Remember all the abuse heaped upon CBS over developing a reality show based on “The Beverly Hillbillies?” Well, NBC actually ventilates a similar premise with the smirky “I Want to be a Hilton,” as trailer residents and rednecks try adapting to heiress Kathy Hilton’s society lifestyle. Featuring contestants named Jaret and Jabe (pretty close to Jethro, ain’t it?) from rural Texas, the show puts its candidates through various city-slicker challenges like eatin’ escargot and learnin’ how to air-kiss. It’s all pretty mindless fluff, but I kept waiting for someone to take a swim in the cee-ment pond.
Whatever one’s appetite for this sort of cuisine, NBC has outdone itself in the contestant-casting department. Beyond the country boys, the 14 aspirants include Ann, a former Miss Tampa who alarms people by spontaneously bursting into song; and Alan, a Romanian perfume salesman who sounds suspiciously like Balki from “Perfect Strangers.”
Show doesn’t take long to roll out the big guns, as Mrs. Hilton’s famous daughters appear in Episode 2. This doesn’t exactly bolster their mom’s advice to one society wannabe, Las Vegas dancer Yvette, about the importance of dressing appropriately.
As usual, there’s a too-vague prize — access to a Manhattan apartment, a $200,000 “trust fund” and the Hiltons’ “connections” — and most of the fish-out-of-water notes are pilfered from movies while offering thinly veiled product-placement for sister NBC properties.
An etiquette class, for example, segues to a test dinner with Hilton’s society friends, who include none other than … “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush and “Queer Eye” guy Ted Allen! Along similar lines, it’s hard to swallow that the candidates who whoop it up at a Hamptons polo match never saw Julia Roberts do the same thing in “Pretty Woman.”
Beyond the loopy contestants (two of whom obligingly make out in the second hour), the producers camp up the proceedings with a narrator seemingly patterned after John Gielgud’s butler in “Arthur,” if only to helpfully explain little things like what and where the Hamptons are.
There’s a certain goofy fun here for those inclined to surrender to it, assuming viewers are not predisposed to take the program’s exaltation of inherited wealth and cheeky lampooning of the underclass too seriously. Nor does it help that the Hiltons lack the accomplishments associated with the tycoon stars of this genre, beyond winning the genetic lottery.
Strictly from a creative standpoint, the show is another slavish copy of the “Survivor” elimination-game formula against the urban-jungle backdrop. In that respect, “I Want to Be a Hilton” joins CBS’ Tommy Hilfiger-hosted “The Cut” and Martha Stewart’s upcoming edition of “The Apprentice” in pursuing a corporately marketed image of the good life.
In short, Mrs. Hilton has essentially arrived for her big debut in primetime wearing the equivalent of someone else’s second-hand outfit. Really, dear, how gauche.