Don't look now, but nearly 30 new shows are about to invade your television sets. Yes, it's that time of year again. The fall deluge is upon us.
But you only have two eyeballs - and not nearly enough time. So, as a personal service, we've prescreened the fall offerings and whittled them down to the five shows that appear to be the cream of the crop.
Keep in mind that, in most cases, we have seen only the pilot episodes, and an extraordinary pilot does not always develop into an extraordinary series (See: "FlashForward").
But, for now, we've bonded with this Top 5 and think you might, too.
Chuck Barney, Contra Costa Times
9 p.m. Sept. 20, Fox
A con artist as leading man? It's a risky deal - especially for network TV - but one this provocative soap pulls off, thanks to the panache of newcomer James Wolk.
Wolk plays a brilliant schemer who is running a complex sting while leading two lives in different parts of Texas. On one front, he has married Cat (Adrianne Palicki) in order to infiltrate the oil company led by her father (Jon Voight). On another, he has taken up with a suburban woman (Eloise Mumford) as he bilks her neighbors via an investment scam. Trouble is, he loves both women and desperately wants to find a way to go straight without divulging his secrets.
"Lone Star" is handsomely crafted and brimming with suspense. But it wouldn't matter if Wolk were not believable - and likable - in the role. Fortunately, he has charm aplenty and, like a great con man, he takes us for a ride.
8 p.m. Sept. 19, HBO
You'd think Martin Scorsese would have had his fill of gangsters by now. But the love affair continues with this Prohibition-era drama about Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a corrupt politician whose dealings in illegal booze enable him to hold sway over Atlantic City.
Scorsese directed the pilot episode, which features depictions of real-life criminals, including "Lucky" Luciano and Al Capone. Bringing additional mob cred to the project is creator Terrence Winter, a standout writer for "The Sopranos."
"Boardwalk Empire" might not ever match the legacy of that iconic hit, but it appears to be a worthy successor, with stellar acting, a "Mad Men"-like attention to period detail and rich production values that, at times, give the show the feel of a lush painting.
Just when we thought we were out ... they pull us back in.
9 p.m. Sept. 20, NBC
Now that "Lost" is off the air, how do viewers appease their lust for mind-melting mysteries and sci-fi thrills? We cautiously suggest this turbo-charged conspiracy saga.
We say cautiously because, in recent years, too many high-concept genre shows have sucked us in, only to go "splat" under the weight of their ambition. So if you're hesitant to jump on board, we get it.
But viewers who do commit to "The Event" will at least be treated to a gripping first chapter. It follows the travails of Sean Walker (Jason Ritter), who stumbles upon an international cover-up while probing the mysterious disappearance of his fiancee. The pilot is a rock-your-world affair full of tense moments, great effects and stunning twists.
Even better: There's not a polar bear in sight.
9 p.m. Thursdays, CW
A kick-butt action babe is nothing new. Neither is this story of a government-trained assassin, which has undergone multiple treatments on the big and small screens. But some clever structural retrofitting and the dazzling presence of Maggie Q boost this "Nikita" to another realm.
Ms. Q (birth name: Quigley) plays a former street tough who was rescued from death row by a covert U.S. agency that molded her into a lethal weapon. But after a falling out with said agency, she has defected and is vowing to bring it down. We like her chances.
The sexy lead actress is mesmerizing as she kicks and punches her way through a rollicking pilot that rarely lets up on the gas pedal. The jury is still out on whether Q possesses the acting chops to play a multidimensional character, but for now she has all the right moves.
Mike & Molly
9:30 p.m. Sept. 20, CBS
This working-class sitcom about plus-sized people looking for romance while dealing with some weighty issues could have been the season's biggest loser. Instead, it's a sweet and funny half hour pegged to a pair of refreshingly relatable leads.
Mike (Billy Gardell) is a shy Chicago cop who typically strikes out with the ladies. Molly (Melissa McCarthy) is an adorable fourth-grade teacher with a good sense of humor about her curves. Their paths cross at an Overeater's Anonymous meeting, and sparks fly.
The show has its weaknesses, including some stock supporting characters and an occasional urge to settle for cheap fat jokes. But the appealing Gardell and McCarthy have a chemistry that thus far outweighs the flaws.