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Long Night, Short Takes: ''The Office,'' ''Grey's Anatomy,'' ''Survivor'' (Some Spoilers) (Now With ''CSI'' Added)

By RD Heldenfels Published: September 21, 2006

Update: ''Grey's'' outdrew ''CSI'' in the overnight ratings...

We wait months for new episodes of our favorite shows, so it's not easy to approach their return without feeling a little overamped. Will it be as good as we remember it? Will we love it the way we did before? Tonight: A mixed reaction.

''The Office,'' for starters, was sheer genius. The payoff to Jim and Pam was well done, with both actors wonderful in their longing looks. (And we even were forced to feel sympathetic toward Pam's now-ex-fiance.) Michael's struggle to appear sensitive about Oscar was hilarious while making us entirely aware of how uncomfortable events were for all the characters. It was a terrific half-hour.

''Grey's Anatomy,'' not such an unambiguous success. Some good things: Sara Ramirez, both at the door and in the kitchen scene. Izzie's meltdown. Kate Walsh in just about everything. James Pickens Jr. and Loretta Devine, working so well together. And, of course, Chandra Wilson as Bailey, who can take even some overwrought business and sell it. (Ditto on that score for guest star Steve Harris.)

Not so good: The labored use of the flashbacks (although I did grin when I saw whom Alex left the party with). McDreamy's speech to Meredith. Meredith generally. Chris O'Donnell, whose fatal flaw -- as a character and as an actor -- is that he's kind of a bore. The baby storyline, which the bride -- who has done a lot of volunteer work in hospitals -- noted was implausibly drawn out. Especially when we saw which character was the mother; hard to accept that someone that young and small went through the extended interrogation period without noticeable pain or bleeding. Basically, though, I think this episode faltered because it was the first of the season, and it felt dual weight of starting well and setting things in motion for later in the year; it just couldn't manage to do it all.

I've got ''CSI'' in the DVR and will get to it at some point, but I did manage to catch most of ''Survivor'' including the pivotal stuff at the end. I was infuriated, though not by the racial design, which hasn't added up to much so far.

Rather, I have never liked the idea of throwing a challenge, and it felt really stupid tonight. It's too early to be jettisoning people, for one thing, even if you feel that the one to be dumped -- Billy tonight -- is useless. And, as a viewer, I resented the distasteful sham involved. When another tribe has a chance to celebrate a victory, the members should be able to feel it was a legitimate win -- and that their joy is honestly achieved. The contempt a challenge-throwing tribe has for the other groups is disgusting; the smug comments that followed it tonight made it even more so. And that's not a matter of race. That's about general human decency.

I caught up to ''CSI'' this morning and right off the bat it reminded me of something that had struck me during ''Grey's Anatomy'': the perils of improved TV technology. I watch shows on my HD set for the most part, and last night's ''Grey's'' was absolutely brutal about Ellen Pompeo's skin. ''CSI'' reminded me of that because it was visually dazzling (the sound's pretty great, too) in that Cirque du Soleil opening and beyond. The attention to lighting, the sharpness of the picture -- I kept having to pull myself back into the story because I would be admiring the visuals.

Beyond that, it was clear at a ''CSI'' press conference this summer that the show was ready to rumble with ''Grey's,'' and it sure did tonight. The Cirque stuff. John Mayer. The Danny Bonaduce stunt. Setting up two more storylines for continuation. How good Marg Helgenberger was in that last series of scenes. Brass's tattoo.

And, for everyone still amazed at the end of last season, the show is gleefully playing with the audience regarding Sara and Grissom. Nothing explicit said by either but they're sure hitting the notes, not only in the meal business but in that ''bye'' scene. It's not exactly sexual tension -- since we know they've crossed that bridge -- but it sure is tension, and great fun to watch. 

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