Celebrity Rehab’s finale airs tonight; it’s the best and most tragic show of the year

The two-hour finale of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab officially debuts tonight at 9 p.m. ET, when the celebrities go on an Outward Bound experience together before leaving rehab. A mini-marathon precedes that, starting at 6.

I’ve found the show to be exceptionally compelling—and the best new reality show of 2008. The problem is that because there’s so much rawness and depth, it’s sometimes simultaneously hard to watch and impossible to turn away from, and thus doesn’t make good fodder for recapping or writing about.

Its premise suggested otherwise: a bunch of former reality star quasi-celebs in rehab? Led by radio show host Dr. Drew? That is a proven failure? Ridiculous. Instead, it’s turned out to be an extremely thoughtful documentary, essentially, showing unflinchingly what it’s like to be addicted to drugs. We end up rooting for the celebrities to stay sober, even though their antics while high would be far more entertaining.

It’s unlike other series because of how, well, real it actually is. The show’s willingness to essentially ignore the fourth wall is key. Early on, some of the celebrities expressed irritation with the cameras’ constant presence, and the editors showed footage of a sound engineer fixing someone’s mic and interrupting the conversation. By not ignoring the production, the producers legitimized their own show, which is first and foremost about people genuinely trying to get off drugs.

The cast was also well-chosen, providing both an interesting mix of personalities and different approaches and responses to sobriety. At first, Dr. Drew seemed more interested in giving condescending lectures (as usual) than being a doctor to his patients. But after having to show up in the middle of the night a few times, his persona dissolved and he loosened up. The other celebrities, too, opened up to each other, us, and themselves.

During one episodes, Crazy Town singer Seth “Shifty” Binzer talked to his son, Halo, on the phone, and told him that he was getting help. And we heard Halo say to someone on the other end of the phone, “He says he’s gonna stop doing bad things!” It was such a devastating moment that it was almost comic relieve to see Jeff Conaway’s delusional, co-dependent girlfriend Vikki Lizzi show up with drugs and alcohol, and then attempt to rationalize her ridiculous behavior. But as easy as she is to hate on, even that, too, was sad. I’d hope for a second season if only the series wasn’t ultimately so tragic.

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