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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > TV on DVD Reviews > The Simple Life - The Complete First Season

 

The Simple Life

The Complete First Season (2003) (20th Century Fox Home Video-2004)

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Copyright ©2007   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: October 7, 2007.

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 old world. 

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 lens. 

Simple? Hardly. Complex is more like it. 

The Dukes-of-Hazzard-style 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 after all." 

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. 

"Well," Grandma 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 smarmy. 

"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 losers. 

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.

Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: October 7, 2007.