ROLLERGIRLS A&E, MONDAYS, 10 P.M. E.T.
LIKE REALITY TV, ROLLER DERBY mixes contrived personae with real conflict, theatrics with real spills. The women of the Austin, Texas, Lonestar Rollergirls league are equal parts athletes and punk-feminist performance artists (with drag-queeny noms de skate like Venis Envy and Miss Conduct); they wear Catholic-schoolgirl skirts and fishnets and deal out bruising blows. "You can be completely feminine and athletic, threatening and sexy," says a skater of the sport's appeal. Gorgeously shot and structured like a drama, each episode delves into the lives of skaters, some fighting off demons, others blowing off steam. As their offtrack dramas climax on a sweaty track in an old airplane hangar, their cheesy competition becomes transcendent, just as good, cheesy TV can.
SKATING WITH CELEBRITIES FOX, MONDAYS, 8 P.M. E.T.
THE OLYMPICS IT AIN'T--although it does have former decathlete Bruce Jenner. But Fox's rip-off of Dancing with the Stars far outdoes its ballroom model. The irresistible cornpone of a celebrity skate-off, it turns out, is not that different from the irresistible cornpone of a legitimate skating match. But there are also earnest moments, as when NFL on Fox weather babe Jillian Barberie, pictured--the competition's ringer--revealed that she has dreamed of spangle-costumed skating glory since she was a girl. Plus, we got to see Full House's Dave Coulier skate in a dress. Now that's cool--cool as ice.
SURVIVOR: PANAMA--EXILE ISLAND CBS, THURSDAYS, 8 P.M. E.T.
REALITY'S PATIENT ZERO returns in a new season filled with twists: tribes start out divided by age and gender, and in each episode a contestant is marooned alone on an isle that hides an immunity idol to protect against the weekly vote-offs. But gimmicks aside, Survivor always comes down to the casting, conflicts and characters, and so far the competitors in this set are promisingfrom a "fire dancer" to a retired space-shuttle astronaut. He should know a thing or two about being stuck with a small group for extended periods.
PROJECT RUNWAY BRAVO, WEDNESDAYS, 10 P.M. E.T.
MANY TV SHOWS can set you on pins and needles. But only this one is about pins and needles. This competition among aspiring fashion designers, heading for its second-season finale in March, stands out because its smart, bitchy, funny competitors have brains and artistic aspirations beyond basic-cable fame. And no reality host is more dryly funny than Tim Gunn, the designers' mentor, whose derision for a badly made outfit cuts like a well-honed pair of shears.
BEAUTY AND THE GEEK 2 THE WB, THURSDAYS, 9 P.M. E.T.
WHAT SOUNDED LIKE A tasteless dating show--a squad of socially challenged nerds paired with intellectually challenged hotties--became TV's most sweet-hearted reality series. In the platonic pairings, the guys teach book smarts and the women teach their partners social skills while competing for a $250,000 purse. (A version with smart chicks and beefcake studs is in the works.) Both groups build confidence and learn what they have in common. It's a rare series that, by playing to stereotypes, ends up disproving them.
BLACK. WHITE. FX, WEDNESDAYS, 10 P.M. E.T., DEBUTS MARCH 8