Thursday, January 2, 2014

Pilot Review: Toned Up

Toned Up (Thursdays at 10:30 on Bravo; Premieres January 2)

Bravo is in a weak place right now. They have failed to debut any new series with the staying power and instant likeability of the casts of their flagship series (The Real Housewives franchise, Flipping Out, The Millionaire Matchmaker, Tabatha Takes Over, Top Chef's host and judges) in years. The last time they came close was with 2012's Shahs of Sunset, which is currently enjoying series-low ratings as it stands on its own night rather than following a big hit (it debuted behind The Real Housewives of Atlanta, where it remained for its second season). But everything else Bravo has tried in the past year or two has either been successful but lead-in dependent (Vanderpump Rules, Thicker Than Water: The Tankards, Married to Medicine), a flat-out failure (Princesses: Long Island, Dukes of Melrose, LA Shrinks), or a ratings success without any real "break-out" stars (Below Deck, Newlyweds: The First Year, the latter of which will have a whole new cast for season two). So, seemingly, in an attempt to get some new breakout personalities, as well as to drive those winter blues away from the colder regions of the country, Bravo is debuting Toned Up, a silly, inconsequential new series about two cooky, beautiful girls who work and play on the sunny beaches of California.

Toned Up follows Karena and Katrina, two young women who are social media celebrities thanks to their fun and easy workout videos, which they (inexplicably) turned into the million-dollar brand Tone It Up. Let's stop there; I find it hard to believe that these two women turned some stupid YouTube videos into an empire, especially since Karena freely admits in the first episode that they do everything themselves, from marketing to maintenance. They just don't seem... well, smart enough to do that. I mean, these are girls who have an entire conversation in the pilot about how they want an animal rescue charity involved in one of their workout events so that people can "borrow" animals to bench press. They want people to bench press animals, in all seriousness.

That's the primary issue I have with Toned Up: these girls are idiots. I apologize if that's harsh, but they are. They speak to each other in cat noises. Karena digs a hole in the sand and then pees in it. They get into a screaming match with a GPS. They forget to promote their own event on Twitter. How the hell do they run a million-dollar business? And if Toned Up were about answering that question, it might be interesting. But it's not. It's about these girls goofing off and doing sweaty workouts in skimpy outfits on the beach. That's it. There's not even any real talent on display. On other Bravo shows that could be considered "workplace" docuseries, we get a sense that these people are at the top of their game because they're good at what they do (Fredrick Eklund, Jeff Lewis, Rachel Zoe, Brad Goreski, etc), but Kat and Karena just seem to have gotten lucky. They uploaded a silly workout video to YouTube, and because they're fun and cute, they developed a following. But they're not serious fitness experts, like Jackie Warner was on the far-superior and much-missed Bravo series Work Out. They're girls who have their own language and look good in short shorts.

This is the problem Bravo faces with its latest crop of reality offerings. There's no real premise to anything they're doing now. Case in point: Toned Up's partner show, Courtney Loves Dallas, which airs right before it at 10:00. Courtney is just about a girl who likes fashion. There's no story to her show, and even the title doesn't make sense since two of the show's four episodes have taken place away from Dallas. But that show at least centers around someone who's genuinely witty, funny, and occasionally over the top. Still, there's no clear story. Flipping Out, for example, is full of over-the-top personalities, but it also has a very clear through-line. Jeff is an interior designer; he will take a house from point A to point B, and the office politics and drama come in between. But there's a very clear starting and ending point. Toned Up doesn't have that. Karena and Kat are just followed around by cameras documenting their "over-the-top" lives (though the only truly outrageous thing about their relationship is that Kat is engaged but refuses to not live with Karena... so her fiance, Brian, shares his home with both girls). They have no beginning or end in sight. What will this show be about? What are they trying to accomplish? What do they really do? Toned Up doesn't seem interested in delving too deep. It's a shallow, thirty-minute advertisement for the girls' brand, while simultaneously being a sunny escape for the seasonally depressed.

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