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And now back to your regularly scheduled 'reality'

By ERIC DEGGANS, Times TV Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

HBO has billed it as an unprecedented look into Monica Lewinsky's world: her first in-depth interview since the expiration of the immunity agreement that kept her from talking about the circumstances of her 1998 arrest.

But here's all you really need to know about tonight's nearly two-hour HBO documentary, Monica in Black and White, airing at 10: It's everybody else's fault.

It's Bill Clinton's fault for responding to her flirting. It's the media's fault for sensationalizing the story. It's Linda Tripp's fault for blowing the whistle on her. It's Ken Starr's fault for bullying her.

That thong-flashing incident? "It was a very small gesture that was done in a way that looked like it could have been an accident. I didn't know what was going on." Her decision to bed the most powerful married man in the free world? "I don't think it's appropriate. But I think it's more inappropriate for the person who's married."

And just as she did during an awkward news conference with TV critics in January, Lewinsky breaks down in tears midway through, cementing her effort to appear an abject victim.

Scheduled to mark the return of HBO's fine America Undercover documentary series, Monica in Black and White edits together responses from three occasions when Lewinsky faced a crowd of college students and others, taking audience questions. It's also another doomed attempt by the former White House intern (who was paid an undisclosed amount for participating) to salvage her reputation while boosting her public profile.

Viewers, get ready: This travesty is just the start of a new reality TV flood headed to screens this month -- shows pushed out of February by networks that feared taking on NBC's Winter Olympics telecast. The tally includes a UPN series featuring families competing for a new home and a Fox series in which notables enter the boxing ring in a real-life rendition of Celebrity Deathmatch (Amy Fischer and Tonya Harding go at it in the first episode, of course).

The sparks really start flying this week with Lewinsky's show and a raft of programs that must be seen to be believed.

Here's a thumbnail look at what else is coming:

No Boundaries, 7 tonight, WTTA-Ch. 38: Yet another Survivor ripoff, this one is so closely sponsored by Ford that it uses the company's advertising slogan as the title (a Ford truck is also a grand prize). The premise is old hat for reality junkies: 15 contestants trek over 30 days and 2,000 miles to the Arctic Circle. They drop one participant every two days until a winner gets $100,000 and the truck. Viewers who last that long should get a truck, too.

The Wayne Brady Show, 8:30 p.m. Monday, WFTS-Ch. 28: Instead of faux "reality," Brady offers a fun, surprising variety show for the next seven weeks that's more consistently entertaining than anything the networks have offered in years. Brady, an Orlando native discovered on the improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, duets on Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell tunes with Mya (of Lady Marmalade remake fame) and turns a TV newscast into a sidesplitting musical. Stuck between reruns of My Wife and Kids and ABC's lame-o game show The Chair, Brady has a serious challenge. Still, the suits should forget about plans to give this guy a daytime talk show; instead, let this inspired comedic actor and singer take over Saturday Night Live. Immediately.

Being , 9 p.m. Monday, VH1: It's not a joke, example No. 1: VH1 is actually airing a reality show that features footage from a camera perched on a pop star's glasses, presumably so we can feel what it's really like to lip synch on Total Request Live and hang with reporters from Tiger Beat. You can't help wondering how much VH1 paid Colombian singer Shakira to take on the first episode in this turkey, which watches her prepare for a big concert in Miami. No matter how big the payday, it wasn't enough. (One hint: When wearing camera glasses, be sure to brush your hair out of the way. Really.)

The Osbournes , 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, MTV: It's not a joke, example No. 2: MTV is actually airing a reality show that follows heavy metal singer Ozzy Osbourne and his family. Watching The Osbournes can feel a little like trying to decipher a foreign film; the family's British accents are so thick, you need subtitles (at least for the parts that aren't curse words, which are bleeped). Osbourne, who in the past has acknowledged taking Prozac and Valium to balance his moods, stumbles around his home like a tattooed Homer Simpson, bewildered by his manager-wife's steely authority and his two kids' bratty adolescent cruelty. It may not be billed as a comedy, but it surely should be.

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