* TYRANT. 10 tonight, FX.

* PROOF. 10 tonight, TNT.

WHAT IF Sonny, not Michael, had been the more interesting Corleone brother?

We'll never know how that version of "The Godfather" might have turned out, but FX's "Tyrant" seems ready to explore the idea.

The Mideast drama returns for a second season tonight with its Michael equivalent, Barry Al Fayeed (Adam Rayner), imprisoned and awaiting execution for trying to overthrow his older brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom) in hopes of setting fictional Abbudin on a path to democracy.

Or not.

Barry's coup wasn't the only thing that fizzled in Season 1 of "Tyrant." The prodigal son (and Pasadena pediatrician) who'd returned with his American family for a wedding, only to stay on and try to help his brother run the country, had begun to feel more like a plot device and less like a character as the season went on.

At the same time, the writing for Jamal, whose credentials as a monster were established in the pilot, seemed to be growing more nuanced.

It happens all the time in TV: One person pops, another doesn't. Barhom, an Israel Arab actor, definitely popped.

It's too late to undo any of his character's failings - we know him to be a killer and a rapist, for starters - but in embracing Jamal, the show's no longer holding its fictional Mideast at quite such a distance.

And that's just one indication in the first three episodes that executive producer Howard Gordon ("24") took to heart criticism that the show marginalized its Arab characters.

Still, watching "Tyrant" to understand the Middle East would be like watching "24" for time-management tips. At its best, it's a family drama in an unusual setting.

And after some tweaking, a more entertaining one.

TNT's 'Proof'

TNT's new drama "Proof" starts out, as a lot of shows seem to, by introducing us to a brilliant professional woman with a less than brilliant personal life.

Kyra Sedgwick played just such a one in TNT's "The Closer," and now she's an executive producer on "Proof," which stars Jennifer Beals as prickly cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Carolyn Tyler, who's separated from her doctor husband (David Sutcliffe), a break precipitated in part by the death of one of their two children.

Things take a turn for the unusual when she's coerced into meeting dying tech billionaire Ivan Turing (Matthew Modine).

It seems Turing - because they couldn't exactly call him Jobs - doesn't expect her to save his life, but is willing to give her control of his fortune if she'll research proof of an afterlife.

I'd say it's an intriguing idea (more intriguing, anyway, than having Beals cracking chests and mouthing off at people for an hour a week), but honestly, the case-of-the-week execution on "Proof" doesn't add up to a lot, medically or metaphysically.

That's a shame, because the cast's great. Besides Beals and Modine, there's Joe Morton ("Scandal") as Carolyn's boss and Edi Gathegi ("Justified") as a promising young doctor from Africa who gets roped in to being her afterlife-research sidekick.

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