Beware of backstabbing beauties bearing gifts (or in the show’s ad campaign, baring gifts) in order to book modeling gigs. “The Beautiful Life” is easily the least distinctive of the CW’s new dramas, a brazen attempt to piggyback on “America’s Next Top Model’s” spindly legs with an Ashton Kutcher-produced drama (doesn’t that dude ever sleep?) set in the lavish world of the runway. “How bad do you want this job?” a sleazy fashionista asks a wide-eyed ingenue in the premiere — a line that might sound fresh to the target audience but certainly nobody beyond it.
The premiere features the willowy Raina (Sara Paxton) getting her shot at sudden stardom, spurring a twinge of jealousy from the equally lovely Marissa (Ashley Madekwe). Of course, opportunities abound because the ruthless Sonja (Mischa Barton) has been in rehab. Bleeding fiction into reality, supermodel Elle Macpherson also turns up as the owner of the talent agency, which puts up its talent in a kind of shared dorm — lifestyles of the thin and fab-u-lous.
Meanwhile, on a trip to N.Y. with his family, Iowa farm boy Chris (Benjamin Hollingsworth) is “discovered” and whisked into this glamorous scene, beginning a brief flirtation with Raina while being tested regarding how far he, too, will go in pursuit of fame. (Hint: Sleeping with guys apparently isn’t on the list, so cheer up, ladies, he’s straight!)
Fast-paced and pulsing, it all plays at a level only slightly above “Showgirls,” although there’s more earnestness than camp here. The cast and writing (the showrunner is Mike Kelley, coming off CBS’ vastly superior “Swingtown”) are efficient enough, but nothing really pops — other than perhaps the desire to run out and eat a nice, heavy, carbo-laden meal.
The irony is that 15 years ago — the last time “Melrose Place” was on TV — Fox rather famously crapped out with an ultra-slim companion spinoff titled “Models Inc.” Now CW is reviving “MP” and has its own model-driven drama as well, albeit to pair up with a reality show.
The show’s not a bad idea strategically, perhaps, but at least based on this first glimpse of the new fall line (a presentation, by the way, that’s still a few scenes short of a full pilot), “TBL” is little more than a title in search of an actual show — less TV to talk about, per the CW’s ad campaign, than TV to groan at.