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Tube Tops

Tom likes to watch.

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If it is true, as I have mentioned in the past, that one's IQ is in inverse proportion to the amount of television he watches, then I rank as whatever is below an imbecile. Having long ago mastered the ability to read and/or write while watching TV, I have that box on all the time.

The other night, my daughter and I were up past midnight watching a History Channel program about concrete. In fact, we taped it in case we missed anything.

Snobs will continue to turn their noses up at TV, but it's their loss. Last month, some psycho woman in Texas beat her two sons to death with a huge rock and then said that God had told her to. When asked to describe the woman, a neighbor said, "She was a good Christian woman. She home-schooled her kids and didn't let them watch TV."

BEST SHOW ON TV: 24. The season-ending episode was somewhat disappointing and the cliffhanger annoying, but during the season, this show had more high-level intensity and drive than just about any other drama series in television history.

My favorite moment: Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is not only busy saving the world from oil tycoons, nuclear terrorists and the president's duplicitous ex-wife; he is also on the phone with his daughter, whose life is being threatened by her former employer, a sicko who has already killed his own wife. Bauer coolly talks his daughter into shooting the guy in the chest. And when the deed is done, Bauer calmly says into the phone, "Now, shoot him again."

MOST FRIGHTENING IMAGE (LOCAL DIVISION): Kris Pickel of Channel 13 News showed up on camera a couple weeks ago wearing a leather jacket. I'm not talking suede or even a fashionable, tailored, feminine jacket. I'm talking black, shiny, I'm up-for-the-role-of-Danny-Zuko-in-Grease leather. It was a truly disturbing image. My son was deeply troubled by the whole thing and e-mailed her to ask her why.

WEIRDEST COINCIDENCE: The 25th Amendment to the Constitution was invoked on both 24 and The West Wing. It's good thing they didn't go for the 27th, which prevents Congress from giving itself a raise. Not much drama there.

BIGGEST MYSTERY: The ongoing smattering of critical acclaim for HBO's Sex and the City. I thought I was being overly picky, but I looked it up. Comedies are supposed to be funny.

BIGGEST CRINGE: The WB put on a show ostensibly based in the Old Pueblo. The show featured a heavily accented blue-collar Hispanic with a bombshell Anglo wife, two over-sexed teenage kids, a nana who has been warehoused in an old-folks' home, and a low-brow, vato-next-door brother who is constantly dogging the aforementioned blue-collar guy for being too high tone.

Full of stereotypes and clichés, the show made me laugh maybe twice in three episodes. This, of course, puts it ahead of Sex and the City, but that's not nearly enough. The show was Greetings From Tucson. Thankfully, it wasn't renewed.

MOST COMPELLING IMAGES: The various shots of the space shuttle Columbia breaking into pieces high in the atmosphere over the American Southwest. Who among us was able to look at that footage and not instinctively wonder what it must have been like to have been inside the doomed spacecraft?

LEAST COMPELLING IMAGES: The tawdry parade of Fox "News" Channel's talking heads and "embedded" dweebs, breathlessly announcing the latest "discovery" of weapons of mass destruction during the Iraq invasion. We're coming up on three months and the United States still hasn't found anything.

SHOWS THAT HAVE STAYED TOO LONG:

· Frasier. Once a rival to The Mary Tyler Moore Show as the greatest sitcom ever, this show has slipped below the level of Cheers and Taxi. Still better than most, but definitely on the decline. The show's creator, David Angell, was aboard one of the planes that was flown into the World Trade Center, and a cloud has been over the series ever since.

· The Practice. Remember when everybody used to rave about David E. Kelley, who was young, good-looking, married to Michelle Pfeiffer and the creative genius behind such highly acclaimed hits as Ally McBeal, Boston Public and The Practice? Well, he's still married to Michelle Pfeiffer.

SHOW THAT DEFIES ALL ODDS BY STAYING GREAT AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: The Simpsons. I don't know how they do it, but they do. Matt Groening must have sold his soul and those of about 1,000 other people to The Devil to pull this off. When this thing finally comes to an end 10 or 15 years from now, he will truly be able to say, "Well, I had a good run."

Best line: When an unattractive woman showed up to a public event wearing a knockoff of the ultra-revealing dress that Jennifer Lopez wore to some award show a couple years back, someone asked, "What's keeping that dress on?" To which the reply was, "The collective will of every man in this place."

SHOW THAT FINALLY GAVE US WHAT WE WANTED (BUT WILL BE BACK NEXT YEAR, ANYWAY): Ed. This sweet, off-beat series kept us watching for three years as Ed clumsily pursued the girl of his high-school dreams in plucky little Stuckeyville. But now that Ed has finally won the heart of Carol, the writers have painted the show into a corner. Does anybody remember what happened after David and Maddie did the nasty on Moonlighting?

BEST CLIFFHANGER: Alias. If you're able to suspend disbelief (which is generally what TV is all about), this show is great fun. Super-agent Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) isn't mad at the world because her spy agency killed her fiancé or because her father tricked her into becoming a spy or even because her former boss turned out to be the traitor of all time. No, she's mad because her traitorous spy mom (Lena Olin) is way better looking than she is.

After surviving a deadly battle with an insidious female mole, a badly wounded Sydney wakes up wandering the streets of Hong Kong in an amnesic state ... two years later!

Alas, it's now reruns until October. I'm counting the days.

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