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As America's Next Top Model and Shedding for the Wedding debut I ask: Is the CW out to get women?



medium_tyrayoucrazy.jpgToo often, Tyra Banks is like a sadistic stage mother.

Just when you think the supermodel-turned-media mogul is opening up to help the hapless girls competing in her America's Next Top Model series, she finds a new way to twist the knife. But this time, the CW has doubled down on Banks' bizarre penchant for humiliation and misdirection, pairing Top Model on Wednesdays with a show that's almost as abusive: the Biggest Loser-meets-Bridezilla competition, Shedding for the Wedding.

Debuting this week, the two programs present a one-two punch of gender cliches, conflicting messages and reality TV humiliation disguised as a helping hand.

medium_screen_shot_2011-02-20_at_6.51.33_pm.pngFirst up, Top Model. It ditched its typical audition episode to pick out the 14 contestants for this cycle off camera, using a process at which viewers can only guess. But fear not, Banks will keep us entertained by using an elaborate ruse to convince those winners they're actually losers, handing them envelopes that seem to indicate they were dropped from the show. (What happened to the giddy girls who thought they advanced, only to learn they lost? It was never shown, conveniently overlooked by a show focused on reinforcing its positive messages.)

Later, Banks and her judges force the contestants to do a runway walk on a foot-wide plank. Suspended in a pool. Inside a confetti-filled plastic bubble. I am not kidding.

Top Model has often felt like a projection of Banks' ID plastered over a TV screen, using the contestants and challenges to re-enact her own battles with weight, ethnic identity and self-esteem. That trend continues in the show's 16th cycle, as each contestant is slowly shoehorned into their character stereotypes — from the plus-size model who simply looks like a pretty, average-sized woman, to the black contestant with the streetwise attitude.

shedding-for-the-wedding.jpgAt least Top Model can pretend to be original. Shedding for the Wedding rips all of its formatting from NBC's Biggest Loser, with a little nuptial mania thrown in.

With marriage rates at historic lows, it seems odd television has so many unscripted shows about getting married. This one takes nine young couples — only one person is older than 29 — and puts them through a brutal weight loss competition to give one winner a dream wedding.

The elements "borrowed" from NBC's weight loss show surface immediately. Beautiful host who used to be fat? Check. (Jenny Craig spokeswoman Sara Rue.) A male-female pair of Type A telegenic trainers? Check. Weigh-in segments at the episode's end primed for maximum suspense? Check.

But instead of Biggest Loser's hypocritical nod to weight loss for better health, these couples are focused on shedding pounds to look good in tuxes and wedding dresses, with constant references to the brides' vision for their dream ceremony.

As fellow media critic Jennifer Pozner often notes, it's as if such reality shows are stuck in a long-ago time, when all women wanted was a legendary marriage ceremony and a modeling contract with CoverGirl makeup.

Given how popular the CW is with young women, I'm hoping at least a few of them read an analysis like this before tuning in on Wednesday nights. (locally, Top Model and Shedding air at 8 and 9 p.m., respectively, on WTOG-Ch. 44.)

[Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 7:44am]


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