America took Paris and Nicole to
its bosom, invited them home, made passionate love to them, then kicked them
the hell out of bed (with cab fare).
That was the flash-phenomenon of
The Simple Life, Fox's brilliant "fish" out-of-water reality
show. Two tabloid honeys are unleashed to parts unknown, where behavioral
havoc, sexual excitement, culture clashes and "reality" ensue.
We're told that it won't be long before our Pacific coast princesses will be
plucking chickens rather than eyebrows. We as a nation rub our hands and pull
up a chair. Ain't nothing better than this.
We're meant to feel superior to
both the rich and the humble (on different levels), and the series show us –
wisely – that both envy and snobbishness are ultimately useless in this weary
The ensuing years of trash-talk
about the gals have clouded our judgment of this show. But best believe that
this joint is sharper and more in-focus than any paparazzo’s camera
Simple? Hardly. Complex is more
narrative gets right to the point, with a concept as old as The Beverly
Hillbillies: "they're giving up their plush lifestyle to live on a
farm. No money, no luxury and no clue. The time has finally come for these
city slickers to give up the comforts of home and head for the hard land."
There is absolutely no reason
for this set-up, but America loves this on their television screens anyway.
We've been conditioned to stop asking about the "why" of reality
(survivors on an island? A town full of children? A great race?)
Here, the attitude is adjusted
for the post-ironic, seen-everything generation. It's Lucy and Ethel with
belly rings, tats, and butt cracks.
What we learn, as we've learned
before and will never stop learning, is "the simple life ain't so simple
Nicole has never used a can
opener. Paris doesn't know what the word "generic" means. Curfew is
midnight. The girls have been raised to be sneaky liars, and they scrape by
on their charm and good looks. Even their pampered dog, Tinkerbell, has to
adjust. You do the math, and it works out to be a perfect equation.
Five weeks with the Ledding
family in the Ozarks gives us the instant karma we desire. What we don't
expect is that not everybody (the family or the gals) is as stupid – or as
smart – as we originally suspect.
Ultimately, the country folk
have the girls' number, and call them on it. This could be only because they
have the home-team advantage. They react to them with a quiet patience and a
parental discipline that actually becomes moving and emotional.
Meanwhile, the girls learn the
American values of work and reward. However, the reward they earn is not for
themselves but for the American people, who rejoice for them. Somehow, this
zany idea pays off, with an everyday low price. And they think that Walmart
is a place that sells stuff for walls.
Ledding says with the patience of a saint, "their clothing is a little
different to what most girls wear around here."
The Leddings, we come to
appreciate, are just what the girls need: honest folks who provide a
little common sense and boundary-setting. They are real, or to be more exact,
not the "real" of "reality," which is usually
"Ya'll are late,"
scorns the manager of Sonic Burger, when Paris and Nicole show up tardily as
usual. When they are forced to wear hairnets, Paris says, "I think I'm
gonna start crying. I feel so ugly." However, our tears have already
started flowing for her. Cruel and unusual punishment is not the American
Way, even though FDA standards are.
We delight in their humiliation,
which they toss back in our faces, hard and unforgiving. The girls always
win, even when they lose. And even when they lose, they are never
They pump gas. They milk cows
("who knew you could wake up a cow with a bell," one of them says,
it doesn't matter which). They share a bathroom. They punch a time card. They
man a kissing booth at the county fair. They drive a stick (a pickup truck).
However, we know that when the five weeks are over, they ultimately will be
leaving on a jet plane.
Everybody rubs off on each
other. It's a beautiful, quotable thing.
The highlight of the first
season comes when "Paris and Nicole reward themselves with a little
nightlife," and the gals warn the old folk, "tell your grandsons
we're in town."
Although their wild night in a
honky-tonk feels a bit scripted, the real reality still comes out dancin' the
Boot Scoot boogie. They dance with poles. They tongue-kiss boys who think
these hot chicks may as well be space aliens. They call an 86-year-old man "hot,"
which is worth the price of the entire DVD, which actually isn't much.
Superficiality, we learn, is
hard to shake. Paris sizes up the joint and complains, "There are two
good-looking guys out of a hundred," and one of those two they nickname
Chops, because of his big teeth. However, through some random genetic
mutation, he is actually male-model material, and the girls ask him what he
is doing in the middle of nowhere (although nowhere is where most models come
from). Chops becomes a temporary love interest/plaything for Paris, while
Nicole, less lucky in love, admits that she "loves men who sweat."
She's in the right place.
While the young Ledding son is
visibly excited by the girls staying at his house, they think of him as their
"little brother," which keeps the series from veering into the
sleazy. Good move. And the heart-to-heart talks that mom and pop have with
the girls are downright touching.
At last, the "pooped
princesses" engage in an emotional goodbye with the Leddings. The cab
driver picks up their heavy, bountiful luggage and asks them, "Ya didn't
lift the silverwear, did ya?"
No, but they lifted America's
hearts, and how did we thank them? By buying any tabloid on which they
appeared, and by trash-talking them and cutting them down until they became
mere echoes of what they originally were in Season One, which was barely much
to begin with. And that's the American Way. Simple.
©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted:
October 7, 2007.