Coming soon: Tough as Nails, Bravo’s exciting new series seeking America’s best nail stylist. And don’t miss Bravo’s other reality series: Belly Up, the search for the greatest belly dancer; Top of the Heap, the quest for the country’s preeminent trash collector; and Programmed Response, the hunt for Bravo’s next director of programming.
Okay. None of those titles is actually forthcoming. But if any of them should be in development, it is the last one, as the current director of programming has fallen into a lazy habit of cranking out one copycat series after another. After the critical and ratings success of Project Runway (the search for America’s next great fashion designer), Bravo aired a string of similar reality contests: Top Chef, a rip-off of the Food Network’s The Next Food Network Star; Top Design, a copy of HGTV’s Design Star; and now Shear Genius, which features hair stylists and hasn’t been done by another network, but only because there isn’t a hair design network on the air.
All of Bravo’s contests follow the same pattern. A group of wannabes competes in various challenges, live together in their off time, and have their work evaluated by a panel of experts in the field. Each week, one contestant is sent packing with some pithy phrase. (For Shear Genius, it’s “That was your last cut.”) In each episode, behind the scenes interviews type the contestants (the kind, the sympathetic, the arrogant, the petty, the backstabbing). Conflicts among contestants, dramatic blow-ups, haughty putdowns, last minute design crises, tearful breakdowns, snide comments from judges, and egotistical self-promotion — all the elements are formulaic.
In Shear Genius, 12 hair designers compete for a shot at fame and fortune, managed by hair designer Rene Fris, this show’s version of the ever-present and critical Tim Gunn from Runway. The role of Heidi Klum is played by Jaclyn Smith, whose line of clothing for K-Mart apparently qualifies her to assess hairstyles. Judges Sally Hershberger and Michael Carl round out the crew of Genius: while you might be tempted to compare them to Runway‘s judges, Nina Garcia and Michael Kors, Hershberger actually brings a sense of diplomacy to her critiques.
The premiere episode differed from the usual pattern in one aspect: it featured two challenges instead of one. This is understandable, as it doesn’t take as long to cut a head of hair as it does to decorate a room or design and sew a dress. For the first challenge, the designers worked on mannequins and had one hour to craft haircuts. Tyson, the challenge winner, had first choice of a model for the next day’s challenge, while Tabatha, the loser, took the model no one else wanted. The second challenge involved a trip to an arts and crafts store, where contestants shopped for items to be used in the creation of “hair art,” which is apparently the art of shoving crap into one’s hair to create a mess so uncomfortable and unwieldy that no one in her right mind would be seen with it. Contestants purchased a variety of objects, from jewelry boxes to feather boas to wicker balls. Paul Jean, who foolishly dismissed Fris’ advice, was rightfully eliminated for creating a multi-colored fright wig with twigs sticking out of it: the model looked like a punk who had just been chased through the woods by flesh-eating zombies.
The main problem with Shear Genius is one element that distinguishes it from its sister series on Bravo. Although viewers may never have the opportunity to attend a high society cocktail party, they might find fashions on Runway that they would wear if given the chance. Shear Genius offers nothing viewers might desire. Though several of artistic cuts were fun to look at, you won’t be seeing them on real people. And, given that the first episode featured both the basic cut and the extreme artistic cut, the show already looks out of ideas for challenges (although, one can hope that, unlike Runway, Genius will allow the stylists to design something for men).
The show must rely on the personalities of the stylists to pull in viewers. By the end of the first episode, only two stylists stood out in this regard: the flamboyant Dr. Boogie, who insisted he wasn’t gay but flirted nonstop with the dashing Fris, and Tabatha, who came across as ready to rumble. Even Ben, who has quarter-sized piercings in his ears and is covered in tattoos, stayed to himself, dispelling the initial impression that he would be the villain of the series, à la Jeffrey from last season’s Runway or Design‘s Carissa.
Lacking a prominent personality, designs suitable for viewers to wear or a fresh idea for the contest, Shear Genius has little to offer. And by cranking out a series of shows so alike, Bravo may be watering down the impact of its cash cow, Project Runway. Let’s hope the search for a new programming director starts soon, and that the winner devises programs that make viewers want to say, “Bravo!”