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TELEVISION REVIEW

Carnie, Fantasia, and Pepa. The reality is, who cares?

“American Idol’’ winner Fantasia Barrino’s new show deals with money, career, and family. “American Idol’’ winner Fantasia Barrino’s new show deals with money, career, and family. ()
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / January 14, 2010

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I’m sorry in advance. Because, as Carnie Wilson blathered on about the hardships of being a working mother of two on her new reality show, standing in her kitchen with her personal assistant and her manager and baking banana bread with chocolate, walnuts, and peanut butter as well as bread pudding and key-lime cheesecake, I fantasized about transferring her staple. Can the fastener that she acquired during her 1999 gastric bypass operation, which was telecast live on the Internet, be surgically relocated to her mouth?

I said I was sorry. But Wilson, daughter of Beach Boy Brian Wilson and former member of pop group Wilson Phillips, does not come across well on “Carnie Wilson: Unstapled.’’ The series, which premieres tonight at 8 on GSN, the network on which she hosts “The Newlywed Game,’’ is a showcase for the kind of reality drama queenery that is becoming increasingly hard to bear. Along with Fantasia Barrino and Pepa Denton (of Salt-n-Pepa), who also have new reality shows this week, Wilson looks like a person trapped in a bubble of fame, fortune, and, most unflatteringly, self-importance.

There was a moment when unscripted TV projects by the likes of Anna Nicole Smith and Farrah Fawcett seemed perversely entertaining. They were bad shows, so deeply indulgent and steeped in the nothingness of daily life in Hollywood; but they doubled as portraits of small icons in the throes of almost demented self-regard. They were mementos of a decadent culture. The new series featuring Wilson and Fantasia, in particular, feel more like shallow vanity projects with manufactured melodrama about money and career thrown in to fill the coming attractions and add plot. Not only do they fail to evoke Warholian fascination, but they render their stars more mundane with each passing minute.

Wilson is particularly uninteresting by the end of tonight’s half-hour. In one segment, she reunites with her trainer, Dallas, whose feelings were hurt when she failed to contact him after giving birth to her second child. Tears, then hugs. In another scene, she passionately defends her decision to supplement her income by starting a baking business. “If I don’t do this,’’ she snaps at her skeptical manager, “I go drink.’’ And she cheers with glee as she drags out the big reality diva cliche, her gay BFFs, Brian and Daniel, a hairstyling couple who appear to be literally remaking their faces in each other’s image.

Fantasia, meanwhile, is also shown in teary dudgeon in “Fantasia for Real,’’ Mondays at 10 p.m. on VH1. At home in her Southern mansion, she deals with financial strains and her down-sliding career while supporting six people - her mother, her three brothers, and her daughter. Her brother Teeny is particularly problematic, as he refuses to work and hangs out in the pool house. Aunt Bunny, the family peacemaker, shows up to talk some sense into Teeny and bring on explosive confrontations. And Fantasia frets in her little-girl voice about getting back on top of the music charts.

I was a big fan of Fantasia when she was on “American Idol.’’ But the more she milks her rags-to-riches personal narrative, which she also did when she starred as herself in an autobiographical Lifetime movie, the less I want to root for her. If she let her life’s drama inform her music, she wouldn’t need to keep using it to get attention.

“Let’s Talk About Pep,’’ Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. on VH1, suffers less dramatically from inflated ego, but it still raises the question, “Who cares?’’ This show is a reality version of “Sex and the City,’’ as Pepa and her friends Joumana, Kittie, and Jacque meet to gossip about their dating lives. Pepa, it turns out, hasn’t dated or had sex in four years, and she wants us to emotionally invest in her long, hard search for Mr. Right. She is Pepa and we should want to watch! But by the end of the premiere, she’s locking lips with a hunky guy in a hot tub, and her journey is already over. She’s gone from wannabe diva to reality cliche in about 30 minutes time.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

FANTASIA FOR REAL

On: VH1

Time: Monday nights, 10-10:30

LET’S TALK ABOUT PEP On: VH1

Time: Monday nights, 10:30-11

CARNIE WILSON: UNSTAPLED On: GSN

Time: Thursday nights, 8-8:30