If beauty pageants are most interesting when contestants stumble (that Miss Teen USA dissertation on America’s deficiency with geography comes to mind), then CW might have stumbled onto the mother of guilty-pleasure reality competitions. The only real problem with “Crowned” is that after the premiere of this mother-daughter elimination game — including a few teams where the daughter is 18-20 and mom hasn’t turned 40 yet — many viewers will want to gong all of them. Thanks to the dim-bulb candidates, the series is worth watching for judge Carson Kressley’s bitchy asides and reaction shots alone.
At first, there’s a fear that “Crowned” — whose exec producer Laurie Girion did the laudable “Cheerleader Nation” — will traffic in little more than the usual reality beats and pageant stereotypes: Heart-warming tales of woe (the mother with a kidney transplant, the current Miss Wyoming and her widowed mom), shrewish stage moms and catfights behind plastered-on smiles.
There is some of that — “Amazing Race” bickering (one girl petulantly rolls her eyes and whines “Momma, just let me talk!”) mixed with the pushy parents of Bravo’s “Showbiz Moms & Dads.” Yet once the pairs are tasked with giving their duos a name and cobbling together little introductory presentations for the judges, the series rises to a whole new level of chewy train-wreck goodness.
One team dubs itself “Silent But Deadly,” only to look stricken when Kressley points out that the expression reminds him of breaking wind. After a particularly convoluted response to a judge’s question, the “Queer Eye” guy mutters, “I need an interpreter.” Nor are his colleagues — former Miss USA Shanna Moakler and personality Cynthia Garrett — much easier on the aspirants, who don’t realize that “Skin Deep” implies shallowness or that the term “bombshell” doesn’t necessarily connote intelligence.
“Crowned” might suffer over the long haul (that is, its full eight-week run) simply because the general ineptitude of its gene pool will depress rooting interest in the candidates. The rooting against factor, however, should be formidable, and the show will receive a helpful push-start by following the “America’s Next Top Model” finale before settling into that franchise’s 8 p.m. showcase.
CW could certainly use a hit, or at least another utility player to bolster a lineup whose new-drama performance has thus far been wholly underwhelming. While the netlet’s latest femme series competition doesn’t break any new ground, it deftly taps into two basic feelings — envy and superiority — that have not only helped make reality TV what it is today but could help “Crowned” sashay off looking like a winner.