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    TV serves up comfort food for the brain

    By ERIC DEGGANS

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 23, 2001


    A grid showing the changes in the fall prime-time network television lineup appears in Monday's Floridian section. NOTE: West Wing will not debut its new season until Oct. 3. NBC changed the date after the grid was printed.

    * * *

    A curious package arrived in my mailbox on Sept. 11, the day terrorist hijackers turned America upside down: a review copy of UPN's new Star Trek update, Enterprise.

    And as frivolous as a science fiction adventure drama seemed after watching the World Trade Center towers collapse, after a few days, I needed a dose of phasers and warp drive.

    It's in that spirit I offer some recommendations on what to watch this week, as network TV finally unveils its new fall series -- delayed for seven days out of sensitivity to the attacks.

    The Practice, 9 tonight, WFTS-Ch. 28

    Stretched over two hours, this climactic case centers around the firm's effort to defend a friend of lawyer Elleanor Frutt (Camryn Manheim), a U.S. senator accused of killing his wife's lover. Yes, this is about the umpteenth time someone close to the firm has been charged with murder -- who do you expect defense attorneys to hang out with, choirboys? -- and the ending is convoluted enough to make you yearn for the simplicity of a Columbo rerun.

    Still, this episode introduces engaging character actor Ron Livingston (Capt. Nixon in HBO's Band of Brothers) as a passionate assistant district attorney and allows guest star Victoria Tennant to chew the scenery a bit. A welcome return for a steady, always-entertaining series.

    People Like Us, 9 tonight, WEDU-Ch. 3

    Did you know Wonder Bread was at the front of America's class war?

    That's only one of the tidbits revealed in PBS' engaging, two-hour documentary about class difference in America. (The film shows a food pantry worker in Burlington, Vt., begging homeless clients to take donated sourdough bread; they'd prefer familiar Wonder Bread.)

    Filmmakers follow motivational speaker Ginie Sayles, a poor woman who married a millionaire and now coaches others to do the same, and novelist Benilde Little, who describes how some black middle class people feel separated from both black and white culture. Perfect viewing for those who insist America is a classless land of opportunity.

    Enterprise, 8 p.m. Wednesday, WTOG-Ch. 44

    The two-hour episode that kicks off this "prequel" to the classic Star Trek legend -- set 100 years before the era of Kirk and Spock in Trekland -- has its flaws. It tries a little too hard to recall the fistfighting days of classic Trek with some clunky action scenes and, like all Trek geeks, it handles sex in awkward, obvious ways.

    Still, this series about the first Enterprise to take to the stars with warp drive is a savvy, engaging take on Trek: the ship only goes to warp 4.5, the universal translator is unreliable and nobody's confident scrambling their atoms in the newly-invented transporter. Former Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula is appropriately heroic as Enterprise Capt. Jonathan Archer (he resents the way Vulcans have held humans back from interstellar travel).

    Jolene Blalock is the resident babe, Vulcan Sub Cmdr. T'Pol, clad in a skintight uniform while she tries to keep humans from embarrassing the rest of the galaxy. Judging by the action in this week's episode, in which the crew returns a wounded Klingon to his home world, that may be quite a challenge.

    Once and Again, 10 p.m. Friday, WFTS-Ch. 28

    Impossibly attractive, just-married former divorcees Rick Sammler (Billy Campbell) and Lily Manning (Sela Ward) bring their four children together in a home hardly as harmonious as the Brady Bunch. Lily and Rick's ex-wife, Karen, clash as Rick and Karen's son Eli is busted for carrying a friend's marijuana, while Lily becomes his defender and friend.

    It's a well-crafted example of the friction inherent in bringing two disparate families together. This critic predicts more than a few families will see themselves in Friday's drama.

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