Forget politics. It's plastic surgery that divides our once-great nation. Television (pandering to middle America since 1950!) wags its glowing finger at those who dare indulge in elective beautification through endless freak parades on the daytime talk shows and countless in-depth exposes during Sweeps Week on your local news channel. But out on the coasts, there are entire communities, full-blown social strata, where looking like a ventroloquist's dummy is normal. Where you'd be out of place if you didn't have bonded teeth, fake breasts, a Tupperware forehead, hyper-Bowie cheekbones, and lips that should be signed by Gerald Scarfe.
It's those people that the execrable new Oxygen reality series Addicted To Beauty attempts half-heartedly to exploit for our amusement. The show takes place at Changes Plastic Surgery And Spa in La Jolla, California and primarily stars the staff of the "And Spa" portion. Dianne, the "CEO," is a socialite who used to run the spa portion of (one assumes) her husband's plastic surgery clinic. Now that they're getting divorced, she's teaming up with Changes Plastic Surgery, a practice run by "I inject myself with Botox so I developed a formula that minimizes the pain" Dr. Lee. That means she gets to inflict her clueless staff on Dr. Lee's team of medical receptionists and nurses, which would be great fun if we got to see any of their interactions. (Brief glimpses of a nurse, an insurance coordinator, and a couple of nail technicians at another business constitute the only appearances by normal people — e.g., non-would-be-actors — in the hour-long show.)
Why promote a plastic surgery lifestyle? "If you don't feel beautiful on the outside, you won't feel beautiful on the inside," claims "concierge" Ronnie in the opening montage of interviews. Hm, that's the exact opposite of what my parents and the self-esteem culture of the 1970's taught me. But inside the La Jolla upper-crust bubble, it makes perfect sense: You are how you look. So from the get-go there's something twisted and deeply hypocritical about a show whose subjects eagerly agree to be portrayed as freaks in order to promote their business of producing more freaks.
If there was some awareness of that disturbed dynamic, the show could be fascinating. But no, this is standard-issue Bravo-style fare: The management and employees of some looks-obsessed business (gym, salon, tattoo parlor) put on their made-to-order TV personalities and gin up some conflict. It's a formula that is far more nourishing in tiny doses on The Soup, with Joel McHale filling the giant void where irony should be found. An hour of watching "drama" so fake it's shocking — the assistant everybody hates from the old spa is rehired and gives everyone the evil eye! the boss decides to throw a party in one week and inexplicably uses her spa employees as caterers! — and the viewer starts to lose touch with reality.
There are absolutely no surprises in Addicted To Beauty. Everyone cheerfully (but very, very badly) plays to their assigned stereotype. Ronnie's the bitch, Gary's the slacker, Natasha (the only participant with no facial work, only giant top-heavy boobs) is the assistant who actually runs the place, Dianne is the ditzy and easily manipulated boss, Dr. Lee is the professional who might know, somewhere buried deep in a mountain of denial, that he should be ashamed of himself for participating in this farce. The producers must be very happy to have a group so eager to take direction ("Gary, you're going to insist on having champagne at this morning meeting at Dianne's house; Natasha, you're going to look shocked"). For the rest of us, it's all the pain of amateur theatricals, right down to the flamboyantly gay cast, repeated weekly until we all agree that we won't give these horrible people any more of our attention.
- Gary and Ronnie, you work in a plastic surgery clinic. Can't you do something about those pockmarks? Chemical peels? Anything?
- Dianne insists that Ronnie bronze her feet, not because she's actually upset that one is whiter than the other, but so that we at home will cluck our tongues at the extent of her shallowness and the very existence of foot makeup.
- Oh, here's another Dianne character trait lifted straight off the Bluefly.com accessories wall: Malapropisms! "I have worked on a lot of elitist patients." "I've never had children, and that's why my staff is so endearing to me." "Botox gives you that rejuvenated look, like when you were younger."
- If Gary wasn't ACTING! THANK YOU!, he might be fun to watch. His explanation of ADD, which he suddenly invokes when Natasha criticizes his job performance ("I'm protected by the American Disabilities Act!"), is as follows: "It's for people, well, it's not for people, it's a disorder that people have where they can't hear things auditorily." A Soup-worthy clip, although I'd have a hard time choosing between that and Gary trotting off to open the champagne.
- While calling Dianne's friends to ensure that somebody shows up to her launch party (psst! the producers have got that taken care of, don't waste your time!), Ronnie confesses that there won't be valet parking. No valet parking and no catering. Dianne either failed socialite school or is making straight A's in reality-television school.
- "So that emerald necklace is 57 carats and that emerald ring is 46 carats," Dianne muses. "Is that enough carats for you?" asks the jewelry saleslady solicitiously.
- Why does everyone perch at tiny task tables and peck away on their laptops when there are full-sized computer monitors right behind them? Oh, right, because then they'd have their backs to the cameras. Like normal people.