To its relative credit, Average Joe flips the ''Joe Millionaire'' formula on its thick head. Instead of saving the surprise for the end, it opened with a gleefully wicked trick: Ex-NFL cheerleader Melana Scantlin thought she was meeting 16 Mr. Rights, but instead she met...16 Mr. Frights! (That's not a quote from the promos, but it could be.) While most dating-show contestants are interchangeably empty shells, these guys -- a nerdy, gawky, and chubby lot -- possess actual personalities. The cast overflows with breakouts -- and I'm not just talking about all the splotchy skin.
Homely faces to watch include Dennis Luciani, a 36-year-old virgin-accountant; Zach Cohen, a 27-year-old bully-real estate broker with chronic halitosis; and Tareq Kabir, a 21-year-old egotist-professor who attempts to mesmerize Melana with fancy words: ''It is the simplicity of your complexity that's the catalyst of my infatuation.'' ''Average Joe'' alternately mocks these misfits and glorifies them as inspirational underdogs; the show wants to have its proverbial cake and eat it, too. Still, it's a helluva lot tastier than ''Millionaire'''s Southern-fried cheese.