Friday nights transcends the norm

Three shows premiere tonight, each based on ideas we've seen before. But they're not all dismal. In fact, to quote the poet Meatloaf, "two out of three ain't bad."

  • "Playing It Straight" (7 p.m., Fox) would not make Meatloaf's cut. This "romantic" contrivance asks a beauty to look for love among 14 men. Some of them are gay. Can she tell? Do we care? Just say no.
  • Produced by Bruce Willis, "Touching Evil" (8 p.m., USA) is not only based on a British TV drama, it may remind some of USA's hit series "Monk." Like Tony Shalhoub's character, David Creegan (Jeffrey Donovan) of "Evil" is a defective detective who happens to live and work in San Francisco.

Some years back, Creegan took a bullet to the head, was technically "dead" for 10 minutes and lost a serious chunk of gray matter. After years of rehab, including a stint in a mental institution, he's back on the force, gifted with great empathy and intuition.

  • If you can imagine "Joan of Arcadia" turbocharged with a whole new Fox attitude it might be "Wonderfalls" (8 p.m., Fox), a decidedly offbeat supernatural drama about a slacker who receives cryptic messages from inanimate objects and can't decide whether she's blessed or insane.

Friday nights have suddenly taken on a very otherworldly flavor. Viewers can now move from "Joan," about a girl who talks to God, to "Wonderfalls," about a girl surrounded by wise-cracking knick-knacks, to "Evil," concerning a cop who returned from the dead to set things straight. Spending three hours like this every Friday could drive you to a pew, or into analysis, but you can't say it's not challenging television.

Tonight's other highlights

  • Chores ordered from on high on "Joan of Arcadia" (7 p.m., CBS).
  • Fortune-cookie fantasies on "JAG" (8 p.m., CBS).
  • Scheduled on "20/20" (9 p.m., ABC): interviews with Rosie O'Donnell and Elton John.

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