SHEAR GENIUS: What to do when someone requests a Christina Aguilera — “full-blown platinum blonde, translucent, level 17, no tone”?
That interesting man Chuck Barris has written another book. And guess what — the new novel from the author of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and the creator of The Gong Show is about reality TV. At least, that’s what it says on the front cover of The Big Question (Simon & Schuster): “A Novel of Reality TV.” Faithful readers may remember my complaining a month or so back that literature is lagging behind reality TV. I demanded cruel, insightful books that roamed the perimeters of this new world — showing us, for example, a huddled tribe of Survivor survivors picking their teeth with the bones of the camera crew. Or an episode of MTV’s Road Rules that turns into the Stanford Prison Experiment.
Chuck’s latest, I regret to say, is not one of these books. Written in racy, half-assed prose (“Young Bobby was someone who, no matter how hard he tried not to, always got on your nerves. Big-time.”) and stacked with a sub-Tom-Wolfean menagerie of high achievers, killer pimps, and little old ladies, The Big Question turns out to have only limited dealings with reality: it’s about a game show where contestants are executed if they get a question wrong. The twist is that the character with the concept — a “crazed maniac,” “emaciated bum,” and “pathetic old cripple” who buttonholes a powerful producer on a wintry Manhattan street to tell him about his “Death Show” — is Barris himself, which is worth a snigger, I suppose. All the names are terrible (Linus Major, Steve Beastie) except for one: Rip Puckett, the game-show host.
Back in reality, Shear Genius (Bravo, Wednesdays at 10 pm) picked up the pace in its second outing. Hosted by the glacially demure Jaclyn Smith, last week’s episode saw the hairdressers facing a standard beauty-industry quandary: the client who comes in with a smudged pic of a celebrity and says, “Give me one of these.” Someone wanted a Victoria Beckham; someone else wanted a Halle Berry. And someone, most alarmingly, wanted a Christina Aguilera: “Full-blown platinum blonde, translucent, level 17, no tone,” as it was described by the reluctant Daisy, whose job it was to make this happen.
Daisy blew it in grand style: as the clock ran out, she raked back her model’s hair into a hasty chignon, allowing one dead-looking coil to bounce feebly before the face. The hair had a churned, muddy tone to it, and the model’s face was wooden with hostility: she looked like Molly Shannon on the verge of destruction. “I pulled it out of my ass!” moaned Daisy to her peers as the judges deliberated. “I couldn’t even look at the swatch books!” “You have every reason to cry,” pronounced the virtuous Evangeline. But it wasn’t Daisy who got sent home — it was Jim, whose dog’s-breakfast attempt to turn his client into Gwen Stefani almost silenced the judges. “Poor him,” they murmured, and “Poor her,” contemplating the orange-and-red carapace, like a helmet of dyed straw, from beneath which the model was peering in terror. (Will she be compensated?) Jaclyn Smith put the hammer down: “We’re all sorry to see you go,” she told Jim, “but this is your final cut.”