The new season starts Monday night. Will it be better than the one that began 10 years ago?

Looking back at my picks for the 2003-04 season, I may have
been blinded by Carla Gugino’s charms when I included her
short-lived ABC drama Karen Sisco as having “hit potential”

With the Emmys over, the 2013-14 TV season officially kicks into high gear. There doesn’t appear to be any breakout hits this fall, but you just never know.
I was looking through the fall preview issue I wrote for the Toronto Sun’s Television magazine 10 years ago, in Sept. of 2003 (the pages were so much bigger then!), and my headline that year was “Fall TV, it’s Slim pickings.”
This may be a bad omen: among the new offerings that season, as this season, was a new series starring James Caan. I made his Las Vegas one of my “ones to watch.” It was never a hit, although it stuck around a few years. This year he’s back in the Bad News Bears-like comedy Back in the Game. Not for long.
I’ll forever stand by my pick as the best new show that fall: Arrested Development. I wrote that Two and a Half Men had hit potential (“a note-perfect pilot”) and The O.C. I singled out as a guilty pleasure.
Critics crave shows that are different and so we sometimes overlook a meat-and-potatoes series that will appeal to viewers who simply want more of the same. A new series that fall was NCIS (then redundantly called Navy N.C.I.S.). “Did anyone ask for a spinoff from JAG?” I asked. Well, smart guy, 10 years later NCIS is the most watched TV show in the world.
There were, however, a lot of legitimate stinkers in 2003. Does anyone remember Happy Family with John Larroquette? How about I’m With Her starring Cracked lead David Sutcliffe? Rock Me Baby, Run of the House or Married to the Kellys? I remember Norm Macdonald’s A Minute with Stan Hooper, but knew it was too kooky to last.
New Canadian shows that season included the Rick Mercer Report, Global’s Falcon Beach and a little CTV comedy called Corner Gas.
So you just never know. One of these three shows premiering tonight might last a decade–or all three could be gone by Christmas. Coming into the season, however, they’re seen as blue-chippers, programs the networks hope to build or anchor Monday nights: Below are my capsule reviews from my night-of-the-week TVFMF Fall Preview, which you can also read in its entirety here:

Mom (9:30 p.m., CBS, City)
Anna Farris (Scary Movie) plays a newly sober single mom. He mom (Alison Janney) might just drive her back to drink.
Chuck Lorre has made a billion dollars crafting these broad American comedies. This one has a talented cast (including Nate Corddry and a not very recognizable French Stewart from 3rd Rock from the Sun) but the pilot seemed to lack the “Penny” character who might make me care about either of these cartoon moms.

The Blacklist (10 p.m., NBC, Global).
The most promising new network drama this fall stars James Spader at his oily best. He plays one bad ass criminal mastermind who willingly surrenders to the FBI yet still manages to set the agenda. His deal–he’s out to get even with other evil geniuses. In one of this series’ many Silence of the Lambs hooks, he’ll only speak directly to one agent, an FBI rookie (Megan Boone). Newly shorn Spader is terrific, although this series could use a guest visit or two from his old Boston Legal pal Bill Shatner.
For more on this series and Spader read this story I wrote last week for The Canadian Press.

Hostages (10 p.m., CBS/CTV).
This is one of those very good pilots that you could get behind if it was a TV-movie or a miniseries. But a series? Always watchable Toni Collette (The United States of Tara) stars as a top surgeon who’s scheduled to operate the next morning on the president of the United States. She’s married (Tate Donovan) and has two teens.  Suddenly, her fancy house is swarmed by some bad guys led by scruffy-but-handsome Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story). He demands she botch the operation and kill the president. He means it, as you can tell by his gun and his beard, but he also has a reason for his actions that makes him somewhat sympathetic. 

At the end of the first hour, something happens to delay the inevitable. Will this happen again the week after? The week after that? Hostages will build to a season finale in January, which is a long time to hold viewers hostage. It’s from executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer, so it looks like money.

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