In Fast Cars & Superstars (Thursday, 7 p.m., ABC), "celebrity superstars" try their hand at stock-car racing. Jewel, William Shatner and Krista Allen (yes, the obscure actress has been bumped up to "celebrity superstar" status for the purpose of this show) learn the ropes from professional drivers, then go head-to-head on the track. Sadly, these folks prove to be no more exciting at 130 miles per hour than they are standing still.
Perhaps sensing this problem, the producers have hired two excitable announcers to hype up every move the celebrities make. Their hyperbole is unintentionally hilarious - and about all the series has to offer in the way of entertainment value.
On the first time trial: "It's the first-ever celebrity time trial in the history of Fast Cars & Superstars!"
On the second time trial, a mere two minutes later: "We haven't seen anything like this yet in this competition!"
On John Elway's time trial: "He's set a new paradigm for celebrity racing, whatever paradigm means!"
I don't know what "paradigm" means either, but I'm pretty sure that Fast Cars & Superstars has set a new one for idiocy.
Sunday, 8 pm (HBO)
Tony, it's been nice knowing you. Now die. Gruesomely.
John from Cincinnati
Sunday, 9 pm (HBO)
After The Sopranos' series finale, HBO premieres its latest creation, as if to say, "This is still the place to be Sunday nights!" Well, I'd rather be anywhere else.
John from Cincinnati profiles a surfing family that's fallen on hard times. The dad (Bruce Greenwood) is a washed-up legend and the son (Brian Van Holt) is a star turned drug addict. An otherworldly innocent named John (Austin Nichols) enters their lives, speaking in strange mantras. "Some things I know," he says, "some things I don't." Soon, the washed-up dad finds himself levitating over the beach.
John from Cincinnati falls all over itself trying to be "edgy." The settings are ugly, and the dialogue oozes cusswords. But at heart the series is a soap opera, and all the rot piled onscreen can't mask the sickly-sweet smell of redemption.
Some things I know: John from Cincinnati will never replace The Sopranos. And some things I don't: How did HBO mistake this trash for art?
Monday, 7 pm (ABC Family)
In last year's pilot, Kyle XY tried to get our attention with a memorable opening shot. Kyle (Matt Dallas) woke up in a forest, naked and covered with pink goo. "Big deal," I thought. "That happens to me all the time."
But the difference was, Kyle had no bellybutton. And he had no idea who he was, either. He stumbled into civilization and found shelter with a kind psychologist (Marguerite MacIntyre) and her family, who marveled over his unearthly intelligence. As the second season begins, we finally learn what Kyle is: an experiment gone wrong. He was created in a tank and kept there for years to ensure a highly developed brain.
Kyle leaves the family to discover his origins. They miss him terribly, and you can see why: Dallas' oddball charm is hard to resist. He's the most appealing bellybutton-free character on TV's summer schedule.
House of Payne
Wednesday, 8 pm (TBS)
Tyler Perry puzzled critics by scoring a big-screen hit with his lame Madea's Family Reunion. Now he's about to puzzle them all over again with this lame sitcom. House of Payne is about an African American family and its exasperated patriarch (LaVan Davis). TBS touts the series as a successor to The Cosby Show - and it just might have been with the addition of wit, good acting and competent direction.
Instead, the punchlines seem to have been lifted from some ancient joke book. A typical exchange:
"Name two great kings."
"I know two: smo-king and drin-king!"
I know another: stin-king!
Wednesday, 9 pm (Sci Fi)
In Sci Fi's new series, an adventurer named Josh Gates travels around the world with "the latest technology" to investigate unexplained mysteries. By "the latest technology," of course, he means handheld devices that beep loudly whenever mermaids or werewolves are in the vicinity. (It's apparently never occurred to him that the beeping will scare away most supernatural creatures, not to mention most TV viewers.)
"I'm not sure what's out there waiting for me," Josh says. "But I know what I'm looking for: the truth!" Well, I'm pretty sure what's out there waiting for us: scenes of Josh and his crew stumbling through underbrush at night while whispering, "Did you hear something?!"
What makes Destination Truth offensive rather than just silly is Josh's condescension to native peoples. Investigating a live dinosaur sighting in Papua New Guinea, he makes snide jokes about the natives' dance rituals: "It was like a jungle version of Vegas, minus the smokers and guys handing out flyers for prostitutes."
So let me get this straight: Josh is looking for live dinosaurs and it's the natives who are stupid?
Into the Unknown
Wednesday, 10 pm (Sci Fi)
This special features George Noory, known for his radio show exploring paranormal phenomena. Noory examines a report from Florida in which the sound of a dead woman's singing was recorded on tape. And if you think that's weird, get this - the tape actually sounds twice as good as the last Jessica Simpson album.