Blow Out: Season Two

Elaine Hanson Cardenas

Jonathan constructs himself as part Everyman, part tough businessman, part amalgam of various movie stars.

Blow Out

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Jonathan Antin, Kiara Bailey, Beth Ann Catalano, Tina Hedges
Subtitle: Season Two
Network: Bravo

Jonathan Antin, celebrity stylist, maneuvers his Mercedes through the busy streets between his salons in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Describing his plans to develop a hair product empire, he tells the Blow Out camera, "I'm not a billionaire." He's already merged himself with his brand and made his workaday routines into entertainment, sort of.

The first season of Blow Out traced Antin's efforts to establish his second salon in Beverly Hills, focused mostly on staffing troubles: one worker was fired because he was "all about himself," another didn't have hair "at the top of her list of priorities." As the second season begins, Antin has just negotiated a partnership with a beauty manufacturing company to launch a "multi-million dollar product line," Jonathan Product. As Antin says, "Everything is on the line."

The series offers repeated lessons in the pursuit of a capitalist dream. Like most reality shows, it's structured as montages: quick cuts show Antin flitting through the warehouse-like salon, flicking hair and crooning, "Sooo hot" to the babes. Rapid zooms, close-ups of fingers and scissors, street images that recall Dr. 90210 (the Rodeo Drive street sign, low-angle views of tall palms). Workers gossip occasionally, but mostly, the salon scenes feature predictable banter and invitations to Botox parties.

More entertainingly, Antin interacts with people outside the salon -- beauty company executives, marketing consultants, and his shrink. Beth Ann Catalano, Executive Vice President of Sales and Education, and sidekick Tina Hedges, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Development for Jonathan Product, function as a good cop/bad cop team of executive dominatrices. When he whines that he's supposed to give a party when they want him to be in Baltimore, he's ordered to "drop everything and get out here!" But when the solutions they develop don't meet Jonathan's exacting standards for "the best available product," he hurls a container at the wall, splattering the plaster with goop, and dumps the bag of test products in the trash.

Antin is mad again when he's made to wait in the lobby for a few minutes at the cocky consultants' office. (Next time, the meeting is in his salon, and he makes the consultants wait 90 minutes.) It turns out the purpose of the meeting is to decide on the logo -- an important aspect of branding, granted. Jonathan doesn't like any of the fonts they suggest, and sends the consultants packing, raising concerns about meeting deadlines and escalating costs. More drama: if they miss the small window of opportunity at the upcoming industry shows, everything will be lost.

Jonathan constructs himself as part Everyman, part tough businessman, part amalgam of various movie stars (and straight: he asserts that he's "all about chicks. My life revolves around chicks"). He compares himself to Warren Beatty in Shampoo, saying the movie inspired his career. He actually bears an uncanny resemblance to Patrick Swayze circa Dirty Dancing (or maybe Roadhouse): same sideburns, same curly locks, same tight shirt. At the laboratory where his product is under development, he pulls a sterile shower cap down over his face, and calls himself "Snoop Dog." More than once, he stands framed from low angles in doorways, in Western-cut jacket and jeans, an effect heightened comically when he whips his hair dryer out of his belt and "shoots" it around the room. And in another scene, he likens himself to De Niro in Raging Bull, saying to Sugar Ray, "Bring it all. Bring it hard." That's Jonathan's philosophy, he says. He also says he's Charlie to the managers who run his salon, whom he calls his "angels."

So, he's Western hero, prizefighter, sexy dancer, gangster and spymaster. He's also a romantic. When ascending the stairs in his girlfriend's apartment, he looks over the balcony, and says, "We're like Romeo and Juliet," to which she deftly responds, "Goodnight, Juliet." It's a surprise -- a moment when someone sees him differently from how he presents himself, and an intriguing challenge to his insistent heterosexuality.

The show's title also alludes to the 1981 De Palma thriller, Blow-Out. Is Jonathan, like Travolta, supposed to be an unassuming artist unwittingly caught up in a life-or-death intrigue where appearances can't be trusted? Again, we see the man poised against dangerous, invisible forces.

To the publicist, he tells his humble story, as cool jazz begins to play softly in the background. He started as an apprentice at 23 in the same West Hollywood salon he now owns, washing hair and sweeping. He chokes up remembering the first phone call he received after buying the salon. "My cleaning lady said, 'What do I do?' I said, "Say thank you for calling Jonathan Salon."

Later, we see him in a meeting with his psychiatrist. The scene is oddly evocative of Tony Soprano's session with Dr. Melfi: the room is decorated similarly, they face each other in similar poses; and Jonathan's psychiatrist resembles Lorraine Bracco. Once again, it seems Jonathan is constructing himself from parts of media characters. Again, he gets teary, confessing his fears, recounting how hard it is, how scared he is.

One off-key scene poses a thoughtful contrast to the rest of the show. The night before the Golden Globes, the camera follows Jonathan to his empty apartment. There are no pictures on the walls, no plants, just white walls, black leather, cavernous ceilings, and an eerie bald mannequin head resting atop a glass coffee table, a placeholder for a missing life. Jonathan begins working on a wig on the mannequin, practicing his rolls and up-do in preparation for the next day, sighing as he sticks pins in the styrofoam head. This scene, perhaps more than any other, reveals the drudgery of what is, despite the glamour, a job.

As Jonathan puts it, "I am what I do: I'm hair." It's easy to dismiss Blow-Out as a shallow representation of a superficial industry. But Jonathan, as he's prone to tell us, is an Everyman. And so one can't help but hope that he will make it.

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