Charlie Toft, Feb 09, 2009

After fourteen years, one would think that The Amazing Race has been to just about every interesting locale there is, but the show perseveres with its loyal if not huge audience. And while CBS continues to enjoy a huge advantage in the Nielsen race, TAR gives the network something it lacks otherwise: guaranteed Emmy bait every year.

The season that begins Sunday (CBS, 8 PM) features the usual collection of disagreeable young couples, but there are a few pairings we've never seen before: Tammy and Victor, a brother and sister who both have Harvard Law degrees (their arguments must be epic); Michael and Mark, diminutive middle aged brothers who are stuntmen; and onetime evangelical spokesman-turned-gay activist Mel White and his screenwriter (Nacho Libre) son Mike. The first leg of the season features that reality show cliche, a bungee jump, which takes place at the site of a Swiss dam. May the best team win ... unless they call each other "babe" all the time. Because man, that bugs.

Also this week:

Monday: 24 (Fox, 9 PM): There comes a time in every 24 season where the initial bad guy gives way and we finally meet the real bad guy who will carry us to the end of the day. We usually don't get there after just seven hours, but the first stage appears over after last week's events. In Hour Eight, Jack talks his way into a meeting with the President, who is still reeling from the discovery that she is married to the stupidest man in the world.

Tuesday: Leverage (TNT, 10 PM): TNT has announced that this series, which stars a suddenly-looking-his-age Timothy Hutton as the leader of a gang of con artists with a social consicence, has been renewed for a second season. This week, Parker is called to jury duty, but the rest of the team gets involved as well when it appears that someone is trying to buy an unjust verdict.

Wednesday: American Idol (Fox, 8 PM): This two-hour event is what fans have come to know as the "chair episode," as the survivors of Hollywood learn which of them will make up the final 36 who will go before the voters beginning next week, and who will vie for a spot as the opening act on Bikini Girl's inevitable talk show tour of America.

Thursday: 30 Rock (NBC, 9:30 PM): Jon Hamm's campaign to show America he can do more than drink, smoke, and cheat on his wife in the early '60s continues on this Valentines Day episode, which features the first official date for Liz and Drew (Tina Fey, Hamm) and Kenneth getting advice from Tracy on how to impress a new girl in the office. Yeah, nothing can go wrong there.

Friday: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox, 8 PM): Fox is giving this show one more shot as part of a sci-fi bloc with the new Dollhouse, which follows at 9. So naturally, its return date is Friday the 13th. The injured Sarah draws strength from a surprising source, and Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson) continues to take brutal measures to protect her secret.

Saturday: Saturday Night Live (NBC, 11:30 PM): The man who has become the most reliable of SNL guest hosts, Alec Baldwin, returns for a fourteenth appearance; perhaps he'll be the one to lift the show out of what are clearly post-Palin doldrums. The Jonas Brothers get to stay up way past their fans' bedtimes as the musical guests.

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