There is no joy in Juddville, which is not surprising because country music icons Naomi and Wynonna Judd are rolling out a reality show on OWN where fun is, apparently, just one more form of denial.
When Oprah Winfrey announced she was starting her own network, she pledged that it would be a mean-free zone, a shelter from the snark, self-immolation and schadenfreude she believes is ravaging the television landscape. And so far, she has delivered.
That does not mean OWN is a happy place. Oh no, my friends, oh no. Reality show after reality show reveals nothing but pain and misery: the sexless marriages, the emotionally abandoned children, the hoarding families, the endless army of Americans (mostly women) who lack self-esteem, self-control, self-respect. "Breaking Down the Bars" is about women in prison; "Our America With Lisa Ling" inevitably revolves around some wrenching crisis or other; Oprah's website recently exhorted us to watch as Ling "explores an Ohio county ravaged by heroin addiction."
Um, no thanks. I think I'll just check in with CNN and then catch up with "Castle."
On Tuesday, "Addicted to Food," premieres, bringing those crippled by eating disorders into the glory tent for healing. Following a group of women (and one solitary man, bless his heart) who enter a 42-day Texas treatment program, "Addicted to Food" offers a welcome antidote to the boot-camp mentality of "The Biggest Loser." The woman who runs the program, Tennie McCarty, is a fascinating and powerful figure, with a backwoods accent so heady it's practically Old English, and her insistence on lumping all eating disorders together keeps things fresh. Unfortunately, as with every reality show, the group feels more like a cast than a group, and includes, because apparently it has to, a bony bulimic control freak who looks like she didn't quite make the cut for a "Real Housewives" show and who all the more zaftig participants can hate.
Here also are the moody landscape shots, the inevitable platitudes — it's not what you're eating, it's what's eating you — and a violin-heavy soundtrack to ensure that you understand just how tense all this self-examination can be.
Those violins figure heavily with "The Judds" as well, ditto self-esteem and souls with holes. To be fair, the Judds, with their precarious balance of talent and family drama, were a reality show long before the genre existed. And for a few blessed moments it appears that this show might wind up being a pretty interesting behind-the-scenes look at the reunion tour of mother (Naomi) and child (Wynonna).
There are some pretty cool moments in the pilot, as when Naomi must get a big, fat cortisone shot in her knee because she's in her 60s and standing on stage for three hours in high heels night after night is physically grueling. But then the violins gear up, with the tears and the glares, the life-coaching and admissions of fear, pain and inadequacy. (No mention, however, of the bizarre hair color the two women share or the ghastly makeup Naomi prefers.)
At about the 20-minute mark, Naomi reveals that her earliest memory (at 31/2) is of being sexually molested, something she has never told anyone. But now, she's sharing this wrenching memory with photographs, on a television show. My heart goes out to her, but still it is difficult not to feel manipulated, as if this bit of personal horror is being used to make the show seem like less of an exercise in self-promotion and self-indulgence than it is.
In and of themselves, the shows of OWN are much like any group of reality shows — some of them are good, some of them aren't. But taken together they begin to feel like a big ol' pity party, with everyone too busy weeping into the low-fat clam dip to remember that it's OK to can the violins and put on a little dance music once in a while.