What's On

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The Real Housewives of Orange County

Bravo • Tuesday, Jan. 16 (10 p.m.)

There is a line early on in the second-season premiere of The Real Housewives of Orange County that says it all. Jo, a twenty-something with the unenviable dilemma of juggling a live-life-to-the-fullest philosophy and a rocky relationship with an ex-fiance who has the unenviable name of Slade Smiley, is advising her friend on what to wear to a party at the Playboy mansion. “Don't show your butt,” Jo earnestly counsels her gal pal. “It'll be classier.” Bravo's soap-documentary series about women living in a Southern California gated community is definitely no class act — no “butts” about it.

While ostensibly a behind-the-scenes look at privileged women whose perfect lives are not so perfect, the no-brow show wallows in its material girls' pursuit of the good life. Whether following model-turned-realtor Jeana as she sells multimillion-dollar homes or model-turned-divorcée Lauri jetting and boating around with her new beau, Real Housewives puts a high price on the price of things but little stock in intelligence or taste.

Season two swaps out housewife Kim for newcomer Tammy, a down-on-her-luck single mom reduced to living in a rented million-dollar home. Scenes of real-life trials and tribulations are, for the most part, a blur of screaming children and yapping dogs. And if the show has any underlying message, it's that given the choice between having money or not, as Lauri puts it, “having money is easier.”

The series performed well for the network first time out, and will likely continue to be a guilty pleasure for some reality-TV fans. But viewers turned off by the self-absorbed doings inside the Coto de Caza community will find the grass a lot greener (and classier) on this side of the gate.

Dinner: Impossible

Food Network • Wednesday, Jan. 24 (10 p.m.)

British chef Robert Irvine has cooked for heads of state and celebrities, but he is a newcomer to cable's kitchen. Food Network is hoping that viewers will like what Irvine's dishing out on Dinner: Impossible, a fun and fast-moving cooking show that works in spite of its somewhat hokey premise. The gimmick: Irvine, touted as “a culinary James Bond,” and his two sous chefs are given a “mission” that requires them to overcome time constraints and other challenges to prepare a meal. In the episode reviewed, Irvine's mission is to work with an inexperienced kitchen crew to deliver a wedding feast for 200 guests in 10 hours.

While the Mission: Impossible-type theme is referenced in the show's title, music and graphics, it's Irvine's own personality that gives the series its unique appeal. A onetime cook in the Royal Navy, Irvine looks more like a bodybuilder than a top chef; but it quickly becomes clear that he knows food and runs a tight ship in the kitchen.

Less cooking class than entertainment, Dinner: Impossible delivers its share of culinary tips, and the dishes that come out of Irvine's kitchen certainly look good enough to eat.

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