The human condition worsens as the reality-TV stockpile grows, and there isn't a blessed thing any of us can do about it as long as there are people out there willing to undergo public humiliation -- and there is never any shortage of those folks.
Consider the hapless souls who signed on for The Biggest Loser (NBC, Global at 8 p.m.). On the surface, the new reality show's intent appears to be about helping overweight people lose weight by offering a hefty cash prize as an incentive. It's one of those ideas that goes terribly wrong before it begins.
The Biggest Loser is hosted by actress Caroline Rhea ( Sabrina, The Teenage Witch) presumably chosen for the show because she's currently thick of hip, who introduces the simple setup: Whoever drops the most poundage within a predetermined time period wins $250,000 (U.S.). Right away, the weight-loss regimen becomes a fierce competition.
The 12 contestants, ranging from the vaguely overweight to the positively enormous, are divided into two groups and pitted against each other. Each portly player is assigned a sensible diet and a workout routine devised by two registered fitness trainers, who stick around to make sure they do their exercises. And of course the contestants are put through weekly contests.
The real draw of The Biggest Loser are the challenges put to the two teams, ranging from the foolish (the two squads haul a car to a finish line), to even more foolish (an extended cross-country hike) and veering more often into the mean-spirited: Tables laden with fast food snacks are left around the fat-camp compound to tantalize contestants and test their willpower, which doesn't seem very sporting.
Certainly each participant went into the show willingly and with good intentions. Some of them are likely sincere about wanting to lose weight; others may only be eyeing that cash bonanza. Either way, there isn't very much to The Biggest Loser. This could be the lowest-rung TV format ever devised: A reality show about people on a diet.
An entirely different reality idea is put forth in He's a Lady (TBS, 10 p.m.), in which men dress like women for amusement purposes. It's the old Some Like It Hot/ Bosom Buddies concept all over again.
Fittingly, He's a Lady opens with a duplicitous setup: 11 men are duped into believing they're going on a reality-TV show titled All-American Man, where they are supposed to compete in chopping wood and running with the bulls. Once assembled, however, the men are told they will be dressing up as women. And the one man deemed most ladylike wins $250,000 (U.S.), which is more than enough incentive for any of them to immediately don pantyhose. Only in America! Every moment of their collective feminization is caught on film. The men are ensconced in a frilly domicile, called the Doll House, for the duration of their indoctrination into womanhood. There are different weekly lessons, each designed to humiliate. They practise walking and talking like beautiful women and learn how to apply makeup. A few are pressed into service as bridesmaids at weddings. All are forced into public drag appearances, including a trip back to their hometown streets.
The men are straight, blue-collar types chosen, naturally, for their likelihood to bridle and bluster at the girly goings-on. Four of the men have beards, including one chap with a full Abe Lincoln version, so that should be interesting. Naturally, the group includes at least one wispy metrosexual who will probably make a very passable woman.
It's a one-joke effort. He's a Lady runs its contrived freak show for six weeks. The winner of the grand prize is revealed in the series finale, a glittery beauty pageant in which the men are paraded around a stage in their fancy gowns, with their wives and girlfriends in the crowd squawking away. These man-ladies work hard for the money, don't you know.
Ordinarily a new episode of Biography (A&E, 8 p.m.) is a welcome addition, although this evening's look at Richard Ramirez, better known as the serial killer the Night Stalker, is the grim exception.
In this curiously reworked profile, it turns out Ramirez was apparently a very sensitive child who loved music, but his moral judgment went awry after witnessing his own cousin commit a murder. According to the eminent criminal psychologists interviewed, that one incident of violence greatly affected Ramirez, who would himself eventually be convicted of 13 murders and other unspeakable crimes.
All psycho-babble aside, the program is an unpleasant and unnecessary portrait of a murderous misanthrope. It's a study of a life wasted.
Few people on TV are more irritating than Paul Teutul senior and junior, the father-and-son team on American Chopper (Discovery, 9 p.m.). In the past few years, the two macho designers of custom motorcycles have inexplicably become bona-fide celebrities, with regular appearances on The Tonight Show and other talk shows, including The View. Loud, proud and tattooed, the two Pauls are born-in-the U.S.A. media megastars.
The Teutuls are even more full of themselves than usual in tonight's episode that was filmed last summer. The two are commissioned to make a very special high-tech motorcycle to be used for the Hollywood premiere of the sci-fi feature I, Robot. The film stars Will Smith, who drops by the pairs' bike shop to order the custom chopper personally.
As in most every episode of American Chopper, the production schedule for the fancy bike goes off the rails right away, which leads of course to yelling and other manly posturing between father and son. Now, here are two gents who should spend some time in women's clothing.
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John Doyle returns on Oct. 26.