Here are TV's five biggest surprises -- In a fall season that seems strangely familiar, Ken Tucker counts down his notable exceptions
Kim Delaney, CSI: Miami
Credit: Kim Delaney: Robert Voets/CBS
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Here are TV’s five biggest surprises

The new fall TV season is officially the new familiar TV season, so that means it’s time to note some of the biggest surprises that debuting and returning series have brought us. Here are my Top 5 Biggest Surprises of the Fall TV Season.

5. You All Aren’t Watching ”Alias” I’m surprised this series hasn’t moved from cult to solid-hit status. The new season is even stronger than its mighty first; the family tensions between Syd (Jennifer Garner), her dad (Victor Garber) and her spy-in-from-the-cold mom (Lena Olin) have been richly emotional. Come on, America — HBO subscribers can tape ”The Sopranos,” and the rest of you can let one ”Law & Order” franchise show drop from your regular TV viewing. ”Alias” is the show to be watching!

4. ”Monk” Is a Modest Hit Hey, nothing against Tony Shalhoub, but his man-of-many-tics shtick gets — you’ll excuse the pun — repetitive really fast. It’s surprising that ABC brought this show out of its cable-network home as a stopgap measure for its weak schedule; it’s even more of a surprise that people are tuning in to watch the sub-”Columbo” plots that ”Monk” devises.

3. Kim Delaney Gets Dumped From ”CSI: Miami” Good idea! I wish Delaney no personal ill will, and I hope her career thrives elsewhere, but she was a drag on a good show whose regular-”CSI” spin-off episode last season demonstrated clearly that David Caruso already had a worthy female costar in Emily Proctor. I’m surprised the network and producers acted as quickly as they did to correct this casting mistake, and I look forward to watching this ”new” new ”CSI” develop fresh chemistry.

2. CBS Treats ”Robbery Homicide Division” Appallingly It’s not enough that the network has given this superlative cop show from executive producer Michael Mann scant help in its uphill battle against ”Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” on Friday nights (my suggestion? Cancel ”The Agency” and move ”RHD” to Saturdays at 10, where it can at least build a following, even if it is a night when fewer people are watching TV). But last Friday there was an amazing snafu: The episode began with what looked like its first scene (that is, after an opening scene and title credits), then cut to a commercial just as star Tom Sizemore was about to grill a suspect, and when the commmercial break ended: THEY REPEATED THE SAME SCENE OVER AGAIN! This was the TV equivalent of a movie-theater projectionist falling asleep as the reels unspool in the wrong order. Sheesh.

1. The ”Sopranos” Faces Backlash People are saying that the long-awaited return of ”The Sopranos” has been a disappointment — that story lines are meandering or abandoned (Adriana as a government stoolie?), that the series is going over the same ground (is Leslie Bega’s explosive sexpot a variation on Annabella Sciorra’s?). Sure, there have been a couple of slow moments, but holy mackerel, whaddya you want? ”The Sopranos” remains the most unpredictable, best-acted drama on TV, and last weekend’s prolonged, artfully excruciating killing of Joe Pantoliano’s Ralphie confirms that you should always give creator David Chase the benefit of the doubt.

What surprises YOU about the new fall season?

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