Because there seems to be an unwritten rule that any aging reality TV show can rejuvenate itself by slapping D-list celebrities into the formula, ABC has launched "Celebrity Wife Swap" (Tues., 9 p.m.). In theory, this is our chance to see just another bunch of regular (and/or weird) people live their lives, although some of these regular people have platinum records and hordes of domestic help. So, you know, just like regular folk!
Last night we got a "sneak peek" of the show, which followed a swap between Wilson Phillips singer Carnie Wilson and "Growing Pains" star Tracey Gold. Of course, the superficial differences between the two are the stuff we're used to seeing on the show. Carnie is a messy free spirit, while Tracey is a rigid control freak. Carnie's marriage is in the toilet, while Tracey is almost scarily in love with her husband. In the end, everyone learns something and, hopefully, both couples take home some lessons about how to enjoy life/schedule/feed their kids strained carrots. The end.
But the problem with celebrities inviting cameras into their homes for a show like this one is that more is usually revealed than either celebrity suspects. Stepping into Wilson's life made it entirely clear how far removed her day-to-day is from the norm. She doesn't know how to use a washing machine. She has two full-time helpers and a part-time housecleaner and yet her house is still a cluttered mess. Apparently, she cooks sometimes, sings occasionally and mostly hustles work from reality TV shows.
When Gold comes to the house, she finds herself sitting in the living room alone with nothing to do. The hired help escort the children to camp, Wilson's husband Rob holes up in his studio to noodle around on the guitar (oh, I'm sorry, he's "working"), and, as we know Wilson doesn't do laundry or clean, so Gold is left at loose ends. As viewers, so are we. What quickly becomes apparent is that Wilson and her husband are, as Wilson writes, "two ships passing in the night," and maybe both of them could stand to be a little more grounded in reality. Given that their house was very publicly revealed to be at risk for foreclosure this summer (guess that Wilson Phillips reunion was a saving grace), you'd think the hired help would be long gone and they'd both be picking up a dustpan to keep expenses down. Hell, you'd think they'd want to do something around the house just for the sake of having something to do. I mean, other than "Celebrity Wife Swap."
Gold, of course, wanted to do "Celebrity Wife Swap" to show off her phenomenal family life. Instead, we discover a family so constrained and controlled that even the couple's 14-year-old son seems incapable of letting loose and having fun with some harmless Silly String. While Wilson's life provided a dark view of unrestrained celebrity self-indulgence, Gold's shows us one of the many unfortunate side effects of child stardom. Gold's been working since she was a kid, and is now so tightly wound it seems entirely possible she might have a nervous breakdown if she gets the kids to swim class five minutes late. Granted, her control freakiness is still better than Gold's previous nemesis, anorexia nervosa, but other than having an immaculate house, it certainly doesn't look like much fun as presented here. When Wilson tells the kids there will be all play and no work under her new, revised rules, it seems like two of Gold's kids are going to actually explode with excitement. Wilson better brace herself, because if they find out where she lives they'll be arriving on her doorstep with small suitcases in hand.
While the show is tied up in a neat and tidy bow, as expected, the fact that we know a little more about these stars than we do about the Joe Schmoes of previous seasons, we're far less inclined to buy into the stock happy ending. If anything, "Celebrity Wife Swap" is, purely by accident, a chilling look at how a little fame can do more harm than good. That said, I'm still interested to see if Flavor Flav wears that big, dumb clock around his neck when he's at home watching television.
Are you watching "Celebrity Wife Swap"? Do you like the celebrity twist?