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The ever-rising star television series creator and producer J. J. Abrams has done it again: “Six Degrees” (which premieres tonight at 10 on ABC) is riveting, complex, and promises something simple but essential for TV drama: good stories.

Reminiscent of the film “Love Actually” in more ways than one, the pilot opens with scenes from New York City–the subway, people passing on the streets, the skyline–layered with voice-over narration by one of the characters, Carlos. Carlos, a public defender who is single but seeking, reflects about love, relationships, how people meet and why, and most importantly of all, the roles that fate and chance play in the pivotal moments of our lives: when we meet that person who will one day become our spouse, our best friend, or perhaps even our worst enemy.

The storyline plays out from there, cutting back and forth between the daily lives of its six main characters–Carlos, Whitney, Mae, Damian, Steven, and Laura–encouraging viewers to piece together, bit by bit, each of their stories, and enticing us to guess how each character’s story will become connected in some way, as they title implies will surely happen. If you loved or even liked “Love Actually,” “Six Degrees” employs the same format of unraveling and intertwining the lives of a large group of people through relationships–friendships, romances, betrayels, breakups. If relationships in general fascinate you in any way, “Six Degrees” is a must-see.

But why am I calling a show about relationships classic J. J. Abrams? Well, for fans of all things J. J. Abrams, viewers will be pleased to see signatures from his three other hit shows–“Felicity,” “Alias,” and “Lost“–peppered throughout the storyline and casting of “Six Degrees.” I am a longtime Abrams devotee, and in a rather classic J. J. Abrams fashion, simply by chance (or is it fate?), not by intention, caught “Felicity” from the get-go back in my early 20s and watched it faithfully until its final season, before moving on to “Alias,” and more recently, “Lost.”

In some ways, you could say that with “Six Degrees” Abrams has returned to his roots. “Felicity” was driven by the relationships between its characters, but also had a rather magical air of romance and fate as well. The show pivoted on what some would call daring and others foolish–the fact that Felicity, its central character, enrolled in NYU because a boy she didn’t even really know at all in high school, Ben, was her soul-mate, and NYU was the college of his choice. Felicity believed they were “fated” to be together. That provided our introduction to Abram’s fascination with chance, the mystical, the romantic, the religious, the spiritual; there are many things one could call it–the belief that something mysterious draws people together, makes them do things they otherwise wouldn’t, shakes them with fear, drives them to the brink of despair, calls them to believe in some higher power than themselves, or makes them sigh with joy and gratitude. This notion of the “something beyond”–however differently it can be interpreted–is present in everything Abrams does.

The connections between “Six Degrees” and “Felicity” are rather obvious, and with “Alias” and “Lost” a bit less so, but they are still there for fans to find. Viewers will be pleased to find that the name of one character–Mae Anderson–is an alias. She has a secret, and we are not sure if she is on the side of good or evil, though we can’t help but root for good. And most importantly of all, she starts the show a platinum blond and by the end has dyed her hair almost a reddish-brown. Sound familiar?

Then, echoing “Lost,” is the ensemble cast (which includes the fantastic actor Campbell Scott as Steven) whose lives we know not only will be thrown together in multiple ways (though not on a deserted island)–but who also may have a past that connects them as well (as do all the characters on “Lost”). Though Abrams so far does not employ the signature flashbacks of character back-stories, as he does each episode on “Lost,” it’s clear that each character brings baggage to the table that will become important as their relationships evolve and tighten.

All this to say, whether you are new to J. J. Abrams or a longtime fan, “Six Degrees” is yet another fantastic contribution to television drama by the man who can do no wrong (it seems) when it comes to imagining an engaging story. Definitely tune in. I’d say that your horoscope today says its in the cards for you to take a chance on tales of love and friendship.

Innovative jazz musician John Zorn is having a good month–he’s won two prizes, though most people only know about one of them. Even hardcore Zorn fans may not know that the jazz musician and founder/CEO of Tzadik Records took the prize for Best Blend of Jazz and Heritage at the Oyhoo Jewish Music and Culture Festival at the Jewish Music Awards ceremony, held earlier this month in Manhattan. And then, this week Zorn was named a winner of the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant. Coincidence? (Well, since none of the other JMA winners were also MacArthur Fellows, yes, definitely a coincidence.)

The 25 MacArthur Fellows will each receive $500,000 in “no-strings-attached” funds, to be paid over five years by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a private, independent grantmaking institution dedicated to helping groups and individuals foster lasting improvement in the human condition. While I’ve never had $100,000 a year in no-strings income, I bet that would improve my human condition.

Tzadik Records, which Zorn helms, is a force for the unusual and avant garde in many genres, not just the “adventurous recordings bringing Jewish identity and culture into the 21st century,” which the Hebrew label name–which translates to “Righteous”–evokes. The New Japan division provides “breathtaking, genre-busting music from the new Japanese underground,” while Oracles celebrates “the diversity and creativity of women in experimental music making.” And according to the website, “Tzadik’s Lunatic Fringe series excavates the inner most views from some of the outermost reaches of human creativity, bringing to lightsome of the most intense creative acts of our time.

In addition to the new music that Tzadik produces, it also offers special editions of albums. For example, if you were seeking a special limited edition of Hemophiliac’s self-titled album–and let’s face it, who isn’t?–you’d want to visit Tzadik Records. In their “special editions” section, you’d learn that such an item was available, featuring tracks like “Edema” and “Stretch Marks.” Sadly, such items don’t last. Even though the disc was sold only through two websites–Tzadik and Ipecac Recordings (whose slogan is–I’m not kidding–“Making People Sick Since 1999”), if you don’t already have one, you missed it, since the set is now sold out.

Zorn’s prize did not go unnoticed by Stephen Colbert, who, still smarting from his Emmy loss to Barry Manilow, decried the MacArthur Foundation’s decision on Wednesday’s show. Playing a clip of Zorn’s unique–and, some might say, atonal–music, Colbert pulled out a top hat and cane and pretended to sitting-down-tapdance to it. Clearly Colbert felt shafted, and after his segment, in which he systematically insulted the awardees, stretched his hand out to the camera and said,”Genius Grant, please…” If only it were up to the Colbert Nation, Stephen, if only.

Perhaps the best way to describe last night’s debut of the CBS series “Jericho” is that it is something like “Lost” meets “Left Behind.” The show borrows storytelling devices from both, but with only moderate success.

Last night’s pilot introduced us to the tiny, old-fashioned fictional town of Jericho, Kansas. But before we can become too attached to Jake Green, a prodigal son returning home for a brief visit after a mysterious absence, disaster strikes. A mushroom cloud is seen in the West–supposedly over Denver–and word of some kind of explosion in Atlanta is also heard of over the airwaves. Jericho then loses all contact with the outside world.

Chaos ensues, as word of the explosion spreads. Soon, townsfolk turn on each other, while Jake is reluctantly turned into a hero for saving children on a stranded school bus. By the end of the episode, the folks of Jericho feel an eerie sense of helplessness over their future survival.

The problem with “Jericho” so far is that the science fiction element is not as strong as it is in a show like “Lost” or “The X Files,” but it also doesn’t have enough of a spiritual angle to snag an audience thirsty for an apocalyptic adventure. My guess is “Jericho” may vanish from primetime before anyone–including viewers–realizes the citizens of Jericho, Kansas, are still alive.

The long-anticipated FoxFaith Movies, a division of 20th Century Fox, officially came into being this week, a great triumph for whoever is putting out the new division’s stationery, with little relevance for the rest of us. Fox has been in the Christian movie business for some years, mostly in distributing DVDs of films as big as “The Passion” and as insignificant as “Love Comes Softly,” the Hallmark-channel-flavored film of the Christian bestseller by Jeanette Oke.

The FoxFaith moniker will allow Fox to bolster its already-thriving marketing efforts for biblical films like “One Night With the King,” (left) through churches; according to The New York Times, some 90,000 churches get regular information about Fox films. Perhaps more importantly, it will extend Fox’s power to flack faith-free but family-friendly movies such as the animated baseball fantasy “Everybody’s Hero” and an upcoming remake of “Flicka.” A Fox official told the Times, “It’s a Good Housekeeping seal, a marketing umbrella for these pictures, so that people can have confidence the movies won’t violate their core beliefs.”

The key here is that FoxFaith films are as much about what they don’t show as what they do. “Love Comes Softly,” the first Oke novel released as a Fox movie two years ago, is a simple romance and is faith-based only in the sense that faithful Christians don’t have to worry that a torrid bedroom scene is just around the corner.