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‘Wife Swap’ takes a nasty turn

Kevin McDonough United Feature Syndicate

Tonight’s “Wife Swap” (10 p.m., ABC) plunges deep into the swamp of the so-called “culture wars.” And the results are not pretty.

Usually, “Swap” has a hyperachieving neat freak exchange households with a lazy, poetry-writing layabout who believes that vacuuming, like Christmas, comes but once a year.

Tonight’s installment follows a similar pattern, but in this case, the neatnik is Kris Gillespie, a rich, Republican, Bible-spouting, stay-at-home mom who seems a tad too obsessed with the word “excellent.”

Her countermom is Kristine Luffey, a political liberal and a bit of a slob. Her idea of cooking doesn’t extend much beyond take-out and the microwave. She also happens to be a lesbian who lives with her lover, Nicki, and helps raise Nicki’s daughter, Elizabeth.

The family switch becomes very odd, very quickly.

On the plus side, Kristine liberates Kris’ kids from the chore-driven gulag of the Gillespie household. And full-time mom Kris takes time to pamper Elizabeth with “Princess Day” – something Elizabeth doesn’t mind at all.

As you can imagine, the politically loaded nature of this “Swap” tends to drown out the more nuanced family dynamics.

Kristine insists that Kris’ button-down husband accompany her to a gay dance club, and while he even cuts a rug with another man, he doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself.

At the end of the “Swap,” Kris goes thermonuclear, attacking the whole experience as “immoral” and Kristine and Nicki as “depraved.” She condemns the show for putting her young daughter in proximity to a lesbian who could become a “predator” at any moment.

At this point, Kristine is shocked into tears, and “Wife Swap” morphs from an entertainment spectacle to an ugly variation of a Jerry Springer sideshow.

The most interesting detail in tonight’s episode is the fact that the judgmental Kris is a black woman who happens to be married to a white man. Her race is never mentioned or emphasized until she attacks Nicki, her temporary “mate,” for comparing anti-gay attitudes to racism.

Nicki then raises the rather interesting point that their “mixed” marriage used to be considered “miscegenation,” which was outlawed in Kris’ native Texas and many other states until 1967. Prior to a Supreme Court decision (Loving v. Virginia), marriages and households like Gillespie’s were the ones considered “depraved.”

But back then, violators of the social code were subject to more than just a tongue-lashing.

Morgan Freeman narrates the four-part series “Slavery and the Making of America” (9 p.m., KSPS), concluding next week. “Slavery” presents the findings of new scholarship offering meticulous details about the daily life of slaves, often debunking myths about the institution presented in books and movies over the centuries.

The series also dispels the notion that slavery can be compartmentalized and swept under the rug.

“Slavery was no sideshow in American history,” says historian James Horton. “It was the main event.”

The final four on “Project Runway” (9 p.m., Bravo) face the last elimination before the big showdown. After tonight’s show, the remaining three get to design their own fashion line to appear before real judges and buyers during Fashion Week in Manhattan.

If you’re not watching “Runway,” you’re missing the most entertaining reality show to come along in some time.

Other highlights

Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (8 p.m., CBS): an interview with Queen Latifah.

Hollywood heartaches on “American Idol” (9 p.m., Fox).

Claire loses her memory of life before the plane crash on “Lost” (8 p.m., ABC).

Iranian jets shoot down a British airliner on “The West Wing” (9 p.m., NBC).

Sydney succumbs to a dangerous mind-bending drug on “Alias” (9 p.m., ABC).

Murder stalks the big top on “CSI: NY” (10 p.m., CBS).

A controversial talk-show host is found shot to death on “Law & Order” (10 p.m., NBC).

Series notes

Barely dressed and hardly interesting on “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search” (8 p.m., NBC) … Football follies on “That ‘70s Show” (8 p.m., Fox).

Missy Elliot hosts “The Road to Stardom” (8 p.m., UPN) … Murder on the gridiron on “Smallville” (8 p.m., WB) … Interns out of control on “The Simple Life” (8:30 p.m., Fox).

On back-to-back episodes of “The King of Queens” (CBS), weighty issues (9 p.m.), and Doug moonlights (9:30 p.m.,) … Kevin takes the case of a lawyer’s widow on “Kevin Hill” (9 p.m., UPN) … Jack learns about Grace’s secret fling on “Jack & Bobby” (8 p.m., WB).

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