Just because a show has pretensions to Shakespearean drama doesn’t mean it can live up to them. Skin swan-dives into Fox’s fall lineup dressed like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, set in Bel Air rather than Verona. The star-crossed lovers are two photogenic rich kids from opposite sides of the mall. Jewel Goldman (Olivia Wilde) is the blonde daughter of a porn mogul (Ron Silver)—not a Jew but Jewish, she likes to explain as light glances off her pert little snub nose. Adam Roam (D.J. Catrona) is Jewel’s opposite: the dark-haired, Catholic son of a Mexican American judge and a pompous L.A. district attorney bent on putting Jewel’s dad in prison for his tenuous connection to an Internet child porn ring.
Little do these two teens know it when they meet at a glitzy Sunset Strip party, but they have something very special in common: Both are virgins. This signals that we’re in the throes of a fairy tale, complete with girl-on-balcony images and kissing sequences suffused with gauzy moon glow. “Everyone at school thinks because my dad makes these stupid sex movies that I’m this brainless little slut,” Jewel pouts. Luckily for the viewers, she’s not holding out for moral reasons—she just wants to wait until she falls in love. Which is, like, now.
Jewel’s loving parents have always been liberal in terms of discipline, allowing their daughter to roam the L.A. party scene (where she abstains from drugs and keeps her legs crossed). “We’re more like the Osbournes than Ozzie and Harriet,” she explains—if only that were true! But when daddy finds out that Jewel’s been consorting with the enemy, he forbids her from seeing Adam, and Adam’s dad does the same, albeit with the stiffest, most absurd dialogue imaginable: “Her father victimizes women, he victimizes children—I won’t let him victimize you,” says the puffy-faced D.A. Adam’s incomprehensible response: “You know how many politicians it takes to change a light bulb, Dad? Just one. He holds onto the fixture while the world revolves beneath him.” That’s just one of many perplexing lines in this humdinger of a script. Witness Adam and Jewel’s neo-Shakespearean twist on a lovers’ tiff: “Go to hell,” says he; “You first,” retorts the wry young maiden.
This is no O.C., bitch. Skin compares badly to that other Fox drama about star-crossed teens, which has tighter scripts and cast, and which takes advantage of its lush, money-dripping California surroundings more effectively. Aside from the deceptive opening sequence that suggests Skin will be a fast-paced romp through L.A.’s underground, the show feels generic and dull: a travesty of trash television.
If Skin pompously models itself on Romeo and Juliet, Las Vegas steals its vibe wholesale from Scorsese’s Casino. As in that movie, much of this series’ action revolves around the invisible workings of casino security. Danny McCoy, the show’s fresh-faced hero (blandly played by soap actor Josh Duhamel) works in the surveillance department of a big Vegas casino, second in command to ex-CIA agent Big Ed Deline (James Caan). In the show’s pilot, Big Ed catches Danny in bed with his daughter Delinda Deline (Molly Sims), a party girl whose sole aim in life appears to be screwing with men’s heads. Danny’s in trouble, all right, but that seems to be his role—zipping through the city’s neon streets, cleaning up his own mess along with everyone else’s.
Its first three episodes have been uneven, but at its best, Las Vegas shimmers with fizzy action. Cameras surge down the labyrinthine halls of the casino as Danny’s voice-over fills in the narrative gaps. He always has one eye on the many surveillance screens, contributing to the feel of perpetual motion. Danny’s aggravation levels are stoked by the series’ promising regulars (an overeducated valet, a mysterious English pit boss, and Big Ed’s wife, played by Cheryl Ladd, a casting masterstroke) and a shifting array of guest eccentrics. His responsibilities range from nabbing cheaters to flushing out lowlifes and keeping the big spenders happy. One whole day gets swallowed up with chasing down a “shark” (a high roller who has defected to another casino), another with keeping the press away from a hypocritical senator with a penchant for whoring and gambling.
Las Vegas keeps the tone breezy—not as lighthearted as Lucky, last season’s charming, Vegas-based flop, but also nowhere as gory or morbid as CSI. Neither death nor being dumped can put a damper on Danny’s spirit, and James Caan comes off as a mildly comic presence, woefully underemploying his talent for subtle malice. Entirely absent from this series are the elements that make Las Vegas one of the creepiest cities in the world: the slack-jawed fruit machine robots, the dead-eyed croupiers, and the general stink of airlessness, denial, and despair.
Jamie Oliver, otherwise known as the Naked Chef, is the Rocco DiSpirito of England—except much more famous, thanks to several long-running cooking shows (seen here on the Food Network) and bestselling books. Young, cocky, and cute in a thick-lipped way, his media ubiquity has made him a sitting target for a nation of Jamie haters (hairytongue.com/gallery/fattongue/) who mock his faux-cockney slang and oversize tongue. Perhaps hoping to win back the British public’s affections, Oliver launched a charity that would train 15 unemployed young people a year to be chefs; they would then staff his new nonprofit London restaurant, Fifteen. The process of training and opening the restaurant became the basis for the gripping five-part series Jamie’s Kitchen.
Instead of focusing on the internal bickering between staff members like DiSpirito’s reality show The Restaurant (currently in reruns on Bravo), Jamie’s Kitchen concentrates on Oliver’s struggle to turn a bunch of feckless kids into professionals. Although it’s never clear how pure-hearted his intentions are, Oliver quickly realizes he’s committed himself to more than a publicity stunt. The auditions are like a foodie version of American Idol—Oliver and his judges must pick candidates from a torrent of culinary duds who barely recognize anything beyond spaghetti Bolognese. Most have never held a job and many have personal or financial problems to overcome: Michelle is a single mom, Dwayne’s a dropout, and the desperately eager Michael Pizzi (“Peasey”) has attention deficit disorder; all of them let Oliver down again and again. It’s impossible not to feel sorry for the emotionally naked chef: you can practically see the ulcer budding in his guts, the follicles turning gray beneath his scalp. As the restaurant’s building costs spiral out of control, his wife—who just gave birth—is livid about the excessive amount of time he’s devoting to these troubled kids.
Like most reality shows, Jamie’s Kitchen doctors as much as documents. It spends hardly any time with the seven trainees who ace the program—depressingly enough, mostly middle-class unemployed kids—and concentrates on the turbulent truants, who have poor Jamie racing around London in a desperate attempt to get them back on track. Despite all the chaos, the restaurant opens and remains successful to this day. But its very name—Fifteen—carries a sad reminder of the eight trainees who didn’t make it to opening day.