Accepting the premise that virtually every reality show was plucked from the ribs of a scripted one, think of “Welcome to the Parker” as “Hotel: The Not-Very-Real Reality Series,” repeating the same A-B plot formula in the first three episodes: A demanding outsider (food critic, hotel designer, high-end travel agent) comes to visit, throwing the staff into a tizzy; and there’s an elaborate event that must be mounted without a hitch. This show feels about as staged as the genre gets. Come to the Parker for the nonsense only, and leave reality behind.
A boutique Palm Springs hotel, the Parker does dovetail nicely with Bravo’s profile, which increasingly hinges on an airheaded view of Southern California as a playground for the rich and vacuous. That began with “The Real Housewives of Orange County” and continues with another series premiering this month, “Flipping Out,” which features an obsessive entrepreneur and his wacky staff buying, renovating and selling houses.
Bravo also caters to the gay community, and “Parker” clearly endeavors to do that as well. Gay characters figure prominently in the episodes previewed, yielding the show’s one human and genuine moment, when a woman re-proposes to her partner. In the second hour, the hotel’s designer shows up (with his dog, Liberace) and suggests the manager hire a “fluffer” — not in the porn sense, but an actual full-time staffer to go around fluffing up pillows!
With material like that, the writers — oops, sorry, “story producers” — are clearly working overtime.
Show unfolds from the perspective of various hotel staffers. The “Welcome” is laid out by an attentive if slightly neurotic group of employees, among them the manager, sales manager, room-service guy and events coordinator. The boss holds this mostly nondescript bunch to a high standard as they juggle “weird requests” from their demanding clientele. In the premiere, that includes bringing a touch of Hollywood to the desert when a posse of middle-aged guys (among them “Dukes of Hazzard” director Jay Chandrasekhar) stage a Ping-Pong tournament that devolves into a frat party.
It’s all meant to reinforce the image of the Parker as a place populated by people with too much time, money or both. The show sells the same sneaky glimpse of the high life offered by “Real Housewives,” but the skein’s artifice limits the allure of its voyeurism, and if the storylines are going to feel this scripted, better to wait around for the soapy antics of BBC America’s whimsical drama “Hotel Babylon,” which covers the same territory with better actors and makes its debut in August.
What’s left, in the interim, is a carefully orchestrated tour of the wealthy’s vacation excesses through the prism of those who serve them. And while the Parker is enthusiastically billed as a “five-star celebrity haven,” the series itself wouldn’t be rated that generously even on a 10-point scale.