Britain's Next Top Model Needs More Cat Than Mouse

Reality television is the dream platform for folks who look lovely but have nothing sensible to say. Programmes to avoid if you're especially allergic to dumb caterwauling and witless bitching include anything with "Top Model" in the title. Namely, America's Next Top Model and its less deranged, British younger sister.

But for Top Model devotees, it's the candidates' car-crash personalities--not their looks--that are the lure. And that's why the UK show (the new series of Britain's Next Top Model premieres Monday at 9pm on Living) will never be more than a nicotine patch to keep us going between ANTM episodes.

If we were just talking faces and figures, there'd be nothing to separate the US version from our own. Everyone, including the supposed plus-sized models, looks like they subsist on vanilla scented air and have had golf balls implanted over their cheekbones. But those extraordinary American femmes give us so much more to work with. Everything that slips from their lips makes us gasp, grimace or vomit. We're mesmerised as they chop effortlessly between gushing confessionals and squirting venom at their rivals, or the dumbass hairdresser who dared to slice their sorority locks into something fashionable.

Through no fault of their own, our girls are more reserved and self-aware. Though the UK version throws up lots of enjoyably vapid or unsporting comments, it's never anything gruesome enough to be of real interest. The British judges are another rough spot. Sure, they can do catty but it's usually without bothering to caricature themselves like ANTM's indispensable Mr and Miss. Jay. So they come off as dreary.

Could it be that by sloughing off Lisa Snowdon and slapping on higher rent host, Elle Macpherson, the show's producers are trying to chase down that elusive high fashion high jinx? If so, then they've failed. She may be The Body but a look at the first episode tells us she's most definitely not The Voice or The Personality. Elle's flat, hypnotic tone reminds us of V's alien queen Anna mesmerising her minions over the Tannoy. You can't help but wonder if the women who make it into Elle's model academy aren't secretly being primed for a beauty-based breeding programme where they're destined to end up in Perspex tanks being inseminated with David Beckham's sperm. What we're saying is: Elle's scary--and promisingly disingenuous--but she's no Tyra Banks.

As a host, Tyra pops--and sometimes explodes--on screen. On ANTM, she'll flatter, tease and tare up a girl in the same sentence. You never know where you are with Tyra or what she might do next. Remember the opening episode of the most recent ANTM cycle? At one point she decides to mock-mount Mr. Jay in front of a bewildered contestant. Tyra also enjoys herself far too much when she prompts two of her young hopefuls to confirm that they got pregnant the first time they had sex. Can you imagine Macpherson dry humping for the cameras or picking apart her protégées' trashy back-stories? Nope. And that, daahrling, is a huge problem.

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