“True Beauty”
Mondays at 10 p.m.
ABC

2.5 out of 5 Stars

Reality shows have simply become too formulaic in the past several years. It’s easy to create drama by selecting the right mixture of people (the crier, the instigator, the hot people who always hook up, etc.) and then giving them a common goal to fight over, whether it’s the love and affection of Mr. Sexy or being dubbed the best singer/dancer/model/hairstylist in America. ABC’s “True Beauty” breaks that mold and puts a new spin on the overplayed, ordinary format.

The contestants of “True Beauty” (four men and six women) think they’re being judged on appearance alone for the prize of being featured in the “100 Most Beautiful People” issue of People. Each episode, they’re given a challenge to prove they’re stylish, photogenic and capable of being among the world’s most attractive people. Granted, this follows the typical form of reality television. And just as expected, the contestants gossip, sabotage and back-stab.

But here’s the catch: The contestants are actually being judged on their “inner beauty.” Each episode contains several hidden challenges to test their compassion, charity and honesty — and thank goodness for that. The contestants are conceited, materialistic and in great need of the lesson the show is trying to teach: True beauty comes from within.

Lo and behold, the concept makes for a surprisingly entertaining show. In this grand-scale social experiment, it’s impossible not to wonder who is going to hold the door open for the man who has his hands full and who is going to let the door shut behind them, leaving the man outside (yes, someone actually did that, and it resulted in her elimination). It’s satisfying knowing the contestants are going to get what they deserve, and the creators aren’t just keeping the annoying people on the show to fuel the drama.

“True Beauty,” however, is not without flaws. The producers have practically created two reality shows in one, which definitely poses some problems. Unfortunately, the nicest people on the show are the ones who suck at the petty, superficial beauty competitions, and the contestants are already getting suspicious as to how those people weren’t already eliminated. Similarly, those who lack inner beauty often perform well in the beauty challenges, forcing the judges to fabricate vague reasons for why they should be eliminated (“I just don’t think your look is unique”). The judges try to solve this conundrum by episodically putting one contestant who fails the beauty challenge and one who fails the “hidden” challenge up for elimination; but this makes it unbelievably easy for the audience to guess which of the two is going to be kicked off.

Despite the show’s many potential problems — “True Beauty” may only take a few more episodes for the contestants to figure out the catch — its unique and original concept is refreshing and it compensates for the imperfect execution. “True Beauty” is an honest show with an inspiring message, though it’s uncertain whether or not any of the contestants will take this message to heart.

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