Big Brother
Credit: Big Brother 3: Tony Esparza/CBS
Big Brother

Big Brother 3 will be airing every Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday until either its scheduled September climax or until any of the 12 ”HouseGuests” do something really scandalously censor-provoking, such as run around buck naked with peanut butter slathered over their private parts — oh wait, they’ve already done that.

It would seem from negative press clippings, some appalled EW reader e-mails, and a few gripe-stoked talks I’ve had with friends, that ”BB” needs a little defending. Unlike ”American Idol” — which has unaccountably hypnotized millions into accepting the notion that there are actually quantifiable degrees of talent on display among the finalists, all of whom in fact vocalize with the sort of showy melismatic excess that would make Wayne Newton feel like a shameless ham — ”BB” stirs up self-righteous ire.

The most common criticisms leveled at it are that watching ”BB” either implicates the innocent viewer in a decadent voyeurism or exposes one’s brain to numbing boredom. Killjoys who feel this way — some of them, I suspect, bitter sufferers from that widely reported allergy to peanuts — have a severely circumscribed sense of cultural history. To stay within only the 20th century, novelists from Vladimir Nabokov to Henry Miller to Geoff Nicholson (author of 1996’s stirring ”Footsucker”) have done their best to suggest that kinkiness, peanut-butter flavored or not, is more common than some may think. As for the ”boredom” inherent in watching people mumble, argue, shower, sleep, and scratch their unmentionables from multiple camera angles — well, good heavens, have none of the series’ critics ever sat through one of those Andy Warhol flicks in which he set a camera in front of a building and just let the film run, or the aimless later work of director John Cassavetes? (Call me Lisa Schwarzbaum, but I’d rather sit through a rerun of all of Bunky’s crying jags from ”BB2” than be forced to watch Ben Gazzara bellow endlessly in Cassavetes’ 1976 ”Killing of a Chinese Bookie” ever again.)

Sorry: I make no apologies for glomming onto ”BB.” Do I need to explain the premise? Twelve Americans, brave and sometimes surgically enhanced, spend a few months in a CBS-designed house equipped with 40 cameras and 62 microphones, all running 24/7. The contestants compete in silly games for food and other treats and are systematically ”evicted,” one by one, each week, until a winner emerges, blinking in the Los Angeles sun with $500,000 that may or may not be pocket change dropped by Dan Rather while he was donning a fresh trench coat.

If this third edition of ”BB” isn’t as outlandishly amusing as its predecessor (which hit pay dirt with the loudmouth Kent and the excessively emotional and hairy Bunky), it’s certainly had its moments. This time, the designated trash talker is Josh, a Long Island, N.Y., braggart whose brayed proclamations have included ”The women cannot be trusted,” ”I like to make people feel guilty if it’ll help me,” ”If you evict me, I hope you all have fire insurance,” and — displaying both impressive disgust and a gift for complex if in terribly poor taste metaphors — ”One stupid idea comes up [in this house], and everyone jumps on the bandwagon to retardation.” Josh’s funniest comment to date may have been ”I’m an incredibly sensitive person.”

Equally verbal but far less amusing is Gerry, a paunchy baldy given to pronunciamientos like ”I am first and foremost a teacher” — which he is, in what we now foolishly call ”real life,” albeit a teacher given to mangling quotations from the Bard. (As Josh put it with typical succinctness, ”He can take a Shakespearean speech and turn it into crap.”)

Among the women, there was Tonya, inexplicably disliked from the outset for her augmented breasts. Resembling Harvey Kurtzman’s old Playboy magazine character Little Annie Fanny, Tonya was sent bouncing home during the second eviction, but not before prancing around in the aforementioned peanut-butter bikini. I’m afraid few of the women come off well in ”BB3,” whether it’s Amy, the evicted Southern gal with a much-discussed appetite for alcohol and cheese, or Lisa, who cozied up to a male member by cooing, ”I can orgasm just from my navel being touched the right way.” As Marcellas, the show’s endearingly flighty but shrewd quota filler (he’s black and gay) might say: Eeeeek!

So far, the best game strategists have been bright-eyed Danielle and stogie-smokin’ Roddy, whom a voice-over has referred to as ”the mysterious New Jersey writer.” Hmmm…the way Roddy’s workin’ the ladies in the house, I wonder if his mystery is that he’s writing a ”BB” exposé for Maxim.

And what about host Julie Chen? She’s gone seriously downscale in the wardrobe department (the peasant-blouse, jeans-‘n’-heels thing isn’t working, Julie) and interviews evicted guests distractedly, glancing at the floor as if bored. Or maybe she’s just searching for some CBS News anchor’s dropped change.

Episode Recaps

Big Brother
Big Brother

Julie Chen hosts as the houseguests battle it out.

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