''Simple Life 2''

'2' Bad?

Paris and Nicole gas up the camper. But can the show continue to entertain us, or will it just annoy us? asks Nicholas Fonseca

Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, ... | LOST IN AMERICA Paris and Nicole can make anything porn-y -- it's their superpower
Image credit: The Simple Life 2: Sam Jones
LOST IN AMERICA Paris and Nicole can make anything porn-y -- it's their superpower

Paris and Nicole gas up the camper!

They're baaa-aaaack! Can you remember a time when Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie weren't cooing and gurgling their way into America's, um, hearts as they display their privileged ignorance? Can you believe it was just six months since last we saw the gruesome twosome pillaging their way through the heartland in their hit Fox show ''The Simple Life''? Not that you'd have noticed -- Paris' sex tapes, Nicole's misbehavior, and their willingness to show up on red carpets at crap like the ''American Idol'' finale (also on Fox! hmm...) meant they never really left in the first place, but last night, we were treated to the kickoff of 10 episodes of ''The Simple Life 2.''

And this time? Well, this time the girls are speeding across the country in a large, hot pink truck (not unlike the Bride's yellow You-Know-What Wagon in the ''Kill Bill'' movies) with a spankin' new Airstream trailer hitched to its ample behind. When the announcer intoned that the girls were without cash, credit cards, and lodging, it was pretty much a given that they'd soon be resorting to whatever silly tricks they could pull out of their designer hats in order to procure gas, food, a bed, and whatever else it is that makes Paris and Nicole happy.

For these two, of course, that basically means batting their eyelashes and playing (?) dumb. Their first challenge, a highway toll booth, was won as soon as Nicole began running from car to car asking for money -- and while I often find her behavior abhorrent (hey, I may laugh, but it doesn't mean I approve!), you have to hand it to Ms. Richie. She's something of a natural hustler: Convincing horny young men that spare change isn't enough. No, sir. She wants an extra five for gas, dammit, and she's going to get it!

The first episode revolved around Paris and Nicole's attempts to, er, do something at the Batten Family Ranch, which is run by an amiable feller named J.O. I'm surprised that the girls didn't make light of J.O.'s sexually suggestive first name, though they certainly noticed the creepy, pervy mirrors that hung over his bed. The entire episode was marred for me as soon as I saw that monstrosity; it only got worse by the end of the half hour, when J.O. modeled assless chaps for the girls. (I'm still a bit ill from that vignette, so let's divert attention by asking a random question: Did anybody else get the sense that the Batten's ranch is just a stone's throw from the home of ''Showbiz Moms and Dads''' tone-deaf boy artiste Shane Klingensmith?)

Paris' newsworthy horse-throwing accident was captured on film for this episode; ostensibly, the girls were there to shovel what Nicole called ''turdles'' and to ride horses. Paris, who claimed to have plenty of equine experience, soon asked her horse -- Old Red -- to hurry it on up, but instead got slammed right to the ground in the now-famous incident. Watching the helicopter hoopla that followed was great, unvarnished celebrity fun... but I was more intrigued by Paris' calm, collected manner throughout.

Say what you will about Ms. Hilton -- we all have -- but I love how wispy she remains, no matter her situation. Upon leaving an area hospital, Paris kindly stopped to explain what happened for camera crews, and as a member of the media, I would like to thank her for this kindhearted gesture; later, an obviously petrified J.O. apologizes profusely for Ol' Red's misdeed, and all Paris can say in response is (cue the baby voice): ''I hate him.'' It may be physically impossible for me to hate this girl, even if she is stupid.

The second episode provided more of the same. (What, you thought these two were actually going to exhibit growth this season?!) It's trouble from the get-go as the girls are pulled over by a cop for having some sort of ''ghetto-ass'' (Nicole's parlance, not mine) blue lights emanating from beneath the Airstream. As with so much of this show, I had a hard time believing that one single moment of their encounter with the po-po was anything but staged. Doesn't it seem a little too convenient that Paris got off with a warning when she was driving without a license, or that Fox casually tossed in the theme song to one of its longest-running programs, ''Cops,'' when the girls were being pulled over? Just askin'.

Episode 2 marked an important milestone for the girls, as they spent their first official night in a trailer park run by the amiable, laugh-filled Bernie, who pretty much offered to do everything but wipe their tushes when he realized that they were likely to blow the park to smithereens with their faulty microwave endeavors. Of course, he was also yammering on about the ''killer ducks'' on-site, and aside from a few shots of them squawking along in the dirt, I didn't see much cause for concern. Maybe Bernie's been spending too much time with ''Simple Life'' producers... or maybe he's been inhaling fumes with Maggie Dot, the empty old lady who turned down Nicole's request for a free breakfast with a blank stare. Nicole's response to Maggie Dot's indifference -- actually, her response to pretty much everything this season -- was the wonderfully all-purpose ''That's hot.''

Here's what's not: dressing up in a plastic turtle costume and attempting to perform underwater tricks. That's the base, revolting task handed down to poor Nicole -- always the Rhoda to Paris' Mary! -- at the Wikki Wichee Water Park, famed for its live ''mermaid shows.'' The show's producers tried to explain to Nicole that the sea turtle was ''the key'' to the entire show, but it seemed more like a creepy old costume that needed to be put to rest already. Paris had more luck looking lush and luscious, gliding around the water in a purple mermaid outfit. Of course, this ''job'' wasn't really why we were here at all; the bulk of the episode was spent on Paris and Nicole's botched babysitting efforts.

Asked to take care of the Wikki Wichee marketing manager's daughter, Kayla, the girls quickly managed to break every rule in the ''how to take care of kids'' book, trying to make Kayla say words like ''ass'' and ''bitch,'' dressing her up to look like a junior Christina Aguilera, and generally encouraging bad behavior. In the most obviously canned moment of the entire show, they managed to ''lose'' Kayla during a seemingly innocent game of hide-and-seek, though anybody with half a brain knew that producers had conveniently hidden her inside the Airstream -- so as to create the illusion that she'd actually gone missing in the dark woods surrounding the campsite.

I know, I know: I'm thinking far too much about this show. Look, I understand the value of watching these two act like fools as much as the next guy, but it's totally unreal moments like this that turn ''The Simple Life 2'' into a self-hating freak show along the lines of Anna Nicole's super-sad E! series two summers ago. The joy of the first season of ''The Simple Life'' came in watching Paris and Nicole react like small children to the everyday necessities most of us never notice; if the second season can hold on to that novelty, instead of creating minidramas, then I'd be happy to hand out my five dollars to the TV screen whenever the girls are running low on gas. Till then, they're gonna have to keep begging.

Originally posted Jun 17, 2004