I’ve always been a loyal supporter of Dr. Drew Pinsky. Even when I had qualms about his methods (the seemingly endless talking head interviews every time LiLo melted down, for example), I felt his heart was in the right place. He wanted to help people. I may have watched “Celebrity Rehab” for all the wrong reasons, but I never doubted that Dr. Drew recruited his roster of D-list has-beens in the hopes that someone knee deep in a bag of heroin might look up at their TV and think, hey, rehab doesn’t look so bad (although if they were hoping for the same level of craft services, they were probably sorely disappointed). Over the years I’ve listened to Dr. Drew wearily talk people through their chaotic relationship woes on Loveline, certain that he meant well even when he was clearly rolling his eyes. But now, I’m thinking the guy who wrote the book on narcissism (literally: it’s called “The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America”) has crossed over to the dark side.
The concept behind his new show, “Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers,” sounds like vintage Dr. Drew, at least on the surface. The good doc invites ordinary people onto the show, then helps them tackle the problems in their lives with a panel of experts. It certainly seemed like a step up from “The Tyra Banks Show” it replaced — classy, feel-good TV that aimed to make a difference.
And then came the Courtney Stodden episode. If you don’t know her by name, you probably know her as the buxom, heavily made-up 17-year-old wife of 51-year-old actor Dough Hutchinson (“The Green Mile”). Still nothing? Maybe you recall that these two charmers were recently thrown out of a pumpkin patch for being family-unfriendly — I’m guessing it had a little something to do with Stodden’s stripper boots and Daisy Dukes. Hey, I wouldn’t want to be the parent stuck explaining to my kid exactly when the Great Pumpkin Stripper comes to visit and what kind of gifts she leaves behind (I’m guessing STDs).
Stodden and Hutchinson are the kind of cluelessly creepy types to whom Dr. Drew would usually administer a good, hard dose of tough love. Stodden, with her barely-legal wardrobe, her hard mask of make-up (I’d guess her to be closer to 40 than 18 if I didn’t know better) and exhibitionistic personality is the type Dr. Drew would usually assume to have been sexually molested or physically abused and in desperate need of therapy. What does he do with Stodden instead? He has a plastic surgeon check her for breast implants on national television, of course!
I guess, in a sense, Dr. Drew is tackling her problem, just as his show prescribes — it bothers her that people think her boobs are fake, so he settles it once and for all! Because, as we all know, that’s really her problem. Who cares that there’s something clearly wrong with this May-December couple who will do anything to stay in the spotlight no matter how much it makes the rest of us want to scrub our eyes out with soap! Just as long as we know she’s not surgically enhanced, it’s all good.
During the episode, Dr. Drew does try to ask Hutchinson if he realizes how much people are skeeved out by his marriage, but then tiptoes away from the subject as if he were conducting an interview with an insane, well-armed military leader who has one finger on the trigger. Were Hutchinson and Stodden such a great get for the show Dr. Drew felt everything would fall apart if they walked off in a huff? And even if he did gravely offend them, it’s not likely these two would turn their backs on a rolling TV camera, as they seem to think public exposure is their sole source of Vitamin D or something.
I wondered if “Lifechangers” redeemed itself in other episodes, and that perhaps this bizarre breast exam was simply a hugely misguided play for ratings. Not so much, unless you consider “ordinary people” to include extremely obese women who work as prostitutes and/or eat food on camera for money, or maybe DMX and people accusing their porn star girlfriends of emotional infidelity. Sadly, Dr. Drew has raided Maury Povich’s leftovers to fill his (probably sticky) guest chairs, and it’s not a pretty sight. When you’re making Dr. Phil look good, it’s time to reassess.
Through it all, Dr. Drew tries to maintain his usual staid demeanor, but it’s almost impossible to take him seriously — especially when he tries gimmicks like dressing up like Judge Judy and banging a gavel (yes, it happened). He also makes an effort to find real experts (one he featured, Dr. Ramani Durvasula, is one I’ve interviewed myself), though “helping” guests is mostly relegated to spitting out a sound byte between commercials. Dr. Drew chimes in where he can, but it’s all lipstick on the pig — and the pig in this case is a desperate, naked play for ratings.
While many have argued about the potential help or harm of “Celebrity Rehab,” I think we can all agree that “Lifechangers” is going to be about as much help as a folding chair and a wad of spit flung on “The Jerry Springer Show.” If we can’t show Dr. Drew the error of his ways, maybe we can all hope for the sweet relief of cancellation. Even so, it’s going to be a long time before I give Dr. Drew the benefit of the doubt again.