Networks have long since discovered that unscripted TV offers a cheaper way to replicate traditional sitcoms. VH1 adopts that strategy with its new African-American tandem, “Fantasia for Real” and “Let’s Talk About Pep,” featuring “American Idol’s” Fantasia and Salt-n-Pepa’s Sandra “Pepa” Denton. The problem is that the so-called “reality” label allows these programs to traffic in the kind of stereotypes — in “Fantasia’s” case, a shiftless black man mooching off his female relatives, test-driving Ferraris and aghast at the prospect of working — that would be rightfully pilloried in a scripted context.
“Fantasia” is another celebrity-rebound formula, from a network that has served up plenty of them. Fantasia (who has apparently dropped her last name, Barrino, in Cher-like fashion) is attempting a comeback, even as she supports an extended brood that includes her mother, child and older brother, 28-year-old Teeny.
If Fantasia’s bad case of little-girl voice isn’t annoying enough, there’s Teeny (a nickname, by the way), parasitically living off his sister. He is, of course, the “breakout character” here, but it’s hard to think of a more offensive image around which to construct a show.
By contrast, “Let’s Talk About Pep” is simply a real-life version of UPN’s “Girlfriends,” with four single (or in some cases, newly single) women navigating the vagaries of dating, as illustrated with intrusive cameras and night-vision photography.
Denton announces at the outset that she hasn’t had a date — or sex — in four years, so her plunge marks the beginning of a conveniently timed new search for, well, what isn’t exactly clear. The rest of the entourage is TV personality Jacque Reed, who’s contemplating becoming a single mom; Joumana Kidd, divorced from NBA star Jason Kidd; and radio host Kali “Kittie” Troy, who goes on her own date with a guy who announces he has a foot fetish. “He licked my toes!” she cackles to her pals over lunch.
The show seems so determined to adhere to the “Girlfriends” template that even the casting is suspect. For all that, “Pep” is practically a breath of fresh air compared with “Fantasia,” the self-named topliner of which might have to star in another Lifetime movie predicated on her life as penance from this endeavor.
Then again, the latter show’s title, “Let’s Talk About Pep,” says it all: Like everyone else, VH1 wants to concoct programs that get people talking. The channel might very well succeed, unless viewers decide, if they don’t have anything nice to say, they shouldn’t say anything at all.