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Originally published Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 5:33 AM

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20 notable TV shows set to debut for the midseason: from sitcoms and serial mysteries to Betty White as prankster

20 new TV shows set to debut for the midseason, from Betty White as prankster to serial mysteries, sitcoms, sex and women behaving badly.

Los Angeles Times

Tonight in Prime Time

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Here are a few of the notable shows debuting in the next weeks and months. Check local listings to confirm air dates and times.

ABC

"Work It"

Tuesdays, in progress

Unemployed salesmen pretend to be women in an office of women who cannot see through their subterfuge.

"The River"

Feb. 7

TV adventurer goes missing in the Amazon jungle, is sought by family and film crew in this surprisingly effective fakeumentary horror show. ABC seeks lost "Lost" mojo with a series that may also remind viewers of "Piranha" or "Predator."

"GCB"

March 4

Former mean girl Leslie Bibb (now nice) returns home to Texas to face old foes — the Desperate Housewives of Dallas — after her cushy California life goes pfft. Kristin Chenoweth, high heels in close-up often enough to demand billing, is the Bible-quoting new mean queen. (The title stands for "Good Christian Bitches.")

"Missing"

March 15

CIA superspy-turned-florist Ashley Judd takes off the gardening gloves after her son disappears in Rome. Well-staged scenes of hitting and kicking and shooting and driving and running are tied together with bits of dialogue and set against real international locations in this travelogue thriller.

CBS

"!Rob!"

Jan. 12

Rob Schneider marries a taller, younger, hotter beautiful Latina (Claudia Bassols), whose big family includes Cheech Marin. That this reflects Schneider's actual life does not wholly excuse the sitcom version.

NBC

"The Firm"

Premiered Sunday; time slot premiere Thursday

Overcooked, half-baked sequel to the John Grisham legal conspiracy thriller novel/movie finds Josh Lucas as the upstanding hotshot lawyer who, having forgotten his own history, seems condemned to repeat it.

"Are You There, Chelsea?"

Wednesday

Laura Prepon plays comedian Chelsea Handler as a barmaid in this sitcom that omits the words "Vodka, It's Me" from the title of the book it's based on. Handler plays her own more sober sister, handily. There is some moral core that anchors the sex and the drinking; at least half the jokes are funny, and the rest are at least half-funny.

"Off Their Rockers"

Preview Jan. 16

Soon-to-be nonagenarian Betty White gets all Allen Funt with a hidden-camera show in which the older generation pranks the younger. Take that, you damn kids, and get off the lawn.

"Smash"

Feb. 6

"Glee" for grown-ups (real characters, a story). Crafted by bona fide New York theater vets, this backstage Broadway musical is still more Busby Berkeley than, say, Aaron Sorkin. Anjelica Huston, Debra Messing and "American Idol" contestant Katharine Hope McPhee are side by side; they're glorified. Bellevue native Megan Hilty stars.

"Awake"

Premiere TBD

Police detective Jason Isaacs lives in alternating parallel worlds, waking in one — where his wife died in a car crash — as he falls asleep in the other, where his son did. So you know. A production hiatus has kept the series off the schedule, but a critical shrine has surrounded the pilot for months.

FOX

"Napoleon Dynamite"

Jan. 15

Animating the 2004 cult film allows the original cast to reprise its roles without having to explain the seven years' wear and tear. "Simpsons" vet Mike Scully aids movie creators Jared and Jerusha Hess in turning human cartoons into real ones.

"Alcatraz"

Jan. 16

Good-looking police procedural cum time-travel conundrum asks you to believe that the entire inmate population and staff of the famous prison disappeared from the island and the world in 1963 without anybody noticing. (Now, they're coming back.) Everything after that should be easy. Sarah Jones, Sam Neill and Jorge Garcia round up the unusual suspects. J.J. Abrams is an executive producer.

"Touch"

Preview Jan 25; series begins March 19

Kiefer Sutherland plays a widowed father with a gifted son in Tim "Heroes" Kring's math-driven drama of cosmic coincidence, precognition and idealized autism. Danny Glover's here too.

HBO

"Luck"

Already previewed; series premieres Jan. 29

David Milch's rich horse-racing drama is a fine mix of naturalistic detail and arty mystery. Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte and Michael Gambon do you the honor of their presence.

"Life's Too Short"

Feb. 19

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant write and appear in a mockumentary that follows dwarf actor Warwick Davis (Willow in "Willow") as he looks to resuscitate his career. Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Sting pass through, "Extras"-style, in fun-house reflections of their famous selves.

"Girls"

April

Lena Dunham writes, directs and stars in this smart-sad-funny translation of the mumblecore aesthetic from art house to TV screen, You will hear it called the anti-"Sex and the City" more than once, but not by me. Judd Apatow is your executive producer.

Showtime

"House of Lies"

Already premiered

Semi-lurid, morally ambiguous — or confused — management consultancy comedy is no doubt supposed to leave you feeling slightly dirty, and does. Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell head a cast worth watching, however much things bump and grind around them.

AMC

"Comic Men"

Feb. 12

Unscripted nerd-geek workplace comedy from indie director-culture hero Kevin Smith, set in his New Jersey comic book store.

FX

"Unsupervised"

Feb. 19

There's nothing new about genitally fixated animated teenage comedies, but there's some tenderness in this one and some respect as well for the lower-middle class. High-end voice cast with youth appeal includes Justin Long, Kristen Bell, Romany Malco, Fred Armisen. From the people who bring you "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."

Syfy

"Lost Girl"

Jan. 16

Anna Silk gets the late mixed news that she's a succubus in a tale of good and bad mythical beasties living closeted in Canada, whence comes this imported fairy-tale detective show. (That explains all the dead ex-boyfriends.) You will descry shades of H. Potter and of "Grimm," which this series predates.


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