There's an element to watching Bravo shows that appeals to the conspiracy theorist in all of us. Somewhere, in just-quirky-enough modernist offices in Los Angeles and New York, women with meticulous eyebrows, not quite distinguishable accents, and wardrobes made of sleeveless turtleneck dresses and statement jewelry are parsing our fates, as we speak. They are the advice givers, the soothsayers, the women of hard-ass views and hapless young interns who govern over all of life’s quandaries. They can reveal the truths of life with pursed, botoxed lips, grimacing at split ends and awkward choices in dress shirts, dispensing sound bites of wisdom like new oracles for the television age.
Tonight’s special, The Headhuntress, is the latest in a long vein of these shows. Patti Stanger taught rich people how to date on the Millionaire Matchmaker, Rosie Pope explained how to have a baby to Manhattan’s clueless elite on Pregnant in Heels, and now, Wendy Doulton has arrived to match high-end jobs to high-end people. The show hews closely to the time-proven Bravo series: montages of Los Angeles (preferably one where a street sign is just coming into focus, spliced with people walking on a mysterious sidewalk), intercut with pastiches of a very dramatic office environment. Doulton, a severe British blonde, has the required two assistants: a pretty young woman whom she yells at and a buttoned-up flamboyant young man whom she adores. (Alas, no one could top Rosie Pope’s electroclash-loving office flair “LT.”)
Her unfortunately named Katalyst Career Group is in the business of finding people for corporate jobs, as well as job coaching fortunate members of the unemployed generation. Within the first 10 minutes, Wendy has reduced a young woman in a revealing purple dress into tears about her lack of direction in life. While tapping her foot impatiently and writing various resume buzzwords on a dry erase board, Doulton drills the poor waif (Lyssa, if you must know) about what she wants to do. While Lyssa’s breakdown was a little whiney, I felt for her—being displaced and scattered in your career in your mid-30s is a far less fun thing to see someone upset about, than, say, not knowing what color your baby’s poop is supposed to be (again, thank you, Rosie.) But unlike some of the drill sergeants on Bravo, Doulton seemed to actually help this woman: By the end of the show, she could at least speak confidently about what her skills were, even if that meant making an elevator pitch in an actual elevator dozens of times.
By far the more interesting career coaching candidate was Kevin Starr, a Criss Angel lookalike who wanted to transition away from playing drums in a band and doing work for an adult video camera. Doulton’s reception of Starr certainly played up his porn past, but she moved past it with surprising ease—“You don’t have to do that hangdog look,” she advised. “You were there for four years.” Whereas Patti Stanger named one of her clients “sex toy Dave” in perpetuity (and would have likely kicked a client out completely for such an admission), Doulton cleaned Kevin up with some fancier jeans and a much-needed haircut, and hey, presto, he was ready for the job market.
There was something satisfying in seeing people gain confidence in front of the camera, even in the midst of their various crises. But there’s a way in which The Headhuntress hits too close to the bone—unemployment is a vast, depressing sea we’re swimming in, one that not even Wendy’s razor-blade cheekbones can rectify. Reality television is a place to seek sanctuary from the craziness of life within depictions of the craziness of other people’s lives. Watching people compete for a $150,000 job has the same problem as a show like Parking Wars—even on a scale above that which most of us are competing, it’s still more reminiscent of the routine frustrations and awkwardnesses of getting a job interview or parking ticket than it is of entertainment. Doulton’s main task of the episode was to fill a glamorous, well-compensated publicity position with someone suitably bubbly and sleek. After digging through her database, she settled on outgoing, smiling Michelle and Raphel, a subdued young man with Andre 3000’s taste for purple v-neck sweaters and bowties. Raphel snagged the job after some palm sweating and an intense self-confidence-building shouting match with Coulton. I was rooting for him, but it seemed sort of anti-climactic. Wendy Doulton is too practical to be a Bravo mainstay, and as for those jobs—part of watching Millionaire Matchmaker and Pregnant in Heels was the pleasure of knowing that a lot of millionaires are actually pretty lame. Dangling well-paying jobs that entail mingling with celebrities in front of people without means to attain them, well, that’s a harder sell.