Polyester Bride

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O ne of the pleasures of watching Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica — and there are many, many pleasures to be found in MTV’s most recent nature series about the celebrity species known as “B” — is the level of dramatic irony.
   Each episode is like the opening five minutes of HBO’s Six Feet Under, where we watch a regular person going about their life but we know something they don’t: they are about to die. Watching pop automatons Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson navigate their humdrum Hollywood marriage, you feel the same way. But what we know and they don’t is this: they’re going to get divorced, and it will be the best E! True Hollywood Story ever.


    As with Ozzy Osbourne and his braying brood, MTV has captured lightning — albeit very dim lightning — in a bottle with Newlyweds. After spending its first twenty-two years elevating musicians to gods, MTV is now content to smash those idols into a million pieces. Age twenty-two is pretty old to finally embrace adolescent nihilism, but it’s about time MTV got around to it.
    As it happens, Jessica Simpson is a little older than twenty-two (she celebrated her birthday in July, probably with a cake and a petting zoo), and unlike her network benefactors (who find themselves in a May-December romance with sugar daddy Viacom), she flaunted her purity until marriage. On the first episode of Newlyweds, the minister tells the wedding guests that Jessica truly earned the right to wear a white dress because she was a true virgin bride. A marriage that begins with such a squirm-inducing admission is bound to be really good television.

For the life of me, I cannot name a single Jessica Simpson or Nick Lachey song. That hardly detracts from Newlyweds, which is less about music than sniping, whining, passive-aggressive jockeying, emotional blackmail, character assassination, dumb-blonde jokes and the foibles of new money. If Nick and Jessica didn’t spend their time performing sub-Britney and -Justin vanilla R&B aerobics anthems, they’d be the perfect leads in a Gen-Y remake of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. (Even the way they load the word “baby” with gun powder before lobbing it at each other makes them heirs to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s George and Martha.)
   Marital sparring is a recurring theme. Nick condescends to Jessica by explaining that a Chicken of the Sea tin contains fish, not chicken. Jessica spends $700 on underwear after Nick flirts with his back-up dancers. Nick tells Jessica that Nancy O’Dell of Access Hollywood is his “new favorite woman,” to which Jessica can only muster a petulant pout. While Nick wipes up spills in the kitchen, Jessica boasts that she’s lived in hotel rooms since she was fourteen and thus has no idea how to do laundry or clean. Nick tells a friend that he has a “five-year plan to get all the spoiledness” out of Jessica. Like nails on the blackboard, these are the days of their lives.
   As if watching these two interact in their marble-inlaid McMansion didn’t prove Jean-Paul Sartre’s dictum that hell is other people, the producers allow hangers-on (the aforementioned dancers, Nick’s brother, Jessica’s mom, battalions of stylists and choreographers) to impede upon Nick and Jessica’s marital bliss. But the presence of others hardly affects these natural-born exhibitionists. Nick will infantilize and humiliate Jessica no matter who is around. And Jessica, well, let’s just say she’d ruin a funeral because she’s having a bad hair day.
   Strip away the newlyweds’ bleached hair, feng shui’d mansion, record deals and $700 underwear and what you get is a portrait of a young marriage in trouble. When couples rush to the altar at such a young age, when partners have no experience living with each other, they’re bound to snipe and bicker. Throw in a camera crew, add MTV’s patented editing and music cues, and what you have isn’t so much a TV series but a case study in codependence.
    Nick and Jessica stimulates the same sharp taste of schadenfreude as the wedding announcements in the Sunday New York Times: We know that those bright young things won’t last, no matter how many china sets they registered for or how many around-the-world trips they take. Likewise, Nick and Jessica are kids, barely out of adolescence, awash in dumb money, surrounded by coddlers and future National Enquirer tipsters. If bona fide grown ups who don’t have the benefit of “celebrity maids” (which Jessica whiningly requested in episode two) can’t make a marriage work, how can Nick and Jessica? The saddest thing will be that when they do split up, the show may have already been cancelled and we’ll miss it.
   You gotta hand it to MTV: the programming department is incredibly crafty to use Nick and Jessica in this way. The network’s window for showing actual videos has narrowed to about one hour a day, when Carson Daly (or one of his gene-spliced, undead clones) hosts TRL. So to make nice with the record labels that keep MTV afloat, concessions have to be made to the "artists." You can’t call yourself Music Television if the only thing you show is The Real World and The Big Urban Myth Show: you have to figure out how to marry music with programming. That’s why MTV features shows about musicians that sorta, kinda features their music, but mostly features their perfectly white caps, flat screen TVs, and their complete inability to change the garbage bags in the kitchen.
   With The Osbournes, Making the Band II (which features P-Diddy as the worst boss you never had), Cribs, Punk’d and now Newlyweds, MTV has not only invented a better mousetrap but baited it with irresistible cheese. And in the case of Nick and Jessica, well, let’s just say they ain’t the sharpest cheeses on the platter.

Matt Haber has written for Spin, Entertainment Weekly, New York, Salon.com, and Wired. He lives in Brooklyn and writes for http://www.lowculture.com