TV Eye

Reality Check

Reality shows are in, and there's no telling when the trend will subside. The public seems to have an appetite for watching people in embarrassing, dopey, or downright humiliating situations. It all started so innocently. Remember Candid Camera? Now, the genre has gone to new heights (lows?), with the subjects volunteering themselves for observation and, in some cases, ridicule (think Big Brother's Chicken George). Following the success of Survivor and trying to beat that show to the punch before it kicks off its second season Jan. 28, four reality-based shows premiered this month. Here's what's out there.

The Mole. Premiered Jan. 9 on ABC, airs Tuesdays at 7pm. The premise of this show sounded so straightforward -- 10 contestants try to discover who is the mole among them -- but watching the show is an entirely different matter. What's good: In the premiere episode, the contestants were whisked off to Paris one night, then off to a chateau in the French Riviera. In between, the wining and dining was to die for -- there wasn't a roasted rat or a squirming larva in sight. Apparently in later episodes, the adventures become more difficult, but hey! I wouldn't mind being a loser on this show if it meant being put up in a high-dollar hotel for a few nights and taken abroad on the network's tab. What's bad: The creators should take some lessons on episode pacing and dramatic tension from the king of the reality shows, Survivor producer and creator Mark Burnett. The strange thing about The Mole is that even the physical challenges of the show (skydiving on demand) are strangely anticlimactic. This is because, ultimately, the challenge of the show isn't physical but mental: guessing who the mole might be, memorizing information about fellow contestants to be used in convoluted quizzes. There isn't much drama in watching someone think as opposed to, say, snarf down a live larva or walk across a bed of burning coals. The template for The Mole was the murder/mystery game. That's fine, but isn't part of that game not only to discover the identity of the murderer (in this case, the mole) but also to make sure you aren't falsely accused? Each show ends with an "execution," whereby the contestants must determine who the mole is, and answer a set of questions about the mole. Whoever gets the least number of questions correct is executed. Yes, it's really as dull as it sounds.

Temptation Island: Premiered Jan. 10 on Fox, airs Wednesdays at 8pm. The premise: Four couples in "committed" relationships test the mettle of their partnerships, saving a few dollars on couples' therapy by allowing themselves to be taken to Belize, separated, and pursued by sexually tantalizing singles of the opposite sex. "Who will be torn apart? Who will return to their lives with the partner they arrived with? Who will return home alone?" asks the show's host Mark Walberg (not to be confused with actor Mark Wahlberg). Who cares? Who's concerned about the welfare of these couples with all that beefcake and scantily clad T&A prancing about? What's good: Well ... on The Jerry Springer Show, you always see 300-pound women fighting over an out-of-work, gap-toothed, 98-pound weakling. Temptation Island manages to democratize trash TV by showing that pretty people can act like damn fools, too. What's bad: Need I say more?

Popstars: Premiered Jan. 12 on the WB, airs Fridays at 7:30pm. Teenage girls learn to bump and grind their way to superstardom. What's good: The girls on this show can really sing. What's bad: It's on Friday night.

Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Airs Fridays at 7pm on MTV (with encores throughout the week). Former players on The Real World and Road Rules compete for cash and pride in a number of physical and mental challenges that are strangely entertaining. What's good: Great editing, fast pace, with a dose of high drama and sexual tension thrown in for good measure. What's bad: If you don't have cable, you miss the fun.


Buffy Watch

Now that pesky Riley (Marc Blucas) is out of the picture, Buffy can get on to more important matters, like discovering the slayer within. Sure, Riley was cute and all, but he was a class-A annoyance. I want to see Buffy single for a while. She has a bigger place in the Buffyverse and shouldn't be burdened with affairs of the heart, at least for a while. That doesn't mean I'm not enjoying the storyline of Spike's (James Marsters) hangdog crush on Buffy. What a hoot! The scene in which Spike is caught in Buffy's bedroom sniffing her sweater and later swiping a pair of her dainties was hilarious. Even so, I'm anxious for Buffy's search for her slayer roots to resume. Presumably, this is tied to the still-dangling Dawn and Glory storylines, which, from last week's episode, look like they are making a return to the forefront of the series. At last! Fellow Buffy watchers tell me to be patient, but with the delay of the season, the interspersing of reruns to mete out unaired episodes (in preparation for the actors and writers' strike looming on the horizon), and because I'm just darn impatient, I say: Get on with it!

According to a few online and print entertainment resources, Spike will turn la Buffy's head, but naturally, the attraction will be tortured and developed very, very slowly. Will the tension be relieved? Perhaps by May sweeps. Also during May sweeps, Buffy the Vampire Slayer celebrates its 100th episode! Look for Oz (Seth Green) to make an appearance in the milestone episode, along with Faith (Eliza Dushku). Dushku was recently in the area filming the teen flick The New Guy. Yours truly got to chat with her a bit on location at Manor High School. Sounds cool, if you like standing in a cold drizzle, in the middle of nowhere, with wet feet sunk in mud, as a bunch of high school football revelers charge down a hill (think Braveheart) over and over again and crew people keep yelling at you to get out of the shot. Lovely.

Anyhoo, among her more interesting comments: She's not sure when she'll reappear on Buffy or Angel (the Buffy spinoff). She likes working with Joss Whedon and crew, but her return depends as much on a break in her film schedule as it does with the circumstances under which Faith shows up -- will she break out of the slammer and return to her hellraising ways, or will she earn an early release for good behavior? I vote for the former. Dushku is just so good at being bad.

And finally, our girl Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is nominated for a Golden Globe for best actress in a drama. She's up against heavyweights like Lorraine Bracco and Edie Falco from The Sopranos, last year's Emmy award winner for best actress in a drama Sela Ward (Once and Again), Amy Brenneman (Judging Amy), and newcomer Jessica Alba (Dark Angel).

Can Gellar win? The Globes are considered hipper than the Emmy's, so it's unlikely to reward Brenneman or Ward. As for Falco and Bracco -- I've never understood why Bracco is nominated in this category in any awards show. I consider her a supporting player. I adore Falco, but who can remember her work from months ago when The Sopranos season ended? Jessica Alba is hot stuff in Hollywood nowadays, but between the two, Gellar is the seasoned pro. So maybe, just maybe, Gellar can win one for the underrated series. Go slayer, go slayer!

The Golden Globes air live on Sunday night (Jan. 21, 7pm, NBC).

E-mail Belinda Acosta at tveye@auschron.com

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

buffy the vampire slayer, eliza dushku, sarah michelle gellar, temptation island, the mole, popstars, real world / road rules challenge

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