TV Article

Hard Time

In the series premiere of ''Being Bobby Brown,'' the title hero leaves jail and tries to reconnect with wife Whitney Houston, despite kids, fans, and another court date

Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston | MARITAL DUTIES Apparently, Brown is always ready to give his wife a hand
MARITAL DUTIES Apparently, Brown is always ready to give his wife a hand

''Being Bobby Brown'': Post-jail sex with Whitney

Being Bobby Brown reminds me of that old Joan Jett song ''I Hate Myself for Loving You.'' Like a destructive relationship you can't bring yourself to end, the show seduces you with its toxic charms. Changing the channel isn't an option. Not after Bobby discusses using his fingers to help wife Whitney Houston with her constipation: ''That turd was too big!'' (Insert the sound of me desperately sobbing here.) Or after Whitney, during one of her frequent and unpredictable mood swings, snaps, ''Bobby, I will knock the s--- out of you,'' in the middle of a romantic meal. Still, just because you can't stop drinking in the horror doesn't mean you won't feel a little hungover by the time the credits roll.

And actually, the series' ''How can I watch this?'' versus ''How can I not?'' dilemma makes sense. Being Bobby Brown is built on a foundation of contradictions — in its setup, in its subjects, and even in its title.

Think about it: If you were marketing this show, wouldn't you call it Life With Whitney? She's the bigger star, she's suffered the more dramatic career crash, and most important, she's a downright riveting, albeit frightening, presence whenever she's on the screen. If watching Bobby rub Preparation-H under his eyes (to reduce swelling caused by lack of sleep) in a hotel gift shop is TV gold, then seeing a super-skinny Whitney enter the store and lead her spouse in a spectacularly weird dance-and-chant routine (''glasses, glasses'') is TV platinum. (As for the bewildered look on the face of the shop's cashier — well, that's just Emmy worthy.)

There were times I imagine I looked nearly as confused when pondering Being Bobby Brown's many mysteries:

Is Whitney a victim of her own fame, or simply of her own ego? It was hard to feel sorry for a woman who showed up at a huge Caribbean resort with a camera crew in tow and a mike-pack strapped to her back, then got upset when fans started asking if they can snap photos. But it was hard not to agree with Whitney when she reprimanded a middle-aged man for interrupting her family's lunch: ''You are too big for that!'' Suh-nap!

Is Bobby a loving husband and father or a skeevy attention grabber? Watching the embattled former pop star hug his son tight after a month-long jail stay was a surprisingly touching moment. But then watching him and Whitney slam their bedroom door on daughter Bobbi Christina in their frenzied quest to get busy was the episode's thudding low point. I don't think little Bobbi was the only one screaming, ''No!'' when Whitney said to her, ''Be right back. Daddy tryin' to make a baby.''

(Oh, and sidebar time: It's actually sad, not hilarious when your daughter looks forward to playing hooky on daddy's ''court days.'' Just wanted to point that out.)

Is any of this actual reality? A few times during the show's first two episodes, I seriously couldn't tell how much (if at all) Bobby and Whitney were aware of the cameras. Like when Whitney, digging into her Chinese luncheon, informed the table that everyone's got a two-fanged creature in their rectum that needs to be professionally flushed out. At other times, though, the couple's antics felt screamingly self-conscious. ''Can I be any more real?'' Bobby asked at one point. ''Hell to the no!'' answered Whitney, strutting around like a madwoman in her conspicuous orange head scarf and movie-star shades.

Yet if Whitney and Bobby are indeed aware of the fly on the wall — even part of the time — why act so colossally unhinged? In Brown's case, it's easier to understand; he is about as likely to return to the pop charts as the guys who sang ''Macarena.'' What has he got to sell beside the sheer spectacle of his day-to-day life? Houston, conversely, seemed occasionally wise to the possibility that intimate cable TV footage is a double-edged sword. When Bobby blurted out the aneurysm-inducing reminder ''I've had to dig a doodie bubble out of your butt,'' you can imagine the wheels in Whitney's head turning in a ''what have I gotten myself into'' panic. But unable to stop Bobby's TMI tirade, she finally succumbs, declaring his proctological methods to be ''black love.''

Is it possible that Whitney was actually crying for help when she exclaimed, ''God, I just want to be a real person!''? The show provided only a few fleeting scenes that made me remember the mid-'80s thrill of hearing a new Whitney single on the radio, but it's precisely those times when the comedy of Being Bobby Brown ceases to amuse.

But what do I know? I could be overthinking things, really. Being Bobby Brown is also a program in which a clinically horny man beckons his wife to his hotel room by saying, ''Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. S---, get that ass here quick.'' If I'm spending 60 minutes looking for hidden meaning in that, maybe I'm the one whose reality needs a tune-up.

What did you think of Being Bobby Brown? Was it too good to be true, or too bad to be believed? And either way, will you watch next week?

Originally posted Jun 30, 2005