True Beauty, which debuted last night on ABC, sought to open our eyes to a fact that no other reality show has ever revealed: that good-looking people competing on TV are often shallow. A joint production of Tyra Banks and Ashton Kutcher, it combines the hallmarks of their two production styles: sanctimony about “inner beauty” and extremely high-concept stunts concepts, respectively.
That concept: ten attractive contestants are told that they’re going to be on a beauty-competition show, but are secretly put through a number of tests to determine whether they’re good people, largely having to do with putting up with clumsy waiters and helping people when they fall down. It’s all supposed to be very morally minded and instructive, I suppose, but unlike Kutcher’s Beauty and the Geek, which confronted superficial cliches with heart and good humor, there’s something cheap and too easy about this set up for guaranteed moral superiority.
I mean, yes, people who have been told they are going to be in a TV beauty competition–and sat down in front of producers asking them questions about their appearance—are going to be focused on their looks. And while it’s definitely funny to hear a barista compare his turning heads when he walks into a room to “Michael Jordan walking into a basketball arena” (it’s OK! it turns out he writes sensitive poetry about how he used to be fat!), it’s not really much different from the routine braggadocio of any of the thousands of Americans With Too Much Self-Esteem populating primetime reality.
And really, while they may be wonderful people, who are fashion guru Nole Marin, Vanessa Manillo and Cheryl Tiegs to judge anyone’s inner beauty anyway? Though I did get a kick out of Tiegs being introduced as “the world’s first supermodel,” an honorific Banks used to confer on Janice Dickinson on America’s Next Top Model. A truly beautiful person wouldn’t enjoy that implied dig, I guess. Call it my true ugliness.