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'Closer' makes a strong return; 'Heartland' debuts

Now that the broadcast networks are obsessed with talent shows, celebrities driving fast cars and former tennis stars playing the romantic field, cable gets its chance to shine by spotlighting smart detectives, brilliant doctors, crazy filmmakers and foreign musicians.

And TNT's "The Closer" (9 p.m. Monday) shines the brightest with its third-season premiere. The popular basic cable series, which stars Kyra Sedgwick as Brenda Johnson, a smart and sassy Los Angeles deputy police chief with a Southern accent, outdoes itself with an episode that combines mystery, romance and workplace politics.

Johnson and her special unit try to solve the mysterious murder of a married couple and their daughter. The couple's teenage son survives, making him the chief suspect.

Of course, Johnson will spare no cost at solving the case, even if she is faced with a budgetary crisis that could cost her one member of her team.

She is also facing a comical mini-crisis at home, now that her live-in boyfriend, FBI agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney), wants more space for his belongings. It's a throwaway subplot that lightens the mood.

As usual, the CIA-trained Johnson is one or two steps ahead of everybody in solving a case that has a dynamite conclusion.

TNT hopes that a new medical series, "Heartland," set in Pittsburgh and starring Treat Williams ("Everwood"), will be the perfect companion for "The Closer." It premieres at 10 p.m. Monday.

Williams has his "Everwood" persona back, playing a brilliant organ transplant surgeon, Nathaniel Grant, who takes professional risks and has a messy personal life. He still loves his ex-wife, Kate Armstrong (Kari Matchett of "Invasion" and "24") and they are both concerned about their teenage daughter, Thea (Gage Golightly). But he was caught playing doctor with other women and is currently in a relationship with a young beauty at the hospital where both he and his ex work.

The relationship between the doctor and his ex-wife is much more interesting than the routine medical cases in the first two episodes about patients who get second chances. But at least the show has its heart in the right place and could spark an increase in organ donation.

With "The Sopranos" now history, HBO is bringing back "Entourage" at 10 p.m. Sunday after a week off and preparing to launch several new series.

The first of a summerlong batch of "Entourage" episodes is a disappointment. It revolves around the filming of "Medellin," the script that actor Vinnie Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his best friend and adviser, Eric (Kevin Connolly) are betting his career on.

They are also betting on a mad, relatively inexperienced director, who most recently had a career in pornography and wants creative control.

Filming starts in Sunday's opener, with a documentary crew recording the insanity that threatens to throw the budget into the stratosphere. Creator Doug Ellin has confirmed the plot was inspired by "Hearts of Darkness," the documentary on "Apocalypse Now."

Now, I've been on the sets of several TV shows and can report that there is practically nothing duller than watching them being made. And watching a show that tries to milk humor while depicting the process isn't much more interesting.

Additionally, the episode focuses a little too much on the cliched, madman director at the expense of the people we really care about. Thankfully, filming ends in this week's episode and the show can go back to spending more time with Vinny, Eric, Turtle, Drama and Ari in subsequent episodes that deal with whether the actor can survive a potential creative and financial disaster. The second episode is back on track.

A new low-key comedy featuring a popular New Zealand musical duo, "Flight of the Conchords," isn't a bad companion for "Entourage." It premieres at 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

The almost penniless two-member band -- handsome Bret McKenzie and bespectacled Jemaine Clement -- live together, date together and break into song together at unexpected times as they attempt to navigate their careers in New York City. At times, the songs make the show feel more like a music video than a sitcom.

Bret and Jemaine have a manager, who tries to get them gigs while working his regular job and is much more organized than he is creative. An obsessed female fan also follows them around. And Bret eventually gets a real job -- sort of -- and a real girlfriend.

The first four episodes are much more amusing and pleasant than they are funny, giving it something in common with "Entourage." It also has some of the same dry, laid-back style of the British version of "The Office." In other words, it probably is an acquired taste that may have made better music on BBCAmerica than on HBO.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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