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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Posted By on Wed, Aug 6, 2008 at 3:47 PM

I know parents who confess they love watching shows like The Nanny and Wife Swap, because it gives them no end of vicarious pleasure to see how dreadful other people are at child-rearing and assorted family management.

I was reminded of that odd bit of nasty pleasure while watching Greatest American Dog, currently running on CBS. Yes, it may be possible I'm only person watching this summer-grade reality show in which dogs have to live together in a big house and perform weekly challenges. I've been sick, and this sort of low-grade entertainment is just what the doctor ordered.

Plus, I have a dog. And I would never ever be as stupid as the dog-owners on this show. Ahem.

The dogs -- who perform in tandem with their owners -- aren't a bad bunch. Because the challenges require responding to commands and being generally well behaved, the dogs chosen for the show were pre-screened for minimal aptitude and temperament.

Not so the owners! They're deliciously out-of-their-doggie-owner minds!

Beth Joy dresses her dog, Bella Scarlet, up in frou-frou outfits, and feeds her elaborate holistic meals packed with eyedrops of potions and who knows what. She's already been yelled at by the judges, including hardcase British celeb dog trainer Victoria Stillwell (also seen on Animal Planet in It's Me or the Dog), for making her dog wear dresses: "A dog is not a Barbie doll; a dog is a dog!"

"But that's what Bella Scarlet wears to parties!" Beth Joy wailed. Beth Joy -- who seems in need of a life -- also has a huge tattoo of her dog on her calf.

Speaking of needy, there's Brandy, who literally demands that housemates talk more about her. A number of contestants aver that their dog is their best friend, and frankly, some of them seem so intense about their dog, it's suggestive the animal is their only friend.

Middle-aged Laurie, who has a low-key Maltese, seemed normal upfront, but the strain of living in the group house may be chipping the veneer. Two weeks ago, she tattled on Elvis, a badly behaved Jack Russell who had been biting some of the other dogs. It was true about Elvis, but the whole episode seemed less than classy.

The human-and-dog pair who seemed the most happy to simply be there, and took the whole thing as the righteous goof it was, were Ron and his flatulent sleepy bulldog named Tilman. Then, they were sent packing in a shocking upset, when Tilman failed his glamour-portrait challenge. Surprisingly, Teresa who used "snarl bands" -- a rubber-band that fits over the dog's teeth and pulls back the lips -- to get her dog to pose looking angry (and which actually made the otherwise placid pooch actually irked) was not eliminated. Isn't this cheating?

So, what gives? The snoring, slumping, farting Tilman was a big hit with contestants (and, I bet, viewers), and should have stuck around. Oh well, the reality-TV-biz is tough and often unfair. The dogs seem unfazed week to week, but expect more drama from the increasingly thin-skinned humans.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2008 at 3:00 PM

I'm finally off my sick bed, and back to weigh in a couple of summer shows that are already nearing their mid-point …

Bravo, having discovered reality-formula gold with Project Runway, keeps churning them out in the same mold: Runway, now in its fifth season; Top Chef; Top Design (which appears to have been the one never-coming-back dud); and Shear Genius, or Project Runway for Hair.

Last season's Project Runway was a disappointment, and felt like a non-starter: The gimmick had grown stale; Tim Gunn seemed like a Tim Gunn skit; the challenges were dull, or tied to dumb things like Hershey's candy; and the designers duller (that is to say, interpersonal conflict was waaaay down).

So, it doesn't inspire much excitement that this season has opted to simply repeat popular challenges of the past. (Normally, such recycling would suggest: This show is out of ideas! Presumably when the show move to Los Angeles next season, the Left Coast will offer a bonanza of local challenges: Board shorts! Taking a meeting with Speilberg! Re-imagining gang colors!)

So far we've done the Supermarket Challenge, which landed with a big thud when too many designers grabbed tablecloths; a mildly amusing eco-fabric that had the models picking fabric (quel horreur!); and the "inspired by NYC" snapshot. (Old-timers remember that in Season One this is where Crazy Jay made that gorgeous dress inspired by the Chrysler Building, proving he could actually sew.) Next up: A reprise of the figure-skating challenge, and at least, all that Spandex should generate some tears over the sergers.

It does seem that at least this season of Runway has a higher quotient of high-strung, perversely self-absorbed designers -- and somebody always cracks on the overlocking machines.

Confidential to Stella: If you have to keep telling people repeatedly that you're "rock and roll," you're probably not.

As stupid as it sounds, I really enjoy the hairdresser Runway-knockoff, Shear Genius (despite worst name ever!). Perhaps because I've spent a lifetime mangling my own unmanageable hair, I find the whole idea of professionals with exotic knowledge of curl, cut and color to be fascinating. (I've made every mistake there is, regarding the three Cs.)

Not surprisingly, the hair-burners are a high-maintenance bunch, seemingly split into three predictable groups: nice people, bitchy queens and abrasive women.

But I'm mostly amazed that the producers can even come up with challenges around hairdressing, and this in the second season. Giving surfers a semi-pro look seems lame, but making the stylists do it at the beach with limited tools was a good twist. The challenge two weeks ago made me break out in a cold sweat: restyling a wig for an alopecia sufferer. A wig is unforgiving: You get once chance. Floating up from my past, ghostly images of all those forlorn Barbie dolls with "new" hairdos I gave them that they were forever damned with.

I also love the Total Seriousness of the judging on Shear Genius. I guess these judges are well-known in the hair world -- last season, one judge was famous for giving Meg Ryan her shag, whatever -- but they study and assess the results as if lives were at stake.

Both shows are so formulaic – I can recite half the canned dialogue by heart -- but I must confess, still entertain. Those of us that love to play with scissors simply can't look away.

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