Playing the Slots: Monday Night

Networks love the prime-time chess game of programming and counterprogramming, but you have only so many hours to watch TV—and only so much hard-drive space on your DVR. How then to deal with a logjammed night such as Monday? Do you watch 24 and tape Heroes for later? Do you let those unwatched Studio 60 episodes collect on your TiVo like a guilt-inducing pile of unread New Yorkers? No—you study this tough-love guide to making the hard but necessary choices in your weekly TV regimen: namely, which shows to watch right away, which to record for later, which to skip, and which ones to put on probation.

Photo: Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS

‘How I Met Your Mother’
This underappreciated and underwatched sitcom has all the charm of Friends, if none of the Zeitgeist-defining haircuts. Stash some episodes on your DVR—they make for perfect 22-minute palate cleansers between, say, old episodes of Deadwood.
Record It

Photo: Bill Matlock/Fox

‘Prison Break’
24 gets the awards, but Prison Break has better villains (T-Bag), a dreamier lead (Wentworth Miller), and all the ludicrous plot twists you can handle. If you’re home on Monday night, this should be your appointment TV.
Watch It

Photo: Kelsey McNeal/Fox

The bad news is, if you don’t watch it as soon as it airs, you’ll have all the surprises spoiled Tuesday morning by rabid co-workers or Internet wags. The good news is, you can hop off this season right now and save yourself about sixteen hours. Between the Bauer family feud, the tension between President Palmer and his shrieking sister, and Jack’s simmering sexual tension with his evil brother’s wife, the show is looking uncomfortably like an English-language telenovela, except with more torture.
Drop It

Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

If you can stomach the wooden acting and robotic dialogue, you’ll find that this season’s lone new buzz show delivers enough gee-whiz moments to keep you coming back. And with its stars now showing up in every magazine in existence (and in gratuitous cameos on Studio 60), you’ll want to keep up with the plot twists week-to-week in order to avoid free-floating spoilers.
Watch It

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC

‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’
Yes, it’s a bad show—but at least it finds new and interesting ways to be bad (e.g., Danny gives Jordan a heartwarming confession of love; Danny reveals himself to be a creepy stalker). Aaron Sorkin’s lately decided to rub all the characters against each other, in hopes of generating some sparks. Still, you’ve come this far—you’ve got to see this fascinating failure through to the end.
On Probation

Photo: Jason Kempin/FilmMagic/VH1

‘The (White) Rapper Show’
What should be a one-note joke about wigga wannabes turns out to be an engrossing competition, leavened with some reasonably smart exploration of black-white relations. And if you tune in now, you can still catch Persia, the adorable Queens-born female who might be the best rapper of them all. Plus the show features a guy dressed up like a cockroach. In other words, it’s the perfect thing to stockpile for a future rainy, brainless weekend.
Record It

Photo: Trae Patton/NBC

‘Deal or No Deal’
No deal.
Drop It

Playing the Slots: Monday Night