Bobby and Whitney Get Too Real
By Steven Daly
As the whole world knows by now, the
relationship between Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston carries the kind of
baggage that could never fit into an overhead compartment.
Year after year these two stagger back into the headlines, what with her
repeat rehab attempts and his arrests, court appearances and prison
stretches. So when the new Bravo reality series Being Bobby Brown —
Thursdays at 10 pm/ET — was first announced earlier this year, it was easy
to assume that we'd be getting a highly controlled exercise in image repair,
with Bobby and Whitney trying to look as harmless as Ozzy and Sharon or Nick
The assumption was wrong. This jittery, reckless probe into the lives of
urban-music royalty is the rawest "celeb reality" show yet. From their first
moments on screen, it's clear that neither Bobby, 36, nor Whitney, 41, is
particularly concerned about how they come across to the viewing audience.
He is brattish and attention-starved, an agglomeration of shifting moods and
strange tics. She is equally unpredictable, with a tendency to drift off
into her own world, randomly cackling at some private joke. The two seem to
trade roles with casual ease, one partner remaining easygoing while the
other spontaneously freaks out, and sometimes it gets a little rough.
"Bobby, I would knock the s--- out of you at the table," Whitney threatens
over dinner, morphing in an instant from a sweet suburban princess to a
vicious streetwise tough.
But erratic outbursts are matched by countless moments of goofball sweetness
and warm affection between the King of R&B (Whitney's term for her hubby)
and his damaged-diva wife, like the bizarre scene in which they
spontaneously rap and dance together while shopping for sunglasses.
Self-editing is minimal: Right out of the blue, Bobby asks Whitney, "Do you
think I can impregnate you tonight?" And she tells him in graphic detail
over lunch about the benefits of high colonics; when she refuses to desist,
he threatens to vacate his bowels right there on the table. They're so loopy
they could easily fill the void left by the delinquent Season 3 of
When Bobby's older brother (and manager) Tommy and TV producer Tracey
Baker-Simmons came up with the idea of pitching a reality show about Bobby's
life to the networks, the singer saw it as an opportunity to give his public
image a much-needed makeover. "I think people will be pleasantly surprised,"
Bobby says, calling from his home in Alpharetta, Ga. "It'll give folks the
chance to see that I'm human — that I'm not a monster. It gives you a whole
look at me, instead of seeing me in handcuffs, coming out of a courtroom."
As it happens, the first episode of Being Bobby Brown shows Bobby appearing
in an Atlanta courtroom on charges (ultimately dropped) of assaulting his
wife. "I'm not a bad guy," Bobby whispers to the camera. "I like guns... but
call me a collector."
Whitney has often railed against her critics' supposedly unfair portrayal of
her marital life, but Bobby remains sanguine on the subject. "The press is
the press," he reasons. "They do what they do; they only tell the story from
one perspective, and that's not always the truth."
This odd couple's version of the truth is at its most cringeworthy when
their quiet, articulate 11-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina, joins her
parents in front of the camera, to her evident embarrassment. Bobby insists
her appearances aren't as awkward as they look. "She wanted to do it," he
says. "She loves the camera; in the beginning she was a little shy, but she
got used to it."
Some critics have suggested that certain reality shows constitute little
more than aberrant behavior passing as entertainment, and Being Bobby Brown
does little to counter that theory. But Andrew Cohen, Bravo's vice president
of production and programming, maintains that his channel is not exploiting
the eccentric stars. "There's no editorializing in this show," he says. "We
just present Bobby and his family as they are. Our reason for doing it is to
be able to portray them cleanly — to do it without judgment and without
dummying up the drama."
It's perhaps not surprising that Bobby would subject himself to such
exposure: The former teen idol hasn't made a solo album since the music
industry's cassette age. As a cynic might put it, if you can't sell any
records, why not sell your dignity?
It's not quite so easy, however, to explain his wife's complicity. She may
have passed her multiplatinum peak, but Whitney is still a star, with a
major-league mystique that somehow transcends her personal travails. The
fans who tune in to this series will witness a side of their idol that
they've never seen before — acting spaced-out and silly and swearing like a
stevedore — which goes some way toward explaining why her management
company, Nippy Inc., declined to comment on this project after issuing a
pointed reminder that this is "Bobby's show, not Bobby and Whitney's show."
(Whitney's publicist could not be reached.)
And Bobby? This summer, he says, he'll be touring to promote a brand-new
single on his independent Brownhouze label, with plans for an album by
year's end. Clearly he needs all the image help he can get: Two members of
his entourage were stabbed at an Atlanta restaurant he was visiting in late
May, and a Massachusetts court issued a warrant for his arrest in early June
for failing to appear in court for a child-support hearing.
Whatever happens next for the star of Being Bobby Brown, he has already set
the bar extremely high for himself. Because whenever you trade in your
dignity, the question inevitably follows: What are you going to do for an
NEWSFILE: 27 JUNE 2005