I tend to give kids' programming the benefit of the doubt, but with "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" (7 p.m., Nickelodeon), I have to make an exception. It is one of the most condescending and cloying, loud and aggressively annoying programs I've seen in some time.
Ned (Devon Werkheiser) offers an insider's guide to the pleasures and pitfalls of middle school. He has a nerdy pal who thinks he's a superhero and appears to have modeled himself on Urkel. Unlike most junior high school students in the real world, Ned has two beautiful girls, Moze (Lindsey Shaw) and Suzie (Christian Serratos), who want to date him. True to adolescent life, the girls appear to be 12 going on 34, while Ned and his cohorts look and act like 9-year-olds.
What sets "Ned" apart from most shows about 'tween-age hijinx is its tone, or rather its complete absence of narrative rhythm or pacing. Clearly intended to resemble animated entertainment, "Ned" lacks even the most simplistic cartoon's sense of modulation.
Every scene - and I do mean every scene - involves frantically shouted dialogue, over-the-top situations, purposefully campy acting and unsubtle winks at the audience. Memorable cartoons, from "Bugs Bunny" to "The Simpsons," unfold like jazz improvisation, mixing moments of calm and even silence with excited passages of chaos and calamity. "Ned" proceeds at full blast at all times. It's relentless. And it's torture. In comparison, "That's So Raven" seems like a model of restraint. "SpongeBob" is a master of subtlety. "Hannah Montana" has the gravity of Chekhov.
"Ned" is both exhausting and deeply disturbing. The show exudes contempt for its young audience and appears to operate on the assumption that its viewers are in a constant state of sugar shock and will change the channel if they are not being screamed at or subjected to hyperactivity at all times.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ A woman's pregnancy disturbs a poltergeist with multiple personalities on "Ghost Whisperer" (7 p.m., CBS).
¢ Alistair McGowan stars in the quirky, stylish series "The Gil Mayo Mysteries" (7 p.m., BBC America).
¢ Terri and Bindi Irwin, the wife and daughter of Steve Irwin, host the special "My Daddy the Croc Hunter" (8 p.m., Animal Planet).
¢ "It's All Geek to Me" (7 p.m., Science) explores methods of data backup.
¢ A PTA rivalry leads to homicide on "Close to Home" (8 p.m., CBS).
¢ An immigrant's murder may stem from racism or an "honor" killing on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (8 p.m., NBC).
¢ The team wakes up the Wraith Queen on "Stargate Atlantis" (8 p.m., Sci FI). And boy is she cranky.
¢ A serial killer targets pedophiles on "Numb3rs" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ The focus of a tabloid news show about predators ends up dead on "Law & Order" (9 p.m., NBC).
¢ Scheduled on "20/20" (9 p.m., ABC): a minister's son and a prom-related murder; Tina Brown discusses her book on Princess Diana; the controversy surrounding the man behind the Heimlich maneuver.