I watch the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills every week. I watch New York and Orange County, too. (Though we all agree DC was whack, right?) I watch these shows partly for the ability to laugh at the dippy one-liners handed to me on a platter by out-of-touch flibbertigibbets. But there's also a level of momentary escapism that comes with watching the rich and famous swim in pearl ponds and shit diamonds as they navigate the stormy seas of extreme wealth.
Which makes it all the more ironic and bizarre that a pilot such as The Headhuntress premieres tonight directly after our weekly visit to Housewivesland.
The Headhuntress stars Wendy Doulton, an L.A.-based headhunter with just the right combination of British accent and (we think) plastic surgery to give her authority over Americans while still fitting in with the city's elite. She's the founder of Katalyst Career Group, which places candidates in high-paying, executive jobs, as well as coaches the despondent unemployed on resume-writing and interview skills.
In the special premiering tonight, we get to watch Wendy seek out a new head of publicity for Ronan, an offshoot of luxury clothing line Rock & Republic. The gig lets one lucky PR whiz build a cutting-edge brand from the ground up, rubbing elbows with celebrities along the way, and cashing a $150,000-a-year paycheck to boot.
Regardless of what you do — whether you're a middle manager, account rep or anyone else just working for the weekend — this job sounds pretty cool to a lot of people. It's the kind of gig that keeps you dripping in glitz and glam, balancing a cocktail in one hand and an iPhone in the other — living large while truly being in charge. Yet you even get to wear jeans to work. And those jeans, if they're Ronan, are probably free.
The two candidates Wendy narrows down for Ronan are rockstars in their field. They're sought-after, valued in their industry, and seem to genuinely love what they do. How many of us can say that in this near-Depression? It's the holy grail of today's working class.
At least that's what we perceive it to be, and that's all that matters, because The Headhuntress is putting forth a new kind of fantasy programming for the recession era.
There are so many people out of work in this country, or doing the job of two people on a salary that's probably been cut by 20%, that the idea of landing these high-paying supercool-sounding jobs makes us drool for an entirely new reason.
We're used watching rich people live fabulous lives on reality TV and living vicariously through them. This is embodied not only by the booming Housewives franchise, but by Keeping Up With the Kardashians and its half dozen spinoffs, Platinum Weddings, The Hills, Millionaire Matchmaker and a handful of other shows that feature big spenders spending big. Many of us sit at home munching popcorn and sipping 2-buck Chuck, imagining that despite all the petty bickering, life must be lovely when it's seen from a balcony overlooking the Pacific.
But a show like The Headhuntress makes us lust for a different kind of good life, one many of us crave as we collect our unemployment checks. Where the Housewives et al are more “wouldn't it be fantastic if I were super rich and didn't have to work?” The Headhuntress is more “wouldn't it be amazing if I could ditch my thankless job to work my ass off at something I really loved?”
The Headhuntress has at least one other show to keep it company — Chef Hunter, which recently premiered on the Food Network. On it's first episode, which was filmed at L.A.'s Border Grill, the restaurant's owners Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken used job placement expert Carrie McCully and a few reality TV cameras to help them find a new executive chef for their downtown location. Two chefs went head-to-head, but not in the typical cook-this-secret-ingredient-while-blindfolded route. Instead, each chef created new menu items, and managed the staff and service for one night. In other words, each did exactly what an executive chef does all the time. The person who did it better didn't get a quarter-million dollars or the title of “Next Best Top Iron Chef,” they got the job. Go figure.
Yes, we've seen this before on The Apprentice. Sort of. But anyone with half a brain could see that program was much more about Donald Trump's narcissism than actual job placement. There's nothing inspiring about 30 minutes of frantic sales pitches followed by another 30 minutes of The Donald barking in a boardroom. Plus, word on the street always was that winners rarely received anything that resembled employment. And even if they had, they'd have been stuck working for the Trump Organization. How enticing is that? To me, not very.
That's what's different about shows like The Headhuntress and Chef Hunter . They feature ambitious up-and-comers, hip companies and cool, challenging jobs that make today's young, creative class of viewers want to turn off their TVs and start their own dotcoms. Or at least brush up their resumes. Baby steps.
Catch The Headhuntress tonight at 10 p.m. on Bravo. Chef Hunter airs on Thursdays at 10 p.m. on The Food Network.