Reality show stars: First we watch them melt down, drink, fight, and screw up every human relationship they have, and then we watch them go into therapy for it. There’s something unbelievably icky about the new VH1 show Couples Therapy, a series in the vein of Dr. Drew’s awkward issues-a-thon Celebrity Rehab and its spin-off Sober House. The participants are almost all sub-D-listers, the sort-of-famous-once folks that tabloid photographers only go for if a girl from 16 And Pregnant isn’t available for the third page headline. Even the montage of magazine covers that introduces the show is made up of obvious fakes, unless there really is an intrepid D-list celebrity rag named Vs Weekly.
There’s Angelina of Jersey Shore fame, best known for totally blowing her chance at a lucrative reality-show franchise and using trash bags as suitcases, who apparently hooked up with former Next Food Network Star Chris Nirschel, a self-described “culinary bad boy” whose most rebellious moves are apparently toward unfashionable hats. There’s Hulk Hogan’s ex-wife, Linda, and the flannel shirt to her skintight leopard pants, 23-year-old Charlie Hill. Themost recognizable and far and away most entertaining contestant is DMX, who acts as if someone tricked him into coming onto the show when he was drunk. That may well be true: His partner on the show is his wife Teshera, from whom he’s been estranged for six years. The only couple who look like they actually like each other are ex-Bachelor contestant Vienna Girardi and former Bachelorette hopeful Kasey Kahl.
Leading them all down the path to public discord, weeping, and healing, is Dr. Jenn Berman, a Hollywood couples therapist who assures us that these couples are here to figure out whether they’re meant to be or toxic for each other. It’s unclear if it’s knowing or thoughtless when she expounds on Kasey and Vienna’s relationship breaking apart on Bachelor Pad with “Relationships are tough enough. Imagine airing all your dirty laundry on television!” We don’t have to imagine. We’ve seen almost everyone in the cast blow up at one partner or another. Not to mention that all this work seems more for the benefit of maintaining their quasi-celebrity status than healing a relationship. Only two of the couples are even together when they arrive, and the others seem about to dash up against the rocks (Angelina and Chris) or entirely in it for the exposure (ahem, Linda and Charlie).
The first episode of Couples Therapy is all about introducing us to the couples’ histories of disagreement, both petty and not-so-petty. DMX arrives with a bottle of Hennessy in his hand, confused at the retreat’s “no substance’ policy. The pressed-upon counselor allows him to have a final swig for good luck before confiscating the Henny, but it doesn’t dissuade DMX from his premonition that “This is going to fucking suck.” DMX and his wife, who adorably refers to him as “X,” have been split up for years due to his infidelity. Their main goal seems to be a noble one, which is to get their relationship in order for the sake of their four children. But DMX is off to a rough start, yelling at Teshera about his right to be with whatever woman he wants, marriage be damned. It’s enough to shock Angelina, who has seen her share of serious shit.
Angelina treats the whole thing like camp, showing up to the group meeting in her pajama pants and snapping about Chris’ choice to order his shoes. It’s heartbreaking, in a way. Angelina’s complaints about Chris seem to be that he’s not guido enough for her, that he doesn’t gel his hair or wears the wrong earrings. Chris’ main look is a sort of cheerful bamboozlement. Linda and Charlie’s meet-cute story was something about a “rhinestone thong” and “sexy feet” that I immediately repressed, but the gist of their troubles is that Charlie is almost 30 years younger than Linda, so she worries that she won’t be able to give him “a normal life.” Watching the four couples meet each other is one of the most entertaining parts of the show. Angelina was starstruck by Linda, and DMX was blasé. “I didn’t know what the situation was,” he said. “I didn’t ask because I don’t care.”
Next week, another couple culled from the dregs of reality shows past joins in: Reichen Lehmkuhl and Rodney Santiago of The A-List: New York. Odds are that they won’t provide the emotional grounding that the group needs, and that none of the participating couples will get much more out of the show than a paycheck and a bump in their Google alert count. Future episodes promise to show a lot of their abs though, which I’m sure will be equally relationship-building.