By Jennifer Armstrong
February 02, 2009 at 12:00 PM EST

Call it “television for trashy women.” Seems the growing popularity of Bad Girls Club has made January one for the record books at Oxygen. The third season of the “reality” show — which basically just puts a bunch of, shall we say, young ladies with challenging personalities in a house together — boosted the women’s net to its best ratings ever among 18- to 34-year-old women. To this I say: Really? We’re talking about a show that basically goes: girls drink, girls make terrible decisions regarding inappropriate men, girls say really catty things about each other and fight, repeat. Points for honesty, I guess, given that most reality shows cover the same basic territory, even if they pretend to be about skill-based competitions (see Oxygen’s other ratings-booster, reruns of America’s Next Top Model) or, um, documentaries about a particular lifestyle (see The Girls Next Door).

MTV will be assaulting us with the similarly themed Girls of Hedsor Hall starting Feb. 9, in which, according to the press release, “12 of America’s rowdiest young women are shipped off to England to repair their bad ways,” and VH1 has been doing it for a while with its Charm School (a distressingly watchable franchise). But even those questionable shows — along with The N’s strangely sweet bitch-rehab show from last summer, Queen Bees — come with varying degrees of “lessons,” unlike Oxygen’s now-marquee hit. You know things are bad when you’re a downmarket and more shallow version of MTV and VH1 fluff. And what’s more worrisome is that now that Oxygen has found its defining hit — cable-network-marketing’s version of lightning in a bottle — it’s likely to spawn more of the same. I know it’s tough to get out of Lifetime’s schmaltz-soaked shadow, but the world of women’s TV could use more smarts — and fewer bad girls.

addCredit(“Kelsey S. McNeal/Oxygen”)