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Friends in need -- of a good script

So, it is day 75 of the Writers Guild of America strike.

I don't know about you, but I miss my favorite TV shows. Like, a lot.

No more new "30 Rock," "CSI" or "Pushing Daisies."

And the rest of my must-see staples are down to their last few: "Ugly Betty" airs its last episode next week, "House" has three episodes left, which begin running Jan. 29, as does "Bones," but you'll have to wait until April 28 to catch them.

But who misses them at all with such worthy replacement reality fare as "American Gladiators," "Farmer Takes a Wife" and "The Moment of Truth" around to fill the void? (That stuff dripping over your hands right now? It's sarcasm.)

Amid all the repeat and reality gloom and doom, there are a few rays of hope. The midseason replacements have arrived, and with them comes fresh, scripted TV episodes. I never knew how much I would miss actors reading words off a page until now.

Two of the highest-profile wanna-be scripted salvations have already started airing: ABC's "Cashmere Mafia" and Fox's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles."

Both shows revolve around women. But other than that, they couldn't be more different both in topic and quality.

Let's start with the bad stuff and work our way to the good.

"Cashmere Mafia" is a "Sex and the City" clone (literally, it's produced by the show's creator) that, in theory, should work. Four friends since business school are now conquering Madison Avenue while juggling relationships to varying degrees of success.

One is happily married with children, one unhappily married with child, one single and possibly hopeless and one single and possibly gay.

The actresses -- Lucy Liu, Frances O'Connor, Miranda Otto and Bonnie Somerville -- are likable and talented.

So, again, in theory, this should work. But in practice, it's rote, clichéd and, to put it bluntly, just not that good.

Its shortcomings boil down to the writing, which is uninspired and insipid.

They actually tell the new fiancé of one of the women, "If you break her heart, we'll break every last bone in your body." Wow, how long did it take you to come up with that? Just think of the rewrites.

But enough with the bad, let's move on to the good. See, isn't this order better? That's why dessert comes last.

"Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" continues the "Terminator" film franchise.

Anyone familiar with our Governator's résumé knows the basic story: a man-made computer defense system becomes self-aware, thus triggering an apocalypse, then sends evil androids back into the past to kill Sarah Connor's son, John, the future leader of the human rebellion.

In short, big bad robots are after Sarah and John to stop them from saving world.

Sarah (Lena Headey) and John (Thomas Dekker) have a secret weapon, the not-evil android Cameron, played by "Firefly" star Summer Glau.

The series boasts robot fights, car chases, time travel and a lot of stuff being blown or shot up. But, believe it or not, amid all the chaos is an interesting human story.

Headey is amazing as Connor, adding layers of silent emotion to the role Linda Hamilton made iconic on the big screen. And Glau brings dark humor, as well as remarkable flexibility, to her combat-ready Tin Man.

So, as the writers' strike wears on, I have at least one new show to savor. Though who would have thought the show about machines would have more heart than the show about friends?

Elsewhere around the Scene:

It should be a busy year for newly re-formed Modesto indie band Stop Motion Poetry, formerly The Evening News. The group, which is recording a CD is Los Angeles, will perform at 7 p.m. today at Pearson Hall of the Modesto Covenant Church with L.A. artist Mikal Blue, who has worked with Five For Fighting and Colbie Caillat. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door. ...

Enjoy fashion, art and music for a good cause at Commonality on Sunday. The event, benefiting autism research, includes a fashion show, art exhibits and music by City Psychology, The Arcane Empire, Fat Skeleton and more. It starts at 5:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree Hotel. Tickets are $5 in advance, $7 at the door. ...

And finally, folk fans, make sure to be at Newman's West Side Theatre on Jan. 26. Sixties psychedelic folk rocker Country Joe McDonald, of Country Joe & the Fish, will perform his tribute to folk icon Woody Guthrie. Tickets are $20 general, $23 reserved. Call 862-4490.

Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284. Read her blog SceneIt at thehive.modbee.com/sceneit.

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