ABC's reality show "True Beauty" wasn't made available in advance for review, which is a shame, because as more than one person suggested to me, in its own tawdry way it's kind of fantastic.
Sure, the premise — 10 blow-dried types think they're engaged in a beauty contest, when actually they're being graded on whether they possess inner beauty as well — is kind of a mess. Even when the hour ended it wasn't clear precisely what the rules are, and it's kind of a hoot to hear host Vanessa Minnillo — who, let's face it, didn't get the job based solely on her SAT scores — chide the group for being so shallow.
Still, that misses the point. The posing, posturing and self-flattery is consistently amusing. This is one of those shows where the contestants are there strictly to be mocked, relying on the increasingly popular notion (see "Howie Do It" on NBC, another hidden-camera concept) that anybody foolish enough to participate in a reality TV program is fair game for ridicule. In this case, it's a twist on that old perfume slogan — something like, "Sorry, but we really can hate you because you're beautiful." (And yes, proving I'm as much of a hypocrite as anyone else, I chose the photo just because I'm launching this stupid blog thing and I thought it would boost traffic. Particularly in prisons.)
Ratings for the premiere weren't spectacular (7.6 million viewers overall; a 3.2 rating among adults 18-49), but those demographic results were certainly respectable enough that if the series can retain or build slightly on those levels, it will qualify as a modest success. If nothing else, it's perhaps the best project to come from Ashton Kutcher's busy production company, whose motto pertaining to TV has seemingly been to keep throwing lots of crud against the wall (other recent entries being "Opportunity Knocks" and "Game Show in My Head"), hoping that something sticks. Nurtured properly, this one actually might.