VH1 is airing two series that are both about rehab, sort of, but they’re very different. One mocks and exploits its participants, while the other is even more devastating and tragic than the show that gave it life.
Confessions of a Teen Idol is sort of like Celebrity Rehab, if Dr. Drew’s goal was to torture the celebrities about their drug use and convince them drugs had screwed up their life, and then offer them heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, and alcohol. The series concluded this weekend, and was filmed at the soundstage used as the house for Real World Hollywood (it’s the same space, just redecorated), and spent a lot of time at the beginning showing us how these 1980s and 1990s idols were destroyed affected by their fame, but the whole goal of the series is to see who can become famous again. What?
The executive producers who screw with their heads include two former teen idols, Scott “Charles in Charge” Baio and Jason “Wayne from the Wonder Years” Hervey, and they’re infuriatingly manipulative, talking the guys into staying when they wanted to quit, or talking them down when one of their stunts–which weren’t even that entertaining–didn’t go over well. They seem to give a shit only about making their show work and getting their own old-ass faces on TV again, acting as if giving the cast members VH1- and MTV-related “prizes” as a reward at the end excuses their behavior.
Baio’s moralizing speeches were obnoxious, from the ones at the end of each episode to his narration.. “Some the guys still aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to get back in the spotlight. So we’ve asked Cooper to be really tough on the guys in therapy today. It’s time to get serious,” he said at one point. That “therapist,” Cooper Lawrence, comes off as even less genuine, at one point faking a whole section of a therapy section with ADR voice-over. Surprise, surprise, she has a brand-new book about fascination with fame.
Even the photography and editing of the interview segments was obnoxious, as it cut between normal shots and extreme close-ups of the idols’ wrinkled faces. Besides being annoying, that faux-artistic technique also seemed like another example of the show being unnecessarily cruel to its cast.
That cast was the only reason the series was in any way watchable, and seemed to experience some genuine emotion and growth despite the bullshit (I should probably give the producers credit for that growth but I won’t because they don’t deserve it). And Real World and Grind star Eric Nies was great comic relief. He’s remarkably different than he was in the early 1990s; now, he washed his hair with his own urine and said at one point that he was rejected by Joel Schumacher for the role of Robin in Batman because producers of that film were worried that Eric would upstage Val Kilmer.
Like that story, Confessions of a Teen Idol just didn’t make any sense, with its fame-bad, go-get-fame narrative. And for most, if not all, of the cast, this show is probably the most fame they’re going to get from this show.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sober House is the real thing, and it’s surprisingly even better than its parent, Celebrity Rehab, which is to say it’s much more difficult to watch. Whereas rehab tends to start negatively and then build to a positive conclusion, Sober House goes the opposite direction, toward an even more brutal reality.
It’s engaging but painful: painful to watch the cast members’ loved ones abuse and enable them, painful to watch them try so hard and then relapse so easily. They struggle with basic rules and push against boundaries, and against Jennifer Gimenez, who runs their house and fights them more than Dr. Drew or his staff ever had to during the rehab process.
There are some good things to hang on to, like Rodney King and new addition Andy Dick‘s commitment to sobriety, but the series mostly focuses on the drama that comes from watching those who fail. Like Jeff Conaway before them, Seth “Shifty” Binzer and Steven Adler appear to be incapable of moving in any direction except toward death, which is tragic.
Calling that entertainment is difficult, but like any good documentary, the combination of character, conflict, and consequence draws you in and is undeniably captivating.
Sober House: A