Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Celebrity Rehab: Series Premiere

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I can think of four reasons to participate in Celebrity Rehab: 1) You actually want to get clean. 2) You're clinging to the pathetic hope that appearing on reality TV–even reality TV that actually crashes through the bottom of the good-taste barrel–will somehow reignite your long-dormant, not-that-exciting-to-begin-with career. 3) You just need to be in front of cameras. 4) You blew whatever money you earned as a bona fide celebrity on booze and/or blow, and rent is due on your shitty Sherman Oaks studio apartment.

These reasons are, of course, not mutually exclusive, and it's the mélange of sad-ham flavors (thanks, Patton Oswalt) that make Celebrity Rehab the KFC Famous Bowl of reality television: ridiculous, painful, lumpy, salty, and something you'll take a fevered bite of–and then be washed with a feeling of shame. Want to prevent your daughter from heading out to Hollywood to take a shot at fame? Don't warn her about the longshot nature of the business or even the casting couch: Show her that once you've got the fame, life can still be incredibly ugly, maybe even uglier.

And that's just Dr. Drew Pinsky, the Loveline host who's always presented himself as a voice of reason and calm in the wacky world of sex advice. Any credibility he might have had is out with the window with CR, though. He's the insanely self-serious ringleader of the group, who ostensibly wants to bring serious problems to light–and help people. His voiceover at the show's beginning: "Celebrity addiction is one of the hottest topics in the country," he says, as if that makes the most sense in the world, and justifies his time and life. (And yes, I share in his pathetic-ness by enjoying this type of thing–more on that later.)

First, though, the cast: I didn't recognize half of them, and I'd like to think I'm at least slightly plugged into the pop-culture beast.

Jeff Conaway: You might know him from Taxi or Grease, but probably not from much in the last 20 years. He's Celebrity Rehab's most immediate mess, but I'm never sure–even when Dr. Drew calls an ambulance for him at the end of the episode–whether Conaway is auditioning for serious roles in Lifetime movies, or if he's actually that completely fucked up. His is the first "home video" shown, too: In a horribly sleazy move, VH1 apparently had all of the participants use their drug of choice (Conaway's is a massive pile of prescription pills, chased with cocaine) on camera, but clearly labeled it "home video," so they wouldn't be complicit in law-breaking. Way to go, VH1. Jeff's live-in girlfriend looks like she might be a catalyst for trouble; Dr. Drew clearly thinks she's an addict, too, and she wants to visit every day.

Joan "Chyna Doll" Lauer: Beastly former pro wrestler and reality-TV staple Chyna Doll always strikes me as unhate-able–she was never even really famous, and she just wants to be on TV and hang out. "I don't need rehab," she says at one point, before talking casually about cutting, bulimia, and childhood abuse, a.k.a. her tickets to the big show. She'll bring a sense of professionalism to Celeb Rehab, as ridiculous as that sounds. She's a pro at this, which isn't necessarily a good thing.

Seth "Shifty Shellshock" Binzer: Talk about tenuous definitions of fame… Tattooed mess Seth Binzer was co-lead-singer of a band, Crazytown, whose claim to fame is one of the most annoying songs of the last decade, "Butterfly." ("Come my lady, come come my lady, be my butterfly, sugar, baby.") Seth brings beers to rehab, and his "home video" features a crack pipe and a wacky attempt to buy drugs in front of the camera. He's #1 in the dead pool, if I'm putting money down, even higher than Jeff Conaway, who looks dead already.

Mary Carey: Conflicted porn star Mary Carey wants to get clean because her mother tried to kill herself by jumping from a four-story building, and Mary made a deal with God that if her mom didn't die, she'd get out of porn. (Take that, Writer's Guild Of America!) As horribly annoying as Carey is, she might be the most emotionally complex character here: She bounces between extremes of regret and joy, and actually seems stone-stupid enough to forget one completely while she experiences the other. One minute she's blubbering about her life, the next she's explaining to Dr. Drew's assistant why she brought her own porno film, Mary Carey-braned dildos, and buttplugs to rehab. And giggling. And trying to touch Seth Binzer's dick.

Jessica Sierra: Because I'm nowhere near the American Idol ship (I prefer my reality TV to bring people down, not boost them up, so I just occasionally watch the tryouts), I had no idea who Jessica Sierra was. She's only been doing drugs for eight months, but already seems pretty good at it. In her "home video," she's recovering from an unspecified operation, drinking, and puking.

Brigitte Nielsen: Half of the most mentally challenged married couple in Hollywood history (and that's saying something), Brigitte Nielsen got famous by humping Sylvester Stallone, but that train left long ago, and she's made a career of reality TV–and by also being part of the most mentally challenged unmarried couple in Hollywood history by humping Flavor Flav. She's like a huge Nordic clown, but like her friend Chyna–they were on The Surreal Life together–she's tough to dislike. She's grinding out a living.

Jaimee Foxworth: Foxworth has one of the most amazing celebrity stories around. She was a regular on Family Matters (a.k.a. "the show that birthed Urkel"), but was written out of the show without explanation. That's right, she just fucking disappeared from a TV show, because they didn't need her. No "she went to summer camp," no very special episode in which she is diagnosed then suddenly dies of leukemia, nothing. She just disappeared. No wonder she started smoking Bob Marley amounts of weed every day and doing porn. (Porn name: Crave.) Likelihood of breakout role in Celebrity Rehab: low.

Daniel Baldwin: He's arguably the biggest celebrity of the bunch, but there's a problem: DANIEL BALDWIN IS NOT ON DRUGS. That's right, he's been sober for years, and he's just here to "keep his sobriety on track" or something else that translates to "I want to be on TV, please." It looks like he's going to be a shit-stirrer, so that's something. He used to smoke cocaine, so that's something, too. Oh, and apparently all the boobs in the house are going to endanger his sobriety later in the season.

And those are our addicts, people. Let's give them all the encouragement they need to get clean and get their lives together. Short of that, let's put some cameras in front of them and hope the trainwreck looks like beautiful fireworks. This is my kind of reality TV–the mostly honest kind, the schadenfreude kind. A small part of me feels bad for watching it, but then I think to myself: "I'm just doing what Jeff Conaway would want me to do–help him help himself."

Grade: B, and it's only up from here, I think.

Stray observation:

— Daniel Baldwin stroked Jeff Conaway's arm. It was weird.

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