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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Stylista' is straight off that fashion-show rack

October 22, 2008|ROBERT LLOYD | TELEVISION CRITIC

Mr. Blackwell died Sunday. I remember when he had the TV fashion franchise practically to himself. You can imagine.

It's different now. Fashion has never really gone out of fashion, in the wider world, but never on television has it been such a spectator sport. Not just "Project Runway" and "The Rachel Zoe Project" and more make-me-a-model shows than I care to research, but "What Not to Wear" and "Gossip Girl" -- which is like a "Teen Vogue" spread with dialogue, alcohol and making out -- and "Paris Hilton's My New BFF," in which it is imperative for contestants to look hot always. And "Ugly Betty," which wraps it all up in a comic nutshell. And we might as well count reruns of "Sex and the City" for all those who didn't live it on HBO. And all those who-are-you-wearing red carpet moments. And so on.

Hitting the air tonight is the CW's "Stylista." Set at Elle magazine, it pits wannabe fashion editors in a foot-in-the-door reality-competition version of "The Devil Wears Prada" -- a meme the network itself released into the atmosphere. In "Project Runway" terms, it's a show for those who aspire to be not Michael Kors -- I believe Top Designer Michael Kors is now his full legal name -- but Nina Garcia, a former Elle editor now of Marie Claire. Except in the decorative details, it is exactly the same as every other gimme-a-job reality show ever made, with the contestants all banged up in a fancy dormitory from which they disappear one by one after themed weekly challenges.

The killing catch-phrase this time is "You're not the right fit," and the woman who delivers it is Elle Fashion News Director Anne Slowey, who did a little "Project Runway" judging in its first season. (That show, like Garcia, is also transferring its affections from Elle to Marie Claire, which will reportedly provide the background for yet another fashion-themed reality series. Watch this space.)

Slowey and Garcia have been or are now either feuding or are not feuding. I did a little research into this subject, but it only hurt my head.

The 11 starting contestants are mostly 25 and younger, not so far out of the "Real World" demographic, which means they're long on drama and short on actual experience; most of them don't yet know what they don't know. Contestant Megan, who has inherited money, is the show's Mean Girl; DyShaun is her sidekick, Ashlie her adversary and Kate, a law school dropout whose cleavage precedes her, her target. Danielle is, superficially, the Betty Suarez of the piece -- as she says, she's "bigger than most girls" -- though unlike Betty, she's fashion-conscious.

Only a couple of them express any interest in writing.

Their first task is to assemble a breakfast for Slowey, who arrives with melodramatic fanfare. "I don't do wheat at all," she sniffs, examining the offered meals. "I don't do almonds unless they're soaked overnight." (I don't do wheat at all, either. But I do eat it.) I half-expected her to call them maggots and demand 50 push-ups.

At times Slowey comes off like a Mean Girl writ large, but some of this at least appears to be put on -- a put-on. (She barely resembles the Slowey who appears on the Elle website, leading a video tour of her own closet.) At other times, with Creative Director Joe Zee by her side, judging the contestants' self-makeovers or their mock magazine pages, she can seem like a reasonable person.

There's a kind of "Poseidon Adventure" narrative to these shows: Who will scheme to stay alive, and who will show selflessness? Who will fall apart in panic? (An ambulance arrives in Episode 2 for one player.) And who will put them all in danger because they can't listen to instructions?

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Stylista'

Where: The CW

When: 9 tonight

Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for coarse language)

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