Miss America is, hands down, our most hapless beauty pageant. After being criticized as a demeaning meat market, it added a talent competition to show that it viewed women as more than a set of body proportions. But then it was laughed at for being a meat market with very bad piano playing.
Soon the pageant added 'platforms' to show that the piano-playing hunks of meat cared about something other than hairspray. But by this time the audience, understandably confused, had moved on to the Miss USA Pageant, which at least owns up to being about boobs and butts.
Miss America's ratings plunged. Last year it was finally kicked off broadcast TV, landing on the obscure CMT network. It looked like the pageant could sink no lower 'until it announced that this year's version (Monday, 7 p.m., CMT) would be hosted by Mario Lopez. He's the guy who presides over Pet Star, Animal Planet's four-legged talent competition.
Will Lopez usher in yet another Miss America innovation by making the contestants roll over and beg?
Valley of Light
Sunday, 8 pm (CBS)
A poor fisherman (Chris Klein) comes home from World War II to find his poor mama and poor daddy dead and his poor brother in prison. You can tell he's a decent man by his shy, stoic smile and his fake Southern accent. And you can tell that his heart will heal after about six commercial breaks, what with the poor widow (Gretchel Mol) who crosses his path. She speaks with a fake Southern accent too, so they're just bound to hit it off.
She: 'What was it like, the war?'
He: 'There's no makin' sense of it.'
She: 'I guess a lot of things don't make sense.'
Yeah, a lot of things don't. Like: If these people are so poor, why do their period clothes always look cleaned and pressed, as if fresh from the costume shop?
Tuesday, 7 pm (Fox)
Denise Jackson did Madison proud in the season premiere. The 16-year-old La Follette High student faced the judges with remarkable poise and impressed even nasty Simon Cowell with her powerful pipes. She also touched America's heart by frankly discussing her family problems.
If you're reading this, Ms. Jackson, please be advised that I'm willing to leave the TV-blurb-writing field for a position as your personal Hollywood communications director. Effective immediately.
Wrestling Society X
Tuesday, 9:30 pm (MTV)
MTV's new series goes beyond World Wrestling Entertainment. It's billed as 'the dirtiest, most dangerous wrestling competition on TV.' Every week, grunting behemoths will battle each other with absolutely no holds barred. Bands like Good Charlotte, Three 6 Mafia and New Found Glory will provide the gritty soundtrack.
I don't doubt there's an audience out there for wrestling even more violent than what's already on TV. But should MTV really be catering to them (as opposed to, say, notifying the police)?
Wednesay, 10 pm (Bravo)
This reality series does for interior design what Project Runway does for fashion design and Top Chef does for cooking. It creates a cutthroat competition in which otherwise normal, talented people are reduced to backstabbing, bickering and bitching in pursuit of victory. It utterly debases the practice of interior design'and thank God for that. Never have throw pillows and end tables been so entertaining.
Right out of the box, the contestants are at each other's throats. They're asked to pair up and create a room based on a group of objects. 'My skin is crawling right now,' John says when paired with Michael. Michael responds by saying, 'If I get eliminated because of that jerk I'm going to kill him.'
When the contestants aren't insulting one another, they're arguing about their approach to the design challenge. ('I think we should do linen.' 'We're not doing linen!') The judges get into the spirit, evaluating the finished rooms with the nastiest barbs they can think of.
'It feels like a Chinese restaurant.'
'It looked like a hamburger shack.'
'It needs a huge dose of Zoloft.'
I agree with John: My skin is crawling right now. And I can't wait for the next episode.
The Supreme Court
Wednesday, 8 pm (PBS)
This enlightening four-hour documentary takes us through the Supreme Court's history, getting into the nitty-gritty of its epochal cases.
In the first hour, we see pioneering Chief Justice John Marshall establish the court's place in the federal government. Before Marshall, the court had been a laughingstock, with justices riding the circuit to decide very unimportant cases. One justice, traveling to an out-of-town trial, fell through a river's frozen ice and almost drowned. Clearly, this institution needed an injection of solemnity.
Marshall provided it, overriding Thomas Jefferson's objections to cement the court's role as an interpreter of the Constitution. 'When the court speaks, it's supposed to speak for what the country stands for,' a commentator says. 'So we put a lot of faith in the court ' we want it not to let us down.'
Over the years, however, it has let us down, and in a big way. In the first hour, we hear about the pre-Civil War Dred Scott decision, in which the court ruled that whites need not respect black people's rights. After the Civil War, the court reaffirmed white society's right to treat black people as badly as it chose.
This is just a hunch, but I have the feeling that the court will let us down many more times in hours 2 through 4.