This is turning out to be a more ambitious than usual midseason schedule for the networks. Two series that debuted last month, Alcatraz and Rob, look like keepers, Touch did well in its sneak preview airing, and now ABC will try filling the next several weeks with The River, a creation of Oren Peli, whose Paranormal Activity was legitimately cool before getting sequeled to death. On the surface, this might seem like yet another attempt by the alphabet network to clone Lost, but the emphasis looks like it will be less on mystery for its own sake, and more on genuine scares.
The debut episodes (Tuesday, 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.) provide our setup: an explorer known for his TV exploits (Bruce Greenwood) goes missing in the Amazon, and his wife (Leslie Hope) calls forth a search party, complete with a camera crew. Before long, someone else is missing, and the rescue mission begins wondering if someone will need to rescue them. There is a good deal of skepticism that the concept for The River can last for more than its eight initial hours, but if the ratings justify a renewal, you can be sure ABC will call the smoke monster out of retirement.
Also this week:
Monday: Smash (NBC, 10 p.m.): If you were paying very careful attention during the Super Bowl, you might have heard a little something about this obscure new series. A writing duo (Debra Messing, Christian Borle) get an idea for a musical about Marilyn Monroe, and two would-be superstars (Megan Hilty, Katharine McPhee) battle for the part.
Wednesday: The Challenge: Battle of the Exes (MTV, 10 p.m.): With former hookups forced to pair up together, we’re getting even more inane relationship chatter this time than in most Challenge seasons. What is most fascinating about the new season is that Mark Long from the very first Road Rules is in the cast, which makes him the oldest person ever on MTV. Seriously. He’s Kurt Loder’s grandpa at this point.
Thursday: The Vampire Diaries (CW, 8 p.m.): Elena receives a surprise invitation to a ball thrown by Klaus, and both Stefan and Damon insist on going along. Three’s a crowd, boys. While at the party, she becomes alarmed upon learning of a plot that could lead to numerous deaths, while Caroline gets a surprise of her own.
Friday: Fringe (Fox, 9 p.m.): Olivia, Walter, and Peter find themselves trapped in a small Vermont town as a bizarre problem is overtaking the citizens. I can’t say I’m looking forward to what will apparently be the end of this series in May, but we can be increasingly certain they’re going to make it very cool.
Saturday: Saturday Night Live (NBC, 11:30 p.m.): Zooey Deschanel is the host, something that three years ago would have sparked a nerd nirvana. Now that you can see her every week on Fox, it just isn’t the same. Mega-annoying Karmin is the musical guest, because at this point SNL is clearly booking musicians that will keep the focus off how mediocre most of the sketches are.
Sunday: 54th Grammy Awards (CBS, 8 p.m.): Let’s hope Adele brings a sizable entourage to carry home the trophies she is sure to win. The British diva, Kelly Clarkson, the Foo Fighters, and the soon-to-turn 70 Paul McCartney will perform, along with the Rihanna-Coldplay combo that no one on planet Earth was clamoring for. LL Cool J hosts.