NY Times on Tough Enough

NY Times on Tough Enough

Making people look like jerks is the barely veiled theme of two reality series beginning tonight. "Tough Enough" is mildly entertaining because it is slickly edited and packaged (which you'd expect from the channel of "The Real World") and because the W.W.F. is a parody to begin with. But NBC's "Spy TV," which plays tricks on unsuspecting people caught on hidden cameras, is not funny or well made. Its contribution to television is to remind us that, beneath its canned laughter, "Candid Camera" was pretty mean-spirited, too.

The first episode of "Tough Enough" follows tryouts for the 13 wrestler-in-training slots. Instead of auditioning for shows like "Popstars" or "Making the Band," which turn amateur singers and dancers into bubble-gum groups, this show's players try to prove how rough and strong they are. For some, toughness is all about the guts it takes just to show up, and the line between nerve and self-delusion becomes awfully thin.

Jumping rope in a wrestling ring before a panel of judges -- all W.W.F. characters, though not the biggest stars -- is a woman in a red halter and pants whose long blond wig flies off and a man who weighs several hundred blubbery pounds.

In the funniest scene a young man with a shaved head and colorful tattoos running up his arms, who works as a custodian, describes the wrestling persona he has created, "My character is called the Evil Custodian." Whether he intends this to be quite so ludicrous is another question.

Why do people do this? "I went to clown school, was a clown, hated it," one woman explains, as if that were the most ordinary thing in the world. (Some people go to law school, some go to clown school.) By the end, the judges look as if they have headaches, but they have sent the lucky 13 off to live together in a rambling white house in Stamford, Conn.