Serena Williams orders her dog into a duffel bag for punishment. Her sister Venus thought showers weren't invented until the 1990s, because that's the first time -- after a dirt-poor childhood -- she ever took them. Oh, and she hates yoga and is relatively certain that whatever's being chanted in the process is at odds with her Christian upbringing.
These are the revelations, so to speak, in the first few episodes of "Venus & Serena: For Real," a reality show that chronicles the on- and off-court lives of the talented tennis-playing Williams sisters. It debuts tonight as a six-episode, mid-summer series scheduled for 10 p.m. on ABC Family. And, given its network home, that translates -- in the first two episodes, at least -- to no boyfriends, no dates, not even any talk about men, juicy or otherwise.
This is a wholesome show, about two adoring sisters, their extended family and how they juggle their lives with what it takes to be top-flight athletes. In other words, it's a long way from Britney & Kevin -- aka, pregnant ex-pop tart Spears and her creepy husband, Kevin Federline -- a duo who already set the standard in this slow summer television season for all-time awful.
Despite their early reputation for being unfriendly on the women's tennis tour, the Williams sisters are, at heart, quite unpretentious and relatively unspoiled. They're well aware of where they came from (Compton, a poor, working-class neighborhood of Los Angeles) and get giddy on a red carpet because they bump into "Mr. Banks," the father figure from the Will Smith television vehicle "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" (the actor's name is James Avery).
Unfortunately for executive producers Fernando J. Hernandez and Robert Pura, filming had already been completed when Venus made her dramatic comeback at Wimbledon earlier this month, beating Lindsay Davenport for the title in a marathon final. Also unfortunate is the fact that Serena gets injured in the very first episode. Her injury allows her time to focus on her fashion design business (named "Aneres," as in Serena spelled backward), where she points out some early efforts and describes them as being a part of her "Slut-rena" phase.
What it also does, though, is separate the sisters: In the second episode, Serena is home at their pink manse in West Palm Beach (with its pink striped couches and pink gazebo and pink tiles), where she does a photo shoot (at one point in a pink bikini), while Venus moves on to the next tournament, in Charleston, S.C.
Without the interplay between the two, the show loses a lot of momentum, though it's never all that enthralling in the first place. What's Venus like when she's tired and burnt and loses badly? She mopes. How does Serena react when her sister apologizes for letting her down? She tries to make her laugh.
There are no catfights, only dogfights, as Serena gets all worked up when her Jack Russell terrier, Jackie, eats the turkey breast she was saving for dinner, then pees on the couch. Their father, Richard Williams, has some cameo appearances, but the man known for his occasional inability to self-censor has no on-camera tirades. Mom, Oracene, is absent. A bland trainer seems omnipresent, but her name just doesn't register. And big sister Isha's starring moment comes when she inexplicably shows a much greater interest in the construction of a fellow spectator's chicken salad sandwich than the match Venus is playing on the court.
(There is, however, some irresponsible golf-cart driving that involves near-misses with both an SUV and a lake.)
In the end, "Venus & Serena" is a perfectly appropriate show for preteen and teenage girls who just want to know what it's like to live in the celebrity sisters' universe. In that case, though, isn't the 10 p.m. start time a little odd? Hey, it is summer, after all.
Venus & Serena: For Real (30 minutes) premieres tonight at 10 on ABC Family.