TV Eye

Real chemistry

I'm the last one to suggest you should watch TV during the summer, particularly since it has become the time when cheap reality shows hit the airwaves in droves. But there's bad reality trash, and then there's reality trash that's so bad, it's good. Next Wednesday, Punk'd creators Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg deliver a delicious slice of reality TV, high on guffaws, low on enduring value. You've been warned. Don't blame me if you get hooked.

The new show is Beauty and the Geek, and the premise is very, very simple. Seven male geeks are paired with seven lovely women. The geeks are short on social skills. The beauties are short on brainpower. One geek is paired with one beauty and each is instructed to share their skills (science, fashion, popular dance music, geography) with their partner so they can each pass a series of tests. The last pair standing wins a cash prize.

Unlike other reality shows where the goal is to spark sexual antics, Beauty and the Geek veers from this goal – but not too far. As luck would have it, there's a hot tub next to the fabulous pool next to the fantastic mansion where the geeks and beauties stay during the "social experiment" that seeks to discover what happens when you put beauty and brains together. Will a hybrid emerge, or will it just be a replay of fifth grade, when all those invisible but very real social boundaries emerged? Lucky for us, at least from the first two episodes, it's the latter.

Now, all astute reality TV watchers know that reality is carefully constructed behind the scenes. Convincing viewers to go along for the ride is what makes or breaks a reality show. That, and a cast that convinces viewers they are real people with something real at stake. Surprisingly, this all comes together in Beauty and the Geek. The geeks are suitably awkward and in many cases painfully fulfill the stereotype of the geek with thick glasses and shirts buttoned to the Adam's apple. In this regard, Richard Reuben – aka the white Urkel – fits the bill splendidly. He's also the most likable of the geeks just because he's so relentlessly geeky. The beauties are uniformly pretty in a glossy magazine sort of way. Some of the things that come out of their mouths are so idiotic, there's the strong sense they're acting. But beneath each recognizable stereotype are some interesting discoveries. Some of the beauties, while pleased to bank on their looks, are painfully aware that no one expects much from them. As for the geeks, while they plainly articulate what it means to be a social misfit, they endearingly long for the simple ability to sit down and talk to a woman – any woman – without feeling like the earth is going to swallow them.

This is what ultimately makes Beauty and the Geek so darn watchable. Just when you find yourself aligned with one group (I sided pretty quickly with the geeks), someone from the other side says something that stirs your heart or makes you wonder just how much of fifth grade you've really discarded.

Beauty and the Geek premieres Wednesday, June 1, at 7pm on the WB.

On the Upside

Didn't get a review screener, but the premise of this reality series sounds promising, and, well, real. In The Scholar, 10 low-income students vie for a full scholarship to any college of their choice. If this doesn't sound like high stakes and high drama, I don't know what does. Filmed on the campus of the University of Southern California and playing up cultural and regional differences, The Scholar promises "to be the first show to celebrate high education as the ultimate prize." The Scholar premieres June 6 on ABC. Check listings for air time.

To the Downside

As soon as I heard comparisons of chef Gordon Ramsay, star of the new reality series Hell's Kitchen, to American Idol's Simon Cowell, I was curious. In this reality series, aspiring chefs seek to win their own restaurant, should they endure the culinary boot camp overseen by Ramsay. Tough is not the word to describe Ramsay. Try outrageous, overbearing, and malicious. Simon Cowell is Bambi compared to Ramsay. Ugly to contestants, clients, and anyone else who gets in his way, Ramsay's performance is an overdone caricature. Sadistic foodies may take pleasure in this contest, but I prefer my hardasses on the tender side.

Hell's Kitchen premieres Monday, May 30, at 8pm on Fox.

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Beauty and the Geek, Hell's Kitchen, The Scholar

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