Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 15, 2004)
Since the reality TV boon began in the late Nineties, it’s gone through a few different trends. Initially we got lots of hardship-based programs like Survivor and Fear Factor, but things broadened into other areas as well. Lately the big genre seems to be connected to dating, as we watch the attempts at romance of folks via shows like Joe Millionaire and The Bachelor.
Because of The Osbournes, another offshoot involved celebrities. This field seems to be dead, as The Osbournes went from sensation to senility in record time; it struck big for its first season but faded badly during its second.
It didn’t die off quickly enough to avoid spawning imitators. Probably the most notorious was the “E” Channel’s Anna Nicole Show. With the tubby famed widow at its forefront, it became a televised train wreck, as Anna Nicole Smith quickly earned the title of Most Embarrassing Former Playboy Playmate. Since that competition includes Pamela Anderson, this was no mean feat.
I normally avoid these reality TV shows, and I try to limit the television series I watch on DVD. They take up so much time for one measly review that they mostly aren’t worth the effort unless I really like the series. I made an exception for The Anna Nicole Show mostly out of perverse curiosity. I don’t have cable, so I never saw it on “E” – could it really be as bad as I heard?
Read on to find out my thoughts. This three-DVD set includes 13 regular episodes of The Anna Nicole Show. The following synopses come straight from the DVD’s liner notes:
House Hunting: “Anna Nicole and her crew go searching for Anna’s new dream home. Find out why Anna’s seeing pink and why she has such a fetish for bathtubs. Plus, it’s the Guess 20th anniversary party, and Anna Nicole joins in the wild celebration.”
The Introduction of Bobby Trendy: “Anna Nicole consults her interior designer, Bobby Trendy, about her new home. Find out what’s buggin’ Anna on her way to Trashy Lingerie. Also, Anna makes an appearance on Larry King Live”.
The Eating Contest: “Anna Nicole eats up a storm and wins an argument with her attorney. Also, Anna gets a tattoo touch up, plus Bobby Trendy delivers the goods. Finally, Anna’s assistant Kim says what’s on the tip of her tongue and gets the point.”
The Dentist: “Anna Nicole has a nail-biting experience at the dental office. Also, Bobby Trendy brings in more surprise furniture. Finally, Anna shows she’s a daredevil at Magic Mountain”.
Las Vegas, Part I: “Anna and her entourage take a trip to Sin City – Las Vegas. Anna gets the VIP treatment with front-row seats to the Chippendale dancers. Then Anna terrorizes pedestrians as she takes the wheel of a golf cart. Plus, Anna shares the love, buying lap dances for Howard and Kim.”
Las Vegas, Part II: “Sin City starts to take its toll as the gang hangs out in the company of some lovely strippers and then hits the road. Back in LA, private chefs hold a cook-off to see who will be making home-cooked meals. And don’t miss the return of Bobby Trendy!”
Pet Psychic: “Anna brings in a heavy-hitting friend to trade blows in the pink ring with the reigning king of luxurious furniture: Bobby Trendy. Plus, a pet psychic pays a visit to ‘communicate’ with Sugar Pie, who appears to be suffering from separation anxiety.”
Cousin Shelly: “Anna’s cousin arrives unexpectedly on Anna’s doorstep. Also, Anna displays some feisty attitude when she goes toe-to-toe with KROQ DJs after some less-than-flattering comments are made. Anna appears on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”.
The Driving Test: “In her quest for a California driver’s license, Anna studies hard for the written portion of her test, then hits the road with her instructor to learn the finer points of getting along with her follow motorists. Anna takes a detour to a local go-cart track to work on her ‘road rage’ attitude.”
NYC Publicity Tour: “Anna and her entourage head east for a promotional tour in New York City. Find out how Anna handles the fast-paced lifestyle, including interviews with Regis & Kelly and Howard Stern. After such a long day, there’s only one thing a woman has time for – shopping!!!”
Paintball: “Anna and friends declare war on each other in a friendly game of paintball. Anna, Kim and Sugar Pie make an appearance on Hollywood Squares. Plus, an evening of erotic puppetry, kinky shopping sprees, champagne and a drag show where the main attraction is Anna herself!”
Halloween Party: “Anna’s had enough of Bobby Trendy and takes out her frustrations on the luxurious furniture. Plus, it’s Kim’s birthday and what better way to celebrate than to throw a costume party?”
The Date: “Anna finally gets her man... or so it appears. Anna gets a date with a wealthy and successful businessman who’s looking for that perfect match. Tag along on Anna’s blind date and find out if this is the one for her.”
Before I watched The Anna Nicole Show, my friend Kevin warned me that it wouldn’t be as entertaining as I anticipated. At first I thought I might agree with him, as the first few episodes seem less than exciting or fascinating.
However, once the soap opera elements of the Bobby Trendy saga entered the series, it became more fascinating. Anna Nicole suffers from a lack of storyline. Other reality series focus on a certain goal – romance, stardom, riches – but at the start of this show, nothing like that existed. Once we saw more and more of the conflicts with Bobby, however, the series became more interesting. I must admit I kept watching to see the tension escalate between the various parties.
On the negative side, the Trendy saga plays up one concern with this sort of “reality” show: how real are these people actually being? At the start, Bobby comes across as slightly effeminate, but as the year progresses, he turns more and more flamboyant. It becomes readily apparent that he’s playing up his stereotypical traits for the camera, and while these remain entertaining, the obviously fake elements detract from the material somewhat.
Not that I watch Anna Nicole because I expect some really true to life escapades, and it remains totally unclear just how much of Anna Nicole is her and how much is a character. God, I hope that a lot of it’s an act, as I can’t imagine a more annoying personality. Tremendously narcissistic and self-absorbed, Anna clearly believes the world revolves around her. She consistently acts like a four-year-old as she whines, complains and pouts.
Possibly the saddest element of the series comes from the eagerness of those around her to satisfy Anna’s demands. She enjoys a long roster of hangers-on who strive to please her and please her every whim. The main offenders are her attorney Howard and her assistant Kim. They’re with her constantly and suck up to her incessantly. Actually, Howard gives her some crap from time to time, but he remains more of a lackey than a lawyer. We rarely see him deal with legal issues; instead, he just pals with her, gets drunk, and takes care of her needs.
I badly wanted to see someone bitch-slap Anna and tell her to grow up. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why she inspired so much devotion from these folks. As depicted on the series, she’s a genuinely unpleasant personality. She seems permanently dazed and intoxicated, and she almost never displays any concern for others. She forces the others to accede to her demands no matter how much they don’t want to do so, such as when she insists that Kim continue to go on amusement park rides even after one rollercoaster ride leaves her in tears.
Perhaps the series’ most telling moment comes from one of its deleted scenes. After a birthday party she throws for Kim, the latter gets very ill and starts to vomit in the backseat of their limo. As this occurs, Anna and Howard virtually ignore her so they can cajole another friend to come over and party some more! The pairing of Kim’s wretching with Anna and Howard’s oblivious insistence that the party continue seems stunning – have more superficial people ever been depicted on TV?
For the most bizarre social dynamic, “The Date” offers the series’ highlight. Here Anna goes out with a guy she meets through “The Millionaire’s Club”, a dating service that exists solely to pair really rich men with really hot women. Frankly, I can’t figure out who considers the obese and trashy Anna to be attractive. She looked pretty good back in her Playboy days, but here she just looks nauseating. I was genuinely shocked at how fat she’d become, and her sleaziness makes her even less appealing.
The dating service sets her up with Claude, an Internet entrepreneur. He seems like a fairly intelligent and nice guy, and given that his website deals with bikini models, it appears odd he’d have to sign up for a dating club and even weirder he’d want to meet porky Anna.
As the date progresses, he becomes just another of her sycophants. He tries way too hard to impress her and kisses her enormous ass through the entire date. Why? What could he possibly see in her? Claude seems terribly smitten, though he can’t truly find anything about her to be of interest. He comes across as fairly bright and cultured, and Anna is nothing other than trailer trash made good.
Speaking of which, one of the series’ characters makes Anna look like Princess Frigging Grace: Anna’s cousin Shelly. So trashy that even Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel would be embarrassed to be seen with her, Shelly seems pathetic, desperate, and even dumber than Anna. I never thought I’d witness Anna in the position as the classier one, but she seems much smarter and more sophisticated than the scummy Shelly.
Only one participant in this mess comes across with any sense of self-dignity: Anna’s teen son Daniel. Clearly a reluctant member of the cast, Daniel rarely appears on camera. Some of that likely stems from the adult nature of many of the show’s escapades; sex and alcohol dominate the programs, so obviously the underage Daniel can’t get involved in these.
I’d also guess that he doesn’t appear much due to his obvious discomfort with the proceedings. Occasionally he shows up due to his mom’s demands, such as we he exceedingly reluctantly goes along with an eating contest. Shots like that are when the series becomes the most painful and voyeuristic to watch; there’s no fun in watching a clueless beast like Anna push around her humiliated son. Plenty more shots like that probably exist, but the show’s producers were wise enough to leave them out of the finished programs.
Daniel still comes across with a level of maturity and class that make you wonder why he doesn’t file for legal emancipation. How in the world the spawn of Anna seems to be so well adjusted may go down as a formal miracle, though I did start to wonder if he owns anything other than Nirvana T-shirts.
Granted, one must take much of the material here with a shaker of salt. As I’ll discuss when I get to it, Anna’s commentary for one episode indicates that some of the events were fabricated for TV. That leads one to question the reality of much of the stuff. We also must wonder how often the participants play-act for the cameras. I believe that their core personalities are on display, but they may bring out more exaggerated versions of themselves for the show. I already mentioned that Bobby Trendy clearly accentuated his flamboyant tendencies more and more as the series progressed. Anna seemed pretty out of it from start to finish, so maybe that’s really what she’s like. Who knows? In any case, the series appears entertaining, but it loses a little of its bizarre impact if we know it’s been faked.
Fans of the show will be happy to discover the programs on the DVD all come uncensored. Mostly that means the bleeps that covered profanity disappear. Given the amount of vulgarity heard on this series, this means a lot of unaltered speech; I’d imagine some of the shows came across as little more than one long bleep. We also get some nudity from time to time. Thankfully, neither Anna not her butch assistant Kim ever show any skin, but we see some topless strippers, bare-assed Chippendales dancers, and full frontal from the scary Puppetry of the Penis guys. Scary Shelly flashes her bony chest during one episode as well, a sight that briefly led me to think of gouging out my own eyes.
Chalk up The Anna Nicole Show as a very guilty pleasure. I’m not proud of myself for watching it or enjoying it, but there it is. Maybe I just like the feeling of moral superiority I get from seeing the antics of an obese idiot, but the show offers a surprisingly addictive experience.