Ready, set, create something fabulous!
That in a glitzy nutshell is the gist, and the appeal, of a new wave of skill-based reality-competition shows that I have become completely addicted to on Bravo. They may be rigidly formulaic — from over-the-top casting to the soul-crushing (if not career-crushing) judging — but why mess with success?
It all started with the wildly entertaining and Emmy-nominated fashion-design contest Project Runway and continued into the kitchen with the succulent Top Chef, whose second-season finale this Wednesday will be followed by the newest promising contender: Top Design (premiering Jan. 31 at 11 pm/ET). This one pits interior designers against each other. Watch the fur,and paint, fly.
HGTV has covered this territory with its own enjoyable Design Star, but on Bravo, everything is heightened: the personalities, the emotions, the high-profile hosts (here, Todd Oldham), the high-end budgets ($50,000 for the first challenge alone). What makes these Bravo shows so much fun is the amount of creative talent on display as these colorful contestants execute their eclectic visions while fighting the clock within ridiculous time constraints.
The pressure leads to inevitable clashes of artistic sensibilities and temperaments. In Top Design's premiere, much of the focus is on mismatched partners John, a gruff workhorse, and Michael, a fey slacker. They do a hilarious impersonation of oil and water.
Nobody said the creative process was pretty, but rarely has it made such electrifying TV. How far can Bravo push this franchise? We may find out later this year with the premiere of Shear Genius (developed as "Top Hair"), a hairdressing competition. Will it be cutting-edge TV or a washout? We shall see.
Dripping with caustic irony and wallowing in toilet humor, The Sarah Silverman Program (Thursdays, 10:30 pm/ET, Comedy Central) stars the blistering stand-up in a postmodern sitcom as a psychotically self-absorbed version of herself. In vignettes of politically incorrect whimsy, Silverman reminds us how quickly the novelty can wear offwhile watching a pixie with a potty mouth. If there's such a thing as feminist frat-boy humor, Silverman has mastered it. Big deal.
Four hours isn't enough time to do justice to The Supreme Court (1/31 and 2/7, PBS), but this documentary pleads its case admirably — albeit with puzzling omissions (no mention of the Clarence Thomas hearings). Each chapter focuses on key personalities and pivotal cases in the high court's turbulent history, from low points (the Dred Scott ruling) to high (Brown v. Board of Education) to controversial flash points (Roe v. Wade, Bush v. Gore) as it becomes an increasingly influential arbiter of social and legal policy.