Good, better, best. That would be the nice and neat way to characterize tonight's TV premieres, and everybody would go home happy. Except you. You'd be disappointed with "good" and "better."
So let's go with so-so, so-so, and best.
CBS premieres NCIS: Los Angeles tonight at 9, the most obvious new hit of the fall, obvious because so many people like plain old NCIS, which comes before it, and obvious because the whole show is as predictable as one of those '70s shoot-'em-ups.
Then at 10, ABC has the forgotten, where everything is dark and difficult, including the title, which has no capital letters. Always beware of shows with funny typography.
And, finally, also at 10, on CBS, the best new fall drama, if you count Fox's Glee as a comedy.
The Good Wife stars Julianna Margulies as that woman you've seen standing next to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford or Eliot Spitzer, the ex-governor of New York, maybe smiling through gritted teeth, as her husband somehow tries to defend his infidelity.
And then, after they get away from the cameras, maybe she hauls off and slaps him hard, just like Margulies did to her TV husband, Chris Noth. You can see the red marks.
"There was no other way to do it," Margulies told TV critics at their summer meeting in Los Angeles. "And Chris . . . is so great. He's like, 'Oh, please. I've been hit so many times.' "
That CBS has two big former NBC stars (Margulies from ER and Noth from Law & Order) is sad for NBC, which isn't even producing dramas at 10 p.m. anymore, but great for us. Margulies is flat-out fantastic as a 40ish woman who has to go back to work to support her family.
And Noth will be around, too. There's no way his character, a state attorney convicted of spending public money on his prostitutes, is going to stay in jail.
"They're playing a tape in Grace's computer lab of you sucking the toes of a hooker," Margulies' character, Alicia Florrick, tells him.
Grace is her 13-year-old daughter.
Alicia has a 14-year-old son, too, Zach.
"You're adorable," Alicia tells him.
"No, I'm not," he squirms. And you can see that executive producers Robert and Michelle King have a pretty good idea of teens and moms and family life, which will be a huge part of The Good Wife.
Alicia goes back to work (after 15 years) at the big law firm, where Christine Baranski and Sports Night's Josh Charles are two of the muckety-mucks. She must compete to keep her job with Cary the new kid, who has had every advantage, played by Matt Czuchry, who knows a thing or two about playing such a role after four years as Logan Huntzberger on Gilmore Girls.
Of course she cracks the fascinating weekly case, but it will be her continued efforts to make it again in the world of work, now that she's so old and doddering, and deal with her family, that will make The Good Wife worth watching week after week, just the thing to make us forget about Without a Trace, which used to be on Tuesdays at 10 on CBS.
NCIS: Los Angeles won't make you forget about anything. It's slightly less entertaining than the moderately entertaining original, with a far-fetched connection that these undercover wonders somehow have something to do with the Navy, which is the "N" in NCIS, and who really cares what the "CIS" is?
Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J are the tough-guy core of this crowd, which has an office that looks like an annex to Melrose Place (just so you don't forget you're in Los Angeles), a pretty girl agent, a psychologist who knows when anybody's lying, a techno-wizard, and Linda Hunt, who brings her own weird and wonderful vibe to her role as the boss.
They haven't shot up so many people in a show since Starsky & Hutch, but, naturally, the good guys survive with their crack pistol sharpshooting, while the bad guys, despite their 1,000-round-a-minute bad-guy guns, wind up in pools of blood.
The blood comes first in the forgotten, as amateur sleuths identify dead Does, Johns and Janes, after the cops give up. Then, they go after the murderers.
Christian Slater, back again after My Own Worst Enemy tanked last year on NBC, is the leader of the team, which includes a pretty girl, a techno wizard - oh, wait, that's the other show. This one has two pretty girls, a brooding disaffected art student, and a guy who works for the phone company, who's kind of fun, played by Bob Stephenson, whom you may remember as Jimmy from Jericho, who was always ready for a fight. Not so much here.
It's another procedural from Jerry Bruckheimer (CSI, Cold Case, the aforementioned and canceled Without a Trace, etc.), so it's not the worst thing you ever saw, except that with its overdone music and underdone lighting, it's a little tough to see (and hear) in the first place.