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Monday, December 29, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Overcast
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Setup, punchline
Back to You revives the old-school sitcom
Grammer and Heaton click right off the bat.
Grammer and Heaton click right off the bat.

And here we thought the old-fashioned sitcom was dead. Back to You (Wednesday, 7 p.m., Fox) proves that the genre still has life in it, banishing painful thoughts of 'Til Death and George Lopez.

Step one: Hire brilliant old pros. Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) and Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) star as TV news anchors in a secondary market. Grammer's Chuck is a narcissistic blowhard who left the station eight years ago to be a star. Now he returns to be a big fish in a small pond, but only because the big pond proved way too deep for him. Chuck resumes his love-hate relationship with Heaton's Kelly, making the "hate" part easy with his arrogant behavior.

Step two: Hire brilliant young unknowns. The news department is filled with a WKRP's worth of eccentrics, including a bumbling news director (Josh Gad), a resentful reporter (Ty Burrell) and a manipulative weather woman (Ayda Field). The ensemble clicks in the very first episode, finding the perfect level of absurdity.

This just in: Back to You is an instant classic.

1 vs. 100
Friday, 7 pm (NBC)

In NBC's game show, contestants face off against a "mob" of 100 in an attempt to win $1 million. This week, contestants Carolyn Granado and Andrew Murray face a mob full of used car salesmen. They walk away with a decent amount of prize money, but also a Buick Rendezvous that leaks oil like a sieve.

Emmy Awards
Sunday, 7 pm (Fox)

They should just cancel the Emmy broadcast, mail all the awards to The Sopranos, and use this timeslot for a program with more suspense. I mean, why even pretend that Boston Legal and Heroes have a chance when they're up against TV's all-time masterpiece? It'd be like trying to beat King Lear at the 1605 Tonys.

Friday, 8 pm (Fox)

This new reality series follows good-looking young country singers pursuing their dreams in Nashville. We're supposed to invest heavily in those dreams, as you can tell by the soft-focus photography and sentimental background music.

In the pilot, a GQ type named Chuck leaves his job parking cars to write and sing his music. The episode builds to a showcase performance, where Chuck hopes to impress a group of industry bigwigs. We keep our fingers crossed for him - that is, until he actually starts singing. He applies his forgettable voice to bottom-of-the-barrel pop-country nonsense: "Come on and take my hand/Only you understand...."

So why are we supposed to care about this guy's "dream" if he's not qualified to be a singer-songwriter? I'm starting to wonder if he's even qualified to park cars.

Monday, 8 pm (Fox)

Fox sets this new series in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. That's a nervy thing to do, given the sensitive political and racial issues surrounding the city's plight. K-Ville could establish itself as relevant, and revelatory, if it perceptively addressed these issues.


What we've got here is a basic cop show that uses New Orleans as set dressing. The opening scenes got my hopes up, as black police officer Marlin (Anthony Anderson) struggles to save lives during the 2005 storm, then deals with the hurricane's fallout as New Orleans devolves into K(atrina)-Ville. But soon the clichés click into place. The pilot is full of silly car chases and sappy family scenes. Marlin gets a white partner to butt heads with - and would you believe the guy has a mysterious past?

I'll admit that K-Ville is an enjoyable enough genre series. But with that "K" in the title, it really should have been something more.

Kid Nation
Wednesday, 7 pm (CBS)

In grade school, I dreamed of herding all adults into a big barn, locking the door and creating a nation run by kids. And now here's Kid Nation, a new reality series that leaped right out of my dream. CBS sends 40 kids between 8 and 15 to a New Mexico ghost town to live on their own. They must build a civilization that works, electing leaders and passing laws. They even get to set their own bedtimes. How cool is that?

Imagine my dismay when I read the recent exposés of Kid Nation. New Mexico authorities claim the production violated child safety and labor laws. Apparently, the participants were required to do whatever they were told by the producers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or risk expulsion.

Wait a minute - adults actually told the kids what to do? Did somebody forget to lock the barn door?

Gossip Girl
Wednesday, 8 pm (CW)

This new series is set among snobby trust-fund teens on Manhattan's upper east side. The characters attend glitzy parties, wear trendy clothes and ask each other, "When is the limo coming?" They also check their BlackBerrys for the latest dish from Gossip Girl, the blogger who chronicles the clique's soap-opera developments.

Bad-girl Serena (Blake Lively) returns to her exclusive prep school, harboring a secret or two. Nate (Chace Crawford) is in love with her but hides it from girlfriend Blair (Leighton Meester), Serena's best friend. Dan (Penn Badgely) is in love with her too, but he's poor and doesn't have a chance. Or does he? In the meantime, Dan's little sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen) works her way into the elite group, where she might just lose her soul, not to mention her virginity.

Yes, the plot is silly, but I have to admit that Gossip Girl sucked me in. The dialogue sparkles, the actors rock, and the glittering milieu works its charms.

I actually found myself wondering, "When is the limo coming?"

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