''The Simple Life'': The Texas tanning-parlor massacre
Sometimes a hyphen can speak volumes. This week, Paris and Nicole's suspecting victims are the Lutz-Carrillo family, who, as their compound name suggests, aren't the show's usual rubes. Parents Alex and Jim seem to be actual living specimens of something I'd always considered to be a rare, nearly extinct breed: old hippies who followed their dream of getting back to the garden and stayed there. For 25 years, they've lived on a 40-acre Texas farm and raised their three boys. As Alex tells the girls, ''Sky was sitting on the bed when Zephyr was born.''
It's Sky, 22, and Zephyr, 18, who take most of the abuse this week. (The unnamed other son seems to have wisely pulled an Aimee Osbourne and is absent for most of the episode.) After the boys help Paris and Nicole unstuck their truck from the muck out front, the girls get them to sneak out -- Nicole tells them she always managed to get out of her house when she was younger even though she ''had security guards'' -- and go to a tanning parlor. The producers kindly provide some lingering shots of the girls on the tanning beds (naughty bits covered), which are accompanied by some porn-blues guitar. Then the real fun begins when the Coppertoned cuties give the boys splotchy spray-on tans.
Further humiliation ensues after Nicole tells the boys, ''We're gonna try to get you some girlfriends, so you can get laid. You look like it hasn't happened in a while.'' Having rustled up some girls at a bar called The Spider House, Paris and Nicole make the boys reveal their mottled bellies and backs. When that somehow fails to impress the local ladies, P. and N. bring over a young man. Look, I figure if Sky and Zephyr made it through a Texas high school with names like that, they can survive having their friends see this scene on TV, but I feel for their would-be date.
The next day Paris and Nicole dress up a chicken that wandered into their trailer (gee, I wonder how that happened), do some easy chores around the farm and then drive off with the trailer still plugged into an extension cord (whoa, no one was there to help them unplug it!).
If these hick-baiting high jinks all seem a little reminiscent of last week's show, not to mention all of last season, that's because they are. Even Nicole's earlier dirty CB-radio chat (''Do you have any cream that's edible I can lick off you sexy truckers?'') feels familiar. Fans are no doubt already starting a drinking game in which you sip after each time one of the girls says, ''That's hot.'' Sometimes it seems that the two are racing to see who can say the catchphrase first, other times that they're trying to say it at the same time so they can do ''Jinx -- owe me a Coke.''
The only novelty this time was the subtle attempt to set up the Lutz-Carrillos as a potential ''Texas Chainsaw Massacre'' family. Jim had the sort of dry humor that can be made to look just plain creepy when you follow everything he says with the right twoinky sound effect or, when that isn't enough, horror-movie music. Sure, the scene in which the family tells affectionate stories about the upbringing of the pig they're eating for dinner was a little creepy. Jim looks a bit foolish when trying to get White Top the sheep to dance (although he does use the opportunity to plug his website, on which he sells silver jewelry). And after the girls say that Sky is just the right age, Jim probably shouldn't have horned in with ''58's pretty good.''
But what's really scary to me is Paris's remarkable lack of emotion: Even when she's playing frightened -- as when she says, ''I don't want to go back out there; they're freaking me out'' -- she speaks in the flat tones of someone recording an outgoing answering-machine message. That voice gives a truly eerie overtone to the scenes in which the girls playfully torture the boys. Nicole at least seems to be sharing the joke with her victims; Paris seems coldly removed from the action even while perpetrating it. When Paris nuzzled a baby chick during her and Nicole's farm chores, for a second I honestly feared she was going to twist its little head off, turn to the camera and intone, ''That's hot.''
Is ''The Simple Life'' cooling off for you too?