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Originally published Monday, September 6, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Fall TV: The five best new shows

"Lone Star," "Boardwalk Empire," "The Event," "Nikita" and "Mike & Molly" are one critic's picks for the five best new TV shows of fall 2010.

Contra Costa Times

Tonight in Prime Time

Don't look now, but nearly 30 new shows are about to invade your television sets. A full-length fall TV preview is headed your way Sunday in The Seattle Times. But in the meantime, here are one critic's top five to anticipate — including one (The CW's "Nikita") debuting this week.

"Lone Star": A con artist as leading man? It's a risky deal — especially for network TV — but one that this provocative soap pulls off, thanks to the panache of newcomer James Wolk. The show is handsomely crafted and brimming with suspense. But it wouldn't matter if Wolk were not believable — and likable — in the role. Fortunately, he has charm aplenty and, like a great con man, he takes us for a ride. (9 p.m. Sept. 20 on Fox.)

"Boardwalk Empire": You'd think Martin Scorsese would have had his fill of gangsters by now. But the love affair continues with this Prohibition-era drama about Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a corrupt politician whose dealings in illegal booze enable him to hold sway over Atlantic City.

Scorsese directed the pilot episode; with stellar acting, a "Mad Men"-like attention to period detail and rich production values, the show at times has the feel of a lush painting. (8 p.m. Sept. 19 on HBO.)

"The Event": Now that "Lost" is off the air, how do viewers appease their lust for mind-melting mysteries and sci-fi thrills? We cautiously suggest this turbocharged conspiracy saga.

The first chapter follows the travails of Sean Walker (Jason Ritter), who stumbles upon an international cover-up while probing the mysterious disappearance of his fiancée. The pilot is a rock-your-world affair full of tense moments, great effects and stunning twists.

Even better: There's not a polar bear in sight. (9 p.m. Sept. 20 on NBC.)

"Nikita": A kick-butt action babe is nothing new. Neither is this story of a government-trained assassin, which has undergone multiple treatments on the big and small screens. But some clever structural retrofitting and the dazzling presence of Maggie Q boost this "Nikita" to another realm. The sexy lead actress is mesmerizing as she kicks and punches her way through a rollicking pilot that rarely lets up on the gas pedal. (9 p.m. Thursday on The CW.)

"Mike & Molly": This working-class sitcom about plus-sized people looking for romance while dealing with some weighty issues could have been the season's biggest loser. Instead, it's a sweet and funny half hour pegged to a pair of refreshingly relatable leads.

Mike (Billy Gardell) is a shy Chicago cop who typically strikes out with the ladies. Molly (Melissa McCarthy) is an adorable fourth-grade teacher with a good sense of humor about her curves. Their paths cross at an Overeater's Anonymous meeting, and sparks fly. (9:30 p.m. Sept. 20 on CBS).

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