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100% Jack-Bauer-Free

Whatever you think of this fall's crop of new shows, September and October are yielding a near-ridiculous wealth of terrific returning series. In the midst of new seasons of The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, Lost, Doctor Who, and Veronica Mars, all of which are either already airing or will premiere in the next six weeks, don't forget about the little-heralded but long-awaited return of A&E's superb MI-5.

Last seen on these shores way back in early 2005, Britain's marvelously dark, morally murky examination of intelligence and counterterrorism looks all the better in contrast to 24's continuing slide into lurid, Limbaugh-baiting terrorporn. Compared to the adventures of Jack Bauer, Two-Fisted Terrorist Buster, MI-5's previous seasons have displayed about 60% as much stuff blowin' up, perhaps 20% as much gratuitous SUV driving, at least 100% of the suspense, and about three times more nail-biting ethical quandaries.

Though it's almost invisible on A&E's Web site -- really, who needs compelling drama when you've got Dog the Bounty Hunter and Criss Angel: Mindfreak? -- U.S. fans should rest assured that season four kicks off this coming Friday, Sept. 15, at 11 p.m. Meanwhile, those lucky Brits are already up to season five, which bows two days later across the Atlantic. (Stateside purists will want to grab the DVDs of this and previous seasons, since A&E apparently hacks about 15 minutes out of each episode to make room for those commercials we all love so much.) Considering that MI-5 had ruthlessly offed or expelled all its original leading cast members by the end of last season, I, for one, can't wait to see what they've got for an encore.


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