Oh Martha, Wherefore Art Thou?
While Martha Stewart smuggles sugar and spices into her cell at the Federal Prison for Women in Anderson, WV (dubbed “Camp Cupcake”), America is need of a substitute. Or perhaps a replacement, depending on how you feel about Martha, domestic dominatrix. Thank heaven, then, for CBS’ new reality series, Wickedly Perfect. Or not. The first episode has demonstrated that none of these wannabes are worthy to lick the batter from Martha’s Kitchen-Aide beaters.
The show promises to crown America’s “Next Great Stylemaker” through weekly cutthroat competitions among the contestants (drawn from around the country and from natty backgrounds, all privileged and white, except for the token Black and Asian-American women). The winner will be given a book deal with Simon & Schuster, a guaranteed six appearances on CBS’s The Early Show (Martha’s old haunt), and a tv production deal.
The competitors have been divided into two teams, the self-named “Team Artisan” (how patrician can you get?) and the “Crafty Beavers” (campy and queer, I love them already). Each week these desperate lifestyle fiends will compete as team members and as individuals (they will contribute collectively to each project/challenge, and create one specific part of the project that “shows off an individual specialty/talent” and which will be judged separately); one contestant will be eliminated each week.
It’s a needlessly complicated set-up for the competition, but then again these folks are setting tables and throwing parties. In the pilot episode, the teams were assigned and assembled in an orchard, told to pick as many apples as possible, then informed the next morning that their first challenge would be to create a party setting using every single apple they’d picked. Each team picked over 3000 of them. The Crafty Beavers stepped up and created a sort of altar made entirely from the apples, complete with a red carpet leading up to the buffet. Team Artisan, on the other hand, creatively tanked with a “traditional” dining setting centered around—gasp!—silk flowers. Clearly, they deserve the defeat they were handed.
Who decides that fake flowers are the demise of any successful party? Our panel of celebrity judges of course: restaurateur/chef Bobby Flay, CBS style guru David Evangelista, and sexy city girl Candace Bushnell. After declaring the dull failure of Team Artisan’s work, the judges further deemed individual team member Tom’s Butternut Squash and Apple Bisque and Kimberly’s Sour Cream Apple Pie the weakest individual elements of the challenge. It’s then up to the rest of Team Artisan’s members to vote one or the other off the show.
Tom, “married, two children,” as he is introduced, is clearly the bad guy. Though he comes off as less obnoxious than teammate Darlene during competition, after being put in the line of fire, he becomes a raving prima donna. First he magnanimously tells everyone else to vote him off so Kimberly can stay, then returns later to take it all back and declare that he should stay because he’s clearly better skilled and more creative. He repeats as much in his “appeal” to the rest of the team for why they should keep him right before they unanimously vote him off. He cajoles, he whines, he berates, he screams “fabulous” at Darlene in a mocking tone. It’s a relief to see him go.
What is most interesting about Tom, though, is that the show goes to such lengths to establish his heterosexuality. WP shows no such anxiety over the other two male contestants, Tim (25, Carpenter) and Mitch (40, Product Designer), maybe because these boys are obviously coded as, respectively, straight and gay. Whatever the reason for such repeated marking of Tom, it’s nice to see that straight guys can behave like screaming drama queens too.
Like most reality shows, Wickedly Perfect relies on cat-fighting and bitch-slapping (figurative only at this point, but one can hope). You might feel a sort of guilty pleasure in watching these Martha devotees take their tasks so seriously and work themselves into tizzys over details large and small. The histrionics that Tom would have undoubtedly recreated week after week might have been reason enough to want him kept around.
Nonetheless, if it’s a send up of domesticity you want, ABC’s Desperate Housewives is far superior, and Bree Van De Camp (Marcia Cross) a better Martha than these Artisans and Beavers could ever dream of being. DH‘s satire of class pretensions and the dirty little secrets of privilege is more satisfyingly pointed than whatever it is Wickedly Perfect means to convey. Should we laugh at these social climbers or are we supposed to identify with their desires to make the minutiae of daily life things of beauty? Is it a critique or a celebration?
Love her or hate her, Martha Stewart and her vast eponymous empire show none of this vacillation. It is clear in Martha’s every move and injunction that we, all of us, are supposed to want to make our private lives perfect and precious. That this crosses social and economic boundaries (at least ideally) is attested to by the brand synergy of Martha Stewart Everyday and K-Mart, just as Martha’s own domestic convictions (some might say fascism) are tempered by her willingness to poke fun at herself on shows like Late Night with David Letterman.
Rumor has it that Martha is already working on a reality show of her own for NBC with Mark Burnett (of Survivor fame), set to go into production after she gets out of “Camp Cupcake.” The show will be a cross between Survivor and The Apprentice. Given Martha’s reputation, I can imagine (or perhaps fantasize) how she would tear apart the bitches and whiners of Wickedly Perfect. When Martha is released from “prison” (March, 2005), she will be able to take matters into her own hands with her own bunch of wannabes. Until then, Wickedly Perfect leaves us longing for the real thing.