Summer's Camp

Hit Me Baby One More Time
8:00 p.m. Thursdays, NBC


Fire Me...Please
8:00 p.m. Tuesdays, CBS

The Cut
8:00 p.m. Thursdays, CBS

Rock Star
8:00 p.m. Mondays, CBS (starting July 11)

Dancing With The Stars
8:00 p.m. Thursdays, ABC


Summer is a time for having rowdy vegan cookouts, slurping half-liquefied Popsicles, and frolicking like a satyr on one of Minnesota's frightful nude beaches. That is, if you're an outdoors person. But for us black-lunged cave dwellers with remote-calloused thumbs, summer means bad Lori Loughlin projects, sitcoms that have been shelved so long you can spot dust particles (or Jenny McCarthy) on the film stock, and reality shows that wouldn't stand a chance in the fall lineup but somehow thrive in the deafening, crap-clotted garbage disposal that is summer TV. Let's take a gander at what the Big Three have to offer in lieu of solid entertainment this season. (I'll charitably leave Fox out of this, as I'm sure they're still mourning the sudden, shocking cancellation of ratings juggernaut Life on a Stick.)

NBC has been lucky thus far, pulling 8.6 million viewers with the premiere of their main summer offering, Hit Me Baby One More Time. Apparently, plenty of fallen celebrities aren't ashamed to solicit approval from an unkind mob of spectators. The show's Britney-cribbed title is deceptive; they should have called it Ain't Too Proud to Beg, as there's a disturbing free-blowjobs vibe emanating from the contestants, all former chart-topping artists. On the first episode of this bare-bones talent competition, former teen sensation Tiffany (once boring, now an oddly exciting MILF with ample, nurturing cleavage) competed with Arrested Development, CeCe Peniston, Flock of Seagulls, and a surprisingly tight Loverboy for a modest (charity-bound) cash prize.

More disturbing than the discovery that the Flock of Seagulls guy now looks like a fat biker was the realization that Arrested Development never stopped being awesome. Come back, Speech! The following week Vanilla Ice rocked the mic like a vandal and waxed chumps like a candle, effectively icing the competition with his baffling rendition of "Survivor" by Destiny's Child. Unfortunately, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn't reunite to back him up.

CBS, meanwhile, has decided to scatter its seeds of mediocrity far and wide, rather than pimping one high-profile summer offering. The result is three new reality series, one of which is admittedly promising. (I'll let you guess.) Fire Me...Please, representing the nadir of the American work ethic, is the anti-Apprentice: Two newly hired employees try their damnedest to get fired, and the one who succeeds closest to (but not after) 3:00 p.m. gets $25,000. One might argue that actually acquiring and keeping a job could net the average fellow more than $25K, but slow and steady never won any races on TV. (Just ask host Dave Holmes, who memorably lost to rambling androgyne Jesse Camp in MTV's first "I Wanna Be a VJ" contest.)

Rock Star is an odd amalgam of a talent search, a memorial service, and a bankruptcy seminar, as INXS attempts to find a replacement for deceased lead singer Michael Hutchence. The prize is quite a plum: The winner will write songs for a new album and go on a world tour with the newly revived Frankenband.

Finally, The Cut features a group of aspiring young designers out to impress Tommy Hilfiger, the master of flag-hag couture. Hilfiger is slightly more charismatic than his daughter Ali of Rich Girls fame, but then, he doesn't spend 80 percent of his camera time drooling on a yoga mat.

For those who felt American Idol was too hot for TV, ABC has a cooling salve for that burn. Dancing with the Stars is so numbing, so stylistically dated, so stiff and shellacked that I almost wished Wayland Flowers and Madame would drop by for some Solid Gold banter. The "stars" are dubious; when Bachelorette Trista Sutter is your marquee name, you might want to call your show Dancing with Somewhat Recognizable Media Personalities. Ever heard of Kelly Monaco? Probably not, unless she's on "your" soap. How about John O'Hurley? Only if you're utterly obsessed with Seinfeld--not that there's anything wrong with that.

These "stars" are paired with professional ballroom dancers; after weeks of tedious instruction, the couples compete live in several ballroom categories. Although Evander Holyfield's inspired cha-cha is an unexpected delight, Rachel Hunter's waltz is borderline scary (who's responsible for letting her escape from The Real Gilligan's Island over on TBS?). And Sutter's nonstop aw-shucks giggling does little to enhance the choreography. I just can't comprehend why anyone thought to pair ballroom dance and marginal celebrities in a live spectacle of flop sweat, missed cues, and orchestrated soft rock hits. It's as if they wanted to fail.

The only redeeming factor is the presence of former New Kid Joe McIntyre. He's still unspeakably gorgeous and wonderful despite his ongoing refusal to autograph the tattered panties I've been mailing him since 1989. Whatever. I'm not angry, just hurt. At least Joe provides a luscious distraction from his awkward costars. Why stress over Trista's wobbly waltz when you can daydream about the nuances of Joey's horizontal mambo?

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