VH1 premieres a trio of new series Sunday in an awkward, mismatched two-hour block, mixing mobsters, “The Hills” and the wannabe actors employed by a Sunset Strip restaurant into a fizzy but uninspired cocktail. The one thing the shows all have in common is an accommodating willingness to hit their marks in pursuit of fame, with “Mob Wives” — basically “The Real Housewives of Staten Island” — as the showiest title, “Audrina” the most painfully vacuous, and “Saddle Ranch” simply a poor man’s “Jersey Shore.” Add them up, and it’s all one big bada-bore.
Based on the title alone, “Mob Wives” has the potential to be fairly successful by VH1’s modest standards, even if the actual series was essentially pre-empted by “Real Housewives’?” New Jersey edition. There’s lots of cleavage, lots of big hair, lots of yelling, and oh yeah, a lot of the husbands/dads are in jail. By the time it’s over, you’ll want a lot of Advil.
Actually, the title isn’t exactly precise, since the show mixes mob wives and daughters, the linchpin being Karen Gravano, daughter of mob informer Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. Her decision to move back to Staten Island after having spent a decade in exile (OK, Arizona) drives the plot.
Indeed, the entire first episode builds toward a confrontation between Karen and Renee Graziano (the daughter of another mobster), who lives by the “You don’t rat on your friends” code. Renee frequently refers to herself in the third person and slowly says, “Oh My God,” like she’s determined to have her own catchphrase.
Mostly, though, “Mob Wives” arrives too late on familiar turf to be truly interesting, and even with ample doses of bleeped expletives that almost outnumber the audible words, free-flowing tears and (yes) a hair-pulling fight in the “This season on” tease, the situations come off as staged and contrived.
“The Hills” poster gal Audrina Patridge leads a different kind of mob — her immediate family. She professes to love them, but as presented in the show, her controlling mother Lynn seems to be impersonating Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest,” while her milquetoast dad Mark sounds like he’s channeling Mr. Rogers.
The whole thing plays like a poor woman’s version of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” Audrina poses for a bikini calendar near the outset and discusses moving in with her scamp of a younger brother. “There’s never gonna be a dull moment,” she says.
Based on the first two episodes, I beg to differ.
Finally, “Saddle Ranch” is one of those strange constructs, like somebody was determined to write off dinners as business expenses.
The first couple of episodes labor to create conflict among employees from two different branches of the chop house, with Universal City staffers invading the West Hollywood location. Bartenders snipe at each other, people drink a lot, and a few characters go and get headshots taken.
Other than being young and mostly attractive, the point remains elusive. And acknowledging that most of these folks sling hash while dreaming of acting gigs only heightens the sense they’ll throw a drink in someone’s face if they think it’ll buy them five more minutes of air time.
Certainly, nobody can accuse VH1 of not having an eclectic menu. With this lineup, however, the channel appears to be tossing a warmed-over appetizer platter at the wall, hoping that something sticks.