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‘Threshold’ chills spine like ‘X-Files’

Kevin McDonough United Feature Syndicate

With the continued success of “24” and cable’s “The 4400,” and the breakout status of “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost,” networks have learned to respect viewers who remain for the long narrative haul. We’ve entered, or re-entered, the era of the long attention span.

The new series “Threshold” (9 p.m., CBS) presents both a perfect showcase for this new trend and a maddening example of television’s ceaseless, imitative nature. Carla Gugino (“Sin City,” “Karen Sisco”) stars as the brilliant and beautiful Dr. Molly Ann Caffrey, a government expert on worst-case scenarios. If her character seems familiar, then you’ve obviously been watching “Cold Case,” “Medium” and even the brand-new “Bones,” all featuring similarly fetching women with either superhuman intelligence or supernatural gifts.

But the humdinger story and superior cast on “Threshold” should make you forget or overlook its similarity to other shows.

Caffrey gets a call after a freighter at sea encounters a UFO. She quickly assembles a team of eccentric scientists, including a NASA burnout (Brent Spiner, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”), a wrapped-too-tight physicist (Rob Benedict, “Felicity”) and a cranky, booze-addled math whiz (Peter Dinklage, “The Station Agent”), to investigate. Charles S. Dutton stars as the brash director of the National Security Administration, and Brian Van Holt plays a covert operations expert who provides the beefcake ballast to Caffrey’s misfits of science.

They mysteries of “Threshold” manifest themselves faster than a killer virus. We quickly learn that the aliens are decidedly unfriendly and may or may not be operating in four or five dimensions to our measly three.

Soon, everyone who encounters them begins to behave like extras in “Night of the Living Dead” and suffer from psychedelic nightmares involving trippy landscapes featuring forests of glass.

Visually arresting and genuinely creepy, “Threshold” may be the best Friday-night shocker since “The X-Files.”

In “Working Girl,” Melanie Griffith played a secretary who said she had “a mind for business and a bod for sin.” In the new sitcom “Twins” (8:30 p.m., WB), she appears to have raised two daughters who personify those opposing attributes.

Sara Gilbert (“Roseanne”) returns to sitcoms as a science nerd named Mitchee who stands to inherit her family’s undergarment business with her gorgeous and sexy dim-bulb twin sister, Farrah (Molly Stanton).

Despite a capable cast, “Twins” is saddled with a predictable and aggressively vulgar script. Griffith’s character, a dumb Botoxed blonde, compares the agonies of twin childbirth to “pooping two watermelons.” The battling sisters launch a new line of women’s briefs called “the butt-pucker.”

Producers, actors and everyone involved can only pray for a quick cancellation.

Other highlights

After an ethical transgression, Danny faces his most fearful nemesis on the cartoon adventure “Danny Phantom” (8 p.m., Nickelodeon).

“NOW” (8 p.m., KSPS) presents a town-hall meeting discussing Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

The mystery moves forward to 1987 on “Reunion” (9 p.m., Fox).

“Animal Planet Heroes: Hurricane Rescues” (9 p.m., Animal Planet) profiles those who risked life and limb to save pets stranded by Hurricane Katrina.

Scheduled on “20/20” (10 p.m., ABC): Sheryl Crow and Lance Armstrong; Alan Alda; Wynton Marsalis returns to the Gulf.

Sharon falls under suspicion on “Battlestar Galactica” (10 p.m., Sci Fi).

Bon Jovi and Sugarland perform on “Crossroads” (10:30 p.m., CMT).

Cult choice

Terence Hill and Henry Fonda star in the 1974 European Western “My Name is Nobody” (5 p.m., Turner Classic Movies), directed by Tonino Valerii.

Series notes

Julie Chen hosts “Big Brother 6” (8 p.m., CBS) … Wanda’s wedding scheme on “Bernie Mac” (8 p.m., Fox) … Tiny terrors on “Supernanny” (8 p.m., ABC) … WWE wrestling (8 p.m., UPN) … Val wakes up a changed woman on “What I Like About You” (8 p.m., WB).

A crass dad on “The War at Home” (8:30 p.m., Fox) … Between two suitors on “Hope & Faith” (9 p.m., ABC) … Romance proves distracting on “Reba” (9 p.m., WB) … A wedding at Denny’s on “Less Than Perfect” (9:30 p.m., ABC) … An anniversary deferred on “Living with Fran” (9:30 p.m., WB).

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