May 31, 2005

TV: the summer reality onslaught begins...

Three new reality shows debuted over the holiday weekend -- one that looks to be quite entertaining, one disaster, and one that it's too soon to tell.

The good one is VH1's Kept. The premise is a bit sleazy: Twelve handsome young American men are brought to London to compete for a year-long position as Jerry Hall's kept boy. She'll be eliminating them one by one, based on their performance in various competitions and their skill at adapting themselves into the sophisticated European companion she needs. She's joined by a group of her best friends, who will help her evaluate each young man's performance, and it is the conversations among them that are the best part of each show. Jerry and her friends are witty, bitchy, and deliciously blunt in criticizing the shortcomings of each would-be companion; it's like watching an especially catty group of drag queens who just happen to have been born female. Throw in the cute boys, and there's enough there to keep me watching.

The disastrous new show is Fox's Hell's Kitchen. British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay comes to Hollywood for an Apprentice-style elimination process, which will lead to one would-be chef being given his/her own restaurant. Most of the contestants don't have a lot of restaurant experience, so it was not surprising that the first night of business at Hell's Kitchen -- the Hollywood restaurant where Ramsay will evaluate their performance -- was a disaster. If Ramsay were a charming or witty person, if he really were "the Simon Cowell of chefs," the show might have potential. But he's just nasty, unpleasant, rude, and abusive, and the show is painful.

Somewhere in between is Strip Search, another VH1 show. The goal here is to find15 men who will be brought to Los Angeles and compete for 7 spots in a new all-male dance revue -- that is, strippers. The first episode finds Billy Cross, the Australian impresario who will be training the contestants, and his airheaded co-host Rachel Perry, driving cross-country to audition some of the applicants. By the end of the first night, they've found only three who they like, and are worried that the second half of the trip (in next week's show) won't turn up enough to fill out the roster of 15. Billy's charming and likable, but Rachel grates on me. That's irrelevant, of course, since this show is about nothing more than beefcake, and its ongoing appeal will depend almost entirely on whether the 15 finalists are cute enough to draw me back for another hour of shallow pleasure.

Still to come this week: The WB's Beauty and the Geek, in which teams of hot babes and geeky guys have to help each other prepare for a series of competitions (week one: a spelling bee for the girls, a dance competition for the guys); ABC's Dancing With the Stars, in which half-a-dozen B-list celebs team with professional ballroom dancers for an American Idol-style competition, with one team eliminated each week; and NBC's Hit Me Baby One More Time, in which has-been bands and singers (Wang Chung! Gloria Gaynor! God help us, Tiffany!) compete for a chance at a comeback.

It's gonna be a loooooong summer...

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