Screensavors: Cancel our reservation

hotel babylon 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
hotel babylon 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
We love hotels - the fluffy bathrobes, the room service, the overpriced mini-bar, the hostess who pours champagne into our bathtub... What? You've never had that service? Well, you've obviously never checked into Hotel Babylon, the glitzy London Shangri-La at the focus of the new Xtra HOT series by the same name, which debuted last Tuesday at 10 p.m. Xtra HOT's been promo-ing the series to death for weeks, teasing us with shots of hotel employees stumbling upon disrobed guests or offering to leave more than just a complimentary chocolate on their pillow. When all's said and done, however, that's pretty much what this BBC series is: one long tease. Ultimately, the come-ons leave viewers with the same disappointed feeling they'd get if they booked a room with a view and ended up looking at the dumpster across the street. In fact, trash is pretty much how we'd describe this hybrid of Hotel, Las Vegas and Fantasy Island. While the London hotel that forms the basis of the program may offer, as narrator/reception clerk-turned assistant manager Charlie Edwards (Max Beesley) explains in the opening, "the best view, the best service, the finest ingredients, the utmost discretion," the script offers the worst cliches you can imagine: the know-it-all concierge, the ice-queen hotel owner with a secret, etc. And while Charlie promises "Whoever or whatever you want to be, we'll look after you," this apparently does not include viewers who want to be treated with respect - a challenge that eludes this two-star offering masquerading as five-star TV. The first episode had hard-working Charlie applying for the assistant manager's job (SPOILER: He gets it. Imagine!). To pass the test, he's got to do the bidding of Rebecca (Tamzin Outhwaite), who's got a Saudi prince on the third floor who "wants to thank you personally for your understanding." Flash to Saudi prince in room getting ready to carve up a lamb. Groan. Another employee's off to find a foot pump to inflate a blow-up doll one guest has requested, while concierge Tony's delighted to find a blonde guest in, as Archie Bunker would say, total nudal frontity when delivering her theater tickets. When he tells barman Gino, the liquor-and-smokes purveyor dashes up with a complimentary drink - only to be greeted by the boyfriend, also in his birthday suit. But this time the tip is just a mooning. Charlie's got the hots for Jackie, the Eurasian head of housekeeping, but he also has to stay one step ahead of old flame Anna, who's also trying out for the job and reminds him that they slept together while working at another hotel. "I think it's OK to have sex with a man of a lower position. It's only demeaning when it's the other way around," she says with a wink. "That reminds me," says Charlie with a look at Jackie, "I have to keep an eye on housekeeping" before finally exploiting her call for a room check to test out the springs on the bed. But before you can say Magic Fingers, he's off to handle trouble with an obnoxious visiting US rock band whose manager refuses to spend any money. At first Rebecca chides Charlie, warning: "This is a business. If you don't understand that, maybe you're not the man for the job." Ultimately, however, Charlie manages to get the boys in the band to break their room up, earning the hotel lots of money in damages and Rebecca's offer that he become her No. 2. The script and premise are dopey, but don't take our word for it. On the BBC Web site for the program, one astute viewer described the script as something "written by a seven-year-old American with a drinking problem." And while Charlie - who (gasp) turns out to have a secret of his own - tells us as the credits get ready to roll that "a good hotel is more than just a bed for the night," a good TV program is more than just a series of set-ups that seem like they came out of the back of a grade-Z men's magazine. Don't worry, though - there's no real sex here, and certainly no nudity. No, Hotel Babylon's just one long suggestive mess, and so dull - besides some nice speeded up shots of London itself - that it was all we could do to resist checking out early. Book a room at Hotel Babylon if you like glitz, sleaze and hotel lobbies. Personally, we'd rather stay at Howard Johnson's.