Castle (Monday, 9 p.m., ABC) begins with a naked, bloody female corpse covered in flowers. A serial killer is reenacting the plots of bestselling mystery novelist Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion), and the detective in charge of the investigation, Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), seeks Castle's help in solving the crime. Castle is an egotistical rogue, and Beckett an uptight control freak. Would it surprise you to learn that sparks fly between this unlikely pair?
No, Castle couldn't be any less believable. Pretty boy Fillion couldn't look any less like a novelist, and glamour puss Katic couldn't look any less like a detective. But the series is just supposed to be escapist fun, right? Why not just sit back and enjoy the fantasy?
Well, there's that naked, bloody female corpse. In between the fluffy romance, Castle rubs our noses in grotesque murder scenes. The show can't figure out whether it wants to make us swoon or wretch. In the meantime, we just yawn.
Russell Brand in New York City
Sunday, 9 pm (Comedy Central)
English comedian Russell Brand was introduced to American audiences in the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and he killed. Next, he hosted MTV's Video Music Awards, and he crashed and burned. So what is he, a delight or a disaster?
Now we know: a delight. Brand's standup special might be 2009's funniest hour of TV to date. Start with his incongruous look, which combines Jim Morrison-style rock-star leathers with a poofy hairdo reminiscent of Paula Abdul circa 1989. Then there's his voice, an instrument capable of the most wondrous modulations. Brand's is often brash and excitable, but he can also be vulnerable and doubting, all to comic effect. A heavy dose of self-deprecation (usually expressed as mock grandiosity) takes the edge off wicked jokes about pop stars, Google and sex.
The letter-writing campaign begins today. MTV must bring Russell Brand back for the 2009 Video Music Awards.
Dancing With the Stars
Monday, 7 pm (ABC)
Season eight pairs professional dancers with the usual motley crew of celebrities. They include rap curio Li'l Kim, former pop star Brenda Carlisle, dour comedian David Alan Grier, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, aging actress Denise Richards, football star Lawrence Taylor, computer wiz Steve Wozniak, and crazed Jackass masochist Steve-O.
It's a pretty good lineup, though if I were ABC I'd worry about Steve-O lighting himself on fire in the middle of a foxtrot.
WCG Ultimate Gamer
Tuesday, 9 pm (Sci Fi)
This reality series brings together a group of world-class videogame players to compete for the title of Best All-Around Gamer. They live in the same house, compete in challenges, and try to avoid seeming like nerds.
"There's a misconception about gamers," says one contestant. "There's a stereotype of a guy locked in his basement, still living with his mom. Well, the stereotype door is about to be blown off the hinges."
Really? It's true that the contestants work hard to seem cool, with their tattoos, their artfully ratty hairdos and their cocky poses. But I guess nobody told them that trying hard to seem cool makes you even more nerdy, especially when you're a grownup still obsessed with toys. The gamers refer to each other by their oh-so-awesome tags (StarSlayer, ProdigyX), form subgroups with names like Pirates vs. Ninjas, and look really silly flailing around with their tiny Rock Band 2 instruments.
Calling Mom: Keep that basement room open.
Make Me a Supermodel
Wednesday, 9 pm (Bravo)
A collection of extraordinarily good-looking men and women beg Bravo to Make Them a Supermodel. How badly do they want it? In the first episode, all of them were willing to strip to their underwear, enter a small glass box with a fellow contestant, and strike sexual poses as the box was hoisted over New York City.
You certainly can't accuse these lovelies of letting human dignity stand in the way of a modeling contract. Even a Mennonite contestant sets aside her puritanical beliefs for the purpose of reality TV. "I'm pretty much willing to go naked to be a supermodel," she says.
A fiercely heterosexual male had misgivings about simulated glass-box sex with a gay contestant. But he too swallowed his objections, and afterwards crowed about his achievement: "You can't get more gayer than that!"
Dude. As someone who's watched many reality-TV modeling shows, I'm here to tell you: It's gonna get much more gayer than that.