|Photo by J. Viles/FOX|
Panned by the critics, ignored by the public, the contestants on Paradise Hotel (Fox, Mondays and Wednesdays, 9 p.m.) soldier bravely on. The program, if you’re one of the millions of people who haven’t been watching it, is a reality show about 11 “sexy singles” who’ve been dispatched to a luxury resort in order to indulge “their wildest fantasies.” (These, on the evidence of the first 200 episodes or so, include kissing, getting back rubs and jumping into a swimming pool in a way designed to create a really, really big splash.) There are no prizes to be won, the only point being to remain in “paradise” as long as possible, or until whoever’s fallen asleep at Fox wakes up and pulls the plug. Find somebody willing to share your bed and you’re safe; but with 11 contestants there’s always an odd one out, and each week svelte hostess Amanda Byram climbs down off her perch and orders someone to leave this latter-day Eden “forever.”
“Forever” being the operative word. At the rate things are going, this show will still be on a year from now. But will anything interesting have happened? So far, it’s been like a version of Temptation Island in which nobody is seriously tempted by anything. Sure, people backstab and fight and shed tears and slide in and out of bed with each other. But for the most part, what’s really striking about these red-hot singles is just how lukewarm they are. Most of the time, they look as if they’d rather read a book than make out. Except, of course, that they don’t read books. It’s a problem.
The show’s one innovation — and it’s actually a pretty good one — is that each week a viewer can join the show, replacing whoever’s dropped out. The first member of the public to be chosen was Dave, a guy who would just be averagely unattractive if you saw him on the street. But among the tan, buff bods at the hotel, he looks like a monster: skinny, hideously pale, and sporting a paranoid, reptilian grin. His roommate, doe-eyed Charla, made her revulsion plain: “I don’t like him touching my bare skin,” she announced as Dave squirmed. Dave is learning the hard way that the Beautiful would sooner endure 40 years of enforced celibacy than make love to the Ugly just once. Since then, more people have been recruited from the tiny pool of viewers, but they have been Beautiful too, leaving Dave more Ugly than ever.
The most representative character is probably Scott, a man who appears to have no interests, no feelings, no desires and no conversation. (Other than that, he’s a barrel of laughs.) He’s been rooming with Toni, a bug-eyed personal trainer with large breasts and almost equally large biceps, but they do not have sex together. Although she is not Ugly, Toni is not Beautiful either (she is only Buff, Bisexual and Bonkers), and has thus been confined to the role of bipolar den mother, advice counselor and ally, while twitchy pretty boy Zack, laid-back pretty boy Alex and nondescript pretty boy Beau duke it out over Amy, Amanda, Kristin and Charla. The show is so supernaturally tedious that one wonders if Fox is playing the wrong tape. Perhaps there are bearded terrorists lurking in the bushes and, God willing, or Inshallah as the Arabs say, Paradise Hotel is due to turn into Hotel Inferno, blown to smithereens while we watch, or don’t watch, from the safety of our living rooms. Only time will tell.
I think it was in Nick Hornby’s How To Be Good that one of the female characters said women don’t go for guys who put too much effort into their appearance, since excessive personal grooming is likely to suggest . . . Well, that book was written at least three years ago, and times are changing fast. The notion that women are likely to be snared by charm and intellect alone, and never mind that potbelly seeping out of a stained T-shirt, is as dated as fedoras and furry pectorals.
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the new make-over show on Bravo (Tuesdays, 10 p.m.), has arrived just in time to confirm the new male status quo: Eyebrow grooming is in! And in Los Angeles and New York, the pressure is on for men to pay as much attention to their image as women. (The pressure eases considerably in places where it’s still legal to smoke a cigarette while drinking a beer.) So five gay men, including the hilarious Carson Kressley, a “fashion savant,” and Ted Allen, a “food and wine connoisseur,” have decided to help out their non-queer brethren by giving them a crash course in the aesthetics of self-presentation. Each week the team picks one straight, hopelessly unstylish male mired in sloth, facial hair and bad T-shirts, and puts him through a high-speed transformation. It’s like Trading Spaces, Faking It and What Not To Wear rolled into one whirlwind package.
The show’s first victim was Brian “Butch” Schepel, a likable prop builder with artistic aspirations. When we first saw him, Brian looked as if he’d just spent a year in the wilderness — scraggly beard, withered ponytail — but it soon became clear that he’d simply been holed up in his apartment, an epic agglomeration of grungy clothes, yellowing magazines and wall-to-wall squalor.
Stifling its shrieks, the team moved bravely in. (Though it used tongs to pick up his clothes.) Within hours, it seemed, the apartment had been turned into a hip bachelor pad, and Brian himself had undergone a complete metamorphosis. The speed with which this was accomplished felt wildly unrealistic, even by the standards of the genre, but it was fun to watch. Even better was the second episode, when the team took on Adam Zalta, a suburban dad with a sense of style dating back to the Nixon administration and a fondness for old hockey jerseys. (Seeing some shirts with the names Gretzky and Tourette on them, Kressley remarked, “I’ve never heard of these towns.”)
Some of the dialogue was very funny. “How often do you go shopping?” Kressley asked Adam. “About once every two or three years,” he replied. “No, that’s voting,” Kressley pointed out helpfully. And, while Adam was in the shower: “How do you feel, Adam?” “I feel like I’m getting clean.” “Is that a new feeling?”
Initially Adam seemed beyond rescue, but he proved to be a model make-over candidate in the end. Obviously, he’s never going to be in the Fab Five’s league — “I love that your drink matches your outfit,” Kressley said to fellow team member Allen at one point, which may be taking color coordination a little too far — but he did look a lot better at the end of the show than at the beginning, and seemed genuinely pleased about it. As did his wife. What the kids thought, however, we never found out. In fact, we didn’t even see them. They might have wanted a make-over too.
Banzai, the bizarre new pseudo-Japanese comedy on Fox (Sundays, 8:30 p.m.), is the perfect program for nights when it’s too hot to do anything but put your feet up and guzzle a succession of long cool drinks. Or so I’ve decided after watching the first two episodes. Based on a British series, but featuring comically thick Japanese accents, Banzai occupies a territory somewhere between a slot machine and a demented game show. “Start your betting NOW!” shrieks the host, Mr. Banzai, as the audience is invited to lay money on the outcome of various stunts and competitions. How many balloons will it take to lift a chicken off the ground? How long can “Mr. Shake Hands Man” (a recurring character) shake the hand of Kelsey Grammer before the latter pulls away?
The funniest (and oddest and most original) scene came in the first episode, when “Lady One Question” (a stern-looking young Japanese woman, also a recurring character) stuck a microphone in Simon Cowell’s face and asked him to explain the difference between the British and American versions of American Idol. The joke was that we in the audience already knew that Lady One Question was only going to ask . . . one question. But how long, after he’d answered the first question, would the nonplused Cowell stick around for the follow-up? Thirty seconds? Sixty seconds? Ninety seconds? Start your betting NOW!