REALITY

WB (Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET)

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There's such a glut of similar-looking reality series that it can be hard to distinguish intentional parody from routine duplication. This new entry from Punk'd producing partners Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg has Average Joe overtones, but it offers some fresh amusement before the gag starts wearing thin.

The June 1 premiere lines up seven attractive females who are no Einsteins and pairs each of them with a brainy male who's anything but a babe magnet. The idea is for the geek to improve the beauty's mind while she gives him sorely needed savoir faire. Various tests measure the teams' progress and—as required by immutable reality-TV law—each episode climaxes with an elimination ritual. The last twosome standing wins $250,000.

Beauty and the Geek seems to wink as it bows to genre conventions—hot-tub interludes; commercial breaks strategically placed to interrupt revelations: hidden cameras capturing furtive romantic overtures. Though you'll tire of a contestant named Richard, a hyperactive Woody Allen imitator, you're likely to laugh when a beauty flunks a fifth-grade-level geography quiz or a geek has a disco spasm in a dance competition. Too bad the show can't resist taking itself seriously as a "social experiment." In the post-elimination soul-searching, a beauty tearfully repents her past intolerance of homely guys and a geek declares that "everyone's just people." Spare us the priceless life lessons—we know you want the money.

REALITY

UPN (Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m. ET)

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The more they flaunt their devil-may-care attitude, the less I care to watch the characters on this new sitcom. It's like a dumbed-down Sex and the City.

Based on a series of books by Cameron Turtle, The Bad Girl's Guide features three hot friends who party hard and prove how hip they are by calling one another bitches. JJ (Jenny McCarthy, starring in her first series since Jenny in the late '90s), shares an apartment with Sarah (Christina Moore) and an office with Holly (Marcelle Larice), her colleague at an ad agency. "Work is just what we do to pay for going out," JJ explained in the May 24 opener. Unable to dream up a concept for a new account, she and Holly got stoned to stoke their creativity. See? Bad girls know how to combine business with pleasure. Later, they kicked back and tuned in America's Next Top Model (on UPN, coincidentally). But lest you think JJ is too cool, a future episode has her crying on a strong man's shoulder. When the girl's less bad, the show is no better.

COMEDY

A&E (Mon., May 30, 8 p.m. ET)

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If it were airing in an election year, this TV movie would be a definite political plus for Sen. John McCain, a former—and perhaps future—presidential candidate.

Not that Faith of My Fathers, based on McCain's 1999 memoir, is a propaganda piece. The film focuses on Navy pilot McCain (Shawn Hatosy from The Cooler) in his five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, using flashbacks to establish the sense of honor inculcated in him by his father (Scott Glenn) and grandfather, both admirals. Taking on the challenge of playing McCain from high school to his mid-30s, the 29-year-old Hatosy gives us a protagonist respectful of tradition but with a rebellious streak; brave and strong but not unbreakable under torture. Because his humanity comes across, we don't feel we're being oversold on his heroism.

DRAMA

FOX (Mondays, 9 p.m. ET)

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"He's way worse than Simon Cowell," one contestant says of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay in the May 30 premiere of this overheated new series. Indeed, the foul-mouthed Ramsay makes the harsh American Idol judge sound like a diplomat.

Ramsay, a big-time restaurateur and television personality in Britain, opens a fancy eatery in Hollywood. For the sake of unscripted TV drama, he assembles a 12-person cooking corps with varying degrees of experience and has them compete in the high-pressure atmosphere for the chance to run a restaurant of their own.

The show could have been a spicy improvement on NBC's defunct The Restaurant, but Ramsay spoils it with too much sulfur. Though his bleep-filled rants are supposed to bring out the best in his staff, they seem like blatant workplace harassment. When he turns his ire on the customers, it's even harder to stomach.

REALITYNational Memorial Day Concert (PBS, May 29, 8 p.m. ET) Vanessa Williams, Gary Sinise and Colin Powell take part at the U.S. Capitol.

Miss Universe (NBC, May 30, 9 p.m. ET) Access Hollywood's Billy Bush and Nancy O'Dell host as the lovelies vie for the crown in Bangkok.

Dancing with the Stars (ABC, June 1, 9 p.m. ET) The Bachelorette's Trista Sutter, Joey McIntyre and other celebs pair with professional ballroom dancers in this competition show.

Sports Kids Moms & Dads (Bravo, June 1, 10 p.m. ET) Tennis great Tracy Austin narrates a new series about kid athletes and their sometimes pushy parents.

Hit Me Baby One More Time (NBC, June 2, 9 p.m. ET) Hoping to get hot again, Tiffany, Loverboy, the Motels and achy-breaky Billy Ray Cyrus reprise their hits and cover contemporary songs in a new Idol-type contest.

Each May the networks unveil their fall schedules to advertisers in a series of presentations called the upfronts. So what will be next year's Desperate Housewives? A sneak peek at some of the most promising newcomers:

EVERYBODY RATES CHRIS (UPN, 8 P.M. THURSDAYS) That's Chris as in Rock. The comic produces and narrates this bitingly funny sitcom loosely based on his childhood in Brooklyn's tough Bed-Stuy neighborhood. Hands down, it was the show people were talking about.

REUNION (FOX, 9 P.M. THURSDAYS) Part coming-of-age story, part murder mystery, Reunion follows six high school pals (including American Dreams' Will Estes and Life As We Know It's Sean Faris) over 20 years (each episode marks a year). Intriguingly soapy.

INVASION (ABC, 10 P.M. WEDNESDAYS) Given the success of Lost, there were lots of supernatural goings-on being pitched, but this aliens-among-us series, set to follow Lost, seems to have the right mix of frights and family drama.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (CBS, 8:30 P.M. MONDAYS) Told through flashbacks from 25 years in the future, this romantic comedy showcasing five twentysomething pals (including Alyson Hannigan and Doogie Howser, M.D.'s Neil Patrick Harris) obviously hopes to be the next Friends. It's not there yet, but it has potential.

SUPERNATURAL (THE WB, 9 P.M. TUESDAYS) Jared Padalecki (Gilmore Girls) and Jensen Ackles (Smallville) play brothers hunting the supernatural forces that killed their mother 20 years ago. Violent? Yes. But also very spooky.

MY NAME IS EARL (HBO, 9 P.M. TUESDAYS) Ne'er-do-well Earl (Almost Famous's Jason Lee) wins the lottery and decides to right all the wrongs from his past, like helping the kid he used to pick on in grade school. The oddest show screened all week—but in a good way.

Jerry Hall Mick Jagger's ex, Jerry Hall, has turned over a new stone. On May 29, the 49-year-old model-actress unveils her new VH1 reality show Kept, in which she coaches young men on the finer things in life.

ON KEPT There are 12 unsophisticated guys, and I train them in everything from etiquette to the art of conversation. The winner gets to be "kept" by VH1: He gets an apartment, a car, and all sorts of good things. It's fun.

ON WHAT MICK THINKS OF THE SHOW At first he was furious. He said, "Well, I've been asked to do a show where I date 30 16-year-olds." But we've known each other 30 years, and we're very supportive of each other's projects. Now he's going to be on the show. He suggested we teach the guys about French wine.

ON WHAT'S NEXT FOR HER I've been doing a lot of plays. I've done two movies and a couple of TV series. But I take time off between my projects to be with my children. I'm much happier in my 40s than I was in my 20s. I know what I like and don't have to do the things I don't like.

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher,
  • Cynthia Sanz,
  • Monique Jessen.