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Monday, April 20, 2009

Celebreality IV: The Revenge. This time, it's personal.


As all enlightened students of the '80s know, the third installment in any money-hungry, bloodthirsty, ‘70s-spawned cinematic franchise is, or damn well should be, in 3-D.

Friday the 13th. Jaws. Amityville.

All had a Part III. All from 1983. And--in a misguided effort to thickly veil their complete and utter lack of story, sympathetic characters and/or Roy Scheider--all in 3-D.

(Thank God The Facts of Life and its in Paris and Down Under movie spin-offs were on the small screen. Flash to a bone-chilling image of a crazy-eyed, circa-'83 Charlotte Rae penetrating the boob tube and thrusting one of “Edna's Edibles” in your face. No, Mrs. Garrett, Blair, Jo, Natalie and Tootie were scary enough in 2-D.)

Zoom forward 25-plus years. Despite recent hit remakes of Friday and My Bloody Valentine (the latter, of course, in maim-a-riffic 3-D), pop culture's most enduring hatchet jobs aren't Jason, Jaws or any other silver-screen, slice-and-dice predator of young flesh.

No, the au currant prime cuts are found at home in retrocentric prime time, marketed to the same generation that grew up on pre-Elmo-tickled Sesame Street and As-Seen-on-TV kitschin' cutlery. Today's Ginsu knife to the back is brought to you by the letters V and H and the number 1. We’re talking the glossy-image-gutting world of celebreality. Largely from the cable net that last month announced plans for a reality series about celebrity sex addicts.

With recent marquee de Sade fare as Celebrity Rehab 2, Confessions of a Teen Idol (a ma-Chachi-smo-filled threequel to Scott Baio is 46 and Still Telling Girls to 'Sit On It') and Celebracadabra (which featured once-famous stars and something called Ant slitting each other’s throats for a chance to perform magic tricks while their once-adored mystiques disappeared), VH-1's celebreality cash cow is now clearly in its "Part III in 3-D" phase.

No longer does it suffice to humiliate former celebs by merely exposing their Fit Club fat rolls or shoehorning them into the psychotically "surreal" worlds of a knife-wielding Janice Dickenson and fork-tongued Omarosa. Now we must see our childhood idols' dignity butchered—along with the remnants of their acting and singing careers—in extreme, lingering, starkly-lit, drive-in-movie-sized close ups that unforgivably highlight each baggy eye, craggy wrinkle and saggy jowl. Yes, TMZ’s “All Growed Up,” gotcha journalism has changed the face of a hit genre and Adrian Zmed.

But in Celebreality 3-D, puffy eyelids and midriffs aren't the only things experiencing perpetual hangover. In fact, Celebrity Rehab Presents Sober House is just a gussied-up way of saying Dr. Drew's Intoxicated All-Stars All Up in Your Kool-Aid. CR's first two outings of Jeff Conaway and other past-era celebs getting fall-down drunk and heaving in withdrawal agony just weren't quite in-your-face enough. Now we get Guns 'N Roses drummer-turned-heroine and rehab addict Steven Adler convulsing mere inches from the camera while the lens-mugging Andy Dick overdoses on his, well, Andy Dickness.

Not that Dr. Drew's productions—and certain other celebreality hits, for that matter—aren't serving a greater good by destigmatizing social taboos and normalizing the frailties and faults that we all share as humans. Indeed, these recovery-centered shows do enlighten and even empower in measured doses. But these series' increasing tendencies to document each and every celebrity nose hair, flopsweat-inducing embarrassment and vein-popping meltdown with near-atom-splitting, microscopic detail has tragic side effects. Oftentimes the end result is the glorification and regurgitation of famously addicted narcissists (see Dr. Drew's new book Mirror Effects), the deep disappointment of relatively levelheaded former idols hoping to rediscover their mojo, and the decimation of their chances for legit career resuscitation.

It’s time for VH-1 and other retro-lovin' networks to prepare for that "final chapter" of their '70s, '80s and '90s-obsessed reality TV franchises—that faux finish that's actually a passageway to a "new beginning" of life-or-death drama. We're talking Celebreality, Part IV. Or, as a shark- and career-killing Michael Caine would call it, The Revenge.

As in This Time, It's Personal. In Celebreality IV, retro icons and former child stars get to sink their porcelain veneers into the media-overloaded industry that has once more engaged them for a last chance at a Hollywood comeback blood-soaked in exploitation. But in this "final chapter," the celebs get to reclaim reality TV's double-edged sword to take a stab not at fellow pop culture survivors (see Confessions of a Teen Idol) but rather at networks and press outlets that, under the influence of the drug TMZ, have turned stars’ private breakdowns and public nose pickings into priceless currency.

So here, for VH1’s, MTV’s, CMT’s, TV Land’s, E!’s and Fox Reality’s consideration—and let’s not forget ABC’s, NBC’s and CBS’s summer lineups—are the next wave in get-even celebreality sensations:

Secret Super Powers of the Recovering Retrobabes: Look out, sober housin’, sin-confessin’ teen idols. The Seventies and Eighties Superwomen are out of rehab and back with a star-spangled, leotarded vengeance. Watch as a Fantastic Four of femme fatales—led by long-sober superhotties Lynda "Wonder Woman” Carter and Jamie Lee “Scream Queen” Curtis—wrap TMZ’s Harvey Levin in head-to-camel toe polyester, further constrain him with the magic lasso of truth, then shove him into the unflattering sunlight while paparazzi snap away and bloggers reload their snark arsenals. Marvel as Carrie Fisher applies a cinnamon bun coif to Scott Baio’s already-swollen noggin while delivering a barrage of sardonic AA one-liners to an ultra serious Dr. Drew—choking both in laughter with the Jabba-strangling chains of her self-effacing, ego-humbling superhumor. Finally, cheer “It’s a Sunshine Day!” as recovering drug addict turned reality superstar Maureen McCormick breaks into song and dance a la The Brady Variety Hour. This time, doing “The Hustle” is personal as Mo trades heroin for heroine while bumping and grinding to humiliating exhaustion a bunch of celebreality execs who say “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” one time too many.

Adamant Eve. As the one Brady kid to avoid the forbidden fruit of reality TV (and other Brady Bunch reunions, for that matter), Eve “Jan” Plumb finally fights back during her star-making ‘70s show’s 40th anniversary this year. Now a painter, the Brady often accused of sticking out like a sore Plumb turns reality on its head with a series of bestselling oil paintings depicting Adrienne Curry and the celebrity cast of Gone Country in sadomasochistic poses. In the series opener, Eve refuses to answer Brady questions at an art showing and then bitchslaps prodding guest star Florence Henderson.

Celebramé. A slew of Seventies and Eighties celebs take up macramé in this reality competition pitting retro stars against habitual reality hangers-on such as Brooke Hogan and Johnny Fairplay. Fair play, my ass. Squeal in delight as Erin “Joanie” Moran and Tom “Luke Duke” Wopat use their newfound crafting skills and hidden MacGyver addiction to transform a series of decorative macramé owls into a knotted, bead-laden booby trap that sweeps the season 2 Rock of Love winner off her taloned feet for good.

Crack of Dawn. Tony Orlando uses one of his “back-up” singers to keester drugs into VH1 offices during filming of I Love the ‘70s Part IV. Chaos ensues during an impromptu performance of “Knock Three Times” when the bad half of Dawn lights up during the line “twice on the pipes…” Amidst the melee, Orlando ties a yellow ribbon laced with contraband on the VH1 programming VP’s lapel, then, in unison with Dawn, cries fowl.

Children of the Corny Hired Help. In this Eighties explosion of forgotten former chlld actors, the once-wisecracking co-stars of sassy-house servant-centered-sitcoms Mr. Belvedere and Gimme a Break! join Who’s the Boss imp Danny Pintauro in employing cooking utensils and cleaning agents to pick off every Internet blogger who’s ever asked “Where are they now?” In their own live-streaming Internet series launched in this VH1 pilot, each goes Tonya Harding on tap dancing guest star Tony Danza, whacking his aged kneecaps with lead-encrusted spatulas and Swiffers, then threatening to do the same to snarky e-fans just dying to tell the online world “how un-do-able those washed-up freaks are.”

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