Archive for Monday, November 21, 2011

ABC’s ‘You Deserve It’: simply hideous

November 21, 2011

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Just this side of ghastly, the new limited-run series “You Deserve It” (8 p.m., ABC) combines the banality of game show razzle-dazzle with the agony of personal tragedy. Every contestant plays a remarkably involved trivia quiz to win money for a friend or a relative in need. In the episode made available for review, a young woman competes on behalf of her college friend, a bereaved mother of two whose husband drowned only four months before.

The woman’s plight is explained in a video tribute before the game. At the end of the contest, the unsuspecting beneficiary will be told — on camera — about her friend’s act of kindness, all to the thundering applause of a studio audience. What if a widow of only four months isn’t ready to become the object of our pity and the focus of our throwaway entertainment?

Beyond mixing trivia and tragedy in a glib fashion, “Deserve” also approaches the uncomfortable place where charity and exhibitionism meet. The show doesn’t so much celebrate generosity as reduce it to something unspeakably tacky.

• On Anthony Bourdain’s long-running Travel Channel series “No Reservations,” he skillfully used his well-honed hipster act and “I’ll eat anything” philosophy to offer thought-provoking snapshots of other people’s ways of life.

Now Bourdain hosts something called “The Layover” (8 p.m., Travel). At its best, this new series is the TV equivalent of those newspaper articles that offer idle weekenders ideas for what to do when they have 36 hours in Seattle or wherever. Only “Layover” is based on the idea that Bourdain is such a busy celebrity that he’s often stranded for long stretches in exotic locales.

What’s a foodie with so many frequent flier miles to do? In the first “Layover” he spends 24 hours (accompanied by an onscreen ticking clock) racing from one funky street vendor to the next in Singapore, a city so rapidly developed that it can seem like a theme park even to its own residents. He also extols the virtues of his favorite hotels and gets a massage.

There’s more than a whiff of product placement about the whole affair. Sadly, “The Layover” allows no time for home-cooked meals, which were often the most revealing moments of “No Reservations,” when we got to observe cuisine and table customs among family and new friends. These scenes evoked hearthlike warmth that contrasted nicely with Bourdain’s cooler-than-thou act. While watching “No Reservations” it was easy to think of Bourdain as the luckiest man in the world. On “Layover” Bourdain seems more doomed than blessed, a very well-fed version of George Clooney’s character in “Up in the Air.”

Tonight’s other highlights

• “The Sing-Off” (7 p.m., NBC) continues.

• Taylor hunts for leaks on “Terra Nova” (7 p.m., Fox).

• A teen’s tantrums prove revealing on “House” (8 p.m., Fox).

• “Woody Allen: A Documentary” (8 p.m., PBS) concludes on “American Masters.”

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