When the first few episodes of a TV series fall short of expectations, I don’t always grit my teeth and hang on. All too often what starts out as disappointing ends pretty much the same way, but for some reason I didn’t give up so easily on “Life with LaToya,” which had its season finale on OWN Saturday. After all, there could always be a car wreck. She is a Jackson, after all.
The middle daughter of the Jackson clan seemed well attuned to why people might watch her show, that car wreck possibility only being the most obvious. In one episode, LaToya tried to communicate with her departed brother Michael via a psychic (he told her to move on, of course) and throughout the season she’d drop little TMZ-friendly tidbits into the mix. Well, yeah, her brothers kidnapped her mom! Her ex-husband was an abusive pig! Her dad wasn’t always very nice! It was never anything we hadn’t heard before, but hearing it from a Jackson added a certain amount of validity.
But soon enough, it became clear what the structure of the show was meant to be: reality sitcom. Every episode felt firmly scripted. LaToya looks for an impossibly perfect house that probably doesn’t exist. LaToya meets a matchmaking agency, then goes on a date. LaToya goes to an adoption agency and gets a fake doll to carry around. LaToya goes on “The Celebrity Apprentice” and gets fired. LaToya tries to bond with her mother, and later her father. There are only a few semi-surprises. One, there is the revelation that LaToya and Kathy Hilton (you know, Paris’ mom) are BFFs. Two, the show actually tried to convince us that LaToya’s employee Jeffre, who is if not gay then at least uninterested, might have an unrequited crush on her. For TV viewers, there is suspension of disbelief, and then there is just asking too much.
Alas, much of what happened in the first season felt pretty silly. The opening intro, which starts with LaToya wickedly mitating the many people in her life who have pushed her around (including her dad, her brothers and her ex-husband) then giggling in a small voice and apologizing, seems more pointed than intended, but the rest of it focuses mostly on LaToya dancing and preening. There is a sense that we’re supposed to believe LaToya, having survived a bad marriage, is a feisty Mary Tyler Moore for a new age, if Mary Tyler Moore wore high heels on camping trips and enough make-up to make her a go-to icon for drag queens at Halloween (admittedly, LaToya is a regular on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”).
What is perhaps most interesting about the celebrity is how much she looks like her brother (I guess they had the same surgeon) and how disturbingly little girl her behavior often seems. While she seems logical enough when dealing with business, when faced with challenges she withdraws, changes the subject, cries or giggles. There is a great deal of giggling, and if LaToya were maybe 15 or even 20, it might be more easily overlooked.
LaToya Jackson is an impressively well-preserved 57.
About halfway through the season, it seemed that the lesson of the show was going to be an inadvertent one; that whatever sad history that made Michael Jackson into a tragic man-child affected his sister as well, and her decision to surround herself with tiny purse dogs and opulent surroundings as well as a few long-suffering friends ensured she’d be stuck in a bubble of arrested development, too old to be acting so young. It’s hard not to hurt for her, but it’s also hard to watch.
The finale, however, promises that maybe, just maybe, season two (which has been ordered by OWN) might be different. Jeffre and Kathy Hilton join forces to discuss the fact that yes, LaToya is stuck. Although throughout the season she’s seemingly taken steps to have the life she wants — she’s gone househunting, babysat and dated a nice guy — she’s danced away from any true commitment. The most depressing episode might have been when she calls George to give him the brush-off after two dates. I guess she hoped he’d run screaming when she brings a baby doll along with her on their romantic dinner-and-dancing date, or at least give up when she kept refusing to let him kiss her, but no such luck. George seemed like a nice guy, and listening to LaToya shut him down in a strident tone just makes you feel lousy for all involved.
So Kathy sits her down for a heart-to-heart — and it’s then that she asks the question: “Are you a virgin”? LaToya, weeping, leaves the room and asks for some alone time. It’s a strange question, yes, but the reaction is even stranger.
When LaToya refuses to return Jeffre’s calls for weeks — not really a good sign for a business relationship — he and Kathy have another pow wow. Kathy thinks LaToya needs counseling, a longtime no-no for the entire Jackson family. Jeffre suspects the “intervention” won’t end well — but, surprise surprise, LaToya agrees to the deal.
There’s a good chance that next season will be made up of the kind of reality TV therapy sessions we’ve seen on countless other TV shows, many of which feel as scripted as an episode of “Revenge.” Even if they are, the idea that this Jackson might just be willing to fix what ails her — and may have ailed other Jacksons — is intriguing. It’s very appropriate for OWN, and I have to wonder if Iyanla Vanzant or Oprah will come sailing in with good vibes and self-help mottos. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing, really. Then maybe LaToya will truly earn the right to toss her little knit cap into the sky.
Did you watch the finale of “Life with LaToya”? Since the question came up, do you think she’s a virgin?