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The new TV season has started at last! Here are some random thoughts on the season premiers of shows that I watch.

:: Frasier. This was rather a let-down. I think that Niles and Daphne deserved more of a wedding episode than this. I expected a grand farce dealing with Daphne’s goofy English family, but there was little of that. The feeling was, “OK, we’ve taken eight years or however long it’s been to get them together. They’re together. That’s that. Back to Frasier.”

:: That 70s Show. OK, Eric and Donna are back together, and now apparently Hyde and Jackie are a couple. According to the opening credits, Tommy Chong isn’t around anymore, so I guess his riotous stoner Leo is history, which is a shame (although admittedly the character didn’t have much growth-potential). I still like this show a great deal, but I wonder how much longer these actors can play high-schoolers convincingly. I don’t know how much more mileage this show has.

:: NYPDBlue. This show is underappreciated, given the level of quality it has maintained despite the revolving-door cast it’s had through the years. (Only two actors, Dennis Franz and Gordon Clapp, remain from Year One.) That’s about all I have to say there.

:: Everybody Loves Raymond. Brad Garrett won an Emmy for playing Robert, which is a fine thing. And now that Gillian Anderson and Sela Ward are both off regular television, I guess that makes Patricia Heaton one of my top-three beautiful women on television right now. (The other two are ER‘s Maura Tierney and The West Wing‘s Stockard Channing.) Nothing really new on Raymond; just solid, funny storytelling with a cast that probably has better comic timing than any other cast on TV right now.

:: Ed. I’m a bit disappointed, on the basis of the first episode this year. What made the Ed-Dennis-Carol triangle so interesting to me was the fact that all three characters were good people, although flawed. The solution now, though, seems to be to make Dennis into a jerk. I had higher hopes for the writers of Ed than this. But, maybe I’m wrong.

:: The West Wing. This was a terrific episode. I loved all the stuff with Josh, Toby and Donna being stranded in Indiana and the troubles that arose from their complete inability to relate to anyone outside the Beltway. The business with the assassination last year of the terrorist chief continues to be interesting; I expect this to be the first big scandal of President Bartlet’s second term. Lily Tomlin has been one of my favorite actresses for years (ever since I watched a comedy special of hers on HBO when I was seven years old, even though I didn’t get very many of the jokes), so I’m excited to see her on the cast. I’m hoping for The West Wing to make a return to the form of its first two seasons; last year, while high-quality, was nevertheless not as good as the first two years. They’re off to a good start.

:: Friends. Yes, I still love Friends. But I also hope that this is the last year for the show, not because the quality has fallen off but because with the arrival of children on the scene, it’s about to become a completely different show. Apparently they are talking about another season, which to me would be a bit pointless. At this point, I’m ready to see this season bring Ross and Rachel back together, have Chandler and Monica conceive by season’s end, maybe find love (or maybe not) for Joey and Phoebe, and call it a series.

:: ER. This series has always tended to pack its episodes full, but this one was dense even by ER‘s standards. Parts of the story took place on three continents; we had a contagion-story, some romance, some culture-clash, a doctor alone and desperate to save a crashing patient, a blood-soaked trauma, a doctor facing a huge new challenge (Romano’s recovery from the severing and reattachment of his left arm), and more. All that, in a single hour. I found this episode hard to follow, containing as it did so much plot. Nevertheless, I’m still hooked. John Carter and Abby Lockhart have the most chemistry of any couple on the show since Doug Ross and Carol Hathaway, and I’m interested to see how Dr. Romano responds to what may be the loss of his surgical skills. I just hope the show’s producers remember that sometimes one can achieve more tension with less plot. Witness that harrowing first-season episode that focused entirely on Dr. Greene’s efforts to deliver a baby to a woman suffering complications, or the second-season episode in which Dr. Ross rescued a child trapped in a drainage pipe during a flood. Those were sparse episodes, plotwise — and utterly absorbing. (I do have to report a bit of gallows-humor that occurred to me during this episode. When the docs were trying to stabilize Romano after his arm was chopped off, at one point Dr. Chen says, “I can’t find his pulse.” I wondered: is she checking the wrist that’s still attached to his body? I know, I know….)

:: CSI. They’ve got a formula, and they’re sticking with it. Fine by me.

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