Paramount // 2003 // 202 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // January 12th, 2005
Love means never having to tell your beloved that buffaloes don't have wings.
How does one approach a review of the MTV "reality" show, Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica? Reality shows by their very nature defy conventional criticism: There are no crafted characters to speak of, merely personalities; there are no stories being told, just recorded events edited and shaped, attempting to resemble stories. Reality shows generally do not work on any artistic level, as they are, essentially, artless. And yet, not all are entirely devoid of any value; some must be at least entertaining, or else how is it that the admittedly uninspired format has managed to stay so popular for so long? But, then, I have always been taught not to ask questions the answers to which I am neither willing nor prepared to hear.
With this in mind, I come to Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica, an entertaining -- albeit empty -- offering into the reality TV genre. The series follows the day-to-day exploits of the recently married duo of pop singer Jessica Simpson and former 98 Degrees (a kind of third-string Backstreet Boys, if one can imagine that) member Nick Lachey as they adjust to living together, balancing their families, careers, and one another in the interest of the Crazy Little Thing called Self-Promotion. The couple shoot music videos, sing at Nick's grandmother's wedding, go camping, re-shoot music videos, hang out with porn stars, make messes, clean up messes -- all while being followed by an MTV camera crew. What, we should ask ourselves, is the point of all of this? To see how the other half lives? Is it meant to be entertainment, or just shameless voyeurism? Save for the extra exposure -- which certainly wasn't guaranteed to them when the show first launched -- what would compel Simpson and Lachey to allow themselves to become the subjects / targets of a reality TV show?
Aaah, but there's that word again: "Reality." Newlyweds is yet another series to play somewhat fast and loose with that concept, suggesting that the extravagant lifestyle enjoyed by two famous pop stars is an accessible reality for most of its viewership. And while I'm willing to bet that that's more than likely not the case, I should at least concede that it is, at least, reality for its two subjects -- their environment and circumstances have not been manipulated for the purposes of the show. (While a slew of other reality TV shows may feature "regular folks" like me, it's not an everyday occurrence that I am forced to eat sheep's bladders or am fired by Donald Trump. At least, not the second one.) When both Nick and Jessica run into trouble with their respective record labels regarding their new singles or encounter difficulty during a video shoot, I'm not able to relate. That doesn't mean, though, that the lives or problems of Nick and Jessica are any less "real" as far as they are concerned, but simply that their celebrity status leaves their reality less accessible -- it's more Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous than The Real World (a show which, by the way, has nothing to do with the "real" world).
It's not the two stars' lifestyles, however, that truly diminish the reality of the show -- that honor belongs to the editing. There's the famous quote by Jean-Luc Godard in which he said that in cinema, every cut is a lie. He's talking (mostly) about fabricated stories; imagine how he'd feel about these shows that claim to record and reflect "reality" as it occurs, but only do so through shameless manipulation of the material. Newlyweds is such a show -- yet another reason the "reality" label becomes questionable, prompting many to use the much more appropriate term "unscripted" when referring to the genre. Recognizing that editing hours of footage into watchable installments is probably no easy task (not to mention the only way to shape an actual series out of the stuff), it should be said that the constant trickery and manipulation found in Newlyweds does not reflect any reality -- not even Nick and Jessica's -- but rather creates a brand new and altogether separate reality. In this reality, Jessica is a helpless, pouting bimbo and Nick her annoyed and bullheaded caretaker. Both of those things may be true -- after all, these people must have acted that way, as they have not been created through CGI -- but that is the only way we are allowed to know them. Time and again, we see moments repeated for effect; silences drawn out; significant time cuts that make events falsely appear concurrent -- all to drive home the same lame ideas repeatedly: Jessica is annoying and spoiled, and Nick is annoyed and self-sufficient. I know it's silly to suggest that an MTV-produced series should adhere to some artistic standards, but this kind of obvious dishonesty makes the show especially difficult to enjoy.
Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica -- The Complete First Season comes to DVD as a two-disc set courtesy of Paramount. The ten episodes are spread out over both discs, with each show actually running under 20 minutes once the commercials have been removed (even the opening and closing credits are taken out of all but the first and last episodes on each disc) -- either a blessing or a curse, depending on your feelings about the material. The series is presented in its original full frame video format, looking about as good as it does in its television broadcasts. The only audio option is a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track, which seems to have been mastered a bit on the low side -- I found myself having to crank the volume to hear a lot of the dialogue. There are a limited number of extras, and several of them only repeat what's already found in the series. One curious inclusion is a pair of music videos from Simpson and Lachey, if only because elsewhere on the DVD the songs in those videos have been removed and replaced for this DVD release (despite the fact that I couldn't find any mention of alterations from the original broadcasts on the DVD jackets).
It's becoming clear to me that I've written almost an entire review of Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica -- The Complete First Season without really talking about the show itself, but rather using the forum to express my frustration with the state of so-called reality television. So, what do I think of the show? Recognizing that yes, it's self-indulgent and occasionally vapid, I have to point out that it can also be fun in a goofy way. Yes, Jessica Simpson does say mindless things from time to time. Is she stupid? No; she just hasn't ever to think for herself and hasn't really learned how that's done yet. Does that excuse her behavior? No again, but her learning process is what the show is actually about. One's affinity for Newlyweds is ultimately contingent on his or her tolerance of Jessica Simpson; if you happen to find her (mostly) adorable, as I do, you'll have a much easier time of it.
I actually only came to Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica in the first place because of the wife, who carries some kind of inexplicable fondness for the series (though it might have something to do with the fact that we, too, were recently married, and that I also spent a lengthy stint in an only marginally-popular boy band). I turn to her as the expert on the show, and she assures me that in subsequent seasons, the editors strayed from the singularly spoiled / annoyed dynamic, allowing the pop stars to appear more as people and less as wealthy cartoons.
Come to think of it, Jessica (on her best days) reminds me quite a bit of the wife. Ms. Simpson should be flattered.
Review content copyright © 2005 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 202 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Interviews
* Bonus Sequence -- Easter Egg Hunt
* Music Videos
* "Jessica Moments" Highlight Reel
* "Nick Moments" Highlight Reel
* Bonus Trailers
* Official Site