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On 'Model,' don't underestimate cat suits

September 05, 2008|Claire Zulkey | Special to The Times

The return of "America's Next Top Model" is like the return of fall (or summer, winter or spring): inevitable and with some, but not much, variation. The beginning is always the most exciting time, when everything is new. We're still getting to know the girls and are only just getting the first bonk on the head of the personal-strife stories that we'll be slammed with over and over again throughout the season. We haven't gotten to the uncomfortable acting lessons or the "controversial" shoots or even the makeovers.

The producers have been running out of ideas as to how to kick the new cycles off. On Wednesday's premiere on the CW, the girls were sent to an on-the-cheap retro-futuristic facility. There they were in "futuristic" outfits at the Top Model Institute of Technology: "Tyrabot" and "Alpha J." and "Beta J." used a "scanner" to determine which models would make it through to the next round: Their fates were recorded in an extremely technological-looking font.

I know that it would be naive of "ANTM" viewers to consider the show anything but a guilty pleasure that happens to be related, tangentially, to fashion and modeling, but at least throughout the years it's maintained connections to the industry with photographers such as Gilles Bensimon or fashion shows for Donatella Versace. Fashion is, of course, over the top, but this was the cheesiest "Top Model" episode I've seen in recent memory.

But was it fun to watch? Of course. Maybe it was because Tyra and Co. seemed to enjoy the awfulness of the concept: the beaming, the pushing of useless buttons. Maybe it was the sexy cat suits on the girls.

It probably helped that Tyra Banks packed the cycle with plenty of drama. Elina Ivanova is an in-your-face vegan (the most entertaining kind) who wants to romance Clark Gilmer, a seemingly straight 'n' uptight girl who does not approve of Isis, the show's first transgender contestant. (Tyra loves to "bring the reality.") There is also a Mormon, another girl who has had a nondescript rough life and Sheena Sakai, an Asian girl whom I already love a little bit due to all her self-described "flava."

Oh, and there's also Hannah, a girl who proclaims "I'm from Alaska . . ." on a regular basis, which wouldn't have seemed that interesting until recently, when it became clear that Alaska is our most scandalous state. Joslyn Pennywell, already a favorite of J. Alexander for her "country" personality, auditioned 30 times. I'm also partial to Marjorie, a French girl who arguably looks the most like a model and is endearing in her awkwardness.

Tyra seems as though she'll be providing plenty of fodder for Joel McHale on "The Soup" this cycle, as she just went for broke on all the causes and activities she'd like to prove she's down with -- including English literature, an "eco-friendly is fierce!" bus, the GLBT community and voting.

Also, was she wearing sock garters?


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