In the reality series Stylista (Wednesday, 8 p.m., CW), 11 aspiring trendsetters vie for an editorial position at Elle magazine. They must impress self-important editor Anne Slowey, who does her best asinine-tyrant act for the cameras. "I only take iced lattes with a small straw," she tells a quivering contestant who dares to bring her breakfast. The scene is right out of The Devil Wears Prada, except that Meryl Streep does Slowey better than Slowey does Slowey.
As for the contestants, they're aspiring asinine tyrants. They practice being cruel to one another, a skill set they'll apparently need in the fashion industry. They prance around in silly - excuse me, "fashion forward" - outfits and fail to perceive the absurdity of their editorial assignments. "This is my dream, to be a writer," says a self-proclaimed poet as he pens immortal lines like "Chic simplicity with a dash of color!" Other would-be Shakespeares create poetry on the order of "classic chic!" and "the hottest trends for spring!" Ah, the literary life.
As repellent as these people are, I have to admit that it's fun being repelled by them. I'd even go so far as to call Stylista the hottest trend for fall.
Sex and Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Scandal
Saturday, 8 pm (Lifetime)
Hmm, "Sex," "Lies" and "Sin" in the same title. It looks like another desperate attempt to hook us with sleaze...but wait! This TV movie is better than most, thanks to an exceptional cast and a true-crime story handled with panache.
Sandy (Mena Suvari) loses all her money in Las Vegas, turns to stripping, and catches the eye of debauched casino owner Ted Binion (Matthew Modine). Binion is a loud, reckless substance abuser with money to burn. (Literally - it's his favorite parlor trick.) Binion's sister Becky (Marcia Gay Harden), an equally large personality, dislikes Sandy from the get-go. "I hope you told your slut what clothes you want to be buried in!" she screams at Ted while pointing a gun at him during a raucous family dinner. When Ted turns up dead, Sandy accuses Becky of murder, while Becky accuses Sandy. Meanwhile, Sandy's lover-on-the-side (Johnathon Schaech) is caught digging up Binion's buried cache of silver.
Sex and Lies in Sin City isn't a desperate attempt to hook us with sleaze; it's an artful attempt to hook us with sleaze. That may seem like a fine distinction, but hey, as your TV critic, those are the kind I'm paid to make. Enjoy.
Tuesday, 7 pm (WHA)
"Hunting the Hidden Dimension" introduces us to a mathematician who pioneered the study of fractals in the 1970s. Benoit Mandelbrot scrutinized the irregular repeating patterns found in nature and developed a new kind of geometry to explain them. The program makes the case that Mandelbrot's work is a world-changer, on the order of cracking the genetic code. By way of proof it informs us that animator Loren Carpenter drew upon fractals to create the pioneering computer-generated images for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Imagine a world without The Wrath of Khan and you'll understand the profundity of Mandelbrot's discovery.
Tuesday, 9 pm (Oxygen)
Why, it's another faded celebrity with a new product to sell producing his own "candid" reality series. Here, the celebrity is rapper Coolio, who has reinvented himself as a chef called "The Ghetto Gourmet." "My specialty," he says, "is makin' somethin' out of nothin'."
I was in mid-yawn when Coolio grabbed me by the collar. With his crazy-tendril hair and hip-hop patois, the guy has personality to spare. He comes across like a true eccentric, not an entertainer playing one for the cameras. The show's editing has the rhythmic jump of a Coolio rap, and the theme song is the flyest on contemporary TV.
The pilot finds Coolio reuniting with his kids after years as an absent father. Basically, he lays down the rules and they break them. I laughed out loud at a dinner-table scene where they dis the Ghetto Gourmet's inedible spaghetti sauce.
Just when you thought the celebrity reality genre had no more to offer, here comes Coolio to make somethin' out of nothin'.
The Sarah Silverman Program
Thursday, 9:30 pm (Comedy Central)
Am I the only one to notice that The Sarah Silverman Program is a work of genius? I don't see critics swooning or awards piling up. True, the series is deeply twisted, laying waste to all that is decent and wholesome in American life. But should that really disqualify Silverman for a Best Actress Emmy?
On the surface, The Sarah Silverman Program is as sweet as apple pie. Silverman plays "Sarah Silverman," who goes just beyond innocent to infantile. Sarah floats through the world with a pout and a ponytail, getting into jams. You'd almost think you were watching Gidget if the plots didn't spiral into delirious depravity.
This week's episode is so filthy that I can't even describe it in a family newspaper. All I'll say is: Somebody give Silverman that Best Actress Emmy.