The Beautiful Life: TBL, “Pilot” (1.01)

Lead Raina (Sara Paxton) poses in the red dress as the crowd cheers.

I’ve had one curious eye on this glitzy modeling drama from 2009 for some time now, and I finally bit the bullet and watched the pilot. A review of it, written by Alex Giaudrone and directed by Christian Duguay, after the jump…

Despite the fact that the show premiered to terrible critical reaction, I have to say I enjoyed the pilot, and thought it was pretty strong. I don’t know anything about the modeling industry, so I can’t exactly evaluate its accuracy, but it did a good job exploring the dangers of the industry, and the constant and blatant objectification of its players, while offering a few decent reasons why they would still play the game. Ben Hollingsworth is perfectly likeable as male lead Chris, who stumbled into this world like Alice down the rabbit hole, and Sara Paxton similarly does well as young rising star Raina. Despite her character flaming out spectacularly on The O.C., I’ve always thought Mischa Barton was pretty talented, and she does decent stuff with the show’s tragic figure here. It feels a bit like ‘Marissa Cooper becomes a model’, but I think there was some depth to the character that would have been fun exploring. I’ve been a fan of Ashley Madekwe since her arc on Secret Diary of a Call Girl, and she’s just as fun and adorable here as she is in every role.

The show works because it doesn’t present this as glamourous – or at least, not the good kind of glamourous. It’s occasionally as subtle as a jackhammer, but it does what it sets out to, and pretty well: it builds a world where young men and women after literally pawns between those with money and those looking to get some. A world that everyone knows is bullshit, yet still manages to entice them. Chris is pretty much told that he doesn’t have a future if he doesn’t whore himself out to those with influence, and despite her small victory against the sleazy Versace photographer, Raina sees exactly what her future is, and it isn’t pretty. From this episode, the places I expect this show would go are good-looking but not pretty, and I think I’d be okay with that.

Where the show really works is the occasional moment where, even if its awful and objectifying and bad (which are very easy claims to make of modelling), a character gets a moment of the sublime that, at least to them, makes it all worth it. In the pilot, that moment comes at the end of the teaser, as Raina get her moment to shine: taking on a dress she shouldn’t even have a chance at, looking gorgeous and stepping out as queen of the world, as MGMT‘s “Time to Pretend” plays underneath it all. It shouldn’t have worked, but the director and Paxton managed to sell that moment in a way a weaker show wouldn’t have been able to do. That moment earned the show plenty of good will from me.

Now, that said, there are flaws, and they’re significant. Coming out of this episode, the only really strong character is Raina, and that might be all on the shoulders of Sara Paxton. Chris is likeable but doesn’t have much texture, and the other characters flit in and out of the narrative to the point where I don’t really know any of their names. Raina herself is built well. She has a few good moments here: her commanding moment in the teaser, coaching Chris through his first promo shots, and even the admittedly-cliched scene where she blackmails the Versace photographer. But the rest of the cast are, well, wisps.

There’s not much more to say about it. It spent most of its runtime establishing the universe, cast and themes, so I came away with just the sense that I want to watch more. I’ve gotten my hands on the remainder of its brief run, first on The CW and then on YouTube, and I may revisit it for The Signal sometime down the line.

One last note, because it has to be said: The Beautiful Life was as fine title. Adding ‘TBL’ to the end was moronic, and may in and of itself driven viewers away. Which is too bad, because at least in this pilot, I see potential.

One Response to “The Beautiful Life: TBL, “Pilot” (1.01)”
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  1. […] that was positive, but cautious; and I took a look at the pilots of a few cancelled shows, like The Beautiful Life: TBL and Lone […]

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