House of Villains immediately declares its intention: its cast of villains are not there to be celebrated and placed on untouchable pedestals, but recognized for their personas and called on their buffonery.
Survivor’s Johnny Fairplay shows up to the “Villain’s Lair”—(sic), you poor apostrophe in the wrong place—gets out of the car, walks into the house. “Sorry, let me start over,” he says. He re-walks into the house and repeats lines in the confessional because “that didn’t feel natural.”
It’s not unusual for a reality TV show to reshoot a moment like that, just as we have seen editors keep in an aside that would otherwise be cut.
But House of Villains saves itself from being a middling competition by sharply using editing to repeatedly and strategically undercut the egos and well-worn performances of its contestants.
For House of Villains (E!, Thursdays at 10), the producers have gathered together 10 villains—some icons of reality television, some who are clearly helping the producers get to 10 so they can have a full season:
- Anfisa Arkhipchenko from 90 Day Fiancé
- Johnny Bananas from The Challenge
- Shake Chatterjee from Love is Blind
- Jonny Fairplay from Survivor
- Bobby Lytes from Love & Hip Hop
- Corinne Olympios from The Bachelor
- OMAROSA from The Apprentice
- Tiffany “New York” Pollard from Flavor of Love and I Love New York
- Jax Taylor from Vanderpump Rules
- Tanisha Thomas from Bad Girls Club
Watching some of these people interact is quite entertaining. Bobby Lytes calls Tiffany “New York” Pollard “one of my idols.” Tiffany sees Shake and says, “I don’t want him in here.”
Shake is baffled at how much money Jax makes off of his reality TV infamy, while Jax talks about how his manager told him to prepare for the competition, and he ignored that advice.
Omarosa is back on TV again, part of her post-$179,700 a year Trump White House job tour of reality TV shows, which has so far included Celebrity Big Brother and Big Brother VIP in Australia.
Omarosa enters the house floating on a cloud of her own farts, which she’s acting like are chariots spun by aliens. “It’s Omorosa, with an O,” she tells Shake, and calls Bobby “eyebrows.”
While discussing an alliance with Shake, apparently moments after she’s entered the house, Corrine introduces herself and asks Omarosa’s name.
Omarosa doesn’t say her name, but instead responds, “Google, it’ll help you.” Corinne walks away, and then decides to earn her spot in the house, yelling: “I call that trying way too fucking hard, so have a great day, bitch.”
It is trying too hard, on both their parts. Johnny Bananas is one of the more low-key personalities, that’s how much everyone is fighting for screen time. (“I now see why Omarosa is an absolute villain,” he says.)
Watching all of that preening and performing of well-worn personas is teetering on the edge of unbearable and/or exhausting, but what makes House of Villains watchable is the editing.
The editing mocks its cast and winks at the audience, but not so much that it becomes exhausting itself. I would probably not mind turning up the dial one more notch.
“I’m mentally physically enough to be here,” Jax says, and then the editing record-scratches and rewinds to show him saying that word salad again.
Bananas takes a pee during the middle of a challenge, on the sidelines of a stadium, and that stays in—and so does host Joel McHale mocking him, saying, “Did you wash your hands you disgusting animal?”
When Omarosa takes her sweet time to sit down in a chair, the editing calls attention to her dramatics by just letting it play out and showing reaction shots from the other contestants.
We also get to see the cast’s expectations of reality TV collide with the reality of this particular game, and the other players’ perceptions. Jax is stunned that people are talking behind his back. “I come from Bravo, where we do this shit face-to-face,” he tells us.
House of Villains is also not afraid to make fun of itself. After EVA, the “Evil Voice Audio,” sends the cast into the back yard to meet Joel McHale, the editing leaves in all the awkwardness, like Bobby calling him Carson Daly to his face.
But it gets funnier: McHale apparently cannot get through his lines, so we get a montage of him starting over and blathering, and the cast looking miserable.
In comes a producer: “I know it’s cold, guys, but we’re almost there.” And then out goes Omarosa, who walks away, saying, “I’m done, y’all. I’m serious.”
Then, cut to the front of the house, at night, where McHale introduces himself and does the whole explanation of the game again. Most shows would probably excise the previous scene, and by not doing that, it gives us some insight into what these people who’ve made careers out of reality TV experience on set.
All of this is a competition for $200,000. The format is simple: The winner of a challenge gets a luxury reward, immunity, and the ability to nominate three people for eviction.
The nominees compete in a challenge to earn immunity; the winner is saved, while the house votes on the other two. Then someone leaves.
The first two challenges are painfully low budget, and not especially well-suited to television, in terms of following the action and having a sense of progress.
But I didn’t mind that as much, because of the show’s willingness to not take any of this too seriously. McHale refers to “too many competitions” and “bullshit alliances.”
Jax tells us that, for the first challenge, in which the players try to knock large inflatable balls representing the other players out of a playing area, “I’m not going to form an alliance; it’s a game, I’m here to win.” Then he realizes that some kind of alliance would have helped.
But the moment that made me laugh out loud was New York, who runs after someone who’s about to eliminate her from the challenge. “Get the fuck away from my ball, you son of a bitch!” she yells, and there’s something simultaneously so raw and ridiculous about that—and just genuinely human.
It’s also lighthearted and fun. Perhaps House of Villains will take an ugly turn, but its start keeps its cast’s egos tamped down to a manageable, fun level, and makes me interested enough to keep watching people I might otherwise skip.
House of Villains
House of Villains saves itself from being a middling competition by sharply using editing to repeatedly and strategically undercut the egos and well-worn performances of its contestants. B
What works for me:
- The clever editing, and its fourth-wall breaking
- Interaction between some iconic characters
What could be better:
- More well-known villains
- Better challenges