By EW Staff
Updated July 18, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
The Amazing Race
Credit: The Amazing Race 4: Tony Esparza

(ABC, Sundays, 9 p.m.)
Come on, America: Start zooming in on network TV’s most pleasurably intricate, witty hour. Here’s my theory about why Jennifer Garner can get her spandexed curves plastered all over every publication from EW to Femme Fatales (go to a bigger newsstand, bub) and still not win its time slot: ”Alias” suffers from ”Buffy” Syndrome — people think any series with a sexy gal at its center is exploitative or adolescent. But bless creator J.J. Abrams’ hummingbird-fast beating heart; his pulp-espionage plots are bracingly byzantine. And listen here, grown-ups: By adding Lena Olin to the cast as Garner’s mom, Abrams supplied the kind of maturity that gives sex symbols a good name. He also streamlined the show to emphasize action, emotion, family dynamics, and puzzles you can solve. It’s like finishing a crossword while sitting in an Adirondack chair, sipping a gin and tonic.

(CBS, Thursdays, 8 p.m.)
Okay, technically, ”Race” isn’t in reruns, but like the rest of these shows, the fourth installment of real-life pairs hustling across the globe has yet to earn the significant following it deserves. Am I actually listing a reality show among complex and nuanced scripted programming? You bet. So far, I’ve been totally caught up in the way calm Chuck deals with his asthmatic, crabby, supercompetitive girlfriend of 12 years, Millie, and as if coping with strangers’ foreign languages to get directions weren’t enough stress for them, the show constantly reminds us they’re STILL VIRGINS (by the genre’s standards, this is the ca-ray-ziest thing a person can be). After the self-described fat, middle-aged air-traffic controllers were eliminated, I rooted for Tian and Jaree (so dumb and hateful to each other, they provided endless amusement). Now that they’ve been left in the dust (or East Indian bull dung), I’m hoping for some suitably grueling loss for Reichen and Chip (the unambiguously gay duo anxious to prove their hyper-athleticism by springing shirtless, like dolphins with pecs, from a pool in the opening credits), who whine and verbally whop the other couples. My allegiance goes to the circus clowns Jon and Al, who’ve never met a plane ticket they can’t balance on their noses. Nay vote: David and Jeff, bland dumbos who thought their Indian cab driver’s name was ”Money.” Innocents abroad — Mark Twain would be proud.