America's Next Great Restaurant (Sunday, 7 p.m., NBC) is a brilliant concept for a reality series, and it's also brilliantly executed. It searches for entrepreneurs who have a viable scheme for a "fast-casual" restaurant - in other words, the next Chipotle - and takes them through the steps for making their dream a reality. They will hire chefs, design graphics, operate their own food trucks, etc. Guiding them through this process are four articulate judges with experience in the field, including Chipotle founder Steve Ells and chef Bobby Flay. In a clever twist, the judges are also the investors who will back the winning restaurant, set to open in May.
That's right - America's Next Great Restaurant is not only a TV program, but part of the marketing plan for the new business. Who says U.S. capitalists are running out of ideas?
As in Project Runway, Top Chef and other reality series featuring talented professionals, it's enlightening to hear the judges' expert critiques. Can the food be served quickly enough? Does the menu involve too many ingredients? Will the cooking be too complicated? In the premiere, however, much of the entertainment value comes from the contestants who don't make the cut, à la American Idol. We hear from would-be restaurateurs who want to serve "lactation smoothies"; combine a gun shop and a café; and create a male version of Hooters called Peckers.
Even some of the contestants who make the cut are questionable. Would you patronize a meatball joint called Saucy Balls? Can't wait to see the graphic-design concept for that one.
Sunday, 7 pm (ABC)
In this reality series, millionaires go undercover in poor, crime-ridden areas. When they find a person doing something positive for the community, they give him or her some of their money to keep doing it.
Now that tax cuts for millionaires have been extended, and government services must be cut as a result, Secret Millionaire basically serves as the United States' social safety net. Let's hope it gets renewed for fall.
The Celebrity Apprentice
Sunday, 8 pm (NBC)
The reality series' new season is based on a lie. Host Donald Trump claims that the contestants angling to be his business associate are "the biggest and brightest stars," despite the fact that they're actually has-beens (Gary Busey, Dionne Warwick), fringe figures (LaToya Jackson, Richard Hatch) and virtual unknowns (Nene Leakes, Hope Dworczyk).
That's not to say Trump can't squeeze entertainment value out of this motley crew. He brings out their ruthlessness, starts fights and exposes personal weaknesses. This week's premiere is a train wreck you can't look away from, dominated by Hatch's fiendish manipulations and Busey's crazy rambling. In the absence of "the biggest and brightest stars," I guess, evil and insanity will have to do.
The Real Housewives of Orange County
Sunday, 9 pm (Bravo)
The new season begins on a note of remorse and redemption, as the affluent Orange County housewives vow to change their catfighting ways.
"I'm really trying hard not to be negative," says busty bottle-blond Tamra.
"I'm trying to be more soft-hearted, caring and giving," says busty bottle-blond Vicki.
"Every day I wake up trying to do what Jesus would do," says busty bottle-blond Alexis.
Just when Orange County starts looking like a model of civilized behavior, however, the Housewives get together for a party. Within minutes, they begin ripping into each other like vicious seventh-graders. "All I thought about was throwing wine in Gretchen's face," says Tamra, abandoning her ban on negativity. "Then I thought, no, this bitch is not worth a good glass of wine."
Exactly what Jesus would do if he lived in Orange County.
He Loves Me
Monday, 9 pm (Lifetime)
He Loves Me begins like any Lifetime TV movie about a woman involved in a potentially dangerous affair. Laura (Heather Locklear) is a successful real estate agent with a perfect marriage, but she risks it all for steamy sex with a hunk named Sam. Not only does Sam have a creepily seductive manner, but he's a modern-jazz saxophonist. I mean, how obvious can the warning signals get?
But the movie takes a turn away from damsel-in-distress clichés for something more sinister a twist I didn't see coming. Imagine my embarrassment, after all these years as a TV critic, for getting faked out by modern-jazz saxophone!