Our Brains Are Our Secret Weapon

The stunning mother-daughter pageant competition Crowned.

Crowned contestants Mindy and Rachelle

Throughout the final episode of America’s Next Top Model, the CW kept alerting its audience that the debut of Crowned, a mother-daughter pageant competition, was waiting around the corner, stoking anticipation with bulletins that it was fewer than 40 minutes … 20 minutes … 20 seconds away. After awhile, I couldn’t tell whether these notices were warnings or enticements. A bit of both, maybe. We are, after all, talking about a mother-daughter pageant competition, and the show’s success will depend on its ability to promenade along the narrow line dividing the vigorously campy from the powerfully creepy.

It seemed an exquisite touch that the 11 pairs of contestants arrived at the “castle” that will serve as their dormitory by way of chartered bus. Some were veterans of the tiara circuit, and others were rank amateurs, and most were wearing too much blush. Their universe is gynocentric and homosocial. Carson Kressley, the wittiest of the gang from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, serves as a judge, and he was the only man to intrude on the night’s proceedings. Unless you count the help. The ladies were chastely attended to by a handful of boys whose pectorals swelled subtly within their pink polo shirts. Mostly, they busied themselves by clipping hedges and distributing mimosas.

The first half of the episode was rather hectic, with the gals taking time to connive intramurally, to circle one other warily, and to let the home viewer know a thing or two about their innermost hopes and dreams. At our introduction to the yellow-haired West Virginians Brenda and Heather, the older of the two said, “Our brains are our secret weapon.” Indeed, Brenda and Heather kept their intelligence superbly well hidden throughout the program. Pamela and Felicia—short of stature and tall of bangs—were presented as the token hicks. Andrea and Amanda, the duo from New Mexico, were superbly polished, all business, and radiantly full of themselves—haughty, standoffish, condescending, unpleasant. In short, they were great fun to watch.

The contestants’ mission this week was to choose a team name, select a costume to suit it, and do a brief act in order to introduce themselves to the judges. Thus, Andrea and Amanda, who seem to wear matching outfits as a matter of course, slipped on Cleopatra gowns and proclaimed themselves the Reigning A’s and blathered insensibly about monarchy. Meanwhile, Brenda and Heather donned golden dresses and became the Blonde Bombshells and performed some cute skit that’s impossible to remember. It wasn’t looking good for the Bombshells going into Crowned’s inaugural elimination scene, its first “de-sashing ceremony.” They had been sloppy and unpolished and tacky, even by local standards. Yet, in a stunning reversal, the Reigning A’s were made to atone for their snottiness, and it was the Blonde Bombshells themselves who lifted the ceremonial de-sashing scissors—the handles of which are lavender and probably bedazzled—to snip Andrea and Amanda back into civilian life. It looked a small triumph of decency and real maternal values, with Crowned seeming to say that the possibility of self-improvement might make for better television than the quacking of two spoiled brats.

The teaser for next week’s episode, which involves a swimsuit competition, featured a glimpse of Patty and Laura, the Redheaded Bombshells. Patty, the mother, was attempting to leave a changing room, and Laura was using a bikini to whip her back inside. This rather spoiled the mood. Or else enriched it. A bit of both, maybe.