At its worst, reality television celebrates the trashy and superficial, and does so in as imitative and unoriginal manner possible. At its best, nonfiction shows reveal worlds we’ve never seen, cultures and subcultures beyond our imagination. “Hair Battle Spectacular” (9 p.m., Oxygen) offers a little bit of both, a rehash of “Project Runway” set in the world of extreme fantasy-hair design.
Popularized by Lady Gaga, this brand of coiffure combines traditional hair cutting with something resembling architecture and cake decoration. Gravity defying verticality seems to be the chief goal, but we soon learn that every design has to have a strong narrative and tell a simple, coherent story, look polished and well constructed and not fall apart in front of the judges.
Derek J. serves as the supreme judge of the series. He has been featured in the movie “Good Hair” and has been seen on “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” again demonstrating that once you make it on reality television, you can always fall back on more reality television.
The contestants arrive with plenty of sass, and silly and concocted names like Minista, Fingaz and Cajmonet (or “Cash Money,” as she has to explain), totally appropriate to the situation. Despite such memorable monikers, the hairdressers are often more about business than entertainment, and the first hour transpires without memorable outbursts or “drama.”
I don’t pretend to know just what host Brooke Burns has to do with the fantasy-hair scene. She often seems as if she was dragged in while on her way to audition for another show and forced to act like an expert. Derek J. easily emerges as the most colorful and quotable character.
“Hair Battle Spectacular” breaks no new ground as a competition, but it has taught me all I now know about the subject. And I stuck around until the bitter end to see which hair samurai was sent home.
• Now in its fourth season, at least two of them spent in the teeth of a housing recession, “Flipping Out” (8 p.m., Bravo) returns, “starring” Jeff Lewis. He has adjusted to the bad economy by cutting down on real-estate “flipping” and concentrating on his new sideline, Jeff Lewis Design.
Tonight’s other highlights
• The heat is on during the season finale of “Hell’s Kitchen” (7 p.m., Fox).
• A dozen YouTube talents perform on “America’s Got Talent” (8 p.m., NBC).
• Half of the contestants face elimination on “MasterChef” (8 p.m., Fox).
• An NBA star takes on Penn and Teller on “Shaq Vs.” (8 p.m., ABC).
• Around the bend on “Warehouse 13” (8 p.m., SyFy).
• Alicia confronts her former boss in court on “The Good Wife” (9 p.m., CBS).
• A cell-phone snafu complicates a menu on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (9 p.m., TV Guide).
• The guys improvise after headquarters closes the house on “Rescue Me” (9 p.m., FX).
• “The IT Crowd” (9:30 p.m., IFC), the popular British comedy, returns for a fourth season.
A trash compactor assigned to a barren planet looks for love in the 2008 CGI family feature “Wall-E” (7 p.m., Encore).
A deadly Halloween prank on “NCIS” (7 p.m., CBS) … Yet another makeover involves skydiving on “Plain Jane” (7 p.m., CW)