Taking a page from the Gordon Ramsey School of Reality TV, Bravo’s Tabatha Takes Over feature continuous snips, jabs, and on-camera embarrassment meant to reform wayward beauticians and their sad salons. The show has turned out to be a success for Ms. Coffey and the channel — who toast to the premiere of season four tonight — though it fails to generate the kind of heat and sparks that the aforementioned Mr. Ramsey elicits on the endless array of cooking-related shows he hosts.
The majority of the blame for that falls to Coffey, an Australian hair stylist who first made her name by appearing on Bravo’s competitive hair design show Shear Genius. Though she was eliminated midway through, her prickly personality and elfin look caught the attention of network executives enough to warrant her own show. And over the course of three seasons, Coffee has followed the trail blazed by other reality TV boss-types by overhauling dozens of struggling businesses through professional savvy and force of personality. She’s even pushed her own catchphrase pretty hard, though “I’m taking over” hasn’t quite tapped the zeitgeist like “auf Wiedersehen” or “you’re fired.”
For her fourth season, Coffey is expanding beyond salons and venturing into taking over other small businesses, including bars and clubs. Tabatha sticks to what she does best for the premiere, though: wearing nothing but black and emanating an icy, woodland creature-vibe until salon employees agree to do her bidding. There are several obvious steps to be followed, too, which all involve Tabitha being horrified, stern, snippy, and then strangely kind at the very end. Any regular viewer also knows there will most certainly be fingers wiped along dusty surfaces and disgusting, giant hairballs pulled from corners of the salon.
The hair salon Jungle Red in Minneapolis serves as the season’s starting line, necessitating all kinds of help from Tabatha. The owner is a forty something woman named Suzanne who has driven herself into massive debt trying to manage the salon, even necessitating she sell her home and sleep on the extra futon in the back of her business. Meanwhile, her cute-as-a-button daughter, Kari, has had to put career aspirations of being a yoga instructor on hold to help run the business with her mom. But the biggest problem of all? These salon girls like to p-a-r-t-y! Yet, the entire party girl “dilemma” of the episode is one of the most manufactured-seeming that Bravo has tried as they feature clunky shots of the girls pounding shots midday in the middle of the salon like it’s 1 a.m. in the club.
Well, Tabatha is… horrified! This boozing and debauchery does not sit well with our pinched, blonde Queen of Hair, who announces she’s taking over and proceeds to show everyone in the salon the error of their ways. Except — as if often the problem with Tabitha — everyone is so eager to reform and become better at the jobs that there’s hardly any push and pull to help fan the flames of reality TV drama. These people want to keep their business? They appreciate that a successful salon owner has suggestions on how to better their work? They’re not flipping tables and storming out? Sheesh!
By the episode’s end, Jungle Red has been given a gorgeous facelift and the bright-eyed Minnesotans working for Suzanne are bursting with forward momentum. Suzanne herself is somehow “set up” with an apartment through Tabitha in a very poorly explained way and her daughter is also loosely given some job working at a yoga studio. Dreams are realized and tears flow. Even Tabatha puts her tough city bitch ‘tude on pause for a second and goes in for a big bear hug. There’s so much love filling this salon you almost forget about those hair balls. Almost.
Unfortunately, Tabatha’s expert credentials and sternness don’t add up to the kind of gripping taskmaster that these shows necessitate. For all his over saturation, Ramsey knows how to create a bonkers atmosphere in his kitchen and ratchet it to various degrees, depending on the show’s needs. Tabatha wants to stir the pot by storming into the salon but is too withheld to really jar the stylists and salon owners she’s trying to scare.
Maybe just a matter of not having the appropriate proverb for the occupation at hand? “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” has a lot more gravitas than the what you’d guess Tabatha might try: “If you can’t take the Aussie pixie, get out of the sa-lon.”
• Tabitha really struggled with getting Kari’s name down. There was definitely a Carrie, Kara, and maybe a Karen in there.
• Best part by far was the impression of Tabitha, “’Ello, I’m Tabitha and I need to get laid,” with the giant fingers as lashes.
• Don’t shush Tabitha, for God’s sake!!! (We don't know what fantasy creatures she might call upon!)
• Laura, we barely knew thee! You’ll have to take your “Cleopatra play” eyeshadow elsewhere, sadly.