Dr. Drew Pinsky, foreground right, and from left, the patients Mary Carey, Jessica Sierra, Jaimee Foxworth, Jeff Conaway and Ricco Rodriguez, and the counselor Bob Forrest.
Further Adventures in America’s Favorite Pastime, ‘Addictionology’
Addicts come in many guises, but the most pernicious are substance-abuse abusers — those reckless, incorrigible souls who cannot stop bingeing on the weaknesses of the rich and semi-famous.
The Spears family at long last rallied this week to stage an intervention, hiring a specialist to confront the talk-show psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw after he visited Britney Spears in the hospital and began preparing a special about her meltdown. He also spoke to “Entertainment Tonight” about Ms. Spears’s case.
“What’s wrong with Dr. Phil’s statement is that he made a statement,” is how Lou Taylor, a Spears family spokeswoman, put it on “Today.”
Dr. Phil backed down and canceled the special, but he still appears to be in denial about his problem, insisting on his Web site (drphil.com) that Ms. Spears’s condition was “too intense” for him to proceed with the program.
Dr. Phil’s case is alarming, a cautionary tale of how a few appearances on “Oprah” can serve as a gateway drug to full-blown addiction. “Dr. Phil,” now in its sixth season, includes “Dr. Phil House,” a “Real World”-type group encounter with therapy; it’s one bong hit away from “The Maury Show.”
But Dr. Phil is hardly alone. “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew,” a new series on VH1, begins tonight. It’s a searing, unflattering but still celebratory look at eight worst-case-scenario addicts, including the actor and sitcom star Jeff Conaway (“Grease,” “Taxi”), a porn star, two wrestlers, a former “American Idol” contestant and Brigitte Nielsen. Needless to say it is habit-forming.
The V.I.P. patients at the Pasadena Recovery Center are in the hands of Dr. Drew Pinsky, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Southern California and a host of the radio show “Loveline.” Dr. Drew, as his patients call him, is a calmer, more self-effacing presence than Dr. Phil, but even he displays some worrisome early symptoms of camera dependence. He describes himself as an “addictionologist” and in one scene arrives at the recovery center in his off-duty clothes, a tight-fitting black T-shirt and jeans.
VH1 is the nation’s No. 1 enabler, a cable channel that specializes in exposing and exploiting celebrities and whose drug of choice is impaired behavior. The E! network put Anna Nicole Smith on camera, but VH1 was home to “Hey Paula” and took over “The Surreal Life” from WB, tossing minor, fallen celebrities together in a house with a camera and no inhibitions. VH1 is also stocking the minibars of the cast of “Flavor of Love” and its many spin-offs. And “Breaking Bonaduce,” a reality show that tracked the addiction and suicidal impulses of the former child actor Danny Bonaduce, got VH1 in trouble for standing by and filming Mr. Bonaduce when he drank and drove, boasting that a crash would make “great television.”
“Celebrity Rehab” is a halfway house solution to the network’s problem. On one hand it’s not a joke. It’s almost as scary as the HBO show “Rehab” or “Intervention” on A&E, which focus on ordinary addicts and relentlessly trace the arc of abuse, recovery and relapse.
VH1 is selling its series as a form of community service, almost as if to expiate past excesses. But “Celebrity Rehab” is actually a form of co-dependence, a channel making its fortune from other people’s misfortune, and unfortunate people relying on a network to revive their careers, a Quaalude pro quo.
The series exposes all the horrors of addiction, but lightens them with the familiar voyeuristic elements of “The Surreal Life” and other soft-core scorn: silly celebrity tantrums, kooky mishaps and bosomy women in skimpy halter tops bonding and confronting one another. The show offers desperate people a last chance to detox, but it’s also a last call for show business has-beens who crave one more crack at fame and will allow cameras into their treatment center bathrooms and therapy sessions for the opportunity.
Not surprisingly, two of the in-patients, Ms. Nielsen and Joanie Laurer, a former wrestler and actress known as Chyna Doll, are alumnae of “The Surreal Life,” and Mr. Conaway was a contestant on “Celebrity Fit Club” another VH1 spectacle, until he dropped out to go to rehab, a different one. A porn actress, Mary Carey, says she wants to quit drinking but gets upset when her sex toys and videos are taken away.
Mr. Conaway is the saddest case, hunched over in a wheelchair, his speech so slurred it sometimes requires subtitles. In the first episode he has a seizure and is rushed to the hospital. His return from the E.R. is not triumphant. “I need you to” urinate standing up, Dr. Drew tells him in the bathroom, kindly but firmly. The camera does not enter the room with the doctor and his moaning patient but hovers outside, peeking through the open door as if hinting for an invitation.
And it won’t be long. “Celebrity Rehab” reveals a lot about substance abuse in the darkest shadows of Hollywood, but it never just says no.
CELEBRITY REHAB WITH DR. DREW
VH1, Thursday night at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.
John Irwin and Damian Sullivan, executive producers for Irwin Entertainment; Dr. Drew Pinsky and Howard Lapides, executive producers; Michael Hirschorn, Jeff Olde, Jill Holmes and Noah Pollack, executive producers for VH1.