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Ten Best! TV shows of the fall season

by Brian Clarey

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” — CBS/ WFMY (cable channel 9); Thursdays, 9 p.m.

Why is everyone being so serious lately? Okay, we’re in an economic crisis, we have a huge election going down and it’s hard not to be plugged into current events. Which means we need TV now more than ever, people — the good, mindless, candy-coated kind that lets us forget the world for a while and immerse ourselves in some good, old-fashioned, mass-marketed entertainment. We’ll start with the reigning Nielsen-rating heavyweight Champion: “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” This granddaddy of the franchise became relevant again after a spectacular, season-ending plot twist involving one of the principals. The Hollywood writers’ strike enforced an extra-long hiatus to build suspense, and fans are coming back.

“30 Rock” — NBC/WXII (cable channel 11); Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.

This one might not take your mind off the election — Executive Producer and star Tina Fey is a dead-ringer for the vice-presidential candidate — but it will definitely give you something to laugh about. “Big ups,” as they say, go to Tracey Morgan and Alec Baldwin, who play the latenight skit show’s coddled star and the smarmy network executive, respectively. I’ll go ahead and call this one the funniest show on television; it makes me grateful for the instant-replay button on my DVR.

“Heroes” — NBC/WXII (cable channel 11); Mondays, 9 p.m.

Man, I dig me some “Heroes.” The Japanese guy who can manipulate time and space? The indestructible cheerleader? Siler — who is now kind of a good guy? Are you kidding me? Hardcore fans stayed with “Heroes” through an extra-long hiatus, and were rewarded with another rollicking, comic-book style adventure. Of course, as with any show, it could get sucky at any time.

“Life on Mars” — ABC/ WXLV (cable channel 7); Thursdays, 10 p.m.

This show gets the nod for several reasons, not the least of which being that my good friend Matty Dynamite works for the show. Unapologetically pinched from a BBC show of the same name, it depicts a present-day NYPD detective transported back to Queens circa 1973. It’s part sci-fi, part cop show and part period piece; stars Harvey Keitel and Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos”); and is shot on location in a section of Queens that has been transformed into a reasonable facsimile of the way it used to be. “We worked so hard to make it look incredible,” my friend told me. “It cost millions. And then there’s ‘Hole in the Wall.’”

“Hole in the Wall” — FOX/ WGHP (cable channel 10); Thursdays, 8 p.m.

The show Matty Dynamite is so perturbed about is actually clipped from a Japanese game show called, in loose translation, “Brain Wall.” The premise is this: Get two teams of three morons each, slap jumpsuits and kneepads on them and put the in front of a moving wall with various shapes cut out of it. Unless the players can contort themselves into the shapes in the wall as it passes, they get knocked into a tank of water. People call it “human Tetris.” While it is not quite “Ow” My Balls,” fictitious number-one TV show in the movie Idiocracy, it’s pretty damn close.

“The Office” — NBC/WXII (cable channel 11); Thursdays, 9 p.m.

How many times and in how many ways can we say it? We love “The Office” — and by “we” I’m talking about everyone who works here, except for the one who doesn’t own a TV set. Steve Carrell’s blustery yet vulnerable Michael Scott makes the most original blunders — he recently misremembered the name of his ex’s new baby as “Astird” — but, for some strange reason, he is one of the most compelling characters on television.

“ER” — NBC/WXII (cable channel 11); Thursdays, 10 p.m.

Damn, is this one still on? Yeah, Cloony is gone, and so is that guy from Revenge of the Nerds — but hey, isn’t that Uncle Jesse in a set of scrubs? Surely this show jumped the shark long before they got Stamos on board, but it merits mention here because the producers assure the viewing public that this will be the last season. Ever. So congratulations, “ER,” for a successful 15-year run.

“True Blood — HBO (cable channel 5); premieres Sundays, 9 p.m.

HBO consistently puts out great television — witness “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood,” “Oz,” “Sex and the City,” “The Wire”… the list of groundbreaking and culturally significant material put out by the cable giant goes back more than 10 years. This one, about a cloister of vampires in the Louisiana river parishes, is exceptionally good. And because it’s on HBO, the show tackles sophisticated themes in its fiction. It also has license to show lots of sex, nudity, violence and an extraordinary amount of blood.

Election coverage — every damn place you look

You know, maybe you should take a little time before you cast your vote to check in with the real world, see what the candidates are saying, maybe get a look-see into the crippling credit crunch or keep tabs on those two wars we are in. Do yourself a favor, and flip over to CNN once in a while, or blend it in with your entertainment diet and watch “The John Stewart Show” (Comedy Central; weeknights at 11 p.m.) or “Real Time with Bill Maher” (HBO; premieres Fridays at 10 p.m.). Because of you don’t laugh, you just might cry.

Honorable mentions

“My Name is Earl” (NBC/WXII, cable channel 11; Thursdays, 8 p.m.) for hilarious stupidity and great cameos. “Fringe” (FOX/WGHP ,cable channel 10; Tuesdays, 9 p.m) because it’s the highest-rated new show on television; “Desparate Housewives” (ABC/WXLV, cable channel 7; Sundays, 10 p.m.) because we’ll never forget that the women of Wisteria Lane made 2007 the Year of the Cougar; “Entourage” (HBO, cable channel 5; premieres Sundays, 10 p.m.) because of Johnny Drama.

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