God and Woman at America's Next Top Model

Written by John Bowman

Models are great comic fodder. They combine, in their most perfect comic form, superior beauty and inferior minds; they say stupid things, and we can laugh at them without guilt because they are beautiful and therefore going to be okay, at least for the next four years. I've written for a number of beautiful but dumb characters over the course of my sitcom career and I've always found them comforting. When it's three am, and you need a joke, and you haven't got much left inside, your dumb character is always there for you, like a good .280 hitter, keeping the ball in play.

 

Though reliable back-ups, they're seldom the centers of shows. Perfect cheekbones on a head that believes Wal-Mart is where you buy walls apparently render you, to most Americans, unrelatable. So when America's Next Top Model premiered several years ago, featuring 10 aspiring models, "real" versions of one of my favorite two-dimensional archetypes, I watched with a great deal of professional interest. In such a closed universe, how would the show's story editors create conflict? Bulimics vs. anorexics? Committed lesbians vs. the compromised bisexual? Would they cast against type, and bring in a few ringers with Sharon Stone-sized IQs? I watched.:

 

America's Top Model
Copyright © 2005 UPN
America's Next Top Model

Initially, the show conformed to expectations. Katie: "Nobody knows I'm an animal activist. I just saved five polar bears." Perfect. Models overslept and missed key competitions because they didn't know how to use alarm clocks. They lost time trial events because they got distracted by pretty shoes in stores. If the show was not scripted, it was nevertheless obvious it was at least staged by people who knew how to deliver the archetype. Then slowly the writers and editors developed a conflict I didn't see coming. Models Kesse, Shannon, and Robin wanted to room together because they were Christians. Elyse refused to join them, saying "I'm just not interested in having quiet time to read my bible. I am a militant atheist." Robin confronted her in the next episode with Psalm 14:1: "Foolish is the man who says there is no God." Elyse responds: "Foolish is the girl who believes that (expletive deleted) tripe!" The argument continued in the next episode, when atheist Adrianne, commenting on the apartment's cleanliness, said, "The Christians think they're better than everybody and they're holier than thou. But I clean up their messes all the time." Robin had a prayer circle to beg God to quell their competitive spirits. One of the atheists later voted to remove her from the show, feeling her religion closed her to the experiences models need to inform their poses.

So this was the show. Christians vs. atheists. One of the central conflicts in society, and only one show on television was even trying to engage in the debate, and it was doing it with models. Brilliant. I salute the writers and editors of America's Next Top Model. No sitcom writer would have thought of that. 

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