We're beginning to wonder about this summer's planned US vacation. Based on the latest TV series screened by Xtra HOT, it just doesn't look safe. Go to cash a check and you're likely to wind up a hostage, as in The Nine. And if we take that trip out West, we're likely to have a front-row seat for Armageddon, at least according to Jericho, the latest white-knuckle drama/sci-fi addition to the summer schedule (Sunday, 10 p.m.). The good news is that having watched the series premiere, we'll be ready and certainly not as stupid as the population of Jericho, Kansas, the town at the focus of the series. We'll pay more attention, for example, when the local newscaster talks about how "recent attacks have pushed the administration to take strong action." If we hear that, we're so moving into a shelter. We're also staying away from mysterious characters like Jake (Skeet Ulrich), who returns to his hometown, ostensibly to visit his grandfather. But when people ask him where he's been for five years, the answers range from "I've been playing minor league baseball" to the navy to the army. Jake's dad's the mayor (Gerald McRaney of Simon and Simon, Major Dad and about a zillion other shows), and obviously doesn't have much of a relationship with his son. Heck, he doesn't even know how old the kid is. We know because when dad won't hand over his share of the money his grandfather left him, Jake snarls: "When are you going to realize I'm 32 years old?" Ah - and no school buses for us, either. Cuz wouldn't you know it, but just as a little boy standing on a rooftop sees a mushroom cloud in the distance - one of the show's stronger moments - the local school bus is out taking kids on a trip. When the bomb's radiation makes the local livestock go wild, the bus hits a deer, leaving the kids lost in the dark. Then there's that TV again, talking about "fundamental dangers posed by the threat of terror." But no one pays attention, really. Jake's been given some money by his mom, so he's heading back to the coast, but the silly boy doesn't notice that the guy in the car ahead of him has had a radiation-triggered heart attack and smashes right into Jake's car. Without so much as a GPS, Jake stumbles on the bus, rigs up an airway made out of the school kids' straws to save one of them, and drives back to town a hero. Meanwhile, Mayor Dad is busy keeping the townsfolk from tearing each other limb from limb, as Jericho's psychological walls start falling down. At first, it seems the attack was focused on Denver, but then word comes of another one in Atlanta, courtesy of a tape left for the local "strange kid" by his mom on the answering machine. "Hey, you've got to see this" comes her boyfriend's voice in an Atlanta hotel room - then silence. Well, silence would certainly be welcome in this very melodramatic series with the overbearing script. "Are we under attack?" one of the townspeople asks the mayor. "Son, I don't want to hear that word again" comes the reply. Then there's his stuffy rival, who insists after challenging the mayor: "I don't care about the election - I'm talking about survival." Yeah, right. And while the injured Jake wanders away from his car accident, back in town a worried parent rejects the mayor's reassurances, shouting: "That's easy for you to say - you don't have a child out there!" How's that for understated irony? McRaney does his usual folksy strong-guy turn, but the rest of the cast isn't very memorable. The emphasis here is on effects, like the road strewn with dead livestock as the local schoolteacher tries to make it home, leaving her looking up at the night sky and wondering "What's happening?" What's happening is that the US networks are glutted with series about disasters facing groups or individuals, and the public's eating it up. The proof is that when this series was about to face a ratings apocalypse, fans forced CBS to reconsider, and it may return as a mini-series. Truth is, however, that while the production values and tension build-up of Jericho aren't bad, the script's a bomb. The concept isn't even that new, with The Day After, a 1983 TV movie about the nuking of Lawrence, Kansas, coming to mind. Still, with the news from Iran getting worse each day, at least we can learn some valuable lessons. Naturally, the first thing the Jericho folks fight about is gasoline, so we're going to start stocking up now. But we're not cancelling the US plans; we figure if there's a nuclear attack during our vacation, we can jump the line at Disneyland.