America's Next Top Model (Wednesday, 7 p.m., CW) shows the ugly side of beauty. The new season features more contestants who are pretty on the outside and grotesque on the inside, with personalities that practically crack the camera lens. Sample comments from the first episode:
'I have a better model look than anyone here.'
'If they can't cut it, I'm glad to see them go.'
'I'm not a complete bitch or anything, but I want these girls to know that if they get in my way I will plow them over.'
No, there's not much evidence of humanity among these walking clothes hangers. The series itself is just as heartless, and that's always made it a guilty pleasure. But the pleasure drains away in the episode's first segment, set in a military boot camp. With thousands of U.S. soldiers being killed and maimed in Iraq, America's Next Top Model thought it would be fun to dress its contestants in fatigues and combat boots, with host Tyra Banks barking orders like a drill sergeant. Apparently, no one stopped to think that this bit of sniggering home-front frivolity would be a wee bit disrespectful.
Is it possible to make an entire series drop down and give you 20?
Saturday, 8 pm (Sci Fi)
A solar flare shoots through space and hits the Earth. It releases a fire-oriented alien that can hide in a tiny ember or explode into a flaming dragon shape. Two firefighters try to stop the fiend before it can reach its deadly goal: our nation's petroleum reserves!
This TV movie sounds farfetched, but it does offer occasional moments of realism. In one scene, a firefighter makes out with his girlfriend after quenching a forest fire. She's sweet, sexy and appealing ' until the fire serpent jumps into her body. Her skin glows orange, her face goes rigid, and she shoots fireballs out of her eye sockets. Her voice turns to a roar as she basks in the raging inferno she's created.
I dated a woman like that once.
Jamie Foxx's Laffapalooza '07
Saturday, 9 pm (Comedy Central)
The ninth annual showcase features Kevin Hart, Ricky Smiley, Anthony Anderson, Tony Woods and other standup comedians. The problem is that they all play to the live audience rather than to the cameras, making the program a bit tiresome for TV viewers. We have to sit there and bide our time as the comedians work up the crowd with endless exhortations:
'Make some noise!'
'Put your hands together!'
They asked me to 'give it up' so many times that I finally decided to just 'give it up' and watch something else.
Sunday, 7 pm (ABC)
To me, Dreamgirls is the Oscars' strangest success story. It's got the most nominations, as well as two favored winners in Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson. Why?
True, the movie comes on like an Oscar contender, with big emotions and endless showstopping scenes. But its wafer-thin drama can't support all that heavy stuff. The characters are walking clichÃs, barely endowed with personalities.
Hudson's celebrated number, 'And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going,' comes out of nowhere. We're asked to feel her character's pain without knowing anything about it. And I'm sorry, but waving your arms, stomping around the set and wailing as loudly as you can doesn't automatically count as a powerful performance.
On the other hand, that same behavior could well make for an entertaining acceptance speech.
Grease: You're the One That I Want
Sunday, 7 pm (NBC)
The reality series continues its quest for a male-female pair to star in an upcoming Broadway production of Grease. Guest star Frankie Avalon, known for the 1960s Beach Party movies, gives contestants tips on being an ersatz rock 'n' roll singer.
My Life as a Child
Monday, 6 pm (TLC)
This six-episode series features video profiles of 20 American kids, created by the subjects themselves. They filmed themselves over the course of four months, offering an unfiltered look at their lives.
Among the startling revelations: recess rocks; parents suck.
Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
Tuesday, 8:30 pm (Fox)
Mark Burnett's new quiz show wonders how much we've forgotten since fifth grade. Contestants are brought into a classroom setting to answer questions on geography, social studies and math taken from actual grade-school textbooks.
I predict that American adults will quickly sour on the show after realizing that they are not, in fact, smarter than a fifth-grader. I can already imagine Fox's attempt to readjust the concept for next fall: Are You Smarter Than a 2nd Grader?
Tuesday, 9:30 pm (WHA)
This edition of 'News Wars' examines financial pressures on newspapers and TV news. Their core audiences are growing older, and fewer people are getting their news from conventional formats. To stay profitable, CEOs have demanded cutbacks. As a result, journalists are stretched thin, unable to provide the quality reporting of years past.
Even blurb writers have been feeling the pinch. In the late '90s, I was able to feature a joke in every blurb, but budget trimming has now forced me to scale back to a mere one or two jokes for an entire column. Where will it all end?