Bob’s TV Watch: ‘Alias,’ ’24,’ ‘Desperate Housewives’

Robert Taylor

Join resident TV critic Robert Taylor for a weekly recap of the TV season’s hottest shows. Bob watches so you don’t have to.

“Alias”: Shave, Vaughan, Shave!

ABC, Wednesdays at 9 p.m.

At the start of the third episode of “Alias’” crackerjack fourth season, I saw something that made my mouth drop: Vaughan had actually shaved! For a moment there was a glimmer of hope that the last remnants of last year’s fiasco of a season were finally gone for good, but my enthusiasm was short lived when the next scene had Vaughan’s usual stubble right back. However, Michael Vartan’s razor is the only thing still missing from the reinvigorated “Alias.”

The inclusion of this new Black Ops unit where all of our old favorites work is inspired. So is having Jennifer Garner’s character, Sydney, (and, in a nice twist, Vaughan as well) work for Sloane again. After an off-season performance, Rifkin’s character Sloane is working full-throttle again, excelling in those scenes where he just barely gets us to sympathize with him before we snap ourselves out of it and remember he’s evil. Mia Maestro has also made a perfect transition from guest star to regular; it feels like she’s always been around (her scenes with Greg Grunberg are so cute!).

The stories have a life and spark to them again, so much so that I didn’t even mind that the second and third episode almost had identical plots (Sydney goes undercover to find something, gets the something, gets caught and tortured for a few minutes before being rescued) because the situations and dialogue were so enthralling (they should just hand Garner the Emmy now for her work as the abused woman in need of rescuing from the exploding car) and because they are using the mythology of the series perfectly (the train sequence used to open the season was a great callback to the plane stuff from season two).

“Desperate Housewives”/Horny Husbands

ABC, Sundays at 9 p.m.

Was I the only one really scared that Bree (the icy-hot Marcia Cross) was going to grab a knife and castrate her husband when she visited him in the hospital room after he had a heart attack while cheating on her? Not that he wouldn’t deserve it because all the husbands — and exes — on Wisteria Lane are thinking with their pants lately.

Lynette’s hubby has “lust in his heart” for the kids’ nanny. Susan’s ex wants her back, and what better way to accomplish that then to bring the town tramp to his daughter’s birthday party. And now Carlos is home saying he wants a baby (i.e. have lots and lots of sex with me), and let’s not forget what kind of lovin’ he might have been getting in the slammer.

I’m continually surprised at how well the Golden Globe-winning “Desperate Housewives” juggles its ever-growing cast, and even more so at how it manages to make all the characters, except one, endearing. That character is Andrew, and it’s long past time for Bree to slap her son silly. He’s caused so much trouble for her and still treats her like a punching bag.

Halfway through the season, “Desperate Housewives” is still endearing, hilarious and smart. It’s not quite at the level of excellence it had around October, but I have a feeling all the dominoes are being set up for February sweeps, so I’m not too worried. I am, however, worried that I will never be able to get that picture of Maisy Gibbons in those stilettos out of my mind.

“24:” Attack of the New Guys!

Fox, Mondays at 9 p.m.

The first three seasons of “24” started off slow, building the tension before beginning to pay off around the third or fourth episode. Ironically, this season had the first premier episode that could reel in new viewers and hook them from hour one, and Fox decided to air four hours over the course of two days. Watching four hours so close together (instead of having week-long breaks in between) showcased everything that works and everything that doesn’t in “24.”

Most of the newbies aren’t working (in other news, the producers have rethought their decision to sack the entire cast and have announced Dennis Haysbert, Reiko Aylesworth and Carlos Bernard are on the way back), though Shohreh Aghdashloo is delightfully perfect as an evil mother. Whenever new characters like William Devane and Kim Raver are onscreen my mind begins to wander to when Kiefer Sutherland’s character Jack and Mary Lynn Rajskub’s character Chloe will be back in action. I just can’t build up any connection with characters who have such a big target on their head. The excellent second half of the third season worked so well because Michelle was a character we had come to sympathize with and care about when she was put in danger: five minutes of Raver making out with Sutherland just doesn’t cut it.

Nevertheless, the tension is building, particularly with just how far the producers intend to go with Jack’s rogue dealings and where my beloved Chloe’s actions will put her (that moment where she broke down in the bathroom was so touching). I’m interested in the Araz family despite myself and am willing to overlook some major faults in the hopes that the return of some beloved characters will set things right.

Contact pop arts reporter Robert Taylor at [email protected].