* MOM. 9:30 tonight, CBS3.
* HOSTAGES. 10 tonight, CBS3.
* THE BLACKLIST. 10 tonight, NBC10.
DYLAN McDermott and James Spader aren't in David E. Kelley country anymore.
The former stars of, respectively, "The Practice" and "Boston Legal" square off tonight as antagonists in rival conspiracy thrillers, CBS' "Hostages" and NBC's "The Blacklist," in which each plays a federal agent who's gone rogue.
In the case of Spader, who plays a reptilian figure called Raymond Reddington, who's also known as "The Concierge of Crime," the going rogue part is long over. He's a rogue. And he has a little list. For reasons he's keeping to himself, he's decided to help his former colleagues catch the very bad people on that list (a process that presumably could extend to seven or more 22-episode seasons), but only if he gets to work directly with an FBI newbie named Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).
In "Hostages," an adaptation from Jerry Bruckheimer of an Israeli series, McDermott's Special Agent Duncan Carlisle is probably not acting in an official capacity when he takes the president's surgeon, Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette), and her family hostage on the night before she's scheduled to perform a tricky bit of lung surgery on the president (James Naughton) and orders her to kill the commander-in-chief.
Carlisle also has his reasons. They may have something to do with his comatose wife and their daughter, to whom he's a lot nicer than he is to the Sanders family, at least at first (a CBS promo suggests the relationship between hostage-taker and at least one hostage may change).
Both pilots are among broadcast TV's better offerings this fall. If I give a slight edge to "Hostages," it's because Collette ("United States of Tara") is one of those actresses I'd watch in just about anything, and because its 15-episode season means that whatever's going on here should become clear (or at least clearer) a bit sooner.
I'm less sure of that with "The Blacklist," whose "Alias"-meets- "Silence of the Lambs" vibe concerns me as much as it might intrigue others. For the moment, it's Spader alone who'll have me running the DVR on both channels Mondays (as I continue to relax with ABC's bouncy "Castle").
TV trends tend to be both a response to others' success - "Homeland" and "Scandal" can probably share the credit/blame for D.C.-centric thrillers for years to come - and a reaction against whatever's going on in the real world.
But the real world is, if anything, a bit too thrilling at the moment and a certain level of paranoia is probably justified. So, what's the appeal of villains who appear to have out-thought everyone around them?
Maybe it's just that they are thinking.
I'm concerned that the feds have access to our email, yet it almost worries me more that they might be wasting their time (and our money) amassing vast databases that they don't actually know how to use.
I want to believe that the people whose salaries we pay know the difference between intelligence-gathering and hoarding. And are at least as smart as the federally trained bad guys on Monday nights.
It's been a while since Chuck Lorre ("Two and a Half Men," "The Big Bang Theory") produced a show whose central character was a single mother and recovering alcoholic.
Lorre, too, probably had his reasons for steering in a different direction after "Grace Under Fire."
But he's found his way back as one of the co-creators of CBS' "Mom," starring Anna Faris as the newly sober Christy and Allison Janney as her long-absent mother, Bonnie, who reappears in her life during an AA meeting they're both attending.
I happen to have loved Brett Butler's "Grace"(from a safer distance than Lorre), but Faris, who cries adorably, is probably a more palatable choice to play a woman who's only too aware of how she's screwed up her life (leaving Janney with the fun of playing one who's blissfully unaware).
Even when Christy's behaving badly, she's unlikely to make people uncomfortable.
But what "Mom" lacks in bite, it makes up for in balance, with a dependable number of laughs and a strong ensemble that includes French Stewart ("3rd Rock from the Sun") as a temperamental chef in the restaurant where Christy waits tables, and Nathan Corddry ("Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip") is her boss.
On Twitter: @elgray