So, more people are watching network TV this season than last; either their cable's gone out or they're hypnotized by the sheer awfulness of the new season, unable to turn away from that grisly Geena Davis-Bette Midler-Michael Richards pileup out on the interstate. As it turns out, the best new shows of the fall are the best old ones: This week, Fox finally debuts its Sunday-night lineup, and if you discount Futurama (hey, the show's writers do!), it's an extremely watchable three hours of television--which is my idea of a little slice of heaven. The Simpsons' season premiere, which is also its 250th episode, starts out with a bang but ends with a d'oh--ironic, considering The Who show up during the show's final moments for a concert in Springfield. We have been fooled again and again by the declining quality of that show, which every now and then slips out of its slump and hits one, David Justice-style, over the right-field fence. This week's episode is both brilliant and boorish; for a moment, I thought I was watching The Family Guy. Matt Groening's other show, Futurama, is a constant disappointment: This week's episode starts funny and sinks even more quickly into comedic quicksand, something about robots who become murderous "Were-Cars" (as opposed to, uh, werewolves) once their internal clocks reset at midnight. The show is beautiful to look at, but hell to listen to; all it's missing are the jokes.
King of the Hill could use a little of Futurama's style; as a friend once insisted, it's like watching radio. But at least its characters feel human, especially little Bobby Hill, the most ambiguously gay character since Paul Lynde twinkled into Bewitched. For the season premiere, Bobby winds up as the personal caddy to Hank's propane-filled boss, Mr. Strickland, picking up the old man's foul mouth and bad habits, among them using the old "hand wedge" during a round of golf. A crossover we'd like to see is Bobby's hanging out with Malcolm in the Middle's Dewey, who travels cross-country in this week's episode while his family is stuck in the world's largest traffic jam. The show has its moments, but it too can't quite get moving; it's already rehashing plots, only this time it's Malcolm (Frankie Muniz) who is having the quickie love affair instead of brother Francis (Christopher Kennedy Masterson), who spends the entire episode gorging himself on marshmallow treats, the outcome of which is as disgusting as anything on tonight's X-Files.
Which brings us to the most anxiously awaited premiere of the new season--if this was, oh, 1997. The addition of Robert "T2" Patrick as John Doggett, Scully's new partner (though not initially), and the deletion of David Duchovny (who does appear this Sunday and next) brings a little life to this otherwise moribund series. We've been strangled to death by the tangled strands of Chris Carter's conspiracy; yeah, yeah, aliens are everywhere, and they like to experiment on humans. Recalling the South Park in which Cartman receives an anal probe, The X-Filesgives us Mulder on a space ship, having his face stretched taut a la Katherine Helmond in Brazil; it's hardly as creepy as it sounds. Scully is pregnant and looking for her old partner, with help from Skinner (Mitch Pillegi), now a True Believer; they cross paths with Doggett (who says his name so often he's begging you to remember it) enough times to know they've stumbled across yet another, tada, X-File. Not a damned bit of it makes sense, even if you know the back story (the two-parter lifts liberally from Starman and Close Encounters), but Patrick brings a little edge to an otherwise dull blade.