DAVID BIANCULLI

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Tuesday's One-Two-Three Punch of Quality TV: "House," "Fringe," "Shield"
September 16, 2008  | By David Bianculli
 
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Tonight, as the Fox series Fringe settles into its regular time slot, TV gives us a way to enjoy three straight hours of gripping, unpredictable, quality television simply by making one channel change.

From 8-10 p.m. ET on Fox, watch House (its excellent season premiere) and Fringe (its excellent second episode), then flip to FX at 10 p.m. ET for the season's tense third episode of The Shield.

Great TV, from start to finish.

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House, as usual, presents a fascinating medical mystery -- a case that appears to be one thing, but never is. The core of tonight's show, though, has to do with House (Hugh Laurie) and his relationship with Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), which was severed at the end of last season when Wilson's girlfriend, Amber, died while coming to a drunken House's aid.

Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) tries to get the former friends back together, but their case proves as difficult as the medical one that House also is avoiding -- leaving his staff to try and interpret the symptoms for themselves. It's a wonderful hour, picking up just as strongly, and impressively, as House left off last May.

Fringe, in its second episode, is really encouraging. Like Lost, Desperate Housewives and Pushing Daisies, three other innovative series that arrived in recent years with boldly original pilots, its second episode confirms, and expands upon, initial expectations.

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The character relationships are explored even more aggressively, and the father-son dynamic is a wonderful one. In one scene, harking back to last week's adventures with the cow, the former mad scientist is shown milking that same cow while chatting with his disbelieving son. It may not be the first time in TV history that a scene is played as a cow is milked, but it's got to be close. At any rate, I found it udderly charming.

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And yet, in the same Fringe episode that milked that scene for comedy, there was a torture scene so horrific that, if it hadn't cut to black, I might have shut my eyes and induced the same effect. This is a show that can serve up dark and light at the same time -- and, like J.J. Abrams' Alias and Lost, keep you wondering, and leaning forward, the whole time.

Finally, there's The Shield, which is promising, as well as threatening, to put a satisfying end to the Vic Mackey story that it's told since the beginning. Tonight and over the next few episodes, long-hidden secrets are revealed, true motives and misdeeds are laid bare, and there's no turning back.

Watching the show, meanwhile, there's no turning off.

Tuesday's three hours of must-see television are what TV WORTH WATCHING is all about.

 
 
 
 
 
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