August 6, 2008

The Diddy Dynasty

By Mike Pearson

I Want to Work for Diddy

* Grade: B-

* When and where: 7 and 9 p.m. Mondays, VH1

Will the real Sean Combs please stand up? Or should we call you Puff Daddy, P-Diddy, Diddy or simply Sean John?

The rap mogul has many names, but his persona boils down to two essentials: talent (singer, actor, fashion designer) and arrogance.

The latter is on display in this new reality show from VH1, which finds 13 people competing for the "prized" position of Diddy's personal assistant.

The show plays like a fusion of Survivor, The Apprentice and Ultimate Fighting Championship. There's no love lost between the contenders, and the Diddy staffers running the competition ooze all the compassion of a stingray.

The first episode aired this past Monday, and found the hopefuls assembling in a Manhattan conference room at Bad Boy Entertainment to introduce themselves to the judges. Among the more notable applicants is Laverne, a transgender woman; Leon, a new age guy who describes himself as a "curator of energy, light and life"; Suzanne, a Harvard MBA; Andrew, who notes "I'm basically a young Paduan seeking a Jedi Master"; and Kim, a 250-pound ball of bile who goes by the nickname "Poprah."

The Apprentice analogy is most appropriate early on, as the contestants are broken into two teams of six each. That means one person is eliminated 13 minutes into the show, before the competition even gets started.

Diddy appears in brief vignettes to explain his philosophy. "I expect excellence and will settle for nothing less," he tells the viewer. (The applicants don't get to meet him until the second episode.)

In the early going, excellence means pushing the contenders to the brink of exhaustion. Each team is given 50 tasks to complete in 24 hours, which means no sleep.

What kind of tasks? Make a video cheer for Diddy, pick up a surfboard, take food orders for seven people at his recording studio, clean his limousines inside and out, help dress mannequins at a midtown Sean John store, buy socks and shoelaces.

Is there a point to these tasks? Not really, except to send the contestants all over Manhattan and see how well they work together.

If Diddy's staff is dictatorial, the contenders themselves are a hot mess. That includes Poprah, who assumes team leader role for her squad and immediately alienates everyone with her gruff manner. Simply put, she's condescending because she's forced to work with "amateurs." That leads to a series of screaming matches that are both visceral and uncomfortable.

Each episode ends with the losing team (who accomplished the fewest tasks?) being asked to choose one of its own for elimination. But there's a twist: The eliminee then chooses a second team member to go with him or her. The two then face a panel of judges (Diddy insiders Kevin Liles, Phil Robinson and Capricorn Clark, marketing manager for Sean John) and one is expunged.

Throughout the show Diddy pops up with video segments espousing his philosophy, and the players get plenty of face time in the "confession" booth where they rag on each other and their predicament.

There's also a brief glimmer of glamour as they are warehoused in a swank penthouse loft with pool table, Jacuzzi and barge-size beds.

Of course, the show makes it clear they won't be spending much time there. The Bad Boy Entertainment philosophy is it's a jungle out there, and the sooner you undermine your opponent, the better. For a show that preaches teamwork, this is rather incongruent.

Here's the problem with I Want to Work for Diddy: Diddy himself makes Donald Trump look like an introvert. His personal assistants seem like indentured servants, and Diddy wants them at his beck and call. He's already proved he's got an eye for talent with MTV's Making the Band. Now he wants to prove he can take ownership of someone's soul.

That said, there's a fierce quality to the competition that may well intrigue some viewers. After watching the first episode, I wouldn't work for Diddy if he paid me in rubies. Well, maybe for a wheelbarrow full of them - and some of those Sean John designer socks.



I Want to Work for Diddy isn't the only reality series premiering on VH1 this month. Here are four more:

* New York Goes to Hollywood: I Love New York veteran Tiffany Pollard (The Bachelorette with implants) returns with a new series transplanted to California. She tries to navigate the sunshine state with the help of her mother, her vocal coach and others. Is Hollywood ready for Miss Tiffany? (8 p.m. Mondays)

* Luke's Parental Advisory: He's come a long way since his profanity- laced days as the frontman for rappers 2 Live Crew. Now Luther Campbell "makes the transition from bachelorhood to married life" in this series. How does he juggle the home front with managing his adult entertainment business? (8:30 p.m. Mondays)

* Glam God with Vivica A. Fox: Actress Fox and celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch look for the next great stylist to the stars. Each week contestants are asked to compete in challenges that test their knowledge of fashion and style trends. Does that mean when it's appropriate to put a lime in a rum and Coke? (7 p.m. Thursday, beginning Aug. 21)

* The Cho Sho: Think My Life on the D List Asian style. Sort of. Comic Margaret Cho and her entourage blend real life and imaginative situations as she fights to be part of an industry that's always trying to get her to change. We get a healthy dose of Cho's family, as well as her sundry assistants (hair, makeup and wardrobe). (9 p.m. Thursday, beginning Aug. 21)

Originally published by Mike Pearson, Rocky Mountain News.

(c) 2008 Rocky Mountain News. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.