Wednesdays, 10-11 p.m., ABC
ABC’s shrewdest new series takes a middle-aged protagonist (the radiant Connie Britton) working in a middle-American music genre (country) and builds a nighttime soap around her rivalry with a pushy young up-and-comer (Hayden Panettiere, as a kind of evil, bustier version of Taylor Swift). No TV show has ever captured the music industry better. Creator Callie Khouri (an Oscar winner for her Thelma & Louise script) seems to know every nightclub nook and radio-station cranny where Nashville stars and wannabes go to refine and sell their wares. Britton knows how to go brittle and defensive as Rayna Jaymes, a (take your pick) Faith Hill/Reba McEntire/Martina McBride-type star who needs to attract a younger demo. Add Powers Boothe as her political-power-grabbin’ daddy and Eric Close as Rayna’s perhaps too sensitive and supportive husband, and sprinkle with terrific music provided by the series’ executive music producer (and Khouri’s husband), T Bone Burnett, and Nashville is the brainiest no-brainer pleasure of the upcoming season.
Ben and Kate
Tuesdays, 8:30-9 p.m., FOX
Do I like this best of all the new sitcoms because it’s quirky or because it’s funny? Bit o’ both: Nat Faxon (the Oscar-winning co-writer of The Descendants), with his lantern jaw and blank stare, and Dakota Johnson (daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith), with her intense eyes and fluty voice, are unusual TV leads. And so is the concept: They play brother and sister, a refreshing dynamic instead of spouses, lovers, or squabbling rivals. “Quirky” is always a risk, since it can become irritating (Fox knows this, having pulled New Girl back from the brink of ”adorkable”). But ”funny” is something to be nurtured, deepened — and Ben and Kate‘s pilot plants the seeds for long-lasting amusement, as Ben moves in and helps single mom Kate care for her daughter/his niece (the sweetly tart Maggie Elizabeth Jones).
Thursdays, 10-11 p.m., CBS
Move over, Benedict Cumberbatch — or at least pull down the Murphy bed in 221B Baker Street: There’s a new Sherlock Holmes to contend with. In the latest contemporary take, Brit Jonny Lee Miller is a charmingly jittery, slightly OCD, very impish Holmes, transplanted to the States and paired with a slinkier Watson than usual — Lucy Liu, following up her stellar stint on Southland with another fine hard-boiled performance. You say this is probably yet another CBS-brand procedural? Honey, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle practically invented the procedural: What do you think all that rapid clue-gathering, quick deduction, and ”Elementary, my dear Watson” stuff was about? As always in television, it’s all in the execution: You can take the oldest, most familiar concept and give it fresh life with crisp writing and appealing actors — and Elementary has both. If there’s one sure-shot ratings hit this season, my bet is on this series.
Thursdays, 8-9 p.m., ABC
I’ll be honest: I wasn’t expecting acting chemistry between stars Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman. Their rhythms (Braugher, modulated intensity; Speedman, laid-back calibration) don’t seem compatible. But they prove to be a fascinating team on this drama from Karl Gajdusek and The Shield‘s Shawn Ryan. As ballistic-submarine officers, they question a command to launch a nuclear missile at Pakistan, and their debate — with each other and members of the crew — gives the pilot a gut-tightening tension. Their defiance makes them enemies of the state, and as they ground their sub on an island to regroup and plan their next move, you think, ”How can they possibly sustain this as a weekly series?” Which is one measure of a very effective pilot — and, I hope, an ongoing series.
The Mindy Project
Tuesdays, 9:30-10 p.m., FOX
Bursting with promise, the Office graduate has designed a smart vehicle for herself. She plays a highly competent ob-gyn whose private life is a mess of failed romances and falling-into-swimming-pool-drunk dips. Not at all as clueless as Kelly Kapoor, Kaling’s Dr. Mindy Lahiri is reasonably responsible in the hospital (although she’s careful to flirt with the cute doctors, including The Newsroom‘s Chris Messina) and, when her scrubs are off, a party girl who knows she’s getting a tad too old to be a party girl. Costarring Anna Camp, so great in her recurring role on The Good Wife, as Mindy’s pal, the show sometimes struggles for laughs in its pilot, but when you surround a talent as dexterous as Kaling with good actors (Ed Helms and Bill Hader are recurring players), you get a Project worth pulling for. Plus, medical-insurance jokes! Who doesn’t like those?
3 Shows to Keep an Eye On Vegas
Dennis Quaid is the white-hatted cowboy sheriff Ralph Lamb (based on the real lawman of the same name), who solves crimes and tangles with a black-hatted mobster played by Michael Chiklis. It’s set in the glittery Las Vegas of the 1960s, with a script and master plan by writer Nicholas Pileggi (GoodFellas, Casino). Lotsa talent; hopefully it won’t become just another CBS murder-of-the-week show.
The CW’s superhero replacement for Smallville, this hour from Greg Berlanti based on DC Comics’ Green Arrow deploys a soulful Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, a ”billionaire playboy” who fights for truth, justice, and curvy Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy, pop idol David’s daughter). Brisk, well-crafted derring-do.
An ordinary couple (Jami Gertz and Lenny Venito) move into a suburban cul-de-sac only to find that every house around them is filled with visitors from another planet. I know: I can almost hear your eyes rolling in their gritty sockets. It sounds like a gimmicky schlock-com — and it is, a little. But it’s also loose, wacky fun with a deep cast of good actors who know how to ground their eccentricities.