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TV Review: 'Green Acres' becomes reality in 'The Simple Life'

Sunday, November 30, 2003

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HOLLYWOOD - While some viewers, mostly living in rural areas, have launched a campaign against CBS's proposed "reality" version of "The Beverly Hillbillies," so far no contingent of rich heiresses has come forward to protest Fox's reality take on "Green Acres."

 
 

"The Simple Life"

When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday on Fox.

Starring: Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie

   
 
 

"It's hard to get rich people in Beverly Hills to unify and say they're being picked on," said CBS chairman/CEO Leslie Moonves in July. "It doesn't have quite the same impact."

That means the only reactions to "The Simple Life" are likely to be hearty chuckles or a shaking of the head in disbelief.

The series takes best friends Paris Hilton, the great-granddaughter of the founder of the Hilton Hotel chain, and Nicole Richie, daughter of singer Lionel Richie, and plops them on a farm in Altus, Ark. (population 817). Tuesday's premiere is truly a funny half-hour, with more laugh-out-loud moments than any of the new fall sitcoms.

This "reality" show is not at all real. From sound effects to the stars' attire, much of "The Simple Life" seems calculated. Hilton claims that one of the richest exchanges in the premiere is a put-on.

"Do you guys hang out at Wal-Mart?" Richie asks members of the Ledings family, who take the girls in.

"What is Wal-Mart?" Hilton asks. "Do they sell wall stuff?"

At a July press conference, Hilton said she was kidding, that she had heard of Wal-Mart before appearing on "Simple Life," in which she also asks, "What does 'generic' mean, do you know?" She also doesn't know what a well is.

The Ledings are extremely gracious and welcome these two chain-smoking, shop-til-they-drop women into their midst.

"Their clothing is a little different from what most girls dress in around here - skimpy," says Curly, grandmother to the Ledings clan who has a Bride of Frankenstein-like hairdo.

Culry tries to get the girls to pluck a chicken, but Paris declares, "I'm not plucking anything except eyebrows."

In a second episode, airing at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, there's much screaming as the girls attempt to milk a cow.

"There's cow [poop] on my arms!" Paris says.

"That's not as bad was what's on your cheek," replies the farmer, clearly having a good laugh at these city slickers' expense.

And that's what Fox is asking viewers to do, too, whether or not the stars realize it.

"You're laughing with us and I really don't care," Paris said this summer at a Fox press conference.

"I don't care either," Richie said. "I was laughing at everything with everyone and, I mean, hopefully everyone's laughing with us. If they're not, they'll be laughing anyways, so it doesn't matter."

Watching "The Simple Life" has the same feel as the Britcom "Absolutely Fabulous," about two boozy, floozy best friends. "Simple Life" is the unscripted equivalent. These good-time girls aren't necessarily bad people. They're just products of a spoiled, more worldly environment, which makes watching them on a farm such a hoot.

"He's sweet," Nicole says of Justin, the Ledings' 19-year-old son.

"He's cute," says Paris.

"We should have a threesome with him," Nicole says as the girls dissolve into laughter. "Let him have something."

Of the two, Nicole is more polite, deferential and down-to-earth. Paris takes more time dressing and seems less interested in the Ledings family. Richie was surprised to see the Ledings parents wait up for her and Paris to return home at night.

"The first thing that I thought, and I said this to Justin, 'How do you sneak home or how do you sneak out?' And then he's like, 'Well, why would I do that?' I'm assuming that everyone comes home after curfew and whatever. They're so close they don't have to do that. I was like, wow, I think that's actually really cool."

Both girls became tabloid fodder long before "The Simple Life," earning the title "celebutante," a cross between celebrity and debutante. Most recently, Nicole spent time in a drug rehabilitation program for a drug possession charge earlier this year and Paris faced rumors earlier this month that an ex-boyfriend was going to upload a homemade sex tape of her and him to the Internet.

So does that mean they normally lead "The Complicated Life"? Not necessarily.

"Our lives are completely different, simple in one way and complicated in another," Nicole said. "And theirs are simple in the exact opposite ways and complicated in the exact opposite ways."

Things certainly got complicated when Nicole had to test a cow to see if it was pregnant by slapping on latex gloves and putting her arm up the cow's behind.

"It cuts off circulation in your arm. It was like, ugh!" she said in July. Paris said the cow was screaming, but Nicole disagreed. "[The cow] loved it, what are you talking about? It's the luckiest cow in Arkansas!"


TV Editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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