Houses of pain

By JAMES PARKER  |  October 19, 2006

Yes, these pathologies will flower. And that’s more than can be said for the seventh season of America’s Next Top Model (the CW, Wednesdays), which is suffering this time out from a pronounced lack of insanity. Last week drippy Anchal, eavesdropping from her balcony, heard herself vilely traduced in the outdoor jacuzzi: mean Melrose was down there with a bunch of other models, and the heated water roiled with her venom as she told them all that Anchal was fat, fake, etc. “She’s not becoming more beautiful to me,” announced Melrose. Anchal fled in gusty tears, and a sympathetic A.J. said, “I hate Melrose,” and that was more or less it. Plenty of high-altitude fashion-freakery, of course — “I’m designer Bao Tranchi,” said one person, “and I’m very well known for my decadent collections! And I’ve brought with me famed jeweler Erica Courtney!” — but no scratchings or faintings.

For that kind of action we may have to look to Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team, which got going last week on CMT. DCC director Kelli Finglass and choreographer Judy Trammell are weeding out the pudgy and the uncommitted from their squad of star-jumping hopefuls. “Why are her arms thick?” they murmur, their pampered, pitiless faces leaning close. Or: “She’s got good hair and a good body.” Most of the girls have a brittle, pageant-queen brightness of aspect and will gush unprompted about how much they all love one another, but there was no missing the slow looks of loathing directed at last week’s winners. Loony trainer Jay Johnson, in combat boots and camouflage pants, had them hopping through an assault course — “Get your war face on! The only easy day was yesterday!” — and there were uniform fitting sessions at the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch HQ, a series of one-story structures that resemble the outbuildings of a low-security prison or an experimental facility. We shall see.

The realest reality currently on TV — which is to say, the most violent and operatic — is the peerless Meerkat Manor, over on Animal Planet on Friday nights. This splendid show amounts to Titus Andronicus performed by a settlement of mongooses in the Kalahari desert: the 12-inch beasties are heavily surveilled with cameras and tracking collars, and my word do they get in some ructions. Last week’s episode ended with the tragic Mozart — evicted by her bitch queen of a mother while pregnant — wavering at the burrow’s mouth, having miscarried her litter, uncertain as to whether she’ll be welcomed back in or have her head chewed off. Meanwhile Flower, the dominant female in question, is out on the dry riverbed with her family, chirruping in panic as one-eyed Hannibal and his crew come loping toward them with no friendly intentions. Stay tuned, motherfuckers.

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