The strange cross-pollination of reality shows — birthing “stars” who can then be recycled — has certainly come of age at VH1, which has created its own House of Horrors (although with “Charm School,” there’s a near-homonym that probably would be equally appropriate). Ricki Lake takes over as the program’s host, showcasing an assortment of leftover “talent” from “Rock of Love” and “Real Chance of Love.” Presumably the charm lessons will come later, since I lost count of the bleeped expletives at 25 and haven’t seen this much prominently heaving cleavage since Russ Meyer passed away.
Ostensibly, the idea behind “Charm School Gives Back With Ricki Lake” — as the new addition is rather fluffily titled — is to take these uncouth young women and gentrify them, or at least put them in schoolgirl outfits and compel them to engage in charitable acts. Epiphanies on the merits of benevolently looking outward will doubtless occur, but one suspects they’ll be about as real as most of the aforementioned cleavage.
The really striking aspect of the premiere, though, is how much time the show’s would-be luminaries spend pulling each other’s hair, slapping at each other and threatening to pull hair and slap each other. They also drink more heavily than the denizens of any TV show since perhaps the “Dean Martin Roasts.”
Much of this appears to be little more than posturing for the cameras, recognizing that bad behavior in this context (the title notwithstanding) is rewarded with increased airtime. The most amusing part comes when two women get into an altercation and Lake has to sit them down and soberly grill them about what happened — you know, like there’s no video evidence of what we just saw. “Physical violence will not be tolerated here at charm school,” the host says sternly, doubtless wondering how the hell she wound up uttering those words.
“Charm School” is a lot of things, but charmless is the most obvious. Then again, for a young woman in her 20s who has already tasted notoriety and committed herself to a life filtered through the lens of reality TV’s trashiest subgenre, I suppose anything beats a return to anonymity.