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"Newlyweds": A Show About Cats, For Cats

I've been watching Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, from episode one, and it's weirdly fascinating. It is not because, as other media outlets have suggested, Jessica Simpson is a moron and watching her makes everyone else feel brilliant by comparison. It is because I have always wondered what my cats would say if they had the ability to speak, and in watching this show I feel like I have the answer.

When Jessica talks, it's usually to inform the world at large of her physical urges: "I'm hungry!" "I'm tired!" "My hand hurts!" "I have to pee!" "I need to eat!" "Don't laugh at me!" "Feed me!" She shows an endless capacity for lolling around in the sun with a glazed look on her face, and she is utterly oblivious to what anyone else says unless she decides she needs to be interested. Watching Jessica with the remote control for her garage door opener was weirdly similar to watching my cats gnaw on the TV remote while channels changed in the background.

I'm telling you, the parallels are uncanny. Maybe Jessica is really a top-secret medical experiment -- a cat brain in a human body. Or maybe she's simply the end result of youthful celebrity. She is a person who's been groomed for a career in entertainment since she was a middle schooler.

Jessica's parents clearly figured education took a back seat to singing at backwater gigs; in one episode, she uses the word "facetious," and after the people she's with recover from the shock of hearing that come out of her mouth, she explains that it was an SAT word from the tests she never took. She has no hobbies and no outside interests; whatever fun stuff we've seen on the show, from golfing to swimming with dolphins, has been at Nick's urging. She is quite possibly the most cerebrally inert entity on television, and I'm including channels that feature Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Frank Bielec's "A Thousand Clowns Died to Give You This Mural"-style rooms on Trading Spaces.

Being dull isn't necessarily evil in and of itself, but I think the Simpsons further wrecked their older child by spoiling her rotten. Because she was evidently raised in hotel rooms as she shuffled from third-string engagement to third-string engagement, Jessica didn't have to do chores: not only did this leave her ill-equipped for doing basic household maintenance, it apparently also gave her the idea that everything, from doing laundry to killing bees, had to be farmed out to professionals. If ever anyone needed a crash course in self-sufficiency, it's this girl.

The only thing that seems to motivate Jessica is having other people pay attention to her. This is possibly the closest thing she has to a self-identity, and it's entirely understandable if your parents molded you at an impressionable age to believe that your only value as a person was as the object of someone else's attention. She's her parents' creation, and Newlyweds should be required viewing for any bug-eyed mom or dad who's channelling their thwarted ambition through their child.

The show should also be required viewing for anyone considering marriage to the person who won't give them nooky, because it shows what happens when two people who are deeply deluded about one another finally wake up from their fantasies. In Jessica's case, it involves pulling the covers back over her head and complaining that she has to pee. In Nick Lachey's case, it's more like lurching around their relentlessly bland McMansion with the look of someone trapped in a nightmare.

It's easy to sympathize with Nick until you remember that he married his child bride of his own free will after a very lengthy courtship. It must be frustrating to be at career crossroads while saddled with a spouse who's shocked at the news that bears shit in the woods, and Lachey gets points for generally going through life with a fairly clear head -- but he gets no pass on Jessica. The way he treats her -- waiting until she's out of town to decorate their house, not sticking up for his wife when his brother and his friends make fun of her, and winning arguments by taking advantage of the fact that she can't follow the logic in 1+1=2 -- may be a manifestation of his misery. However, he made his bed here.

Since Jessica was not exactly shy about discussing her premarital virginity in the media -- and the minister who officiated at their wedding apparently had no problem effectively telling the congregation, "If they leave in a hurry tonight, you'll know why, hyuk, hyuk!" -- one is left with the impression that the only thing that keeps these two together is sex. And it doesn't even seem like particularly good sex: in one of the most creepy episodes aired, Jessica and Nick made a video for her song "Sweetest Sin" that involved the two of them writhing and licking and humping -- all while her parents watched and her dad made comments about the state of his daughter's hymen and her desire to catch up on what she had been missing. In another episode, Nick asks about getting a hummer and Jessica replies in all seriousness, "What? The car?" If Jessica and Nick are supposed to be the case for premarital chastity, they're doing a wonderful job of sending people screaming in precisely the opposite direction.

This little situational irony, among others -- the person in the household least interested or able to pilot a successful career is the one who currently has one -- is one reason to keep tuning in to this show. The other is to catalogue all the different levels of delusion constantly in play. In addition to Nick's big talk about curing Jessica of her pathetic helplessness on a five-year timetable (yeah, good luck with that one), there's also the larger Bad Idea inherent in every episode: Jessica's father is a producer on this show, and presumably able to view and approve the episode segments and their editing. Why on Earth would he think that a show depicting his daughter as an ID-controlled Barbie doll is a career-building move?

I watch this show not because I get a frisson of intellectual superiority from watching Jessica Simpson, but because I'm fascinated by all the consensual suspension of disbelief that goes into maintaining the Simpson/Lachey household. Not that marriage doesn't require a certain willingness to selectively maintain some illusions about yourself and your partner while relentlessly stamping out others. It's just that most of the time, what goes on in a marriage happens between two people. Here, it takes a lot of people acting willfully stupid to keep Newlyweds running. While it's a wonderful demonstration of what a marriage run by committee would be like, it's ultimately pathetic for everyone involved. Jessica is just the most obvious and tragic victim at the center of it. It's hard to feel superior after watching that.


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