''Tuesday Night Book Club'': Suburbanites bare all
On paper, the new ''reality'' series Tuesday Night Book Club looks simple: Seven ''real women,'' all ''friends'' from the Scottsdale, Ariz., area, gather once a week for a ''freewheeling chat'' about ''books'' and, naturally, their ''personal lives.''
But in truth, nothing about this wretched new low in unscripted television is what it seems: From the women's intimate marital conversations to their unnaturally ripe lips and bosoms, everything about TNBC and its participants rings no, make that screeches utterly false.
Part of the problem is that the show's producers are attempting to cram their favorite conceits from a variety of disparate and successful series into a fly-on-the-wall, documentary-style program: Start with a true-life group of desperate housewives (there's even a perfection-obsessed redheaded doctor's wife); add a wan Grey's Anatomy voice-over (no cliché is left unuttered, not even ''never judge a book by its cover''); squeeze in a couple Lost-like musical montages; add elements of soft-core porn (wife swapping is a favorite conversational topic, while necklines are all of the cut-down-to-South America variety); and don't forget some Oprah-lite platitudes. All this careful orchestration does, however, is rob TNBC of any sense of reality; every scene plays as if the show's producers had descended on the women's carefully set-designed homes moments before shooting, barked instructions for some preordained scene, then filmed its cast of untrained players struggling to find some kind of drama in moments from their own lives.
Take the stilted arguments between newlyweds Lynn and Eddie: She's the breadwinner, a point she shrewishly drives home at every turn, while he looks pretty good without a shirt. Their dialogue plays like it's being read (badly) off of cue cards:
Lynn: ''Will you please step up to the plate and help me do something here?''
Eddie: '' 'Step up to the plate'? You sound like your dad.''
''Oh now we're bringing Ernie into it?''
''Well, if he wasn't gonna be brought in, he would've snooped in somehow.''
There's so little chemistry on display here that it's not difficult to imagine Lynn and Eddie, clinging to delusions that they might become the next Nick and Jessica, concocting their union in a CBS casting director's office. (For that matter, the connections among the seven book-club members seem pretty tenuous, too.) When the couple discovers that their exhausted-looking dog, Mr. Butters, has swallowed Lynn's wedding ring, Eddie's weakly voiced frustration (''You're diggin' through the poop'') is neither amusing nor convincing. In fact, all I could think was that the soulless production assistant who (more likely than not) coated that diamond with Alpo had better hope God's not a member of PETA.
The other women's stories play just as strained the dramatic equivalent of, say, pushing cauliflower through a colander: There's Kirin deciding to order a sexy motorcycle outfit to impress her hubby. (Her pal Jenn just so happens to have the Sexy Motorcyle Outfit Catalog just lying around.) There's ''conflicted wife'' (a.k.a. cheating tramp) Jamie, in three-inch heels, shedding tears, alone (save for a couple of strategically placed cameramen), while checking out the rental apartment that might just signal the end of her marriage. (It's okay, Jamie, vertical blinds make me want to sob, too.) There's even the blush-worthy book-club meetings themselves, which don't have time for discussions of literature but do work in such insightful questions as ''If you sit on his lap and pull your skirt up at the end of the day, would he approach that with enjoyment?''
Yes, that sound you hear is the sorrowful wail of the late Jane Austen.
Only three folks on TNBC don't appear to have emerged straight from the set of a Cinemax late-night erotic drama. One of them, Jenn's shlubby husband, seems more like a sleazy producer of one of these films, using Lynn and Eddie's housewarming party as an chance to get sloshed and to I kid you not suggest a game of rock-paper-scissors with his hosts in a semi-serious bid to bed the lady of the house. The other two regular-looking people, Cris and Matt, are giving marriage a second chance after the latter's lengthy stay in rehab.
Initially, I thought Cris and Matt might be the series' most relatable couple, but by the time the cameras arrived at Cris' group therapy session, I had began to miss the swingers. I mean, it's bad enough that Cris piles several kids, a skunk, a cat, a possum, four dogs, and Lord only knows how many cameramen into the couple's bedroom (as Matt tries to read his Daily Reflections book in peace), but to drag a recovering addict to an alcohol-filled party, then invite a national viewing audience to experience his discomfort in fending off inappropriate sobriety jokes well, that's the kind of reality that's jarringly at odds with the rest of TNBC's phony, soapy pastiche of suburban living.
The sad thing is, there are probably plenty of real women whose life stories could better fill this time slot. How about a look at the lives of go-getter PTA moms in the rural South? Or maybe a series following a group of single moms in Detroit struggling to finish their college degrees? Or how about a cast of actual (rather than imitation) soft-core vixens? I'd even bet there are plenty of wealthy suburban chicks who'd give the ladies of Wisteria Lane a run for their money but based on this initial outing, these women ain't them.
What do you think? Did you relate to any of these characters? Did you appreciate the reminder that some things are better kept private? And will you tune in next week?