reality TV reviews and news

Celebrity Big Brother had a surprisingly normal, tolerable start

Five of Big Brother Celebrity's houseguests—Shannon Elizabeth, Keshia Knight Pulliam, James Maslow, Marissa Jaret Winokur, and Omarosa—get ready to move into the house. (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS)

On paper, the cast of Celebrity Big Brother did not impress. But as they were introduced and entered the house on last night’s season premiere, there was a surprising sense of normalcy.

It felt like the strongest cast the show has assembled in years, in no small part because several of them are genuine Big Brother fans. (So is Marissa Jaret Winokur’s son, and his reaction to learning his mom would be competing was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen on Big Brother.)

This didn’t feel like performance or an attempt at attention for most of them—even Omarosa!—and they seemed genuinely engaged. That’s something we haven’t seen from an average Big Brother cast in recent years.

The game started quickly, too, with the women banding together to attempt what no other female Big Brother houseguests have ever been able to do: a successful, season-long women’s alliance. It was Omarosa’s idea, evidence of her knowledge of Big Brother. And while her ball-gown performativeness was grating, her dramatic whispers of every sentence are far preferable to the usual Diary Room shouting.

I also appreciate the comic relief from James Maslow, who’s the person no one knows and all seem to treat about the same as if he was a cardboard cutout, which I suppose is not far from the reality. Before Brandi Glanville verbally shredded him, he asked Omarosa the best question ever asked in the Big Brother house: “Who was the person you were apprenticing for?”

About two-thirds of the way through the first episode, I noticed how normal this all felt—it was not at all annoying, which is about the highest praise I can give Big Brother at this stage in its life.

And then I realized: Besides giving Omarosa immunity, it was almost a twist-free, pure version of Big Brother. The cast just entered the house and started playing the game.

Well, almost.

Because of course, this is CBS’ Big Brother, which can’t leave well enough alone, so the episode ended with producers giving one person the ability to overthrow the HOH, or “recast” it.

The episode also lost points for dragging out Paul, though at least they didn’t bring him back into the game and give him four weeks of immunity for this three-week season. And his appearance, along with Rachel and Cody and Jessica and ugh why are they so obsessed with this pile of awful, was mercifully brief.

How engaged I stay will likely be inversely proportional to the shenanigans the producers pull over the next few episodes, but for now: a decent start to the US’ first Celebrity Big Brother.