The Simple Life Review
Reality shows have become a fixed part of the TV schedule these days, with a wide variety to choose from. Each show seems to have some sort of gimmick designed to draw in viewers. So for Joe Millionaire we were supposed to check out the girls trying to get a guy for his money, and see if the guy could keep up the deception, and so on... well, The Simple Life has a pretty simple gimmick. Watch two rich, young and spoiled American heiresses cope on a farm in Arkansas without access to their mobile phones, fast cars or credit cards. OK, so the two socialites in question are Paris Hilton and her best friend Nicole Richie, both of whom we're told are famous. Perhaps they are, but I know I'd only heard of Paris Hilton beforehand; Richie seems more famous for being Hilton's friend and daughter of Lionel Richie (who we haven't heard much from for a long time either!). But that's the basic schtick – will the poor little rich girls survive on a farm for 30 days?
I think it was more a case of whether the poor Leding family (the one they were sent to stay with for the month) survive the awful antics Hilton and Richie embarked upon. There was a chance this show would actually go to a better place: to show the rich and spoiled how real people have to live... and how there's more to life than just going out, spending daddy's dosh and causing chaos in the knowledge that money will cover all damages and bad feeling. But it failed in that; instead we have a series of 30-minute episodes depicting brattish behaviour which showed almost no respect for other people, and which we're apparently supposed to find funny and charming. I confess it didn't work that way for me, and it only raised a vague smile a couple of times throughout the series. So what went wrong?
Well, firstly it's not very 'real' reality. Thirty days of job-switching, trying out work, and mingling with the farming community is boiled down to eight 30-minute episodes, so it's heavily edited (each episode runs about 21 minutes when you take advert breaks into account). There's no sense of getting the good and bad side of stories and of life on the farm... no, just what the producers thought were the most amusing sequences, or those which showed off the most appalling behaviour on the part of the 'stars'. So, on to the 'stars' themselves... why do this show? They already have what most of us would consider a simple life, with servants to do everything for them if they want, more money than can really be imagined and no need to ever face up to any responsibility it seems. Yet legend goes the show was Paris Hilton's idea. They claim at the start of the show that they want to see how the other half lives, but almost as soon as they get there they pronounce it boring and refuse to budge from that initial verdict. There's no real understanding that the people around them actually have to work for a living; they're not doing it because they enjoy it. Of the two, Hilton seems to get more from her time with the Leding family but that's not really saying much. Richie does more of the dirty tasks but treats life as a complete joke. The two are hardly portrayed as lovable socialites, even if that was the intention. The only reason they could have done this show is pretty much the same reason as most people embark on reality careers – in hopes of becoming more famous. Obviously there's something missing from their international playgirl lifestyle that means they crave even more attention than their money can buy!
Anyway, that's concept and conceit, so on to a little more about the show. The Leding family operate a farm in Altus, Arkansas – a community of around 800 people. Three generations of Ledings live and work together and they seem a really nice, down-to-earth family, who actually have some principles and get on with their lives without too many angst-ridden moments. Paris & Nicole arrive and are put on the porch to sleep, they eat with the family, are supposed to join in with family activities and earn money by trying out a different job each day. It all goes horribly wrong (or right, from the standpoint of the show's producers) as they get sacked from many of their jobs and take none of them very seriously. They deliberately mix water with milk on the dairy farm, refuse to help around the house, put up rude messages on the fast food restaurant's outside signboard, and treat work as a big joke which they luckily don't have to do. And of course they pick up local boys, tell them they could be models... you know, if it was young men behaving that way I'm not sure they'd put it on TV, but from girls we're supposed to find this charming!! It's pretty vacuous, annoying stuff.
Of course despite being completely trash TV it's had quite good ratings and the second series will be aired soon in the US and sees Paris and Nicole heading out on a road trip, again without use of their limitless credit cards.
The girls say goodbye to LA and hello to Altus and first meet their hosts, the Leding family. They refuse to help pluck chickens and have to be rescued from bedroom bugs by the family's 3-year old. Although the father of the family lays down some rules, the bored look on the girls' faces indicates they're not really paying him much attention.
The first job. Paris and Nicole hit a dairy farm, get grossed out and ruin lots of milk. It's definitely a precursor of what's to come.
Next day, next job. This time at Sonic, a fast food restaurant. Things start off OK but degenerate fast as they once again get bored, decide to lark about and end up causing chaos.
The town mayor invites Paris and Nicole to help out at the annual town festival. They cause a bit of a stir amongst the community and only really get into the flow of things when they get to man the kissing booth.
Today's job is for a cattle auctioneer and is really one of their more despicable displays. When asked to go to a feed store the girls decide to charge a few extra items to the guy's account. They include a $120 birdhouse which they intend to give as a Mother's Day present, without any regard for the fact they're spending someone else's money; someone who probably can't afford it.
Well, they seem to enjoy this job, at a gas station and bait shop. Maybe it's because the local guys hang out here. They soon reel a couple in and manage to go clubbing. The guys become their constant companions for the rest of the month.
The final episode, which mostly revolves around Nicole's trashing of a bar's pool table and the girls packing up, saying they've learned so much and then leaving to return to their real lives.
The Lost Episode
Working for a taxidermist things are going OK, until they break one of their deliveries and then decide to tart up a stuffed bear with make-up.
The picture quality is fine, as you'd expect from a recent television show. Colours show up nicely (and there are a lot of bright outfits in this show!), skin tones are natural and blacks look nice and dark. It's not picture perfect, there is some grain noticeable in this transfer. The episodes are presented in their original 4:3 aspect as you might expect for a TV show.
The sound mix is Dolby 2.0, with English as the only language available on this release. There's no commentary tracks, just the original dialogue with annoying 'amusing' voice-overs explaining what fun antics we're about to watch. That being said the dialogue is clear throughout, including the sometimes quiet, under-the-breath comments – so there's no real issues with sound. It's very front-focussed also.
The main extras on the disc are outtakes, Test Presentation and The Simple Life Reunion. Interestingly, the extras are more watchable than the show itself, in my opinion anyway. The outtakes are actually a series of deleted scenes and are mostly better than the action that made the final cut. It includes sequences of the girls packing (Paris packed herself, Nicole threw clothes at a maid, more or less), Nicole seeing if she can use a can opener, and the girls shopping for clothes at Buffalo Bill's Store. They're much more harmless and charming than anything in the actual show, so their inclusion here really is welcome – that is, if you can bear to watch more of this show after sitting through the episodes.
The Test Presentation is obviously the footage shown to TV bosses to ensure the show was picked up. It shows Paris and Nicole helping out at a dog grooming shop somewhere in California. Unlike their time on the farm though, the girls actually seem to have done a day's work. Yes, things went wrong, but not as savagely wrong as they did at, say, the dairy farm. I can see why watching this might have led people to believe the series would be watchable and amusing without becoming car-wreck TV... if only it had lived up to even some of its promise.
I've counted The Simple Life Reunion as an extra even though on these DVDs it falls in with the other episodes. I did this mainly because it seems the Region 1 release of this series did not include this bit, which took place after the initial run and was recorded in a studio in Arkansas, with host Leeza Gibbons reuniting Paris, Nicole, the Leding family and some of the girls' employers. It's an hour show (in other words, about 45 minutes of footage) and again, it's actually more interesting than much of the reality stuff. This time it's because the whole premise of the show was to illustrate how the other half lives and the show itself gives very little feedback on whether anything really was learned from the experiences on both sides. The reunion, while not wholly answering such questions at least attempts to ask them, and there are some extra clips of life on the farm which I think also should have been included in the initial run. These include Nicole and Paris actually making a small fort for Braxton, the youngest Leding family member – they didn't steal it, they didn't mess it up or paint anything rude on it – they actually just did a chore straight. So that was quite an eye-opener.
The truth is that if you didn't watch and enjoy The Simple Life and have no over-riding love of Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie, there's really very little reason to watch this show. It's one of the worst reality TV shows I've seen; though I have to admit I avoid the ones I think sound this bad. That being said, the DVD release is a pretty good package, including all the episodes and some meaty extras which add a lot to the total experience. So if for some strange reason you did enjoy it, or you'd like to watch this paid of socialites wandering around causing chaos while wearing very little – well, then this is definitely a DVD to look out for.