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THE TINY SCREEN: All This and Brains, Too! Fun and Frolic with Hef:

If you want to get really depressed about American culture and humanity in general try watching E!’s “Girls Next Door,” a reality show that takes you behind the scenes of the Playboy mansion and into the private lives of Hugh Hefner and his three blonde girlfriends, to say nothing of their gaggle of little dogs.

A few years, maybe decades back, Hugh Hefner emerged from his long-term marriage to his lovely blonde wife Kimberly Conrad. After meeting Kimberly, Hef was planning on remaining monogamous for life. But after his marriage ended, he adopted his current habit of showing up at events with a whole flock of blondes. He would be anything but monogamous, choosing to flaunt his modern, broad-minded attitude of multiples.

But it always looked like these girls were interchangeable, perhaps even for hire. Until now. “Girls Next Door” takes the viewer on a previously uncharted voyage into the dark recesses of the Playboy Mansion where Hef actually lives, along with his three girlfriends. They aren’t particularly interchangeable with the other blondes who gravitate to the manse – they are Hef’s favorites du jour – and each has her own room, her own car, her own dog, etc.

It’s interesting, I’ll admit, to see the goings-on at Hef’s house – from the kitchen where the chef prepares their meals, to the way the statues look in the hallways, the rugs on floor, the beds (particularly Hef’s big, weird bed), the pool, and the day to day running of the place. But at some point, it becomes altogether sad.

The girls, no doubt, would not agree that it seems sad – they’re getting out of their otherwise dull lives and living the high life. All they have to do in exchange for such riches is “be nice” to Hef. This is where it gets weird. Hef only appears in cameos – with his sunglasses on, wearing pajamas, kissing these pretty young things on the lips. It’s just, well, icky.

One runs the risk of sounding like the neighborhood prude by even commenting on it – to each his or her own, really, and if the gals are happy little bunnies why shouldn’t we be happy for them? Because, in truth, it just doesn’t look all that amusing.

One gets the feeling that these girls would much rather be out on the beach in Malibu, in the arms of a ripe young stud, instead of existing in the cloistered darkness of a man who, despite his fame and riches and perhaps reputation to the contrary, doesn’t get out much.

Hef’s “main girlfriend” Holly admits that she wishes Hef would get rid of his “other girlfriends” and those girls, no doubt, would love to be on Holly’s queen bee perch. For now they have to be satisfied being second and third tier to the Viagra-loving old geezer. For the record, the thought of his wrinkly paws on their young flesh is almost too much to bear.

The show is made for young boys who must enjoy ogling the bountiful implants and scantily clad bunnies, but it seems also designed for young women everywhere whose aim in life is to get their start on the pages of Playboy.

Playboy, the company, is apparently trying to catch up with modern times by having a lively online extension and now this reality show. It is only upon watching the show that the rather dated appeal of Playboy rears its ugly head. After all, in this day and age of the net and tabloid hysteria does anyone even think about, much less read the girlie mag?

These little girls who spend much of the show thanking Hef (for getting them in the magazine, giving them birthday parties and whatnot) are probably going somewhere far, far away from strange old Hef and his weird mansion – and wherever that will be is worth putting up with all the nonsense.

In the end, it’s hard not to feel yet more despair for modern society – have we really come so far to end up watching a reality show of Hef’s young swag? One hopes that in future episodes, the mystery of women drawn to Hef will be solved once and for all – are they in it for fame and money or is there something genuinely appealing about the lizard-lipped great-grandpa?

“Girls Next Door” airs on E! at various times. Check local listings.

This Week’s

Notable TV

Thursday, August 18

Strictly Ballroom (****), strictly Baz, 8 p.m., SUNDANCE.

The Long Goodbye (***), 9 p.m., SUNDANCE.

Roast of Pamela Anderson, 9:30 p.m., COMEDY.

Soundstage, with the band Heart, 10 p.m., KCET.

Friday, August 19

Dirty Dancing (**), “nobody puts Baby in the corner,” 7:30 p.m., ABCFAM.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (****), 7:30 p.m., TNT.

Flashdance (***), get out your leg warmers, 9 p.m., BRAVO.

Masters of Illusions, 10 p.m., CBS.

Saturday, August 20

Hitch double feature, Vertigo, 7:30, followed by Rear Window, 9 p.m., TCM.

American Pie (***), 7:30 p.m., FX.

A Beautiful Mind (***), Ron Howard’s Big Oscar Movie, 8 p.m., ABC.

Masterpiece Theater, Foyle’s War, 9 p.m., KLCS.

Sunday, August 21

The Bad News Bears (****), the far superior original, 8:30 p.m., HBO.

Africa, 9 p.m., KLCS.

The Grateful Dead Movie, 9 p.m., KOCE.

Mystery! Inspector Lynley: Playing for the Ashes, 9 p.m., KCET.

Monday, August 22

One Hour Photo (**), Robin Williams as a stalker, 8 p.m., FX.

Fargo (****), 8 p.m. E!

Four Weddings and a Funeral (***), still one of Hugh Grant’s best, 9 p.m., ABC.

History Detectives, 9 p.m., KCET.

Tuesday, August 23

Meet Mr. Mom, 8 p.m., NBC.

Origins: Earth is Born, 8 p.m., KCET.

Wide Angle, 9 p.m., KCET.

Tommy Lee Goes to College, 9 p.m., NBC.

Wednesday, August 24

Jurassic Park III (**), William H. Macy just collecting a paycheck, 9 p.m., TNT.

All Star Kitchen Makeover, 9 p.m., FOODTV.

Patton (****), 9 p.m., FMC.

The Silence of the Lambs (****), 9 p.m., SPIKE.

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