August 30, 2004 12:00 PM

Showtime (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET)

What is this country coming to? Here’s a series that started with 10 citizens trying to prove who among them is most qualified to be President, and three are under 35. Forget the constitutional requirement-it’s a demographic drag.

Legal quibbles aside, this is better than your average reality exercise. The first player who talked about forming an alliance wanted to do it along ideological lines. (Can you imagine anyone on Big Brother saying, “Be a good liberal and I promise not to betray you”?) And the series proved it was capable of surprises when the competitor who seemed to have the most political clout, former presidential candidate Dick Gephardt’s daughter Chrissy, was eliminated in the Aug. 1 premiere.

The winner receives $200,000 and what host Montel Williams vaguely calls “a chance to address the nation.” Too bad viewers don’t get to vote till the series’ last two weeks. Up to that point, each episode includes some sort of campaign challenge (a straw poll here, a focus group there), and the two competitors who perform least impressively must face off in an “elimination debate.” The loser is determined by a vote of the other candidates. Sad to say, that makes American Candidate less democratic than American Idol.

REALITY

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