Picks and Pans Review: They're Back

updated 07/19/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/19/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

A look at how summer reality shows are faring the second time around

Dad:

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Schmo:

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Comic:

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You've got to have a gimmick to succeed in reality TV, but how hard is it to pull off the same trick twice?

NBC's Who Wants to Marry My Dad? (Mondays, 10 p.m. ET) again has grown children picking a second mate for their divorced father. Nervous prospects are still subjected to the lie-detector test, but that element is getting old—no matter how much the polygraph man mugs for the camera. Reaching for novelty, the producers had the dad's sister-in-law pose as one of the women courting him while she spied on the legitimate candidates. But the weak ruse was abandoned early in the second episode.

On Spike TV's first Joe Schmo, one real contestant didn't know the others were actors assigned to fool him. The Schmo sequel (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET) went with two marks but failed to double the fun. One of them quickly got wise to the scam, and the producers persuaded her to remain and join in the make-believe. Meantime, a new—and presumably more gullible—player has been added to the game. Schmo hasn't run out of rude humor, but it's obviously straining to stay afloat.

If any summer entry defies the sophomore jinx, it's Last Comic Standing (NBC, Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET). Repeating last year's pattern, the show delivered more pure entertainment in the auditions than it has since the finalists became housemates and started the usual reality-show backbiting. Still, each episode features comedians onstage doing what they do best. And laughter is never tiresome.

SCI FI

The 4400 USA (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET)

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Like Taken, the Sci Fi Channel's 2002 epic, this five-week USA series (premiering July 11) is a tale of alien abduction filmed primarily in Vancouver. Maybe that's why the two-hour opener sometimes feels like a retread.

A ball of light lands near Mount Rainier and discharges 4,400 people who disappeared over the past century. The returnees don't seem to have aged, and some developed superhuman powers while they were away. Tapped to solve the mystery are Seattle-based Department of Homeland Security agents Tom (Joel Gretsch, an alien hunter in Taken) and Diana (Jacqueline McKenzie). She objects to his grumpiness; he broods a lot because his nephew (Patrick Flueger) is one of the 4,400 and his son (Chad Faust) has been in a coma since 2001.

There are interesting characters among the returnees: a former insurance man (Michael Moriarty, also seen in Taken) with a scary temper; a little girl (Conchita Campbell) who can see the future; and a pilot (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) missing since the Korean War. But the brusque boss (Peter Coyote) of Homeland Security's regional office is definitely the sort we've seen before.

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