Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Scott Baio is 45... and Single – What Would Mrs. C Think?

VH1’s penchant for “celebreality” series featuring D-Listers in crisis continues with their latest effort, “Scott Baio is 45… and Single.”

Baio, the “Charles in Charge” star who earned his place in pop culture history as Chachi on “Happy Days,” has decided he needs to change his ways when it comes to women. Over the years, he’s scored more ladies than The Fonz himself. His impressive list of former girlfriends includes Pam Anderson, Heather Locklear, and Denise Richards. (Aaay!) Oh, and Erin Moran, because as the show tells us in a fascinating tidbit, “Joanie really did love Chachi.”

While his constantly rotating supply of hotties may have helped Baio retain his shockingly young appearance, emotionally, he hasn’t aged either. So, he hires a life coach, Doc Ali, to help him figure out why he’s never been able to settle down with one woman. Ali promptly commands him to take a vow of celibacy for 8 weeks. He’s also tasked with reaching out to past loves to ask what went wrong in their relationships. The stakes are high, as Baio’s current girlfriend tells him that if he can’t commit to her at the end of the 8 weeks, well, Charles won’t be in charge any more as far as she’s concerned.

Baio’s journey is inherently watchable, in that it does seem that he genuinely wants to change. During a phone conversation with his former co-star Henry Winkler, he explains, “It’s been too easy…I was on television.” When the married Winkler quickly points out, “I was on television too,” Baio admits, “That’s a horrible excuse.” Further, the interactions with his ex-girlfriends seem refreshingly non-scripted. After an awkward talk with one, he ends things abruptly by saying “I’m going to leave you now.” The woman responds coldly: “That’s not an unfamiliar thing.” Ouch.

Also a nice surprise is the fact that Baio doesn’t try to sugarcoat his own personality. While it’s clear that overall, he’s a good guy, he’s not afraid to show his cranky side. He whines at the prospect of attending a fan autograph signing, and admits to having a very short fuse. (Although I suppose if I had people yelling “Hey, Chachi!” at me all day, I might not be filled with sweetness and light either.)

The show falters though in its blatant attempts to emulate the styles of other series. A scene featuring a chance encounter between Baio, his annoying friend Johnny V, and Clint Howard, at Baio’s agent’s office, could have been lifted straight out of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” (That is, if it had been funny.) Baio’s actual meeting with his agent is filmed through slightly opened window blinds, hearkening “The Office.” Their conversation is unintentionally comical, as the agent pretends to express serious concern as to whether or not Baio should be doing this show. Um, I’d say it’s a pretty good bet both of them fought tooth and nail to get on VH1’s schedule. Michael and Dwight’s fictional closed-door talks contain more realistic dialogue than this.

Worst of all is the amount of time the show spends trying to cultivate an “Entourage” type feel. We see Baio and his three longtime friends/wingmen, including Jason Hervey, the loud-mouthed brother from “The Wonder Years,’” playing golf and smoking cigars at the racetrack. These scenes largely fall flat, as they go on for far too long. Although if Hervey decides to slip into his Wayne Arnold persona and start ripping on everyone, things might get a bit more interesting.

Regardless, I’ll be sticking around to see what I hope and expect will be a happy ending for Baio – the ability to commit to the woman that he loves, with a revitalized career to boot. And, if the series is a hit, the possibilities for spin-offs are endless. “Anson Williams is 57… and Happily Married,” anyone?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Paula Abdul Reality Show: Rush, Rush to Change the Channel

I like Paula Abdul, I really do. I mean, who doesn’t? Between the irresistible hooks of her hits from the ‘80s, and her consistently positive attitude on “American Idol,” she’s hard not to like. Nevertheless, due to her increasingly bizarre on-air behavior, Abdul’s received more than her share of bad press recently. So it’s no surprise that her team greenlit a reality show about her life, in order to show the “truth” behind the whispers. The only problem is that Bravo’s resulting “Hey Paula” does little to serve that purpose.

Keep in mind that the primary appeal of the celebrity reality show is the chance for fans to gain insight into who the celebrity truly is behind the public fa├žade. However with the premiere episode of “Hey Paula,” most of Abdul’s dialogue seems to have been written for her (“I’m just like everyone else, I have good days and bad days,”) even her jokes, (“The last time I had a hit record, Bill and Hillary were having sex.”) Instead of showing viewers her reality, the show has Abdul playing to the camera, such as in a segment where she walks the streets in a Valentino gown, looking for her purportedly “lost” limo as fans call out to her. Or when she summons her maid into the room for a hug and kiss and tells her that she loves her. Of course, with any “reality” show, a fair portion of what airs is at least somewhat scripted, but when the action is so obviously made-to-order, it gets tiresome.

During the rare moments when the show doesn’t appear to be overly fabricated, Abdul is painted as a hard-working, dramatic diva, who’s kind to her fans, and tough on her well-meaning but disorganized assistants. A fair amount of the first episode is spent detailing the drama around her assistants’ unacceptable packing job for a flight to Philadelphia. Abdul is flying there for a 1:00 a.m. appearance on QVC to hawk her jewelry collection, and she needs to sleep. In order to do so, she requires comfortable sweat pants and white tennis shoes. Unfortunately, the assistants have packed tight jeans and black tennis shoes, resulting in an exasperated Abdul asking, “Why these pants?” She then directs a frustrated “Can you freakin’ believe this?” to the camera. Once at QVC, Abdul is unsatisfied with the jewelry designs, as they don’t match the examples she was shown earlier. “This is exhausting,” she tells the camera. Yeah. Life is hard.

But okay, let’s give Paula a break. She’s a celebrity, and, like most, she has a team of sycophants praising her every move. So I can excuse some diva-like behavior, because she probably knows nothing else. However, what I can’t excuse is a boring reality show, which is what we have here. Besides the riveting packing drama, the most interesting moment of the premiere is when one of Abdul’s four Chihuahuas almost makes off with a diamond ring in its mouth. (I’m sure the jeweler who lent the piece really enjoyed that bit.) Almost comically, during the commercial breaks, Bravo plugged special unseen footage of “personal Paula moments.” These turned out to be literally yawn-inducing. Let’s watch Paula jokingly complain to the cameraman in the limo that he’s shaking the camera. Fascinating. Can I re-watch that on the Bravo web site?

Overall, “Hey Paula” is a show that had a tremendous amount of potential. A likeable public figure that fans are curious about is ideal reality show fodder. However, when the scenarios that are chosen for air are super-dull, and unguarded moments are few and far between, straight up I’ve got to tell you this doesn’t make the grade.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Surreal Life Fame Games – Who Needs Work?

“Saturday Night Live” once featured a brilliant cartoon entitled “The New Adventures of Mr. T.” The animated short followed the tough-guy pop icon as he forced himself on casting directors in order to obtain wildly inappropriate acting jobs. As he demanded roles in classical theatre and feminine hygiene commercials, Mr. T would bark with his trademark gruffness, “I need work!”

Apparently, the cast members of VH1’s “The Surreal Life Fame Games” share the same desperate sentiment. The show features participants from previous seasons of the network’s throw-ten-minor-celebrities-in-a-house-for-two-weeks-and-watch-the-hilarity-ensue series “The Surreal Life.” This time, though, the cast members are tasked with a job that goes beyond sitting in a fishbowl – they’re competing for cash.

One wonders if the celebs were aware of the type of humiliation they’d be subject to when they accepted this gig. The show’s goal is to “strip their A-List privileges and self-esteem.” Hmm. While I’d certainly laugh at Paris Hilton being taken down a few pegs, when the person being demoralized is Mini Me, well, it’s not so funny. In fact, it’s pretty depressing.

Those subjecting themselves to the producers’ unique brand of torture include Rob Van Winkle, a.k.a. Vanilla Ice, Poison guitarist CC Deville, and porn star Ron Jeremy. Actress Brigitte Nielsen and former wrestler Joanie “Chyna Doll” Laurer form an Amazonian alliance, as do, on the opposite end of the height spectrum, Emmanuel Lewis from “Webster” and Verne Troyer from “Austin Powers.” Robin Leach, still blathering on about champagne wishes and caviar dreams, is thrown in as host for good measure.

In the premiere episode, the entire cast is part of the “A-List,” living together in a posh Las Vegas mansion. Through a series of contests, the “B-Listers” are weeded out and exiled to a part of the house that resembles a cheap motel room. A velvet rope prevents them from entering the fashionable side of the mansion – they may only gain admittance by ringing a doorbell. A bit degrading, sure, but this is strictly made-for-tv action. What seems to create a genuine level of discomfort, both for the cast and the viewer, are the contests themselves.

The “Fan Photo Challenge” placed the celebrities in a crowd with embarrassing “hello, my name is…” signs set up next to them. A tally was then kept of the number of fan photo requests received. CC Deville described the humiliation, commenting, “No one has asked for my picture – it was awful.” He later noted, “I’m a big star in my head…in reality, not so big.” Chyna Doll, the lowest vote-getter, cried, saying, “I’m a bottom-feeder” – the show’s charming term for the bottom three finishers. (In case you’re curious who won this little exercise, it was Rob Van Winkle all the way. Word to your mother.)

Of course, all this talk about A-List and B-List is a little ridiculous given the people involved. Realistically, the cast members would be lucky to call themselves C-List – I mean, none of these folks are getting into Hyde. (Ok, maybe Ron Jeremy is.) They’ve all rightfully earned their share of fame through their work, but, at this point, they exist in a kind of celebrity purgatory, caught between “oh my God, it’s…” and “hey, didn’t you used to be…?” I don’t mean to insult them; however, this show does. While you certainly can’t fault them for continuing Mr. T’s eternal quest to find work, degradation and humiliation is not entertainment.

Unless, of course, they actually get Mr. T next season. I pity the fool who doesn’t want a photo with him.