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TV Series Review

Your mother always told you that true beauty is on the inside. Supermodel Tyra Banks wants to upend that perception.

America's Next Top Model, CW's long-running reality show, pits the country's most beautiful people (or, at least, the prettiest people they could find to compete in a CW reality show) in a high-stakes battle of posture, pout and pathetically skimpy underwear. It's a show in which every sculpted cheekbone could cut through a loaf of bread, every arched eyebrow forms a perfectly presented parenthesis, every smoldering stare speaks of the contestant's inner Tyra Banksian "fierceness." Practically by definition, the show is all about style, not substance. Here, image really is everything.

After more than 20 cycles (at the time of this review update), America's Next Top Model knows how to make the cameras happy. Every season, Banks and her fellow coaches whittle down a gaggle of modeling hopefuls to 14 contestants who will eat, sleep and occasionally shower together in their glamorous L.A. pad. Each cycle features (unlike the contestants) a wrinkle or two: Cycle 21, for instance, has guys and girls facing off against one another, as opposed to the normal lady-centric format. But for the most part, the show is as reliable as expensive waterproof mascara. Contestants pose and put in time on the catwalk. They have their beauty and moxie gauged by a small panel of judges. And at predictable intervals, someone is kicked to the curb.

It's like almost every other competition-based reality show out there, in other words—only this one isn't based so much on whether you can cook or design or even yodel better than anyone else: It's all about just how good (read: sexy) you look in front of a camera. And in true reality show fashion, producers swab on quite a lot of hyperbole, giving us stark heroes and villains, hard-luck stories and duplicitous motives.

Those producers, though, also do their best to inject a little humanity into their pretty people, as if character was somehow a shot of Botox. And sometimes the show even tries to inspire: In the aforementioned Cycle 21, for instance, 19-year-old Chantelle competes despite (or because of) a rare condition that gave her a patchwork of black and white skin. "Your flaws can be something that you can turn into something beautiful," she says.

The program itself, in contrast, is far from beautiful. These models flaunt some serious skin, both in their shoots and while just hanging out. They've been known to pose fully nude and engage in lewd, degrading mini-contests. (A bit of blurring keeps the show safe from government fines.) And while it's dandy that many of these models love their mothers (and are thrilled to talk with them every chance they get), their overzealous affection for everyone else can cause some serious problems. We see them flirting, smooching and sleeping together (in both hetero- and homosexual entanglements). One of the judges is a cross-dressing runway expert known as "Miss J."

F- and s-words get doctored with suggestive bleeps, while quantities of milder profanities strut through episodes unedited. Contestants drink and get drunk. They cheat on their boyfriends and girlfriends back home. They can espouse discomforting (or even downright crazy) philosophies and, at times, they unintentionally confirm comical model-centric stereotypes.

Yahoo's Shine says America's Next Top Model glories in humiliating its contestants, going so far as creating a Top 10 list for why "America's Next Top Model is bad for women, humans." And more than 10 years ago, Plugged In's Marcus Yoars wrote in our first review of the show (which was then on UPN):

"Every season of UPN's America's Next Top Model begins virtually the same way. Star and executive producer Tyra Banks welcomes more than 20 aspiring catwalkers with the familiar speech, 'Be yourselves. Don't fake it. Just be real.' Yeah, right. … As America's Next Top Model toughens up naive young women for the harsh realities of a cutthroat fashion industry, its MO is clear: Be who we say you should be. In fact, be anything but you."

A decade later, that's still a pretty fair critique.


Positive Elements

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Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

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Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

AmericasNextTopModel: 9-8-2014
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