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'Crowned' takes prize for painful

Reality TV reaches a new low with the mother-daughter beauty pageant show.

December 12, 2007|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

If any of the negotiating members of the Writers Guild and studio alliance are reading this, I'm begging: Please return to the bargaining table and end this strike. Because the CW's "Crowned: The Mother of All Beauty Pageants" debuts tonight and I'm telling you, as a television consumer and a human being, the center will not hold. Reality TV is no longer an option. The genre has officially hit the seventh level of hell.

Eleven pairs of mothers and daughters move for eight weeks into a pageant house, where they will learn pageant skills and compete for a $100,000 prize. Each week, they will compete in various categories and at the end of each competition, one pair will be de-sashed and sent home.

I defy anyone to contemplate that paragraph and not weep for humanity. Not to mention the English language -- "pageant house?" "De-sashed?"

Close your eyes and imagine the sort of women who would audition for such a show. Now imagine the subset the producers would pick. You know, the disparate, desperate mix that is the cornerstone of every reality show. The scheming meanies, the airheads, the ruthless competitors, the brats, the geeks, the intentionally super-nice girls. Here they all are, complete with eerie mirror images, like aging participants in some ghastly Mommy and Me class. Patty and Laura, with their catty comments and frozen smiles; Brenda and Heather, two Texans equal parts blond and twang; Pamela and Felicia, looking like rejects from a "Rhoda" remake; and Andrea and Amanda, circling the group like barracudas.

"I think this is an excellent opportunity to show girls that beauty comes in every form," says Hollis, one of the "nice" ones, with a completely straight face. Yes, she does, though perhaps she has been fed the line by producers hoping to avoid blame for jump-starting the apocalypse.

It doesn't help that the infrastructure of the show can be described only as cheesy. The pageant house is a pre-fab McMansion horror that makes the houses on "The Bachelor" look like Venetian palaces. The stage on which the contestants compete is cramped and creaky, squashed in some soundstage or another, presumably between the sets of real shows.

Then there are the judges: "beauty guru" Carson Kressley ("Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"), former Miss U.S.A. Shanna Moakler ("Dancing With the Stars," "Meet the Barkers") and television personality Cynthia Garrett ("Later With Cynthia Garrett"). Oh, for an editor of Elle magazine!

It's almost as if "Crowned" was the result of a new marketing tool: "Reality Show in a Box." It certainly moves along at a bare-bones clip, making sure each pair of women is labeled mere minutes after we meet them and trotting out pertinent life info -- Melinda had a kidney transplant, Jenileigh lost her father in a helicopter accident -- with little regard for narrative timing, much less decorum.

The fun, of course, is watching the women bare their inner beauty queens, tear each other apart and generally make fools of themselves. For the first episode, the women must choose a name for their team, create evocative outfits and introduce themselves to the judges. The camera, lights and sound are all set to "brutal" -- we can see the glaze of pancake on their faces, hear the women clomping down the wooden steps like Clydesdales. The results are uniformly painful to watch.

Yes, there is some satisfaction in watching the mean girls' faces freeze when they realize the judges aren't overwhelmed, but even in that satisfaction lurks shame. Watching Kressley inform two clueless women that the name they have chosen for themselves, "Silent but Deadly," has unfortunate flatulent connotations is not my idea of a good time.

One assumes it can only get worse. Though there were a few redeeming moments -- Rachelle comforts Melinda after their introduction does not go well -- it isn't enough to excuse such a blatant exploitation of the mother/daughter relationship, to say nothing of the human soul. Besides, you would think a woman who had survived a kidney transplant would have better things to do than worry about being de-sashed.

So please, negotiators, if you love television as an art form, if you have any feeling for your viewers at all, come back to the table. We cannot live on "Crowned" alone.


'Crowned: The Mother of All Pageants'

Where: The CW

When: 9 to 10 tonight

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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