Season on the blink

Crix praise 'Joan' but majority of fall sked falls short

The nation’s TV critics haven’t written off the new fall season … yet.

But few of this season’s frosh shows have given critics reason to stand up and cheer, even as they find plenty of new skeins to eviscerate.

“This season the networks appear to have raised the bar of mediocrity to a somewhat higher level,” says TV Guide’s Matt Roush. “Very few of these shows look to have true breakout potential, but there are a number of moderately entertaining series whose pilots made me think, ‘I’d watch that again.’ ”

According to a sample of Variety and the nation’s most influential TV critics, CBS’ “Joan of Arcadia” earns some of the fall’s highest marks, while UPN’s “The Mullets” deserves the most venom.

Critics rallied around “Joan” after being pleasantly surprised that the youngish, spiritually minded show wasn’t a “Touched by an Angel” clone.

” ‘Joan of Arcadia’ was so much better than I thought it would be and I suspect that may be the feeling viewers get,” says the San Francisco Chronicle’s Tim Goodman. “The show pulled off its conceit rather cleverly, and that was the biggest worry. There’s really something to this series.”

Philadelphia Daily News critic Ellen Gray says she loved the pilot presentation but is reserving judgment until she sees episode two. “Given that it’s about a girl who hears the voice of God, I’m really hoping to see a second episode before I have to review.”

Crix also gave high marks to ABC’s “Karen Sisco,” NBC’s “The Lyon’s Den,” Fox’s midseason entry “Wonderfalls,” WB laffer “All About the Andersons” and UPN sci-fi entry “Jake 2.0.”

The scribes were particularly intrigued by Fox’s sitcom “Arrested Development,” which Arizona Republic’s Bill Goodykoontz gave a rare perfect score. “It’s the best new show of the season,” he says. “It goes for real humor, not stupid laughs. That may well be its undoing, but if any show on the schedule deserves to succeed, it’s this one.”

As for “The Mullets,” it’s probably too easy to guess why the critics didn’t embrace what UPN execs call “the smartest stupid show on TV.”

“Insanely bad. Criminally bad. ‘Emeril’ bad,” says New Orleans Times-Picayune writer Dave Walker.

Goodman, never a fan of the smackdown net, took the critique one step further: “Does any of this really matter? Not to pound on UPN every season, but I’m still mystified as to why this network exists.”

Crix weren’t ganging up only on UPN, however. They also had few kind words to say about ABC’s “Married to the Kellys,” NBC’s “Whoopi” and the WB’s “Run of the House.”

Over at the Eye, TV scribes were the least thrilled with “The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.,” although Walker exhibits some personal affection toward the show: “As a tubby, middle-aged guy, I like the idea of basing a TV drama around tubby, middle-aged guys.”

Asked which show will likely break out this fall, critics mostly cite two, both from CBS: “Two and a Half Men” and “Cold Case.”

On the flip side, they pegged ABC’s Thursday night entry “Threat Matrix” as the first show likely to be canceled, followed closely by Fox’s “Luis” and the Alphabet’s “Married to the Kellys.”

“Threat Matrix” not only boasts the toughest slot in all TV (Thursdays at 8 p.m.) but also revolves around complicated issues of homeland security.

Overall, TV critics say they are most impressed with CBS’ schedule, although Fox also has reason to crow.

“CBS rarely swings for the fences, but they hit a lot of doubles,” says Newark Star-Ledger’s Alan Sepinwall.

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