Girls on Film

Four new reality shows.

The first signs that viewers of Tuesday night’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (CBS) had ventured onto strange turf were, literally, signs. The producers decided that it would not meet the purposes of their soft-core flesh parade simply to march attractive women sheathed in fanciful underthings down a sparkling catwalk. No, the set needed an extra something, a certain oomph, so producers rigged up lights spelling out their conviction that the proceedings were “SEXY” and “SEXY” and “SEXY.” The attempt to command arousal looked—like the pink-fur metallic-polyurethane moccasin boots Victoria’s Secret is pushing this season—laughably crude.

A number of nonfiction fantasies about women hit the air this week, and the Victoria’s Secret show isn’t the most absurd, just the flashiest. The models wore grand and gaudy costumes—spangled wings, Barbarella hand-me-downs, something that looked like a papasan chair made of Mylar. The spectacle was ridiculous and dull. Except in those fleeting moments when it was ridiculous and offensive—sending a girl out in a metal collar to which one might attach a leash seemed a bit much. Martin Amis once ventured that the real danger of watching pornography is that you might see something you like: “If you harbor a perversity, then sooner or later porno will identify it.” The same concept applies here. May I have a show of hands for the retro-futuristic stewardess gear?

No? Perhaps you were instead indulging a fetish for catfights by watching The Bad Girls Club (Oxygen, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET), the latest from the production company that had the vision to lob The Real World at an America that was ready for it. Executive producer Jonathan Murray, having observed that the most entertaining Real World roommates are the least socialized, wondered what would happen if he gathered seven such women under one roof. In a press release, Murray guarantees that his cast will “exhibit just about every kind of immature, spoiled, backstabbing behavior you can imagine” in the course of the season. He’s being modest. Unless your imagination is a Boschian riot of nastiness, the mere preview of the season’s lowlights will easily exceed its limits.

The women run the gamut from bratty to borderline sociopathic, and each is obnoxious in her own way. Ripsi, a rich girl who has cultivated a Nicole Richie affect, swears that there’s no better hangover cure than tequila. Kerry, a country singer, says she’s mainly known in Nashville for being over the top: “I’m very manipulating.” Aimee has been kicked out of cosmetology school, among countless other places, for fighting; in describing her temperament, her boyfriend channels Ari Fleischer’s advice to the press: “You gotta watch what you do, and you gotta watch what you say.” It seems the show’s tremendously deft editors will be relying heavily on Leslie, a stripper, to deliver delicious reaction shots. Jodie, a brassy Baltimore office worker who thinks she’s a starlet, occasions a number of these. In an interview video available on Oxygen’s Web site, she tells a story that builds to a teary climax: “I maced the entire dance floor.” Somewhere in there, the show is offering therapy, giving the ladies a chance to face up to themselves, but its heart is in documenting girl-on-girl crime.

If you sampled The Bad Girls Club, then you need to wash away the taste of it; turn to the goofy sweetness of Dirty Dancing (WE, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET). A reality competition based on the 1987 film, the show is Dancing With the Stars without any stars. The contestants are perfectly average women—secretaries who take ballroom-dancing lessons by night, and so forth. The prize is a dance contract.

Dirty Dancing is a very bad movie, but that doesn’t matter. The situation of its heroine, Baby Houseman, an awkward girl initiated into the mysteries of self-expression one magic summer in the Catskills, spoke straight to the contestants’ hearts. “Baby came from having no rhythm, y’know,” says one contestant. “If she could do it, hell, so could I.” Or, in the words of the host: “She learned a lot about dance, but even more about herself.”

The winner of Dirty Dancing will get, in addition to a hazily defined “dance contract,” two tickets to the London premiere of a stage version of Dirty Dancing. The women of My Bare Lady (Fox Reality, Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET) will actually appear on the London stage. The premise of the four-episode series—to apprehend the premise is to get the whole joke—is that four porn starlets head to England, take a crash course in acting, and make their debut on the legitimate stage. It’s been reported that the play is Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, and I’m disinclined to report anything otherwise, as the title is just too perfect. I’m not familiar with the actresses—Nautica Thorn (Fashionably Laid, Good Girls Doing Bad Things 2), Kirsten Price (Put It Wherever 2, Hand to Mouth), Sasha Knox (Service Animals 23, Service Animals 24), and Chanel St. James (Jenna’s Provocateur, Chanel No. 1)—but you must admit that those titles also suggest promise. Thursday’s episode features an audition sequence in which the women, along with their colleagues who did not make the cut, read from the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, and the producers have a lot of fun with the various mispronunciations of Montague heaved forth. Despite the sneer on its face and the thinness in its soul, My Bare Lady is intermittently entertaining, so be careful if you come across it. Reality television is out to identify every perversity there is.