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Colorful personalities hit road for the 'Amazing Race'

It's no secret that the Family Edition of "The Amazing Race" (9 tonight, WIVB-TV) was treated by critics and fans of the series like the relative nobody wants to sit next to at Thanksgiving dinner.

Its overall dullness was balanced in Western New York by a rooting interest for a Buffalo resident, Nick Linz, who was part of the winning family from Cincinnati.

Fortunately, the ninth installment of this Emmy-award winning, globetrotting series is back on course with a two-hour opener that is a triumph of casting. And make no mistake, casting is even more important now because watching teams get flustered when travel plans go awry and cab drivers get lost got a little old by about the fourth race.

This edition includes several inept and foolishly confident teams of two people that provides humor, color, romance (one couple does a lot of kissing) and suspense on the first leg of the trip from Denver to Sao Paulo, Brazil. There also is one fun-loving group of best friends from San Francisco who dress like hippies, online tutor BJ Averell and filmmaker Tyler MacNiven.

The frequent brave, but misguided attempts by teams trying to successfully pull off tasks that will make the trip shorter are among tonight's comic highlights. Of special note is the decision of the recent, attractive college graduates nicknamed the Double D's -- Dani Torchio and Danielle Turner -- to play motorcycle mechanics.

But Barry and Fran Lazuras, who have been married 40 years, also prove age doesn't necessarily lead to wisdom and can be a liability when eyesight is important. They don't have a clue when it comes to finding a clue box. A few teams in the competition pull a Lazuras and return from what appears to be almost certain death.

The preview tape supplied by CBS surprisingly included the final moment when the first team is eliminated, with the show's publicist asking critics to keep it a secret. No problem. I'll just say I was sorry to see a team as comically inept as this one get the boot so early.

Rating: 3 stars out of 4

***

If you're among the thousands of Western New Yorkers who have watched "American Idol" over the last few weeks, you couldn't have missed all the promos for the frantic Fox comedy, "Free Ride," which premieres at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday on WUTV before moving March 12 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday. Unfortunately, the promos have revealed so many lines you almost feel like you've seen the full show already.

The series has a similar nightmarish theme of the upcoming Matthew McConaughey-Sarah Jessica Parker comedy, "Failure to Launch."

In the pilot, clean-cut college graduate Nate Stahlings (Josh Dean) returns to his Missouri home to move in with his less-than-thrilled parents, Margo (Loretta Fox) and Bob (Allan Havey). Josh doesn't plan to stay long, but however long he stays is too long for them. For one thing, they are having "problems" and are in counseling. Nate's arrival also interferes with their sex lives, which is part of the counseling.

Unfortunately for Margo and Bob, Josh quickly becomes enamored with a beautiful, unavailable bank teller from high school, Amber (Erin Cahill), and befriends a former classmate and party animal, Dove (Dave Sheridan), who still behaves like a child.

The parents fear that Nate is wasting his life and interfering with theirs, a theme that many adults can relate to in real life and which is ripe for comedy. Unfortunately, the first two very loud and angry episodes of "Free Ride" waste the premise by focusing on sex and over-the-top plot lines.

It's a comedy, so we'll give the writers a free ride for all the jokes that rely on dad talking to Josh about his sex life. But it gets old very fast. If it wasn't so broad and even had a small semblance of reality like the departing "That '70s Show," "Free Ride" might have had a chance of becoming something.

Rating: 2 stars

***

The two-hour season finale of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" had an incredible 24.5 rating on WKBW-TV, about three times what WGRZ-TV had in those hours for NBC's coverage of the closing ceremonies of the Turin Olympics. This Sunday's Academy Award show might not do much better than "Dancing."

I was a little bummed that long-legged wrestler Stacy Keibler was eliminated before NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. But once she was ousted, anyone who could do simple math knew Drew Lachey had won an hour before host Tom Bergeron made the announcement. The judges and the fan vote each counted 50 percent.

Rice's ability to survive for several weeks was a testament to his popularity. The show's dancing credibility -- as limited as it might be -- would have taken a hit if he had won over two superior celebrity dancers.

It's a fun program and shouldn't be taken too seriously, but once again the way the voting is done is flawed. Keibler's final dance Sunday with her partner received a perfect score from the judges. But the viewer vote ended with Thursday night's performance. That's just silly and wrong.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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