Its hard to go wrong with Americas Next Top Model (UPN, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.), now in its second season and probably the most enjoyable reality show on TV. Gorgeous girls, fragile egos, wild clothes and bitchy fashionistas of both sexes blend into one deliciously addictive swirl.
The opening episode got straight down to business by setting the appropriate moral tone: Love thy neighbor is out. The first two candidates for dismissal were Anna, a 24-year-old Christian who refused to take part in a body-paint fashion shoot (only her husband should see her nude, was her view), and Jenascia, who was naive enough to expect rudimentary Christian charity from her roommate, April (like not letting her sleep through the alarm before the second days shoot). Also being eyed with considerable suspicion was Bethany, a 22-year-old Texan gal who had gasp breasts. Hide em, was the advice.
The panel of judges, or Assembly of Evil Esthetes, was led by host and model Tyra Banks, who describes herself as a drag queen in a womans body. Anna was eliminated, her religious scruples witheringly dismissed by Jane magazines senior fashion editor, the super-fey Eric Nicholson, while Jenascia was severely reprimanded for oversleeping. The fact that she herself had at one point extended a helping hand to April, and prevented her from being late for a stroll down the catwalk, counted for nothing. Anyway, according to Janice Dickinson, a ghoulish ex-model who looks as if shes in the 68 range, the 57 Jenascia was just too short. But since only one girl can be dismissed per episode, Jenascia lived to hang by a thread another day.
Since then, the show has developed into a steel-willed contest among five serious contenders. Camille, a black diva who drives her fellow contestants crazy, is the one everyone wants to bring down. Most likely to do so are the lovely Mercedes, who also gets the sympathy vote because she has lupus; dark horse Shandi, whose initial attempts to walk on high heels were like something out of a monster movie; Audrey Hepburn update Yoanna; and April, the Asian babe who let Jenascia oversleep and then pretended to be sorry just as soon as it was too late to rectify the situation.
One of the best things about Americas Next Top Model is the peek it provides into the New York fashion world and the gaudy nullities who populate it. They turn out to be just as hideous (and badly dressed) as you might expect. Hey, everybody, how ya doin? asks Banks in the fourth episode, draping an arm over her diminutive buddy, Mr. Simon Doonan of Barneys New York, who is going to teach the girls about personal style.
Doonans own style, we gather from his too-tight pants, mussed hair and flowery shirt, is to dress like a very small peacock. Then theres Betsey Johnson, the wildest designer in New York, whose look is punk mental patient cum glam bag lady. Personal style is trying to figure out who you are, and being that, she says, adjusting her crimson baseball cap. That aint easy. What is easy is putting other people down. Im not one of those [designers] who, unless youre 6 feet, I cant work with you, she tells the hapless Jenascia, reminding her, yet again, that shes only 57. Then, to soften the blow, she adds that with six months of modeling school shell be fine. The competition lasts 12 weeks. Needless to say, Jenascias already gone.
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Monk, the hit series on USA (Fridays, 10 p.m.) about a deeply phobic, ultraneurotic San Francisco detective, is back for another season. Fans will be happy to know that its as retro as ever. The first episode kicked off with the murder of a newspaper boy, while the second began with a villain winning a pie at a fair. You cant get much further from the high-tech wizardry of CSI than that.
What Monk has going for it is its terrific titular protagonist, wonderfully played by Tony Shalhoub, and his believably cute sidekick, Sharona (Bitty Schram), curvaceous Watson to his fusspot Holmes. The pleasures we get from the show are the old-fashioned ones served up in countless traditional mysteries: watching an eccentric but brilliant detective put together clues in a way no one else can. Theres nothing groundbreaking here, just good stories, interesting characters, and an emotional reticence that feels quaint without being absurd.
The reticence was highlighted in a scene in this seasons first episode, when Monk was in session with his therapist. The therapist wanted to know about his physical relationship with his late wife, Trudi, but Monk, whose zone of privacy doesnt end at the therapists door, wouldnt cough up any juicy details, much to the therapists frustration. Weve got 20 minutes left, he said finally. We could sit here and sing show tunes to each other, or you can talk about your sex life. Its your call. Monk thought about it for a few moments, and then started singing.