This Week in TV

TV and popular culture.
March 17 2005 7:00 PM

This Week in TV

Fainting models! Stoned reverends! Plus: The best show on television gets a stay of execution.

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"It's like Ocean's 11 meets Survivor!" gushes the Web site for Court TV's new reality show Impossible Heists. And it is, sort of, in the sense that the show combines the poor character development and shoddy scripting of the Steven Soderbergh film with the glitzy amorality of the ur-reality show. In last night's premiere episode, two teams competed to recreate a famous real-life burglary in which a $5 million Titian painting was lifted from the hyper-fortified mansion of an English lord. Of course, even Lord Bath's place didn't boast a chainlink pen containing a pride of man-eating lions, over which the thieves had to rappel on a zip line. But how else would the teams gather lion dung to smear on their feet, thus masking their scent to evade capture by watchdogs?

The contestants on Impossible Heists are a predictably attractive, drably diverse lineup with reality-TV-ready résumés: One lists her profession as "acrobat," while another is a "former celebrity bodyguard." The rapid MTV-style editing manages to make the teams' criminal machinations simultaneously frantic and boring. The whole jumbled mess is narrated by Penn Jillette in a voiceover so constant and overbearing it leaves no space for the emergence of personalities among the contestants, whose spoken contributions are limited to off-camera shrieks of "Nice job!" or "Let's move it!" At the end of the hour, I still couldn't tell Melissa the stuntwoman ("She's a fighter who won't take crap from anyone") from T.J. the Desert Storm vet ("She may look like a million dollars, but she'd rather be stealing [it]!").

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Unwatchable as it is, Impossible Heists is innovative in at least one sense. There are already some reality shows featuring people with questionable ties to the underworld, like the mob family in Growing Up Gotti or the sketchy lowlifes of Dog the Bounty Hunter. But to my knowledge, this is the first reality contest that encourages its participants to simulate an actual felony. What's next, Roofie Date-Rape Challenge? I Can't Believe It's Not Murder? … 11:22 a.m.

In other crime TV-related news, both Court TV and CNN are planning hourlong broadcasts this Thursday night about last weekend's Atlanta killings and the capture of Brian Nichols. Yes, the story of Ashley Smith's conversion of her captor is a moving one, but I'm with TVNewser: Enough already with the nonstop coverage. The woman has already talked her way out of a terrifying hostage situation, caused a physical scuffle between police and a crazed ABC booker fixated on an "exclusive" interview, and appeared before the press to read a statement saying, in essence, leave me alone. We get it: She's an angel. She makes good pancakes. Let it go. There'll always be another true-crime story to cover in excruciating, yet pointless detail. Oh, wait: Here comes one now.  ... 11:36 a.m.

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