They headed to Hawaii aboard a yacht, these greased and bulbous men, their progress elaborately charted as they muttered nerd-baiting threats like ''It's search and destroy!'' And so they did, clobbering our Average Joes in a poignant dodgeball dogfight.
Joes lose, Studs win, and Dignity sits on the sidelines laughing so hard that soda shoots out of its nose. The second incarnation of NBC's ''Average Joe'' builds on the same basic bamboozle: Lure a hot girl onto a dating show, and then secretly replace the standard slick entrepreneurs and dreamy firefighters with gawky mail sorters and pipsqueaky virgins. And just when Beauty is starting to believe her own ''Looks aren't everything'' line, import the hotties and watch the hypocrisy begin!
Eager to outdo the first installment, the producers of Average Joe: Hawaii have redefined average (Let's just say it: Most of the guys are Subpar Joes) and boosted the beefcake, tossing in eight generically foxy dudes before the show's even reached its midpoint. The move plants a delightful ''Revenge of the Nerds'' vibe that will only grow over the next five episodes. As Boston's own ''Average Joe,'' the feisty Brian Worth (he of the aack-cent and Shemp Howard haircut) warns: ''Nobody is gonna come into my house and push me or any of my buddies around.'' Anthony Edwards couldn't have rallied the acne-scarred troops any better. And while the original ''AJ'' studs were amiable and dull (especially the Ken-doll winner, Jason Peoples), the current ''AJ'' has wisely cast some villains. Consider smarmy Michael Cardamone, whose gleeful bullying is nearly as offensive as his use of the word beaver in a non-dam-building context.
What are they all fighting for? Unfortunately for them, that would be Larissa Meek, a Lynda Carter look-alike with the taut, mirthless smile and platitude-prone personality one might expect of a former Miss Missouri USA. Larissa's clear relief over the arrival of men with bleached teeth and six-pack abs provides an intriguing wrinkle. Up until the final episode of the first ''AJ,'' Melana appeared quite likely to pick Average Adam (whose ouster has landed him an upcoming ''Bachelor''-style sequel). Larissa, however, seems intent on finding a mate of equal hotness. Sure, she smooched Tony, the dental technician with the ''arty'' facial hair who lacks sweat glands. She even submitted to that peck from David Daskal, whose spunky, can-do dorkery makes him destined for rejection and his own spin-off. Ultimately, though, when she's with the Joes, Larissa has the beatific tenseness of a beauty queen performing brave acts of philanthropy.
Thus the viewers are in a perfectly squirmy position: We can't quite hope that one of our beloved Joes nabs a woman who manages to be even less charming than Trista Rehn. Yet we cannot in good faith root for the studs to triumph again. All we can do is keep watching, helpless and enthralled. Who knew a lose-lose situation would be so winning?