Clockwise from top left, Invasion; Dennis Hopper; Jennifer Love Hewitt; Surface; Criminal Minds; Carla Gugino in Threshold. (Illustration by Atelier 444)

Carla gugino is more than enough to predispose me in favor of Threshold (CBS, Fridays, 9 P.M.), in which aliens arrive by Salvador Dalí disco ball in the mid-Atlantic, download nosebleeds and sudden death on a luckless freighter crew, diddle with our DNA, and so excite the interest of a team of gunslinging, wisecracking science-wonk “risk analysts.” The team is led by Gugino, who, because she wrote the government’s “worst-case scenario” contingency plan for First Contact, overnight becomes “the most important person on the planet”—at least according to the FBI agent (Brian Van Holt) who will spend more time with her than her dog does. In fact, Carla and Brian wander around at night in the same paranoid dream, although Carla does her wandering in her underwear.

But I don’t mean underwear in a bad way. Nor paranoia either. Those of us still in mourning for Karen Sisco will take Carla any way we get her. Her team, too, shows idiosyncratic promise. Peter Dinklage, Brent Spiner, and Rob Benedict are no happier with one another than they are with the crystal palace they see on their computer screens (more dimensions than are dreamed of in our earthly physics) and the screaming they hear on their tape recorders (grinding knives, shattering of glass, as if J. G. Ballard were up to something kinky in the motor pool). Worse yet is what the pathologist discovers during blood work—a triple helix! All this, plus Carla and North Koreans.

Who knows what the lights in Invasion (ABC, Wednesdays, 10 P.M.) have in mind, swarming up under hurricane cover to gobble a small plane, falling down into the Everglades, stripping the clothes from a beautiful blonde doctor (Kari Matchett), washing the brain of a local clergyman, testing the bonds of an extended family, and shortening the tether of a park ranger (Eddie Cibrian) who would rather just canoodle in a fish shack with his TV-reporter bride (Lisa Sheridan). What we have here may be a second coming of the Pod People. It certainly goes deeper than Surface (NBC, Mondays, 8 P.M.), beneath which a new combo species of Loch Ness monster and Flipper’s evil twin wetly awaits water-babe Laura Daughtery (Lake Bell), an oceanographer with attitude. Of course, the military also has attitude, and more of it.

In Supernatural (WB, Tuesdays, 9 P.M.), after their mother is deep-fried by a paranormal fireball, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki grow up bickering with each other and busting ghosts, such as a homicidal hitchhiker in her damp nightie. It beats law school, but not by much. In Ghost Whisperer (CBS, Fridays, 8 P.M.), dead people talk to Jennifer Love Hewitt’s breasts, which are always hanging out so they can hear better. In Criminal Minds (CBS, Wednesdays, 9 P.M.), Mandy Patinkin is a Silence-of-the-Lamb-Chop FBI profiler who mumbles his way into the mind of a serial rapist/killer with a Webcam, then right back out again into the sights of a homicidal stalker. Mandy has also had a nervous breakdown, which may be why he quotes Nietzsche. In Killer Instinct (Fox, Fridays, 9 P.M.), Johnny Messner and Chi McBride are San Francisco cops who specialize in “deviant crimes and aberrant criminals,” which means that mostly they’re after the same serial-killer creeps as Mandy, except their first case involves tarantulas and their second an amateur surgeon who harvests eyes and livers. In Close to Home (CBS, Tuesdays, 10 P.M.), we learn that some of the worst people in the world—child abusers, white slavers, Little League parents—live in Indiana, where they will be brought to noisy justice by Jennifer Finnigan, a brand-new mom and assistant D.A. who’s so ferocious when she leaves the house that maybe the kid’s better off with a full-time sitter.

I would be harder on the obvious and preachy Just Legal (WB, Mondays, 9 P.M.), in which child prodigy Jay Baruchel, tops at law school but too young to get hired by a serious firm, teams up with Don Johnson, a defense attorney who used to have principles and now just has drinks. But compared with Head Cases (Fox, Wednesdays, 9 P.M.), Just Legal looks like Inherit the Wind. It’s also our only hope on television for the presumption of innocence and the Bill of Rights to make a comeback.

Certainly I would like to see a female president of the United States, but not Geena Davis, unless the clueless Commander in Chief (ABC, Tuesdays, 9 P.M.) springs for some writers who have read a serious newspaper and watched a West Wing episode. I am likewise in favor of enterprise and idealism in the E-Ring of the Pentagon (NBC, Wednesday, 9 P.M.), but at least JAG’s Catherine Bell got out of the house and into Iraq; Benjamin Bratt, when not speechifying, just sits there squirming at satellite-relay images of SEAL teams having all the bloody fun. And as a Pentagon colonel, Dennis Hopper has now officially exhausted his countercultural cred. About Inconceivable (NBC, Fridays, 10 P.M.), a series set in a fertility clinic, all you really need to know is that someone is murdered two hours in. In the real world, which has not much to do with the unacceptable Inconceivable, it’s abortion clinics that are bombed and abortion doctors who are murdered.