Say what you will about her bizarre methods and ludicrous hair decisions, there’s a reason that people watch Tyra Banks on television. In the center of her word-inventing weave-bestowing lunacy, there’s a very real force of personality that carried her through from runway to talk show empire and young adult book deals. On the other hand, Paul Fisher, the guru behind Remodeled, isn’t the kind of person you would necessarily take advice from. His tough love attitude is obviously supposed to come from the pages of Gordon Ramsay, but most of the time he comes off as somewhere between a frenzied infomercial host and a professional wrestler. Whenever he speaks directly to the camera, squinting and gesticulating wildly with his right hand, you can’t help but feel as if he’s trying to sell you some sort of six-speed juicer.
Remodeled is based around Fisher’s somewhat confusing project to build a group of small-town modeling agencies, called the Network, that feed the 5-foot-10-inch corn-fed beauties of America directly into his hands. Apparently the Network’s members are either vastly far-flung or the bar for joining isn’t as high as Fisher would like, because half of the show is dedicated to Fisher visiting his agency partners, flipping out, and rebuilding the companies from scratch. Along with him is a waifish assistant named Anna who Fisher refers to as “banana” and whose lone sound clips involve being intimidated of Fisher’s rage fits and confused by the word “trollop.” But it wouldn’t be a makeover show without one hopeless fashion victim assistant, and this role is amply filled by a young man named Joseph, who can best be described as an emo vampire crossed with goth Justin Timberlake.
Joseph, I will go ahead and admit, is by far my favorite character on the show because of his signature combination of bizarre fashion accessories (nose to ear chain, teeth filed down to points, fur hat in what was clearly the middle of a Midwestern summer) and his middle school-grade sarcasm/puns accompanied by a quickly suppressed smirk (“she has a latte to learn”). In the first two episodes, Fisher and his gang seek out two lagging partners of the Network and attempt to figure out why no one has discovered the next Kate Moss, already.
At the Arquette agency in Minnesota, Fisher begins his campaign of yelling at affable Midwesterners with Brita, a struggling agency owner who had 16 models snapped up from her the year before thanks to a ruthless booker. Fisher has a simple solution for her woes: Get the models to all sign exclusive contracts, since many of the clients at Arquette are being represented by several agencies. “How can you do that?” he stormed. “You have six different chefs making the chili! You’re going to come out with goulash!” Er, yeah, something like that.
In the second episode, Fisher’s bone to pick is with the Fierce Modeling Agency, which is running modeling classes in the same space as their agency. Apparently this is enough to have Fisher stop one of owner Lynne’s classes and announce to her pupils that they have all been scammed, a sure way to endear yourself to a failing business owner. “You can’t teach someone to be 5-foot-10,” he explains. But both Arquette and Lynne get more or less the same treatment: Fisher lures in a crop of new models by scouring local malls and Jamba Juices, so by the end of both shows he presents the agencies with a whole new crop of guileless potential models, ripe for the contractin’. The offices, of course, get an overhaul to look more “New York,” which apparently means a paint job and a lot of aggressively modern office furniture.
It’s not terribly different from other make-your-business shows, but there’s something in it that feels missing. It’s far from obvious to a viewer not well-versed in the modeling industry what exactly the flaws in a failing agency are—unlike, say, on Tabatha Takes Over where it’s obvious there shouldn’t be tumbleweed-sized hairballs floating around everywhere—and Remodeled doesn’t take a lot of time to go over what a powerful, effective agency should look like. Sure, I guess there shouldn’t be a catwalk in a middle of a warehouse, but I wouldn’t know that a comp-card wall is an essential component of a well-run agency office. The show also lingers too long on showing us what’s wrong—the tears, the histrionics from Fisher—and barely glances over the process of recruiting a whole new crop of clients for an agency and a refurbished office in what must be less than a week. If it was really that easy, why didn’t the owners go do that in the first place?
The whole process feels a little bit unmoored, and it isn’t helped by the constant switching back and forth to follow up on the other half of the agency. For yes, there is another, more nebulous part to Remodeled in which the fresh-faced young lasses and lads that the Network represents are trying to book modeling gigs. It’s basically Network slicks hustling beautiful high school kids from appointment to appointment, trying to book shows during New York Fashion Week. America’s Next Top Model viewers will recognize the process as “go-sees,” but without any investment in the four models that the agents are working with, it’s a hard sell. The kids are all nice enough, but no one gets enough screen time for us to form more than vague hopes that they’ll book a show, and since all but one of them seem to think of modeling as a sort of fluke, it’s not like there’s a great deal of tension coming from them. (Though, as 16-year-old Bobby Rick reminds us, he is missing playing in some high school football games to be at fashion week.)
Plus, all of these modeling newbies prove that despite Fisher’s protestations, modeling does involve some teaching. Sweet, gap-toothed Annelise gets chided by a booker for her walk, telling her that “you look like you’re a scared cat.” Maybe you can’t instruct people on how to be tall and willowy, but a few runway lessons with Ms. J would have sorted Annelise, no problem. Top Model may be fantasy, but it’s an entertaining fantasy. Remodeled skirts too close to one of the harsh truths of the industry: that no matter how quirky and pretty and eager you are, sometimes you’re just not going to make it.