dillahunt (Francis Wolcott on HBO's Deadwood) as a caring friend who is quick with a joke but stern when it's time to offer guidance.

The cast is strong and believable (bonus: Watch for the dying woman in the first episode. It's a cameo by comic Phyllis Diller). The plot is engaging. And the vibe is good. Pray this show survives bad scheduling.

* * *

Four Kings, NBC, 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, premieres tonight. Grade: B.

Grandma dies and leaves an impossibly wonderful New York City apartment to her grandson and his three buddies, a gang she called the "Four Kings."

Kings Seth Green (Scotty in the Austin Powers movies) and relative newcomers to prime time Josh Cooke, Shane McRae and Todd Grinnel move in together. They make a childish lot, eating junk food and chasing girls between corporate meetings.

Despite every opportunity to go astray or become boring and predictable - and despite a very shaky pilot - Four Kings shows promise, improving dramatically with each of the three installments NBC sent critics. Kings is silly and loud and, admit it, fun. Guys will get it. Women? We'll see.

* * *

Emily's Reasons Why Not, ABC, 9 p.m. Mondays, premieres Monday. Grade: B-.

Sex and the City is over. Move on.

That's a message to the networks, which cannot resist trying to recapture buzz that is long past.

Enter ABC's Emily's Reasons Why Not. It's about a woman trying to make her way in the world of relationships. No, she's not a shaggy-haired columnist who writes about relationships, like Sex and the City's Carrie. Emily is a shaggy-haired publisher who oversees books about relationships.

Heather Graham (Felicity Shagwell from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) stars as Emily, leading a cast of snarky, gay, hip, etc., pals.

Some of the stuff works. But viewers will get the feeling they've seen it all before, five years ago.

* * *

Courting Alex, CBS, 9:30 p.m. Mondays, premieres Jan. 23. Grade: C.

Hey . . . look! It's a good, old-fashioned sitcom. Well, old-fashioned anyway.

Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg) stars as a harried New York attorney too busy to find love. She works with her cranky father (Dabney Coleman), who wants her to find a man and settle down. Sometimes she's wild, sometimes she's conservative.

How will she manage?

Twenty years ago, it would have drifted past as an unnoticed schedule filler. But this season, after Hollywood has shown it can do better, Courting Alex is a step behind and a decade late. It's just sort of . . . there. But there's great music in the pilot (Barenaked Ladies, Fountains of Wayne, U2).

* * *

Love Monkey, CBS, 9 p.m. Tuesdays, premieres Jan. 17. Grade: C.

When viewers last saw Tom Cavanagh, he was the adorable, dorky, looking-for-love bowling alley lawyer in NBC's one-hour dramedy Ed. He returns, this time on CBS, as the adorable, dorky, looking-for-love record label executive in the one-hour dramedy Love Monkey.

Same show. Except Ed was a little better.

Love Monkey is based on a book of the same name by Kyle Smith about character Tom Farrell "navigating the tumultuous and highly amusing waters of work and dating in New York City," CBS says.

Yeah. Not so much. Some decent music along the way, and it co-stars Jason Priestley, for those who never got over 90210.

* * *

Crumbs, ABC, 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, premieres Jan. 12. Grade: C-.

Introducing Fred Savage, still trying to recapture the success of The Wonder Years.

Crumbs is the story of failed Hollywood screenwriter Mitch Crumb (Savage), who comes home to Connecticut to help his family as his mom (Jane Curtin of Saturday Night Live, 3rd Rock From the Sun) gets out of a mental hospital after her husband left her.

Together, Savage and his family of wacky Crumbs have to run a restaurant and get along, while each member hides a secret, all of which leads to jokes about mental illness, homophobia, infidelity and casual sex. Co-creator Marco Pennette (who also co-created NBC's short-lived fall dog Inconceivable) said he based Crumbs on his own family. They must be so proud.

* * *

South Beach, UPN, 8 p.m. Wednesdays, two-hour premiere 8 p.m. Jan. 11. Grade: D.

Hot young people, plus an aging Vanessa Williams (Shaft), jiggle through Miami's South Beach. Not enough story to make it a drama, not enough action to make it an adventure, not enough skin to make it naughty. Not enough of anything to make viewers watch.

UPN sent only the first hour of the two-hour premiere for review. It felt like a full two hours.

[Last modified January 4, 2006, 14:42:57]

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