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TELEVISION / FALL SEASON / WHAT'S NEW SEEMS OLD

Thank heavens for those tried-and-true favourites

Headshot of Andrew Ryan

jaryan@globeandmail.com

How briskly does today's broadcast universe proceed? If you blinked, you may have already missed the new fall season.

Try this test: Ask anyone to name their favourite new TV show and wait for the blank expression. No doubt it's a sign of the times that viewers are more excited about the return of existing series than any new series. The Monday-night lineup is a case in point.

Does anybody really care, for example, that cancellation storm clouds are already gathering over Accidentally on Purpose (CBS, CITY-TV, 8:30 p.m.)? The show's launch last week failed to live up to breakout expectations - and that's despite being bracketed by the reliable, if excruciating, CBS sitcoms How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men. Beyond that, Accidentally certainly didn't score points for an original premise. A comedy about a sassy career gal turned single mom? Murphy Brown covered that territory nearly 20 years ago.

Not far removed is the new medical drama Trauma (NBC, CITY-TV, 9 p.m.), about a group of brave paramedics and emergency workers, which debuts tonight with a slick pilot and a good-looking cast. The opener establishes the show's template of two or three medical emergencies interspersed with glimpses into the characters' personal lives. Now we know what NBC did with all those leftover ER scripts.

More reliable, and far more welcome, are Monday's returning shows. Many Canadian households will rejoice over tonight's return of Little Mosque on the Prairie (CBC, 8:30 p.m.), back for a fourth season.

By now, Little Mosque is part of Canadian culture, for which we should probably be grateful. And the fourth-season opener is a delight. A stuffy new Anglican priest, Reverend Thorne, comes to the sleepy town of Mercy, to replace the departed Reverend Magee. His arrival causes earnest Amaar (Zaib Shaikh) to fret that the mosque's days in the town are numbered. None of the other Muslim townsfolk seem too concerned; they know they belong.

As before, the long-time Mercy residents remain oblivious to most of the goings-on. When Amaar expresses his concern about ejection to the delightful Mrs. Wispinski (Jayne Eastwood), her response is brief and likely telling of the way most people in Saskatchewan feel about those of different beliefs: "We Mercy Anglicanites just love our little brown Muslims." In its own way, Little Mosque has become this generation's King of Kensington.

Also back tonight, and very welcome indeed, is the second season of Lie to Me (Fox, Global, 9 p.m.). One of last year's few drama hits, the show stars Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs) as Dr. Cal Lightman, allegedly the world's foremost "deception expert." Even if the concept is far-fetched, Roth makes it work.

The second season opener crackles with energy. It opens with Lightman bored at a book signing for his latest bestseller, Lies We Tell. His attention perks up when a young law student (Erika Christensen) approaches with a startling situation: She has visions of a murder being committed, but is unsure whether she was a witness or the killer. Next stop is to the Washington offices of the Lightman Group - Lightman has built his livelihood on working for law-enforcement and corporations - and the remainder of the story is testament to slick TV writing, not unlike that of House.

While exploring the young woman's story, the episode touches gingerly on Lightman's personal life - another very House-like touch - with the return of his lawyer ex-wife (Jennifer Beals), who suddenly wants to move their teen daughter to Chicago. The human lie detector is not amused.

And again, like House, this is not a one-man show. The secondary plotline involves one of Lightman's underlings grilling a Supreme Court justice nominee who may or may not have committed adultery. The B-story elicits on-screen images of such famous adulterers as Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and Mel Gibson.

Before the first commercial break, the episode is at the stage most TV dramas hit in the closing minutes. Unlike most of the new fall offerings, Lie to Me looks to the future, not to the past.

Check local listings.

John Doyle returns tomorrow.

Also airing

Californication (The Movie Network, Movie Central, 10 p.m.) returns for another season of Hollywood-style sturm und drang. The Showtime series stars David Duchovny as Hank Moody, a burned-out writer whose personal life is one big mess. The first two seasons firmly established Hank as a slightly wretched soul with various substance-abuse problems, not to mention a growing sex addiction (not unlike Duchovny himself, according to what we hear in People magazine). In the new season, he deals with the failure of his latest novel and takes a teaching job at a college. Californication is very adult, and very good.

Castle (ABC, A, 10 p.m.) goes into its second week with a taut new episode. Two separate murders occur in the Big Apple on the same night - what are the odds of that happening? - which prompts the novelist-turned-sleuth, Castle (Nathan Fillion), to form a rare alliance with the humourless but hot detective, Beckett (Stana Katic). Castle wagers his duo can find both killers before two other cocky cops, because, really, don't all writers love a challenge? A.R.

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