Scripted is the new real. While “American Idol” still walks that impressive populist-pipe-dream-meets-perennial-whoopee-cushion tightrope, reality TV officially went out with Reege’s failing heart. I like to envision today’s slate of TV serials as the latest in a grand tradition of crack-o-tainment stretching back to Dickens — weekly fix in exchange for time/money — only with more sex, violence and smoke monsters. And for us busybody college kids, newly-launched webisodes from ABC and NBC are a true panacea, the perfect on-demand, in-your-face, glazed-eye way to waste — I mean, valuably spend — a spring break. Here now are the five “it” shows of 2007 (note: prior familiarity — or fanboy obsession — with said shows is assumed and exploited):
“Lost”: I Wish I Knew How To Quit You (ABC, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.)
The M.C. Escher of TV dramas keeps apace its X-File-ian dance of one step forward, two steps sideways, one step back, twirl, fall down, get back up. Apropos of last season’s hatch implosion, the truth really does seem to be out there — somewhere, anywhere — in Othersville, in the Arctic listening station, in Hurley’s reliably portly paunch (my money’s still on the four-toed statue, though). Season three demonstrates the show’s ugliest growing pains to date: the wildly undulating cast roster, led by former stalwarts Jack, Kate and Sawyer, has ballooned to include a Scottish time traveler, a miracle-working fertility doctor and everyone’s favorite dart-board couple, Nikki and Paulo. Eminently fallible yet exhilarating as ever, the show still haunts my dreams.
“Heroes”: “Lost” 2.0 Beta (NBC, Mondays, 9 p.m.)
The relentless gimme for NBC’s comic-book-aping breakout hit comes more from the “what happens next” side of my brain than “Lost”’s “what the hell is going on” hemisphere. Fluffier yet more accessible than its tropical-island twin, the dialogue wilts even as the action sizzles. Lapses in verisimilitude and believability aside (ahem, Hayden Panettiere’s hair), “Heroes” is so damn simple (regular people + gnarly powers + Masi Oka = great TV) that I’m almost ashamed for buying into such a jejune premise. Then again, if I want esoteric philosophy and obscure literary references, “Lost” is just two nights away.
“Ugly Betty”: ¡Que Estupendo! (ABC, Thursdays, 8 p.m.)
God bless America. In the weeks after the 22-year-old Latina Wunderkind, star of the best TV dramedy since “M*A*S*H” went the way of the sitcom, joined Jennifer Hudson in a Golden Globes coup of plus-sized proportions, the freshman show’s passionate fan base still hasn’t expanded beyond its narrow gay-fey demographic. Given the recent story developments, including a transsexual takeover by supermodel Rebecca Romijn in full she-male glory, things aren’t going to change anytime soon. Personally, I’m one fey gay that doesn’t mind at all, especially if reaching a wider audience means dumping the zippy plot’s fresh fruit loops in exchange for much staler corn flakes.
“Desperate Housewives”: Fairview Future or Wisteria Strain? (ABC, Sundays, 9 p.m.)
This razor-sharp suburban tragi-com is like a miracle among primetime soaps — still a Nielsen darling after years of backstage bitch-fighting, Emmy sweeps and snubs, and a little creative Chernobyl called Alfre Woodard. But “DHW,” thanks to its feminazi-fussbudget-sex kitten troika of Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria and Felicity “the Riveter” Huffman, seems poised to turn its nine lives into nine fabulicious seasons. The only weak spot: Teri Hatcher’s endearing-klutz routine, worth a chuckle here and there, just isn’t prima-donna enough to warrant all the cock fights over her Flockhart-thin hand.
“Entourage”: Let’s Watch It Out, B**ch (HBO, Sunday, 10 p.m.; premieres April 8)
No one knows Hollywood like Hollywood — in the Biblical sense and beyond. Though HBO’s snack-sized servings of its industry-skewing comedy (each episode averages about 22 minutes) flesh-flaunt lead himbo Adrian Grenier as a cherubic-lipped leading man, it’s Jeremy Piven’s Faustian turn as superagent Ari Gold that elevates this show from frat-boy fantasy into scathing social commentary. HBO’s whirligig scheduling maneuvers split season three into two halves separated by seven months, meaning the show that never met a cuss word it didn’t like is primed for a fresh look from Gen-YouTube. After all, the show’s you’re-only-young-forever mantra makes global superstardom look like college in the backseat of a Maybach.