Sunday, April 24, 2005

TV Review: The Simple Life

"Where the hell are we?" is the last thing you hear as the opening credits end at the start of Fox's "reality" show The Simple Life. If you've missed the show, let's us put you wise, hell is apparently portable and seems to follow Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie around.

If you haven't seen the show, it stars Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie who attempt to pass themselves off as both modern day debs and humans. We're not sure which is the harder to swallow. And we swear, when we sat down to watch the show and make our notes, we had no idea that offscreen drama would put the show in the newspapers. Call it synchronicity. (But don't call it synergy!)

Actually, it's called The Simple Life 3: The Interns. And the joke here is that Paris & Nicole have to get jobs or learn skills beyond bitchiness.

Nicole is the obvious bitch. Let's not mince words here. She has no problem insulting anyone to their face. This episode, it's the firemen. But only with uber bitch Nicole standing next to her, does Paris come off "sweet." And we'll deal with Paris solo shortly.

Spoiled rich girls learning about the real world is supposed to be funny. We didn't laugh much. We did laugh when Paris & Nicole, for a human interest angle, attempted to find friends for the young girl they're living with. Even before the news broke late in the week that Paris wanted Nicole's ass like-so-out-of-here!, we found the idea that these two could help anyone pick out a friend laughable.

They're mean spirited women who really enjoy being mean spirited, Nicole more openly so. And we're sure it's a kick for people to watch these spoiled brats try to learn about reality.
But in this episode, they talk their way into a free hotel stay (with "jacuzzi tub" -- these women aren't as classy as Hilton's last name wants so desperately to suggest) -- an out that most people wouldn't have.

We also didn't chuckle as they blew off CPR training to take beefcake photos of firemen. Granted, the team's probably splitting up, but with Nicole Richie's documented past drug problems and both of their reported wild partying, CPR might be a skill that would come in handy in the future?

The most frightening thing for us was thinking that young viewers watching might think, "This is how to act. Paris & Nicole act this way and they were raised well, right?"

If nothing else, The Simple Life demonstrates that "money" and "good breeding" do not go hand in hand. Older viewers will probably get that point. Younger viewers will probably be salivating over the day when they too can wear push up bras, march around in stilettos and bark out orders like, "Take off your damn pants!"

Looking like a troll doll with better hair, Nicole steals every scene because she's not whispering her malice, she's proudly proclaiming it. This isn't a "You think you better than me?" performance. This is "I'm so goddman much better than you, you should lick my pointy heels!" And you never doubt that she means it.

Paris, on the other hand, comes off like a giggling fraud trying to play innocent. She's always cooing words like "wow" or "sweet." As if that's going to erase anyone's memories of her X-rated porn tape. Around others, she's practically a wide-eyed ingenue. Put her alone with Nicole and you start to wonder if she's not calling all the shots, egging Nicole on to be even badder than her own bad self?

Nicole's attitude is pure cocktail waitress in a dive located just outside of Vegas. It's as though Bea Arthur was starring in Showgirls and not Elizabeth Berkley. And in the week that Paris has taken to the press to state that Nicole is not her friend, Nicole will not be on the next installment of this series, and that Nicole knows what she did, we had to wonder if the show could exist without Nicole? (We also had to wonder exactly what Nicole did? Is she the one who stole Paris' cell phone?)

The show selling point is watching the two idiots fail at the real life, over and over. And without nasty Nicole, we don't think it would have lasted this long. While Nicole is obviously trashy, Paris gets a pass. Think about your school days. You'll probably remember a team of trouble makers. (Maybe you were one of them?) And how a teacher always focused on one. Only one got called out -- the one who didn't look as cute and had the family a little lower on the scale than the other. That's Nicole Richie. Competing with the illusion of the Hilton family, Nicole Richie can't come out on top. And various adults on the show fall for Paris' act and find her an innocent and sweet airhead. (Maybe she does have an acting career ahead in her future?) But anyone watching closely can see that Paris is calling the shots and treating Nicole like the hired help -- expecting her to take care of everything.

So when Nicole wonders, for instance, "What are we going to say to the family tomorrow?" for not coming home (the family they're staying with) and not calling, Paris says "We'll just make something up." But when the moment arrives, it's Nicole that's left to make something up (claiming "there was a huge fire, we were rescuing people"). Puppet master Paris prefers to pull the strings and not get her own hands dirty.

We don't see Paris, safely on the side lines reclining (she's practically a landlocked mermaid in the episode we saw), able to carry this show. Without Nicole, will anything happen? Without a designated fall guy, is Paris going to be interesting on her own?

We don't think so. We thought the show was ridiculous. (We'd love to see a show about the truly wealthy that embarrassed them. But then the truly wealthy have no need to do reality shows.) But The Simple Life is in its third year. It's survived in spite of Paris' sex tape, Nicole's rehab visit and standards of good taste.

Can it survive without Nicole Richie? We don't think so. Paris' sheep dog hairdo conceals her eyes, but she's so busy hiding from the camera anyway that most may not notice. Nicole is proudly in your face, staring the camera full on, not looking off to the side blankly.

There's a moment of reality in the non-reality show. When Paris and Nicole interview prospective friends for the nine-year-old girl they are living with, they ask various questions.
One question that Nicole asks a prospective friend, "Do you ever talk behind your best friend's back?" Without pausing, the girl replies, "Oh yeah." Giggling, Paris gushes, "You can be our best friend." It's a totally believable moment and one that last week's press reports only enhanced.

"It's no big secret that Nicole and I are no longer friends. Nicole knows what she did, and that’s all I'm ever going to say about it."

Whether she's out or not, the show needs Nicole. Paris apparently saves her trashiest moments for private cams. This show is nothing but trash. It must be the only thing that's carried it through three seasons because it has nothing else going for it. We don't see people relating to this show because they can identify with Paris & Nicole's lives. We don't see them watching to see Paris' body (not when the Paris Hilton Tape is so readily available). What we saw was a great deal of trash. The show, like Nicole, wears it proudly. If you haven't checked it out and this is your type of show, you'll probably enjoy it.

We didn't. At one point, Paris & Nicole don't want to attach a hose to a hydrant because it's like-all-covered-with-dog-pee. Covered with dog pee? That's the feeling watching the show left us with.

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