Bravo's larky but well-intentioned "Stripped" is retro reality TV, stirring memories of the genre's nascent days in the early 2000s, when it was less about stoking the furnaces of fame and more experimental and anthropological in tone. Though it was always after a gimmicky hook, reality TV was once about people and how they lived. To enjoy it, all a viewer had to be was curious.
In other words, "Stripped" works because it's basic. An indoorsy version of Discovery's "Naked and Afraid," the show requires a couple to relinquish all their worldly possessions and purchasing power for 21 days. A moving crew arrives and takes everything — down to the last stitch of clothing — to a storage locker some distance away, leaving behind only minimal necessities, such as some military-issue food rations and a roll of toilet paper.
Once stripped, the couple get to retrieve one item per person per day from storage, if they can make it there without getting arrested for indecent exposure. What will they learn about themselves? What will they learn about our whacked-out consumer culture? That "Stripped" arrives alongside the GOP's glorious promises regarding our taxes . . . well, I'll let you supply your own irony.
In Tuesday's premiere, a good-natured married couple — Justin, a 33-year-old accountant, and Ali, a 31-year-old stylist — watch as a crew quickly boxes up some 10,000 objects and empties the small but cute Los Angeles-area house they call home. "I want my wife to realize she doesn't need material things," Justin says, but, more privately, he hopes Ali will acquire some new set of work/life priorities and relent to having a baby.
They spend their first night asleep on the empty living-room floor (no babies made there), but in the morning, they improvise some cover with backyard fronds and cardboard boxes plucked from a neighbor's recycling bin, making a high-traffic trek for several blocks to their belongings.
Once there, Ali picks a casual dress to wear, and Justin picks the massive sectional couch, managing to get 16 of its 27 pieces back in several trips and providing both a bed and a base of operations. Their dog and two cats (who got to keep their pet food and necessities) are delighted by all the undistracted attention Justin and Ali can suddenly provide. (Finally, the pooch must be thinking, you're living like I do.)
It doesn't last. Ali next retrieves her phone — and the hundreds of unanswered emails and messages that have accumulated on it in just two days, enabling her to work remotely. Her husband eventually reclaims a pair of jeans and a hoodie sweatshirt, as well as his truck, so he can put in a passable appearance at work — without shoes. "Do you miss your underwear as much as I do?" she asks that night, as they bed down.
"I'm not missing underwear at all," he says.
Soap is acquired, plus a few other necessities, and once Justin retrieves his big-screen TV, there's dramatically less to observe; it was better when Justin and Ali resembled a modern-day Adam and Eve, shivering together in the darkness of their open floor plan and reclaiming their modesty with leaves.
"Stripped" sticks to its initial, vaguely moralistic theme — that we could all do with a lot less, which is never a bad message to hear in the midst of another Christmas shopping binge. When their stuff returns, Ali puts on makeup with a ferocious hunger, but she does start taking a serious look at the quantity of shoes and clothes that once gorged her closet. Maybe less really is more.
I'm reminded of those pitiful folks in old editorial cartoons — poor Americans who fell on such dire times that they were drawn wearing a barrel with shoulder straps. This wouldn't be the first time that reality TV has intuited a coming calamity; one is reminded of all those makeover and financial-advice shows that pregamed the Great Recession. Is Bravo trying to tell us something?
Stripped (one hour) premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on Bravo.