Terrell Owens

A half-hour image-building exercise for the heavily muscled star.

In the day’s weirdest sports statistic, Terrell Owens becomes the third former Dallas Cowboy (following Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders) and third NFL receiver (with Irvin and Keyshawn Johnson) to land his own reality series, with “The T.O. Show,” which amounts to a half-hour image-building exercise for the heavily muscled star. What VH1 gets out of the deal, frankly, is less clear, other than a strange amalgam of soap-opera pathos and jock-like bravado, with Owens taking marching orders from his ubiquitous “publicists,” who, given their time commitment to the athlete, surely must have no other clients.

Said publicists, Monique Jackson and Kita Williams, are billed as close friends of the mercurial, diva-like NFL standout, joining him (per the release) “on his road to discovery, playing an essential role in Terrell’s quest for success and personal growth.” Throw in bodyguard Pablo, and think of it all as a less-realistic version of “Entourage.”

Conveniently enough, Monique and Kita are attractive, share producing credit on the show and bring a female touch to a genre that predominantly plays to women. They also spend much of their time improbably chiding their client for flirting with beautiful women, which last time I checked isn’t a particularly rare event involving multimillionaire sports celebrities. (Even the realtor who shows Owens his new digs in L.A. is supermodel gorgeous, instantly tipping off that she won’t be out of the picture for long.)

Mostly, the program is positioned as a rather unconvincing war for Owens’ soul, with the two women drawing a distinction between T.O. — his larger-than-life, showboating playboy persona — and Terrell, the genuine guy who cries when he visits his grandmother. The main problem is that the series feels so heavily stage-managed that it’s difficult to tell where any of the “reality” begins, other than the fact that Owens has just signed a lucrative new deal to play in Buffalo — having pretty much worn out his welcome in Dallas, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

A more unvarnished look at Owens would doubtless make a compelling entry for ESPN, though the idolatry showered on pro-sports divas can grow a trifle tedious. As is, this whitewashed version isn’t without its moments, but it’s clear from the get-go that the star’s “road to discovery” will be paved with puffery, and that the publicists/image-masseuses are handling the directions.

The T.O. Show

Series; VH1, Mon. July 20, 10 p.m.

Production

Produced by Den of Thieves. Executive producers, Jesse Ignjatovic, Evan Prager, Terrell Owens; co-executive producers, Monique Jackson, Kita Williams, Melanie Graham, Eric Detwiler; director, Mark Petersen; story producers, Trish Baker, Paul Vaillancourt; editors, Sergio Villa, Tony Fisher. 60 MIN. Featuring: Terrell Owens, Monique Jackson, Kita Williams.

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