Drama is conflict, goes the rule. But does all reality TV conflict have to be so dysfunctional? The aspiring chefs on Hell’s Kitchen areincompetent boobs hectored by Gordon Ramsay; the denizens of Jersey Shore never met a slapfight they didn’t wanna start, the gays on The A-List: New York bitch so much about others’ relationships they never have to work on their own.
Among the most mewling of these shows is Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, starting its third season this week. Tabatha Coffey, the snake-eyed British ice princess who rose to fame on another reality show, is robotic and bossy, like a Supernanny for failing barbershops. She also makes The Avengers’ Mrs. Peel look nurturing, insulting her clients, pushing them around and taking no guff.
She’s also unexpectedly watchable.
Tabatha, pictured, gets low points for style, and zero for compassion, but she is effective — she knows what she’s talking about. Of course, part of that is the structure of the show (the hard work in most reality TV is casting the idiot contestants who look even dumber next to the star), but Tabatha’s decision not to suffer fools gladly is an admirable trait.
Like Kitchen Nightmares, every episode is more of the same: How disgusting is the hygiene? (It’ll make you want to bring your own scissors with you next time you go to get a haircut.) How talentless and/or lazy is the staff? How willing are they to be torn down and built back up again like unwilling draftees at hair boot camp?
In the season opener, Tabatha spends more time as family counselor than business maven. Four sisters bicker as the older one (the owner) coddles her useless siblings. Her solution is tough love. Real tough. (The second episode deals with a couple who opened a salon without any experience.)
Part of me hates that shows like this have their appeal — who needs to see people self-destruct in public to feel good about themselves? — but Tabatha makes it oddly compelling.
Premieres Dec. 6 at 9 p.m. on Bravo
Two and a half stars
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.