Two new reality shows premiere Sept. 3 — one, “Cold Justice,” reflecting a straightforward “We’re doing a cheaper version of a procedural” approach; and the other, “My Big Fat Revenge,” emblematic of the genre’s worst impulses and excesses, where women lose weight strictly to try exacting apologies from people they think wronged them. Both are fairly watchable, albeit for different reasons –- either to see whether justice gets done, or how ridiculous and staged such a concept can get.
“Law & Order” producer Dick Wolf teams up with reality factory Magical Elves (“Project Runway,” “Top Chef”) on “Cold Justice,” a fairly shrewd brand extension for TNT, pairing a CSI (Yolanda McClary) and prosecutor (Kelly Siegler) to pick up cold cases from small towns that lacked the resources or smarts to solve them or secure convictions at the time.
In the premiere, a guy in Texas apparently got away with murder by claiming his wife committed suicide a dozen years earlier, and in the second hour, a Louisiana woman’s brutal slaying in 2006 has gone unresolved.
Siegler and McClary pretty meticulously go about the process of re-investigating these cases, trying to turn over new leads or identify places where evidence was overlooked. Of course, all they can ultimately do is hand their findings over to the local prosecutor (hardly a Perry Mason moment), and while some of those made-for-TV encounters feel a little stilted, they do tend to pull you along, wanting to see how the drama plays out.
Wolf, of course, is no stranger to developing unscripted series that hew pretty closely to his successful dramatic template, including “Arrest & Trial” and “Crime & Punishment.” (Presumably, “Cold & Justice” didn’t clear legal.)
“‘Cold Justice’ is not just another reality show,” Siegler and McClary maintain in their letter to media about the series. Yet on that point, at least, the evidence clearly suggests otherwise.
If “Cold Justice’s” roots are easily traced to something like CBS’ “Cold Case” (down to the female investigators), “My Big Fat Revenge” is the fruit of a rather gnarled tree. The producers of “The Biggest Loser” were obvious seeking to wring additional mileage out of their weight-loss expertise, so they hatched a show where the women who shed pounds don’t just settle for a big reveal as their happily ever after (until the cameras leave, anyway), but also plot an elaborate hidden-camera stunt to embarrass someone whose behavior hurt them.
See, because there’s really no better reason to lose weight than to go rub it in the face of somebody else.
Reflecting an increasingly common reality TV-on-diet-pills metabolism, each hour consists of two stories. The premiere features Jennifer, who stages her sting against an ex-boyfriend (she sets up a blind date with a buxom actress to embarrass him), and Tamar, who confronts her mystified mother by mounting a stage play meant to approximate her insults.
Naturally, we have to take it on faith the women’s representation of prior events is 100% accurate, and that these people deserve a nationally televised (OK, it’s just on Oxygen, but still) comeuppance.
The women talk about hiring actors as if they were behind plotting these orchestrated stunts (which is of course BS), and there’s no mention of how the producers secured waivers to get the hidden-camera grillings on air, though presumably some sleight of hand was involved.
Either way, “My Big Fat Revenge” is every bit as cynical as the title suggests. So while “Cold Justice” is a dish best served you know what, Oxygen’s alternative is the kind of reality hash that makes you want to push yourself away from the table — for all the wrong reasons.