I'm not proud. As you're about to learn.
When it comes to television, I like many award-winning shows. I really do. But it wouldn't be honest not to tell you that nothing has captured my heart in the last month or so quite like VH1's lowbrow — like, "my forehead is scraping the floor" lowbrow — reality show Confessions Of A Teen Idol. In the show, seven guys who used to be "teen idols" — more or less — live in a house together and...well, it's not actually sure what the point is.
They're under the tutelage of show producers Scott Baio (who definitely used to be a teen idol) and Jason Hervey (who played Wayne, the older brother, on The Wonder Years, and who...I don't think was a teen idol).
The inhabitants of the house are Adrian Zmed, of T.J. Hooker and Grease 2; Jamie Walters, of Beverly Hills, 90210 (where he played Donna's creepy boyfriend Pumpkin Patch Ray); David Chokachi, of Baywatch; Jeremy Jackson, also of Baywatch (he played little Hobie!); Christopher Atkins, of The Blue Lagoon; Billy Hufsey (of Fame and Days Of Our Lives); and Eric Nies, of the first season ever of The Real World.
It's a trippy little examination of short-lived fame; on the way the fleeting nature of celebrity inevitably leaves behind a huge number of people who were famous once and aren't anymore. And while some of them become famous just for being utterly washed-up and disastrous — well-covered reality-show territory, that — most of them don't. Lots of them are like these guys, sort of famous in that people still know who they are if reminded, but not famous enough to get very much work. A lot of them really don't know what they're supposed to do now.
Some have been out of show business entirely: Walters is a firefighter, and Atkins builds pools, and Eric Nies has become some kind of hemp-wearing Eastern-medicine hippie-guru guy. Some of them have found alternate routes: Zmed works on cruise ships, it sounds like, and Chokachi still sees himself as a viable actor.
More shame, after the jump...
The most mesmerizing moment came in the second episode when the guys all sat behind a two-way mirror watching a focus group of women view clips of them, both when they were famous and now. The women were asked to talk about whether they remember that guy, what they thought of him, and how he strikes them now. Here's what happened when they looked at Eric:
There's a lovely honesty to these clips, because the women aren't particularly trying to become famous, and they're not trying to hurt anyone's feelings. The woman who rattles off all the methods of hair removal she would recommend for Eric isn't saying it to be cruel; she's just...saying it. Noting that he doesn't look as cool as he thinks while tooling (ahem) around on that skateboard isn't a stunt; that's how a normal human reacts to that shot.
You'd be shocked — perhaps appalled — by how many people I know who adore this show. It's sort of endearing and goofy, cringe-inducing and corny, wicked and oddly harmless. These guys aren't going on drunken rampages or hurting anyone; they're trying to figure out what you're supposed to do when you're not famous anymore. (Many of them have had many years to figure it out, and they still haven't, which is why they're here.)
So it is actually interesting and it is sociologically provocative. But nothing — nothing — prepared me for Eric's explanation of how he keeps his hair so shiny. I warn you: it is not for the faint of heart. Or stomach.