Review: ‘Wilson Phillips: Still Holding On’ charts a musical comeback

Celebrities use reality TV to their advantage in a variety of ways. The women of Wilson Phillips have chosen the advertainment route with their TV Guide Network reality show “Wilson Phillips: Still Holding On.”

With a tagline promising “Three parts harmony, one part drama,” the innocuous eight-episode half-hour “docu-series” tracks the singing group’s latest attempt at a comeback with built-in drama courtesy of personal conflicts and Carnie Wilson’s ongoing battle with her weight. It’s not a bad deal: give cameras a peak into your personal life in exchange for promoting professional endeavors. And TV Guide Network gets recognizable faces to help establish their still evolving brand.

“Still Holding On” isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s not going to embarrass anyone involved (unless Carnie’s battles with “bad gas” count as shameful). In reality TV, that’s a win-win.

The show got an advance publicity boost when Carnie revealed she recently underwent another weight loss surgery — getting a “band over bypass” which supplements the initial gastric bypass surgery she had 12 years ago. That’s the focus of the premiere episode, when Carnie informs her sister Wendy and the third member of their group, Chynna Phillips, that she’ll undergo the procedure just a month before they’re scheduled to launch a concert tour. This also serves to set-up the group dynamics: Carnie is usually the grounded one, while Chynna sometimes finds herself on the outside of the sisters’ relationship.

In this case, both Wendy and Chynna are eager to start their tour and the show milks the dilemma they feel between being supportive of Carnie’s personal decisions and realizing their own professional ambitions. It’s very mild conflict by reality TV standards, but conflict nonetheless. Combined with an inside look at the ladies’ home lives and professional efforts, there seems to be enough of interest to sustain the series’ short run. (The premiere includes only a very brief glimpse of Chynna’s husband — actor William Baldwin — and it’s unclear whether or not he’ll be a presence on the show at some point.)

Wilson Phillips’ 1990 debut album was remarkably successful — selling 10 million copies worldwide, launching three #1 singles (including the immortal “Hold On”) and garnering four Grammy nominations. But the glory was short-lived after a disappointing follow-up and break-up that yielded underwhelming results for outside projects. They released a third album in 2004, but it wasn’t much of a comeback.

Now, after their appearance in last summer’s smash hit movie “Bridesmaids,” Chynna’s brief run on last fall’s season of “Dancing with the Stars,” and the 2010 release of a few modestly successful Christmas songs, they seem to be serious about getting things back on track. A new album — “Dedication,” featuring covers of songs made famous by their parents’ groups The Beach Boys and The Mamas and the Papas — has been released timed to the premiere of the show.

And that’s “Still Holding On” at its realest: The women of Wilson Phillips are letting you into (part of) their lives. The least you could do is buy their album.