REALITY

CBS (Tues., July 6, 9:30 p.m. ET)

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In the realm of reality television, there's just no escaping the junk.

This series is usually more entertaining than most of the genre, so I was disappointed to note that the fifth-season contestants include Alison, the runner-up on another CBS reality show, last summer's Big Brother 4. Her Amazing Race teammate is on-and-off boyfriend Donny, who caught her Brother act and didn't like the way she behaved. Now they have an opportunity to work out their differences—i.e., bicker, bicker, bicker—while tearing around the world in pursuit of a $1 million prize. Among the contestants they'll have to overcome: Colin and Christie (the 1996 Miss Teen USA), who profess to be measuring their marriage potential while running after the dough, and Dennis and Erika, former fiancés who may yet have a future together. On the 90-minute season premiere, Erika says teaming up on The Amazing Race will be "our ultimate love test." That's not possible, kids: The Ultimate Love Test is on ABC.

Luckily, the rest of the field contains some duos worth following and even rooting for. Mirna and cousin Charla, a dwarf, have an inspiring way of sharing the load—particularly when the challenge is lugging a 55-lb. side of beef through the streets of Maldonado, Uruguay. Bob and Joyce, both widowed, seem to have a warm, supportive relationship. They're so sane it's almost unreal.

REALITY

USA (Sundays, 10 p.m. ET)

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Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall) has visions of the future and the past, and he uses his powers to solve crimes. I yawned at the premise when this series premiered, but I'm glad I took another look last month when it started its third season.

A surprising plus is the show's provocative political consciousness. In the two-part season opener, slick Greg Stillson (Sean Patrick Flanery), an enemy of Johnny's, narrowly won a congressional seat by nefarious means that evoked the real-life election controversy of 2000. The July 4 episode focuses on a secret government intelligence program called Eyetrap, which will remind viewers of the Pentagon's much criticized Total Information Awareness project. The writers go too far in suggesting that an unchecked Stillson could bring on Armageddon, but at least they're giving us some food for thought.

The psychic hero has a potential new romantic interest in Rebecca (Sarah Wynter from 24)—if only he can get his mind off Sarah (Nicole deBoer), his former fiancée and the mother of his young son. Unfortunately, the triangle of Johnny, Sarah and her sheriff husband, Walt (Chris Bruno), is still too polite to believe.

DRAMA

Comedy Central (Tuesdays through Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. ET)

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This takeoff on debate shows, premiering July 6, is sometimes funny but hurts itself by adding a twist. As on Crossfire and Hardball, advocates and experts take opposing sides of an issue, though political substance is shunned here in favor of topics like "offensive driving" and the cultural value of reality TV. Most of the guests are fakes played by comedians, including Matt Besser (Upright Citizens Brigade) and Andrew Daly (Mad TV). But on every panel there's at least one real person who supposedly thinks the show is on the up and up. Since much of the comedy is as subtle as flashing neon—Besser, in a hunter's cap, pretends to be an instructor from the Ozark Mountain Driving School—it's impossible to believe anyone could be dense enough to miss the put-on.

COMEDY

Macy's Fireworks Spectacular (NBC, July 4,9 p.m. ET)

Carson Daly hosts the Independence Day pyrotechnics in New York City, with guest idols Fantasia Barrino and Donald Trump.

Celebrity Blackjack (GSN, July 5,10 p.m. ET)

Who'll have the hot hand? Snoop Dogg, Shannon Elizabeth and Jason Alexander gamble for charity in this series premiere.

Big Brother 5 (CBS, July 6,8 p.m. ET)

The door opens on a new season for the thrice-weekly reality show, where a bunch of strangers share a house and vie for 500 grand.

Nip/Tuck(FX, July 6, 10 p.m. ET)

Sean (Dylan Walsh) has the bright idea that a life coach (Famke Janssen) can help his wife deal with her mother and other problems.

MISSING(Lifetime, July 10, 10 p.m. ET)

Vivica A. Fox joins the Cast as the FBI drama starts its second season.

WONDER WOMAN: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON ($39.98)

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What better way to celebrate July 4 than with a red-, white-and blue-bedecked Lynda Carter helping America battle the Nazis in this spunky 76-79 series? Despite the carbon-copy plots (Wonder Woman vs. Nazi spy-du-jour), Carter's charm—like her lasso of truth—is irresistible.Extras: A documentary and trivia-filled commentary track with Carter, who talks about inventing Wonder Woman's signature spin.

SCTV NETWORK/90: VOLUME ONE ($89.98)

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In the early '80s the funniest, smartest comedy sketch program on TV was not SNL but a cult Canadian show featuring unknowns such as John Candy, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara. This five-disc set saves a true comedy classic from oblivion. Extras: Four new documentaries (including a touching tribute to Candy) and booklet with essays by Conan O'Brien and Ben Stiller.

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher,
  • Jason Lynch,
  • Champ Clark.