A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this reality series relies on stereotypes, alcohol, and emotional breakdowns for entertainment. C-list celebrities are put in a house to live together, where they rehash the emotional baggage from their past careers. Throughout the series, housemates' issues have included recovering from drug/alcohol addiction, dealing with gender identity, and coping with sexual assault (rape and molestation) at a young age. The entire cast has usually been deprived of the spotlight for some time and is desperate for public affection and attention.
What's the story?
The SURREAL LIFE brings former celebrities -- some more notable than others, but all C-list at best -- together in a Hollywood Hills mansion to have their lives taped for TV (much like The Real World). The camera-hungry casts have included a wide variety of former celebs -- among them Brady Bunch mom Florence Henderson, '70s TV staple Charo, talk show host Sally Jessy Raphael, former Beverly Hills, 90210 "teen" Gabrielle Carteris, inarticulate '80s video vixen Tawny Kitaen, The Apprentice's Omarosa, rappers Vanilla Ice and M.C. Hammer, and Gary Coleman (Arnold on Diff'rent Strokes). Some cast members have had spicier lives and brought extra drama to the house. Rapper Flavor Flav (Public Enemy) and actress Brigitte Nielsen (Red Sonja) scored a spinoff after meeting on the set, as did erstwhile Peter Brady, Christopher Knight and America's Next Top Model winner Adrianne Curry, who later married. What viewers learn about these celebrities is often divulged during emotional meltdowns -- many of these performers have called family members or their managers crying that they didn't know what they were getting themselves into by agreeing to appear on the show. And personal interaction among the housemates has a wide range -- some become unlikely friends (Flava and Brigitte), while others become mortal enemies (Janice Dickinson and Omarosa).
Is it any good?
The series began as a juicy, guilty pleasure but quickly became a sad, boring mess. Food fights, wrestling matches, and screaming feuds have become commonplace, if not expected, in the series. All the tears and fights flow freely in between the housemates' menial "projects" -- such as promotional photo shoots, filming a music video for a fellow cast member's comeback, or performing as a band for a benefit. These random tasks are meant to provide a means for celebs to bond or break, but they end up making the cast seem almost like animals in a zoo performing tricks for the audience. Pointing and laughing at celebs gone bad (or bust) is sad on many levels -- and a lesson that any kid who's been through school doesn't need reinforced during primetime.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the toll that celebrity status can take on a person. What do stars do when their time in the spotlight is over? Can you understand why they would agree to go on a show like this? What lessons do the housemates learn? Do viewers gain anything from watching personality clashes and emotional breakdowns on television?