There are few grades I regret having issued; my B for the first season of ''The Simple Life'' is one of them. At the time, having seen two episodes, I figured Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, separated from their cash and credit cards and dispatched to rural America, were going to be shaken out of their pampered complacency by ordinary folks unimpressed with the pair's tabloid notoriety. After all, where else was the entertainment going to come from, if the girls didn't truly engage in ''the simple life''?
Well, turns out The Simple Life 2: Road Trip devolved into a weekly half hour that could have been called ''Eeewww...Rubes!!'' Paris and Nicole imposed their condescending rudeness and sense of privilege upon everyone they met. ''The Simple Life'''s popularity signaled more of a cultural shift than I'd anticipated: Americans used to identify with ordinary people; now, apparently, an awful lot of us just want Paris Hilton's credit-card limit and find ordinary people to be contemptible squares who don't understand that life is about getting away with as much as you can. And don't give me that oh-it's-just-a-TV-show whine: As usual, TV tells us more about the culture of the moment than you and I are often willing to admit.
In ''The Simple Life 2: Road Trip,'' the duo boards a pink truck hitched to an Airstream trailer and journeys from Miami Beach to Beverly Hills. Paris and Nicole waste no time in exploiting the masses. They wheedle cash for highway tolls and gas from young men who, even if they're wise to this now nationally known joke, are either too polite or too embarrassed to refuse. The chums' first stopping point is a Florida rodeo ranch run by J.O. Batten, a gruff middle-aged man who lives to regret the remark that ''those girls appear to be relatively intelligent.'' Taken horse riding, Paris, who snaps that she's been riding horses her ''whole life,'' kicks her steed to speed up -- and promptly falls off and gets stepped on. The voice-over intones: ''When you're worth $350 million, you take every possible precaution.'' Cut to a helicopter transporting Paris to a Tampa hospital. Barely the worse for her minor spill, Paris and her pal play ol' J.O., who says he feels bad about the incident. Nicole simpers, ''Do you have any ice cream? Because that usually makes girls feel better.'' The pathetic flirting never stops -- but my watching of ''The Simple Life 2'' has.