Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pilot Review: The Beautiful Life

The Beautiful Life (CW)
Premiered September 16 at 9pm

If you thought you’d seen CW’s other freshman entries “Melrose Place” and “The Vampire Diaries,” you definitely won’t find this one remotely fresh. The pilot is almost drowned by the all-too-desperate-to-be-hip soundtrack, reminiscent of past “current music” immersions like the pilots of “Gossip Girl” and “Ugly Betty.” The difference is that this show isn’t destined for greatness (or even mediocrity). It’s the middling tale of models in New York City, all of who are so vain and superficial that there can’t possibly be anything beneath the surface. The show certainly tries to infuse its characters with depth, focusing on two morally-upright models that come from less fortunate backgrounds and actually seek to do the right thing. It turns out that those two are actually the lamest of all the models, and their attempts at being nice are eclipsed by the cutthroat moves they still make to stay ahead in their chosen industry. The whole show feels unoriginal, and nearly every twist and turn is visible from the very opening of the episode. The cast is universally dull, though that’s no surprise considering the wooden Mischa Barton is the star. Her character Sonja is almost an exact replica of her real-life self, though the producers couldn’t have really known that Barton’s summer would turn out to be so similar to Sonja’s. Farm boy Chris (Ben Hollingsworth) does look like he’s a clone of “Smallville” star Tom Welling, but the constant Superman references are going to get old. The only real hope acting-wise is Ashley Madekwe, who held her own in scenes with the phenomenal Billie Piper on “Secret Diary of a Call Girl.” Thus far, her character Marissa doesn’t show much promise, but the actress could deliver far beyond the material she’s given. The performers are almost secondary to the loud and flashy runway sequences, and it’s probably better off that way because an audience might actually enjoy watching fashion week while they likely won’t care at all about these uninteresting models. The show does deserve credit for the somewhat clever and surprising reveal of why Sonja took her summer off, but otherwise, the show is simply hopeless.

How will it work as a series? If the latest gossip about Mischa Barton interests you, this show likely will too. There isn’t much ground left uncovered here, and the characters aren’t anywhere near layered enough to provide fodder for many plotlines after the threads begun in the pilot (money troubles, drug dealing arrests) are resolved. And, as far as I know, Fashion Week doesn’t come around that often, so sustaining this show week-to-week without a major style event could be tough.
How long will it last? Not long at all. It’s the worst of the CW’s new fare, and that’s saying something. Its timeslot is entirely unfortunate, going up against FOX’s far superior “Glee” for the moment. It has almost no buzz besides Barton’s recent headlines, and I don’t think that’s good press. I’m predicting this one will be off the air by the end of October.

Pilot grade: F

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