|Simple Life, The: Complete First Season|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 20 January 2004|
It’s amazing how spoiled people can actually become but still maintain at least a veneer of decency. Teaming ever-more-famous Hilton heiress Paris Hilton and not-doing-too-bad-herself Nicole Richie, daughter of Lionel, “The Simple Life” is yet another in what is becoming a staggeringly long list of reality shows and is at times enthralling, appalling, humorous, tedious and just plain bizarre.
The premise of the show is that Hilton and Richie are flown to an unknown destination and must then get by without a cell phones, credit cards or access to their bank accounts. The girls have a goodbye party at the Hilton mansion in Bel Air and then leave on a private jet. They touch down in Arkansas and find a beat-up pickup waiting for them with a note and directions to their new homestead. They throw their Louis Vuitton luggage in the back and then drive into Altus, Arkansas, a sleepy farm community of 812. Once there, they are put up by a family of really pretty normal and down to earth people, consisting of parents, three sons, and two grandparents who are around a lot.
The first episode contains a lot of awkward pauses between the two parties, as they realize they have very little to say to one another. Paris and Nicole are dressed to the nines in skimpy outfits and shoes that have no place on a farm. They find a covered well in their room and lots of bugs in it. To give an example of what we’re dealing with here, when told that the hole in the ground is a well, Paris asks, “What’s a well?”
Almost each one of the seven episodes includes a portion where the girls go to a job (always arriving late) and then proceed to screw up (either accidentally or intentionally, usually both) and then get summarily fired. They have to work these jobs because they have no other way to obtain money. Some of these exploits are sort of amusing but in a mean-spirited way. It’s not really very funny to watch them bottle milk at a dairy and add water to the bottles to make the job go faster. This sort of thing would be more amusing if you promised yourself never to think about how what they do affects anyone else. Many of their antics leave the viewer staring at the TV in awe of the crassness and ignorance of these two young women, charming and pretty as they are.
Meanwhile, the family, whose father, Albert, is a straightforward if disciplined man (in other words, he’s a father) who must deal not only with the culture clash, but also with the fact that the girls never do any of the chores they are assigned and continually cause the family to be seen in an increasingly poor light by the rest of the community. While many people, young and old, are shocked by Paris and Nicole, the men, young and old, cannot help but be captivated by the two beauties. This is where many of the later episodes lean, as both Paris and Nicole find themselves partnered up with young Arkansan men. Can Paris and Nicole make it the entire 30 days without losing their sanity, driving others insane, or putting too many spiky heels in cowpies? Of course they can, because this is all a set-up by a major network. It’s doubtful that anything serious would have happened to anyone and it can only be sincerely hoped that the family and entire town of Altus was compensated handsomely for this debacle.
Granted, there are funny moments here, but whether the ignorance of these girls is humorous, sad, or just plain infuriating is mostly a matter of taste. At times, they are very sweet and it is never possible to get angry at Paris or Nicole, either because they are polite for the most part, or because they are just so clueless that 90 percent of the time, they don’t realize they’re being insulting. Overall, though, there seems to be something too fake about this reality show. Either it isn’t set up properly or the way it is edited tries to make too much out of nothing, but “The Simple Life” misses out on what could have been a good thing.
The only special features are four outtakes, none of which are really very funny. In fact, one of them shows Paris packing for the trip with her sister Nicky, and all this does is reinforce the complete lack of real-life perspective those girls have. Not needing to have a job is one thing, but being almost totally ignorant of most of the world is another. The other included feature is the presentation reel that Fox originally shot with Hilton and Richie as the pitch for network executives. This shows them working at a dog grooming salon somewhere north of L.A., where they do some things right and others wrong, just like in the rest of the show. Seeing this, it becomes a bit more clear why “The Simple Life” became a show at all, beyond the network craze for reality programming. The girls are pretty, somewhat endearing, and at least try to get the dogs groomed and looking nice. However, Paris tells the camera that she loves animals, so this might be the only reason they survived the day. During the rest of the series, she is accompanied much of the time by her tiny dog Tinkerbell. This is a dog that wears not only shirts, sweaters and bows, but also shoes (probably designed by Donna Karan).
This is straight-to-video from video, with no improvements made. Unfortunately, either in an effort to hide one thing here or accentuate another there, the producers often zoom in on the video image, which diminishes quality and crispness. There are also few times when the pacing of the program bogs down a bit, leading one to wonder just what the girls were doing most of the time, since some of the storylines seem to take way too long to develop. The sound is done professionally enough, as crews have a lot of experience with reality shows, and wireless and lavalier microphone technology allows for the capture of high-quality sound. Essentially, this is a DVD without any frills whatsoever. Let’s call it “The Simple DVD.”