When I slipped an advance copy of the first episode of Hey Paula (Bravo, Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET) into my DVD player, I was apprehensive. I've had a special soapbox waiting in the wings for just this occasion, ever since Paula Abdul's scandalously incoherent interview on Seattle's FOX affiliate in January. I've criticized her critics and fretted over her health, sure that some devastating underlying disease is responsible for her public indiscretions. I sympathized with her when she begged for privacy after a phone-call leak earlier this month, even though the fact of her reality show pretty much cancels out that kind of plea.
So, I was ready to rail against Hey Paula as the next Anna NicoleShow and to protest the way America likes to watch the self-made man (and especially the self-made woman) self-destruct. But it turns out that Abdul's new series isn't much about the exploitation of a celebrity's bankably bizarre behavior. Instead, it's a performance of self-affirmation, an opportunity Abdul has seized to intone to the media mirror that she's good enough, she's smart enough, and … well, you know the rest. The premiere offers some mantras of its own, delivered with subtle repetition by Abdul and those around her: She works very hard, she is "just like everyone else" (she eats at Panda Express!), and—this one she does actually declare in front of a mirror as her stylist touches up her hair—"they beat me down, but I'm a warrior." Good for her. I bet if I say those words out loud to my reflection every morning, pretty soon I won't be needing that copy of The Secret anymore.
For someone whose name is nearly always accompanied by the word emotional, Abdul's opening episode provides surprisingly little genuine pathos. She does cry, but mostly she's just frustrated because everything she is doing depends on other people, and you know how other people are. They will pack the wrong jeans and tennis shoes for your trip to Philadelphia. They will not let you get on a plane without your I.D. They will give you only one Grammy 16 years ago and not "treat you like the gift that you are." To be fair, Abdul's schedule does appear to be very tight, packed with public appearances, and production and costume work for a movie based on those sinister Bratz dolls, and her jewelry line for QVC. It's only a garden-variety kind of divaness we are dealing with here, a few petulant hissy fits but nothing spectacular. I was worse ordering my lunch yesterday.
No, Abdul is no menace. But her chihuahuas are another story—I am beginning to suspect that they're plotting some nefarious scheme to take her down. In May, Tulip allegedly broke her mistress' nose, and, early in Hey Paula, when Bessie Moo absconds with a black-diamond necklace and Chomps nearly swallows a million-dollar ring that Abdul is considering for her Grammys wardrobe, they are clearly attempting to implicate the pop icon in an elaborate jewelry heist. I don't trust that shifty Thumbelina, either; she never looks you in the eye. Now that I think of it, I'd pay a lot to see a reality show where celebrity-accessory chihuahuas live together in a mansion. Abdul's pets, with Paris Hilton's Tinkerbell, and Britney Spears' Bit Bit (what happened to her? The dog, I mean), then throw in MC Skat Kat to stir things up, and voilà! Hit-making yappy hijinks ensue. I digress, but the thing is, I had to imagine all of that just to maintain interest in the show I was watching.
Well, things might pick up in the next few weeks. The second of the seven Hey Paula installments will apparently follow Abdul, along with her stylists/BFFs and publicist, as she struggles through the infamous January satellite interviews, doesn't sleep, gets sick, and "develops her own fragrance." (I really hope Bravo means her perfume line there.) The show could be a nice summer diversion in the end. But if Abdul wants to prove with this drama-lite "docudrama" that she's "an everyday girl," there's a danger that she will achieve that goal at the cost of viewers' attention. I like her, though, so if Hey Paula bombs, I'm blaming the dogs.