You can have Survivor and So You Think You Can Dance. For my money, Who Wants to Be a Superhero? (Thursday, 8 p.m., Sci Fi) represents the reality genre at its finest.
Stan Lee, the creative genius behind Marvel Comics, has chosen a group of would-be superheroes in nationwide auditions. They've all created alter egos that fit their personalities, complete with costumes and flashy names. They live together in a secret lair and engage in exciting contests that Lee has dreamed up for them.
Each week, Lee eliminates the superhero who's failed to demonstrate the requisite heroism. The winner of the competition receives a prize that (to them) is better than Survivor's $1 million. It's immortality, in the form of a comic book based on their character and written by Lee himself.
This season's contestants are a colorful bunch. A middle-aged homemaker who, in real life, spends all her time cleaning styles herself as Hygena, a maid-like superhero who battles dirt in all its forms. On the opposite end of the spectrum, leather-clad Basura draws her power from rubbish. Her endearing catchphrase: "Is this trash gonna have to take you out?"
Who Wants to Be a Superhero? ranks as this summer's guilty pleasure. (In case you were wondering, that'd be my alter ego: Guilty Man.)
Saturday, 6 pm (GSN)
This new series comes on like the game show to end all game shows. It pits winners from Jeopardy, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and other series against one another in a fast-paced question-answering tournament. Who will emerge as the greatest game-show contestant in all the land?
GSN takes this very seriously, though viewers probably won't. The name-recognition factor is low (anybody remember Michelle Kitt from The Weakest Link?), and the questions aren't all that special. "How many ounces are currently in a standard 7-Eleven Big Gulp?" True, I don't know the answer, but do I really care?
The best reason to watch is the chance to see Dennis Miller's latest slide down the showbiz ladder. The smug comedian has become increasingly marginal since emerging as a right-wing Iraq War cheerleader. And as host of Grand Slam, he's accepted his most demeaning job yet. In a typical display of "wit," Miller describes a match between Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings and underdog Victor Lee as "David vs. Ken-liath."
Aside from the odd appearance on Fox News, this is surely the end of the line for Dennis Miller. Or, in his parlance: You can kiss your Den-ass goodbye.
Tuesday, 9 pm (FX)
If you thought Meryl Streep was a scary boss in The Devil Wears Prada, wait till you see Glenn Close in Damages. Close plays renowned litigator Patty Hewes, whose law firm wins its cases at all costs. And the costs tend to be high, as new lawyer Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) finds out. Patty doesn't just employ you, she owns you body and soul. Ellen is asked to sacrifice her family, her fiancé and maybe even her life as the firm ruthlessly pursues a class-action lawsuit against a corrupt CEO (Ted Danson).
The script does a great job of making Patty larger than life. Even when she's off camera, she's a constant source of conversation.
"With Patty Hewes, there's only Patty."
"Patty sees her destiny in grander terms than the rest of us."
"If you're a phony for one second, she'll skewer you."
When Patty finally makes her entrance, watch out. She's a fearsome presence, a warrior who wears business clothes like a suit of armor. Like Streep, Close is smart enough to underplay. Patty usually maintains a cool manner, a quiet tone. Her displeasure is most often communicated through an almost imperceptible downturn at the corner of her mouth. But then all hell breaks loose. "DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS?" she growls at a hapless underling.
At which point I involuntarily blurted, "No!"
Mind Control with Derren Brown
Thursday, 9 pm (Sci Fi)
Meet Derren Brown, a smooth British "mentalist" who can seemingly make strangers do anything he wants them to. Brown acknowledges that his powers aren't supernatural; instead, he manipulates people through suggestion and misdirection. Here's a guy who can walk into a New York City jewelry store and buy an expensive ring using only blank white paper. The cashier happily accepts the payment, and Brown walks right out the door.
Brown also has a knack for approaching people on the street and getting them so confused that they hand him their wallet, cell phone and keys. It's not until he disappears down the street that they figure out what happened.
Mind Control with Derren Brown is a fun, eccentric kind of entertainment. (I guess a more accurate word for it might be "crime.")