Last night I watched the premier of VH1′s new “Celebrity Rehab” reality show with Dr. Drew Pinsky, an M.D. and popular TV and radio personality. Before turning on the TV, I had my own reservations about making a spectacle out of alcohol and drug addiction. But I hoped that the show would help to unglamorize the Hollywood drug culture and dissuade young men and women from idolizing bad behavior. As a physician who helped run a detox unit in New York City, I was also curious to see whether or not this “rehab” resembled real-world drug rehabilitation.
Overall, I was sorely disappointed. The only realistic part of the show involved actor Jeff Conaway (of “Grease” and “Taxi” fame), who was the most impaired and ill of the group. His speech and behaviors were typical of a man so wracked by drug and alcohol addiction that he needed a wheelchair for mobility. It was tragic to see him in such a self-destructive state, and witnessing his condition was a real wake-up call for anyone considering starting down that path. As for the rest of the stars, they seemed to be more interested in getting attention from the camera than turning their lives around and breaking their addictive behaviors.
“Celebrity Rehab” may have some “shock value,” as it offers viewers some footage of individuals whose addictions have destroyed their lives. Although Jeff Conaway’s situation is certainly tragic and unappealing, the other stars still maintain some degree of ”coolness” -which may be counterproductive for a young audience.
Overall, the dialogue is quite dull - which comes as no surprise since the individuals being videotaped were often inebriated or high on cocaine. The desire for true change does not come through in the celebrity stories, as best evidenced by a conversation between Dr. Drew and former professional wrestler Chyna (aka Joan Marie Laurer). Dr. Drew asks Chyna why she has come to “Celebrity Rehab,” and she responds with a shrug and says: “I don’t know.” Not compelling television.
I had the feeling that empathetic counseling is not Dr. Drew’s forte. In his attempt to show tough love mixed with detailed history taking, he comes off as aloof and uncaring. He is neither believable nor inspirational as a change agent. This disconnect makes it hard to believe that “Celebrity Rehab” is going to turn anyone’s life around.
Of course, the plush set, the comfortable celebrity quarters and the trendy clothing bear no resemblance to real drug rehab centers, where facilities are bare-bones and clinical and all patients wear standard uniforms. The lack of case managers, nursing staff and therapists was also notable - as the normal team approach was spun unconvincingly as a one-man Dr. Drew show. And of course, inpatient drug rehabilitation centers in the real world are NEVER co-ed.
Some of the footage was so clearly contrived as to be annoying. Provocative pseudo “conflicts” were created in an attempt to maintain viewer interest. At one point, porn star (and attention-grabbing yet unrealistic 2003 California gubernatorial candidate) Mary Carey makes a fuss about having her dildos confiscated and then asks fellow patient Seth Binzer (lead singer of the rap-rock band Crazy Town) if he’ll have sex with her. This type of interaction really devalues the show and further undermines the credibility of the ongoing rehabilitation. Parents should wonder if exposure to this sort of material is more of a harm than a help to their tweens and teens.
In the final analysis, “Celebrity Rehab” has all the makings of a failure “me-too” reality show, relying on sensationalism to lure viewers. Recycled reality TV celebrities prance about the show in low-cut dresses while Dr. Drew makes uninsightful therapeutic gestures in a rehabilitation setting that’s not designed to truly affect change. I believe that drug and alcohol addiction deserves a more sincere and thoughtful analysis — something that an experienced documentary producer could achieve more effectively. I fear that the screenwriter’s strike will result in even more poor quality reality shows in the near term.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.