A Good Show Is Hard to Find

TV shows are like relationships: There are plenty of options out there, but most are problematic. If you keep settling for Whatever's On, you're never going to find The One. We know your evenings are precious, so we vetted the new major-network sitcoms and dramas to see what warrants a commitment, what's good for a fling, and what will end badly. (We're looking at you, Studio 60.)

Cane (CBS)

THE GIST: If the Johnny Depp drug epic Blow is a cocaine rush, then this show's a pretty good sugar high. Cane follows a multigenerational Cuban-American clan headed by a vaguely badass sugar magnate (Jimmy Smits) who manages his brood while fighting rivals. This being network TV, family values prevail, but writer Cynthia Cidre (who penned the muy caliente Mambo Kings screenplay) pours on a sexiness that, um, sweetens the deal.

RELATIONSHIP MATERIAL? Absolutely. We've stalked Smits from L.A. Law to NYPD Blue to The West Wing. And we're not stopping now.

Bionic Woman (NBC)

THE GIST: Picture the original show from the '70s, then take away the bad fashion and add 30 years of special-effects technology. Regular-girl bartender Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan) is in a grisly car wreck and needs an extreme makeover — a bionic one — to survive. Now that she's the titular fembot, the scientists who created her give her a mission: Destroy the original bionic woman, who has turned evil. Girl fight!

RELATIONSHIP MATERIAL? More of an occasional fling. We love us a righteous, ass-kicking babe, but this makes us miss our old steady, Alias.

Viva Laughlin (CBS)

THE GIST: We're so sorry we weren't in the pitch meeting for this, the latest rejiggering of a Brit hit. Ripley Holden (soap-opera-handsome Lloyd Owen) takes on casino bigwig Nicky Fontana (Hugh Jackman, who also executive produces). With its obvious plot and by-the-numbers writing, we feel like we've been here before ... until the characters break into (pop) song.

RELATIONSHIP MATERIAL? No, but you're curious, so get it out of your system. Once Melanie Griffith collagen-lip-synchs to Blondie's "One Way or Another," you'll vow "Never again."

K-Ville (FOX)

THE GIST: The title is short for "Katrinaville," the name for postapocalypse New Orleans, and we'd hoped for a ripped-from-the-headlines drama that would bring some attention to the ineptitude of the reconstruction "effort." But despite the occasional vérité shot of boarded-up houses, this is just another hypermacho shoot-'em-up with an unsatisfying disaster-profiteering subplot. And not one convincing Louisiana accent.

RELATIONSHIP MATERIAL? Nope. When it's over, you feel empty, dirty, and used.

Dirty Sexy Money (ABC)

THE GIST: Attorney Nick George (Peter Krause) is conflicted: Should he take a $10 million paycheck and get roped into the vaguely corrupt real-estate dealings of the clumsily named Darlings (a money-rich, morals-poor family), or walk away and stay clean, boring, and less rich?

RELATIONSHIP MATERIAL? Have a little fun, but don't get too attached. We fear Arrested Development the dramatic version will be taken from us, too.

Journeyman (NBC)

THE GIST: San Francisco newspaper reporter Dan Vasser, played by crystal-blue-eyed Scot Kevin McKidd (Trainspotting), suddenly learns he can travel through time and change the past. First up: Should he stop his ex-fiancée from getting on a doomed flight? Conflicts arise, of course, including how to explain his absences to his wife. Aah, a love triangle that bends the space-time continuum.

RELATIONSHIP MATERIAL? Yes. And it has a season-long arc ( la Lost or 24), so commit early, or this gem will be the one that got away.

Back to You (FOX)

THE GIST: Kelsey Grammer stretches himself as a pompous anchor who falls from his high perch on the national news back to the local affiliate, where he and ex-lover Patricia Heaton bicker like Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Sitcom vet James Burrows (Taxi, Cheers, Friends, Frasier) directs, and the writing is reliably dark and funny. Stellar supporting characters include a misogynistic sportscaster played by Fred Willard.

RELATIONSHIP MATERIAL? Keep it casual. Good fun, but this one's more of a booty call.

Cavemen (ABC)

THE GIST: In this parallel-universe sitcom, as in the benign, somewhat humorous Geico ads that spawned it, cavemen are reduced to stereotypes — but here it's pointedly the black ones. They're better in bed, they're great dancers, Waspy girls date them to piss off their parents, and they can't get past the front gate at the country club. A discussion of who can use the word magger, a slur for "Cro-Magnons," will have you saying, "Oh-no-you-di'int." And, really, we wish they ha'int.

RELATIONSHIP MATERIAL? Too much of a puzzle. We can't tell if it's really smart or incredibly stupid. In the end, it'll probably just embarrass you.

Carpoolers (ABC)

THE GIST: The Office meets Entourage, without the obscenities or money. For four working stiffs, the daily drive to the office is their guy time, when they can air their suburban woes (wives who buy $200 toasters, children who out-earn their 'rents), sing along to Air Supply, and give each other advice ("Never recycle — your neighbors will just be able to tell what a boozer you are"). Thanks to a great cast (especially SNL alum Jerry Minor) and writing by Bruce McCulloch (Kids in the Hall), this show will remind you what you hate about the grind and love about man-boys.

RELATIONSHIP MATERIAL? Shave everything, spend a little extra time on the makeup, and put on your favorite dress. This is the real thing.

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