Wash 'Salon Takeover' right off the air

TV Review

August 21, 2008|By Mary McNamara | Mary McNamara,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD - Tabatha's Salon Takeover, which premieres tonight at 10, is Bravo's contribution to the growing sub-genre of "whip it" television, in which self-anointed experts, preferably with non-American accents, parachute into crisis situations - a floundering restaurant, a discipline-challenged family - and whip everyone into shape. As the title might indicate, Tabatha's Salon Takeover provides this service for struggling hair salons with hair instead of food and stylist/salon owner Tabatha Coffey in the Gordon Ramsay role.

And therein lies the problem. Hair is not as interesting as food, salons are not as dynamic or dramatic as restaurants, and Coffey, well, she's no Ramsay.

Let's pretend for a moment that there is an audience, beyond hairstylists, for a show set in a salon, though those looking for some sexed-up reality version of Shampoo should know, right off the bat, that ain't happenin'. This is all about the business and passion of hairstyling.

The pilot takes us to Ten Salon in Long Beach, Calif., where husband-and-wife team Chris and Kwanna have mortgaged themselves within a fare-thee-well creating a salon that is losing money on a daily basis and putting a strain on their marriage. Enter Coffey. With her short white-blond hair, icy pale eyes and penchant for black, she strides through the salon barking questions and criticism like some graphic novel Nazi dominatrix. You feel that her decision to forgo a riding crop was a last-minute one and could be reversed in subsequent episodes.

She is not pleased at all with what she sees. Not. Pleased. At. All.

Through the questionable use of surveillance cameras, Coffey determines that the stylists are sloppy and yet micromanaged. She finds Kwanna's use of a Bible-thick rules and regs guide ridiculous and Chris' passion for the whole project questionable. (Apparently Coffey receives a monetary bonus for each time she uses the word "passion.") All of which is true, but does she really have to be so mean about it? Contrary to every management class offered post-Robber Baron, she shakes her head, rolls her eyes, spits out negative commentary and generally embodies the disapproving-mother image that has fueled the psychotherapy industry for so many years. Kwanna and one stylist are reduced to tears, and everyone else just looks shell-shocked and very soft around the middle.

If nothing else, Tabatha's Salon Takeover makes one appreciate the fine art of being a successful "whip it" expert. Ramsay, Jo Frost of ABC's Supernanny and the gals from Fox's Nanny 911 are all equally tough as nails - Ramsay famously screams and swears and occasionally walks off set in disgust, Frost fixes parents with those judging hooded eyes and tells them they are ruining their children - but still you feel the love. Each seems to genuinely care about their wayward clients, their devotion to their craft is obvious, and they take great pleasure in turning a crisis around. If that means they have to tell a chef to quit drinking or a father to stop loafing, so be it, but Ramsay, especially, seems to appreciate the imperfection of human character and relishes the results far more than the humiliating process.

Coffey, on the other hand, just can't believe how stupid everyone is, and is quite comfortable saying so. Contempt never plays well on television, and unfortunately, she is quite lavish with it. And, frankly, it's not clear what her added value is - the major improvement to Ten Salon comes via a redesign, which would seem to fall under the purview of another reality show entirely, Trading Spaces maybe. She says she has given the staff more freedom, more confidence, but even as she sums up with a final pep talk, you can see all the stylists keeping very still, like a crowd counting the minutes until the cobra gets bored and slides away. No nanny hugs, no wine-guzzling afterglow.

The point of shows like these is to infuse the viewer with hope. Here is a seemingly hopeless situation, but bring in a clear-eyed expert and look at the results.

Watching Tabatha's Salon Takeover, you can't help but wonder if there shouldn't be a "whip it" show for "whip it" shows - in which an expert would review the tapes and offer advice on how to turn a bad situation around.

They could start with this one.

Mary McNamara writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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