Credit the producers of “Big Brother” with having shed initial pretensions about being a “social experiment” and embracing the concept’s inner trash — from absurd game elements and secret rooms to a cast where a “VIP cocktail waitress” might be the fourth sexiest woman in the house. The problem a week into the latest edition, alas, as that those swimsuit-clad vixens and hunks are thus far pretty much dullards, with nothing to do or say but hash over the convoluted rules of their twisted little game.
Indeed, watching Tuesday’s episode at times felt like filling out escrow papers, with a lengthy explanation about a “golden veto” (for a fleeting moment I thought the show had gone NC-17) that had me wondering when it was time for everyone to hop back into the pool.
The latest incarnation has incorporated so many covert elements it’s a wonder Karl Rove hasn’t already exposed them. Aside from the aforementioned secret room that was uncovered after a lengthy search, the 14 contestants are actually divided into secret pairs, though none of them know about the others, nor, for that matter, do the viewers as yet have a clear sense of who’s teamed with whom.
What’s left, then, leading to Thursday’s first elimination is a whole lot of plotting, scheming, alliance-making, and, in the case of firefighter Eric, cheap emotional tugs regarding Sept. 11. Not even having a practicing Muslim in the house, Kaysar, has yielded much in the way of fireworks, with the self-absorbed Howie — who actually says things like “Are those space pants? ‘Cause your ass looks out of this world” — commanding most of the camera time.
That said, the game itself represents a marked improvement over last week’s stilted introductions, where the ER nurse, personal shopper and meteorology student all delivered inane puns about how much they wanted to win. Let’s hope no would-be Writers Guild members were harmed in the making of that hour.
Strictly from a strategic standpoint, “Big Brother” remains a marvelous utility player for CBS — a three-hour-a-week summer fill-in that yields respectable if unspectacular ratings while wildly exciting a small cadre of perverse web aficionados in desperate need of lives. For the network still casting off remnants of its “Murder, She Wrote” image, the attention from Entertainment Weekly alone is probably worth the effort.
Barring a miracle, however, the sixth go-round will be memorable more for the stunts and gimmickry — always a dicey proposition to sustain — than any of its model/actress/”ET” correspondent wannabes.
The closing credits, by the way, note that the series bears no relation to George Orwell’s novel “1984,” which introduced the “Big Brother is watching you” concept into the collective consciousness. And while the cameras continue running 24/7, sorry, little brothers and sisters, even Orwell might have amended his famous line after a few weeks with this group.