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‘Chasing Farrah’ only occasionally worth the effort

Times Staff Writer

It’s not at all clear that we’re still chasing Farrah Fawcett, even though TV Land debuts a reality show tonight called “Chasing Farrah,” in which Fawcett ponders whether or not she wants to do a reality show as she’s doing one and speaks candidly about how the world is still chasing her.

“I have to be prepared when I go out because the next day I’m critiqued, it’s reviewed -- ‘She didn’t look good, what’s going on?’ ” Fawcett tells the camera at one point.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. March 25, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 25, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
“Chasing Farrah” -- A review of the TV Land series “Chasing Farrah” in Wednesday’s Calendar section said Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal dance to a song Fawcett performed for the soundtrack of the film “Logan’s Run.” The song Fawcett is heard singing, “You” by Jean-Paul Vignon, is not on the soundtrack.

But there’s a Farrah-doth-protest-too-much quality to these laments; yes, she’s still an icon, capable of creating a stir in public, but “Chasing Farrah” pretends there’s a media maelstrom just outside her door at all times.

Like “Fat Actress,” in which Kirstie Alley bellows at herself, “Chasing Farrah” is a forced piece of fiction grafted onto a genre, the celeb-reality series, that “The Osbournes” once had us believe could have its own wacked authenticity.

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Much of “Chasing Farrah,” in fact, has to do with how to construct “Chasing Farrah,” featuring Farrah as the reluctant star of her own reality show. “Everyone’s been after her,” says Fawcett’s agent, Harry Gold, which raises a question: Was Gold the one who told HBO, “Your offer is nice, but I’ve got TV Land on hold.”

“Chasing Farrah” shows potential when it stops lying to us about how wanted and pawed over Fawcett still is (basically the entire contrived first episode tonight) and just gives us a window onto her world. Because Farrah, and by extension the show, is not without fascination -- a former sex symbol presenting herself to us, albeit ambivalently, so that we might gawk at her freely.

Fawcett’s publicist, summing up her most enduring contributions to the culture, refers to “everything from the hair to the nipples to the persona.” I’m not sure how many of those things are still hers, from birth, but Fawcett is still a cultural touchstone, someone whose image has endured longer than Jessica Simpson’s will, to say nothing of the young unknowns currently throwing themselves at fame on the WB’s “The Starlet.”

Because unlike them, Fawcett is old school -- her public image grew out of a poster, for God’s sake. Do they still even make posters? (In the interest of full disclosure, the poster over my bed as a boy was not Fawcett’s but Raquel Welch in “One Million Years B.C.”).

Even Fawcett’s team, particularly the manager and the agent, look like entertainment industry figures from another era -- guys who might also represent Vegas entertainers, perhaps a cruise ship comedian-magician. And so “Chasing Farrah” keeps you, insofar as you’re able to feel wistful about the march of time and buy into the idea that Fawcett is letting us into her life.

But this is also where the show gets muddled, because it’s difficult to gauge what she does, hour to hour or day to day. She’s just full of meshugas, is what the show tells us, and being full of meshugas, you know, keeps you busy. In the meantime, we see her flying back and forth to New York (where the plane’s pilot, wanting her autograph, conveniently produces a poster he apparently never flies without) and, of course, putting together the reality show that we’re now watching.

“So why are people interested?” Fawcett asks as she plays with the strap of a sparkling bustier before an evening out. “Because they’re, like, waiting for me to mess up or something? No. Hope not.”

It’s a veiled reference to an infamous appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman,” during which she acted crazy and/or on drugs. There was also the 1998 court case when Fawcett filed battery charges against then-boyfriend James Orr.

You may scoff, ladies and gentlemen, but these constitute a body of work -- crucial building blocks for any former star’s second or third career.

Stick around at least for episode two, when Fawcett eats dinner with her ex-husband and on-again-off-again true love, Ryan O’Neal. It’s almost like watching “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” only without the brutal recriminations and boozing and throwing of heavy objects. As they poke at a very large spread of food for two, and later dance close to a song Fawcett did for the soundtrack of “Logan’s Run,” you do finally feel like you’re in the presence of some weird kind of truth as opposed to a reality-show lie.

That truth is about love, I think, in that Fawcett and O’Neal actually seem to belong together. It’s not so much what they say as it is their chemistry -- Fawcett cradling O’Neal against her chest in a tender moment, O’Neal gazing at Fawcett with sad-eyed affection as she babbles on about whatever it is she babbles on about (that meshugas thing again). More than anything, O’Neal seems to give Fawcett what her show lacks -- ballast and a sense of structure.

*

‘Chasing Farrah’

Where: TV Land

When: 10 p.m.

Ratings: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

Farrah Fawcett...Herself

Ryan O’Neal...Himself

Executive producers, Craig J. Nevius, Marta M. Mobley-Anderson, Sal Maniaci. Director, Craig J. Nevius.


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