Lackluster ‘Naked Vegas’ Misses Reality-Television Gold

The new show proves that a sexy trade in a sexy locale isn’t enough for success. But what is?

Naked Vegas

Body-painted models may look good but—believe it or not—good Vegas television is more than skin deep.

God knows it’s not the most cringe-worth reality television moment ever. (What up, Mini-Me drunkenly peeing in the corner of Sad Celebrity House?) But there’s a logistic equivalent in the series premiere of Naked Vegas to that moment Wile E. Coyote is still running off the edge of the cliff, right before he realizes he’s run out of ground. That first impression, that big swing, is the best chance a show has to sink its hooks in an audience a couple of days before Halloween, and Naked starts with a body-painted, zombie wedding extravaganza at … the Goretorium.

The Goretorium that closed three weeks before the show aired.

It’s like someone crafted an entire episode out of the concept of The Price Is Right’s losing horns—an Adam’s rib of cringing failure. As omens go, it ranks somewhere between Jesus appearing on your morning toast and Dunsinane Forest coming to life.

Spinning out of the Syfy make-up artist reality hit Face Off, Naked Vegas follows a crew of airbrush wizards as they spray their way through red-carpet events, brand parties and civilian shindigs. If you’ve ever been to any poolside hotel event sponsored by a rum brand you’ve never heard of, there’s a better than average chance you’ve stumbled on models wearing nothing but a thong, a thin layer of paint and the sanity-preserving denial that the only reason you’re staring lasers at their chest is to inspect some kind of artistic handiwork.

I suppose that when you call your show Naked Vegas, it’s only because Spray Painted Boobs Vegas was too long for a Twitter handle. And it’s pretty clear early on that the bait on the hook is going to be as much near-nudity as deep cable can get away with. Which is fine and all, and it will possibly get you to stop flipping through the dial on your way to MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 and Pregnant or Andrew Zimmern eating live scorpions, or whatever it is you watch, you weirdo.

Naked Vegas’ Kelly “Red” Belmonte creates a zombie groom.

Naked Vegas’ Kelly “Red” Belmonte creates a zombie groom.

But that probably isn’t enough of a hook to keep you around through another workplace-related reality show. Owner and show centerpiece Kelly “Red” Belmonte seems like she’s muddling through some dialogue assistance on the pilot. (She at one point says with obligatory reality-show bravado, “When I was a kid and you told me to color in the lines, I said, ‘What lines?’”)

There doesn’t seem to be enough natural spark there to carry a show, and her supporting cast of artists (plus business manager Drew Marvick) don’t separate themselves as distinct enough to deliver the necessary reality-show quirkiness that drives an enterprise like this. I get that it takes time to learn to live with the cameras, but you can’t get a whole show out of people trying to do their work while simultaneously not being comfortable with each other. Unless that show is local news, in which case it’s an institution.

The ongoing dialogue between Las Vegas and reality television shows no sign of slowing. If anything, Cake Boss Buddy Valastro’s new restaurant at Palazzo shows the phenomenon metastasizing into uncharted territory. If Vegas is so critical to the reality phenomenon, then why are so many of the shows kind of boring?

Part of it has to do with the nature of reality TV—cheap to produce, easy to get off the ground—and part of it has to do with the city’s function as visual shorthand for excitement. B-roll shots of the Bellagio fountains? “Holy shit! Something fun is happening here!” B-roll shots of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange? “Holy shit! This is the modern legacy of a town’s historical, vaguely depressing locus of an extraordinary amount of cow-murder.” But it’s a lazy thing to lean on at this point. Especially when Pawn Stars got there years ago.

That seems to be as far as many of them are willing to go, and almost none of it has anything to do with the city in and of itself.  I know it’s unfair to compare a sports event (OK, “sports” event) to reality TV, but when the World Series of Poker’s Final Table was broadcast live-ish (on a 15-minute delay) November 4-5, it was everything that was good and right about Vegas-based television that reality has been mostly trying and failing to capture.

The real magic happens when local Jay Farber wins second place on live TV. | Photo by Joe Giron/WSOP

The real magic happens when local Jay Farber wins second place on live TV. | Photo by Joe Giron/WSOP

In a nearly 13-hour stretch over two nights, Las Vegas local Jay Farber fought his way to a $5.17 million second-place prize in the blue-drenched Penn & Teller Theater while a frothing cheering section of industry workers, poker pros and resolute nightlife fixtures egged him on—complete with one guy in a panda costume charging the rail and earning himself an escort through the Rio’s finer hallways and slammingest-shut doors the resort had to offer. The spectacle was the gambling culture and the party culture in one furious collision, Vegas’ finest example of small-town syndrome in a big city, with high dollars flying around waiting to be redeposited in the nightclub coffers.

That’s the reality show we could be getting on a regular basis. Airbrushed nudity is a fine start, but it could be so much more. Like maybe distracting Champagne-guzzling high-rollers with naked, airbrushed dealers, for one.

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