TV Preview

'Party' Tries To Find a Cause To Celebrate

Host Kristin Cavallari takes
Host Kristin Cavallari takes "Party" guests to a trendy Las Vegas store. (By Michael Yarish -- Upn)

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By Chip Crews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Why go to a party when you can sit at home in your underwear and watch other people have one?

That seems to be the philosophy behind "Get This Party Started," an amiably low-rent reality show airing tonight on the not-long-for-this-world UPN network. (To make room for the Duke-North Carolina basketball game, the hour-long program will be shown at 11 tonight on Channel 20; henceforth, it will live out its days Tuesdays at 9 p.m.)

The goal here is to Surprise the Worthy -- pick somebody who's kinder than Mother Teresa or as generous as Oprah, or at least ennobled by suffering, and celebrate that person by throwing the party of a lifetime. For tonight's premiere, executive producer Allison Grodner ("Big Brother") picks an unassailable subject: Alexis Jones, who wanted to celebrate her 21st birthday in Las Vegas but canceled her plans after Hurricane Katrina devastated her New Orleans family's home and possessions.

"We are gonna throw the most ultimate surprise 21st birthday party for Alexis!" announces earnest Ethan Erickson, one of the two mannequins who host the show.

The producers learned about Jones from her sister Arin, who contacted them to ask their help in salvaging the Big Day. (A notice at the end of the program urges viewers to do the same if they know anyone who deserves a party.) It has been a tough time for the Jones family: Their father lost his business in the storm, the house is a wreck and the family has been living in a Baton Rouge hotel. The two young women have become the chief bill-payers.

The sisters want to be singers, so a phony Las Vegas talent show is concocted to trick Alexis into showing up at her own party. Once they arrive and check into the Hard Rock Hotel, they're whisked and whirled through a happy regimen of pampering. The only tension comes from Arin's periodic announcements to the camera that she's afraid Alexis will figure out what's going on.

This is feel-good TV. Nobody has to eat a bug, get abused by Simon Cowell or hear the words "You're fired!" But although this family has very real financial needs, there's not much at stake here. And if there's not much at stake, then there's not much of interest.

At one point the other host, Kristin Cavallari, summons the sisters to give them a surprise -- hoo-boy, she's taking them clothes shopping! The two are thrilled, as are the producers, apparently: A graphic informs us that one woman's outfit cost $1,267.62 and the other's came to $1,348.28.

In a world where reality-show payoffs run to six and even seven figures, is a viewer really supposed to fall off the couch gasping over a couple of thousand dollars' worth of tacky giveaways?

The series was presented to the press at last month's Television Critics Association conference in Pasadena, Calif., and anybody who thinks journalists are rude should have witnessed the scene. A brief clip of the show didn't elicit a dime's worth of interest from the critics, but even so, a few kindhearted souls raised their hands with questions.

Even the panel seemed enervated. That was especially true of Cavallari, previously known for having "starred in the hit reality series 'Laguna Beach.' "

Somebody asked about the long-term effects of this kind of exposure on the families.

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