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Things to look forward to on TV

Talk about "shameless."

We colonial barbarians have been stealing from British TV for almost 50 years now. And I'm not just talking about "The Office" -- whose original British version with Ricky Gervais is still the version of choice for cognoscenti and comedy purists. One of the most groundbreaking shows in the history of American television -- "All in the Family" -- was our masterful rip-off of the Brits' "Till Death Do Us Part," after all.

If it weren't for the Brits, in fact, Americans would have a lot of trouble figuring out how to make jokes out of social class differences. They're not ashamed to still care about social class across the pond. And we still need them for perspective.

So, if you watch the updated American version of the Brits' "Shameless" on Showtime Sunday night, realize that two-thirds of the Sunday Showtime comedy block is just our way of celebrating the American way of comedy theft. The companion show of "Shameless" on Showtime's Sunday is "Episodes," a U.S./BBC co-production whose plot has a couple of British TV writers coming to America to adapt one of their British hits and finding out that the star of the Americanization is going to be Matt LeBlanc, whose character Joey on "Friends" might have seemed slow-witted even on "Jersey Shore."

You may remember the nice sliver of preview of "Shameless" that Showtime gave us right after this season's satisfying final episode of "Dexter." Let me confess that Sunday's episode would have had a lot more excitement for me if I hadn't seen that preview of the new grunge-com and discovered just how ordinary Showtime's Brit-theft turned out to be.

Nothing against star William H. Macy, mind you, as the worthless, shiftless, hard-drinking patriarch of a large, antisocial brood of motherless children raising each other. It was just better in theory than in the actual watching.

"Episodes," whose premiere rests in the Sunday Showtime programming hammock between "Californication" and "Shameless," is, on the other hand, almost as good in theory as "Californication" has always been in practice. So the network's traditionally cheerful way of presenting men behaving badly now gets three Sunday shows in a row to celebrate male dereliction of various sorts -- "Shameless," "Episodes" and "Californication," in its new season.

Good news it seems to me. But let me confess that I may be a tiny bit eccentric in my TV tastes this season.

Nevertheless, we not only have a brand new year here but a brand new decade. So here are the TV shows I'm looking forward to these days, besides Showtime's Sunday celebration of spoiled men, misbehavior and ugly American folkways.

*"The Cape" at 9 p.m. Sunday, for those who want to give their DVRs and TiVos a workout. (See this Sunday's TV Topics for a preview of the new NBC series.)

*"Lights Out" premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday on FX. The name Holt McCallany may mean nothing to you, but when you take one look at his face you know you've been seeing him on TV for years. He's a good focus for a series, especially, that also features such redoubtables as Catherine McCormick and, yes, Stacy Keach. But what I really like about "Lights Out" is that it's a portrait of a former heavyweight boxer that learned the lesson of the superb first half of the original "Rocky" before all the bloody heroics set in, when it was just the story of a stumblebum thug.

*"Harry's Law" premieres at 10 p.m. Jan. 17 on NBC. Legal folderol, David E. Kelley style. BUT, it stars Kathy Bates, and that's a combination that, if not certifiably celestial, was forged in some heavenly suburb. Kelley and his merry band of scribblers write their lines with an acidic twist. Bates would know how to put a twist on the blandest dialogue.

*"The Chicago Code" premieres at 9 p.m. Feb. 7 on Fox. OK, let's grant it promises to be garden variety Cops in Chi-Town. But it stars the lead in one of the most extraordinary TV series of the past few years, Jason Clarke of Showtime's habitually and feloniously underrated "Brotherhood." Nor is that all. The cast also includes Delroy Lindo and Jennifer Beals.

*"Mr. Sunshine" arrives at 9:30 p.m. Feb. 9 on ABC. All right, now that we have Matt LeBlanc back in a show that's far smarter than he probably deserved, here's the return of fellow "Friend" Matthew Perry in what sounds like standard sit-drek about the manager of a San Diego sports arena.

But wait. Hold on a second. Allison Janney is in it, too. I'm there, no matter what.

*"Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior" comes to us first at 10 p.m. Feb. 16 on CBS. What does it say about America's fantasy life if the creepiest and sickest criminals on weekly TV were so popular that they now have a spinoff? The show stars Oscar-winner Forrest Whitaker (he was interesting, no more, in the pilot). But that's not the cast member that stops you dead in your tracks. Janeane Garofalo is.

Garofalo on the prowl battling homicidal psychotics? It sounds like a joke on an episode of "Episodes" or "Entourage" -- and a pretty good one, too. But no, it's real and coming to a TV screen near you.

*"Body of Proof" premieres at 10 p.m. March 29 on ABC. Just what you always wanted -- yet another female coroner on prime time. But you have to figure that Dana Delany will figure out a way to make herself different from Tamara Tunie, Jill Hennessy, Laura San Giacomo and Sasha Alexander, not to mention all those corpse-obsessed "squints" on "Bones." If you can't give Delany the benefit of the doubt on a weekly TV series, whom can you give it to?

e-mail:jsimon@buffnews.com

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