Funny, scary and poignant, Reaper (Tuesday, 8 p.m., CW) is the fall season's best new series. You must start watching it immediately so it gets good ratings and stays on the air. If you don't, I swear I will hunt you down and make your life a living hell.
Speaking of hell, Sam (Bret Harrison) learns that his parents sold his soul to the devil before he was born. On his 21st birthday, the Prince of Darkness (Ray Wise) appears to claim his due. Truth be told, there's not a whole lot to claim. Sam is an aimless college dropout working in a chain home-improvement store. The devil orders him to track down fugitives from hell, but where will he find the nerve? The guy can't even bring himself to ask a pretty co-worker (Missy Peregrym) out on a date.
Reaper is a coming-of-age story about developing inner fortitude. That may sound corny, but wait till you see this production. Everything's perfect, from acting to pacing to dialogue to special effects. The soulless chain store is vividly evoked - hell itself has nothing on this place. And Tyler Labine, as Sam's sidekick, is a comedy sensation waiting to happen: a hipster-slob party animal who may just make Jack Black obsolete.
Why is Reaper so effortlessly brilliant when many other shows struggle to find a groove? There's only one explanation: The producers sold their souls to the devil.
Sunday-Wednesday, 7 pm (WHA)
Ken Burns turns his attention to World War II, and no one familiar with his work will be surprised by this documentary's first image: a peaceful farm at dawn, complete with weathervane, wheat and drowsily chirping birds. Like The Civil War, Jazz and Baseball, The War is packed with sentimentality and heavy irony. Somehow, we can sense that the peaceful farm will soon be troubled by faraway events. And just in case we can't sense it, the voice-of-God narrator fills us in: "Nothing would ever be the same again."
While I admire Burns' attempt to bring big hunks of American history to a broad audience, I can't watch his work without wincing at the mannerisms. They're all on display in The War: the slow pace, the indulgent length, the overripe writing, the somber talking heads, and the sense of a filmmaker impressed by his own profundity. You can't shake the feeling that the documentary's organizing concept - a look at World War II from the perspective of citizens in four small American towns - was chosen just so Burns could indulge his obsession with old black-and-white photos of ordinary folks in straw hats.
That said, I'd urge you to watch The War. It is ultimately moving - though credit for that goes more to the subject matter than to Ken Burns.
Monday, 7 pm (NBC)
Which is better, TV or the movies? Judging by the fall premieres, I'd say TV is the current champ. The new season has a high percentage of winners, including this series about a nerd (Zachary Levi) who becomes an international man of mystery against his will.
Chuck works at a computer store, where an assistant-manager position is the impossible dream. His college roommate, meanwhile, is a glamorous CIA agent with James Bond looks and élan. Just before dying in mid-mission, he sends Chuck an email filled with flickering classified images. They imprint on Chuck's brain, making him an invaluable repository of national secrets. The government pairs him with a beautiful secret agent (Yvonne Stahovski) and expects him to help save the world. And who knows - maybe he can land that assistant-manager job, too.
Chuck is funny and exciting, with a great cast and cinematic flair. Take that, movies!
Wednesday, 8 pm (Fox)
Gordon Ramsay, the fire-breathing chef from Hell's Kitchen, takes his mean act on the road. In this new reality series, he travels the U.S. to heal ailing restaurants.
In a typical stop, the kitchen staff complains about broken ovens and dull knives. Ramsay blows into the place spewing tough love - or is it tough hate? A sampling of his observations:
"This is disgusting."
"I thought your food was crap."
"I can't believe you work in this s-hole."
For Ramsay's safety, it's probably a good thing the knives are dull.
Dirty Sexy Money
Wednesday, 9 pm (ABC)
Nick (Peter Krause) is estranged from his father, the lawyer and all-purpose fixer for New York City's wealthy Darling family. Nick grew up among the spoiled Darling children and learned to despise their tabloid-ready misbehavior. He's become a lawyer himself, the do-gooding type - but everything changes when his father dies and the Darlings' patriarch (Donald Sutherland) asks him to be their new fixer.
Given Nick's hatred for the Darlings, you don't understand why he says yes. But Dirty Sexy Money is so enjoyable that you're willing to cut it some slack. It's a perfect mix of comedy and drama, and Krause, with his experience on Six Feet Under, handles that tricky combination like an old pro.
The Darlings' younger generation is endlessly amusing, from the would-be actress to the petulant priest to the drunken playboy to the poor little rich girl still in love with Nick. The series is true to its title: Dirty and Sexy. Let's hope it makes some Money and stays on the air.