You know I love my reality television. Nothing soothes my soul more than a good hour of junk food for the brain where I sit, in a near stupor, smiling rather insipidly at the screen. To me, good reality television is thoroughly entertaining and not-too-over the top (No “Flavor of Love” or its bastard offspring for me thank you). It either gives me an inside track on an industry (LA Ink), welcomes me into its family (“Jon and Kate plus Eight”), exposes me to all that is fabulous (“Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane” and the “Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency”), or inspires me in a weepy sanguine way (“The Biggest Loser”).
Since my life is difficult as it is, I like to get away, far away from it all, if not physically, then emotionally. I need not be reminded of the bills that have yet to be paid, the broken promises, or thwarted dreams. I like tears of joy not of sadness. I’m the person that looks away from the car wreck on the road; other’s people’s carnage is no of interest to me. Or so I thought. For the past few weeks, I’ve been tuning into the torturous train wreck called Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew (Thursdays, 10 p.m.), the VH-1 series which features D-list celebrity addicts undergoing treatment under the care of the well-known addiction specialist and host of the radio show, “Loveline”, Dr. Drew Pinsky.
The series can be compared to A&E’s groundbreaking “Intervention” which showed people in the midst of their addiction, crack pipe or bottle in hand, surrounded by caring friends and family who plead with the addicts to stop their destructive ways during a tearful facilitated meeting — i.e. intervention — after which addicts are wisked away. The next time we see them, they are clean and sober — a few pounds heavier, physically, and a few pounds lighter, spiritually.
In start contrast, “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” shows what happens during the difficult process of recovery including the not so glamorous detoxification phase. As for the participants which include porn star Mary Carey, actor Daniel Baldwin, Flavor Flav and Sly Stallone love interest Brigitte Nielsen, star of “Grease” and “Taxi” Jeff Conaway and former wrestler Chyna, all are in an varying states of emotional and physical disrepair.
As a child of an alcoholic, I am angry at their disregard for themselves, their families and their given opportunity. At the same time, I can’t help but to care. We are all wounded souls looking for relief; they have found theirs in drugs and alcohol. Conaway, who is now confined to a wheelchair due to both his addiction and severe physical pain, is the most tragic of them all. Hearing his screams of pain makes your heart weep. But seeing him try to subvert the system by sneaking drugs into the facility makes you want to hit him and/or somehow try to force him to fight what little life that he has left.
And then there is porn star Mary Carey, formerly known as Mary Ellen, the aspiring ballet dancer from Florida, who according to a personal report, was rather a sweet nerdy girl in high school. Watching her, during a recent episode, attempt to recapture her lost innocence as she danced in a ballet studio, was heartbreaking. You want this woman ,who grew up with a schizophrenic suicidal mother, to live her dream of abandoning her porn star past. Although different in many ways, the celebrity addicts have one thing in common: They believed that fame would save them from themselves. It’s as if they have bought in to the premise of the Nickelback song, “Rockstar,” which strongly implies that fame, with all of its rewards and none of its heartaches, is just a matter of cutting one’s hair and changing one’s name.
My favorite person on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew”, is the man himself. Dr. Drew’s brand of no-nonsense real talk is a welcomed far cry from the hokey folk wisdom dispensed by pop psychs like Dr. Phil.
Even as a write this, I find myself getting weepy at the thought of what will await me this week as I watch — more stories of tragic childhoods, more fights with inner demons, and maybe just, just maybe a small success or two.
Watch if you dare. Watch if you can. It’s reality television — for real.