Rage fueled by alcohol, Vicodin, steroids and womanizing. Codependent drama, divorce threats and rehab. Threats of abandonment; a violent suicide attempt. No, it isn’t another season of Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency. The Bonaduces are Baaaack!
Last year, in its brief premiere season, the reality Tv series Breaking Bonaduce conquered all of the above television boundaries and left viewers feeling mystified, confused, and guiltily entertained. Danny Bonaduce himself summed this up in the show’s ads: “My life is a car crash. And you have every right to slow down and watch the car crash”. Personally, if I’m unlucky enough to drive past a wreck site, I turn the other way. So what’s the fascination with this Tour de Self Destruction? Your guess is as good as mine.
Last season ended with Danny slashing his wrists, leaving the audience and critics alike certain this show would not be back. Where is there to go from there? “Up” seemed an impossibility, given the speed and determination with which Bonaduce seemed set on self-destruct. “Down” seemed unimaginable, unwatchable. Season 2’s series premiere bodes something more surprising, and yet somehow perfect – time passed with no huge revelations. Well, there’s one.
As Season 2 begins, Gretchen, Danny and Countess Isabella (their young daughter) exit a limo and walk onto the red carpet. Danny’s in rockstar gear worthy of Jeffrey Sebelia, Gretchen has maroon hair extensions and a gown to match, and C.I. is the picture of sweet in a burgundy/eggplant velvet dress. This is some sort of VH1 event, it appears. The Bonaduces do the usual red carpet stuff - pose for paparazzi, wave to fans, talk to reporters. During all this, Isabella looks warily at the crowd, but gazes up at her father in the most heartbreakingly adoring way. This look is singular to little girls who feel their father can never do wrong. Part of the most painful experiences watching Breaking Bonaduce last season, was watching the powerful emotions any family member feels watching a loved one poison themselves slowly, course through the mind of a child. Danny & Gretchen’s son (Count) Dante was too little to understand the family’s issues, but older sister Isabella seemed to take in everything – although she herself was too young to understand it.
...And a Tuinal friendship ring.
Amazingly, it’s as if none of it ever happened, as the Bonaduce family paste on red carpet smiles for the cameras. Eerily, Lindsay Lohan creeps up to Isabella, and takes her hands, smiling. I couldn’t help but taste a sense of foreshadowing there. It may only be a matter of time before Countess Isabella’s (yes, that is what they named her) name is all over the tabloids too. Linds and Is, the new Paris & Nicole: Best Friends Forever? I hope not.
Reporters ask Danny about audience reaction to Season One. Danny says he expected to be spit on, but because he went to rehab and got sober, people are coming up and telling him he’s an inspiration. He says he’ll take it, but, doesn’t feel like one. Gretchen codependents that Danny is healthier than he’s ever been. Isabella looks up, clearly over the moon about all this. Someone asks Danny what 2005 taught him. “Vodka, Vicodin and steroids don’t make a good cocktail” he says. Asked what the coming year holds, Danny predicts: “Vodka, Vicodin and steroids”.
With the theme set, the title montage rolls. High over a city landscape, a bleak wind rustles by, and ‘we’ look left and right. Nothing but black, white, and grey. The camera zooms in on Danny’s weathered face – he looks as if he may give up, but it’s a stubborn look as well. These shots remind me of the opening to “Wings of Desire”, a beautiful film about angels. But there are no angels visible here – just a bottle, which Danny chugs. It’s a long way down, and Danny’s on the roof’s edge without wires or a net. It’s a tidy image for (by all indications) his current life and certainly for what we’re shown on this series. Then I realized he’s really up there. I wondered if “Danny the actor” did that stunt with some sort of safety harness. We’ll see later in the show. (Three guesses!)
Now the first Season 2 episode begins for real – New York City! As if that wasn’t enough of an indicator, we’re shown Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, and Wall Street. Well, maybe they’re right. Anyone watching enough Tv to sit through this show can’t have much time for geography. Anyway, it turns out Danny’s in NYC to appear on the Howard Stern satellite radio show. Danny banters good-naturedly with Howard. Predictably, Howard and gang tease Danny about moments from BB, Season One. Howard reminds Danny that his wife wants nothing to do with him, especially sexually; and Danny agrees Gretchen is “just not that into” him. I’m thinking Howard might have the same problem with women, if he didn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars. But no one out-Sterns Stern, so he’ll never have to hear that. Danny confesses he has never seen Breaking Bonaduce and does not want to. Stern’s sidekicks show Danny a video clip of his infamous strung-out crying jag. One man even mimics Danny. Danny gamely laughs along with them. Thank heavens the man’s got some acting skills, and can laugh along - as the whole thing is rather mean-spirited.
Howard asks Danny why he isn’t divorced. Danny asks if Howard’s heard of “The Afghani twins who are ‘connected at the belly’” – Howard says no. Danny says that’s why there’s no divorce – he and Gretchen are connected like that, and there would “just be too much to untangle”. Howard twists the knife by praising Gretchen to the skies, which has Danny eagerly debasing himself with “She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s trustworthy – she’s everything I’m not”. Has Howard been getting pointers from Dr. Garry? They should co-author a book: “Encouraging Self Loathing the Easy Way”. Dr. Garry could shelve his tantric male sexuality studies for a while.
Back to the image of two people joined at the “belly” – it’s actually a pretty hellish one, albeit perfectly descriptive of an enmeshed relationship. Being joined at the ‘belly’ the two persons would always be facing each other – instant reassurance sometimes – but more often being literally stuck together could foment resentment, and pain. Saint John Bosco had a vision of hell in which people who could not move began clawing and tearing at themselves, each other, and anything nearby. Throw a vodka bottle in there, and it’s pretty much Breaking Bonaduce. I’m not sure whether it’s courage or foolhardiness that prods Danny to keep up a running line of quips throughout it all.
Quetzalcoatl Ain't So Tough!
Continuing in this episode of
The Amazing Raceer, Where In the World is Carmen Sandiegoer, Breaking Bonaduce, now we’re shown the words “Mexico City” along with a Mexican flag and various street scenes. (Gee, do you think we're going to Cuba?) Danny is met at the airport by Erica, a publicity rep for VH1 Central America. He seems fit, relaxed, and at ease. Despite the hazing on the Stern show, (which no doubt he’s gotten used to) he seems comfortable, even upbeat. In the car, Danny asks why they have a security guard – “To protect Mexico from me, or me from Mexico?” Erica assures him it’s the latter. And the quips begin:
Danny: “I’m excited that Columbia is buying the show. I sent a lot of money to Columbia. I’d like to see them sending some back.” “Pablo Escobar died with fifty of my dollars in his pocket.” Erica tells him that the show will be seen in “all of Latin America” or 22 countries; and in Spanish it’s called “Destrozando a Bonaduce” or “Destroying Bonaduce”. Danny cheerily chimes in that he likes it.
They’re at the destination of the day: A press conference for Destrozando. Danny seems amused by the shouts of “Dah-neee!”. And it’s quip time again. Danny: “I think that Mexican viewers will think the same thing that American viewers think: What the heck’s wrong with that guy?”. “I look like an idiot on Television. I look like an idiot in lots of ways.” “I did not bring this behavior to a show. A show was brought to this behavior.” (I’m trying to imagine that ‘pitch meeting’ – and who made the pitch?) More: “It’s much easier to be famous for being on ‘The Partridge Family’ than being famous for being a maniac.” “A fifty year old dancing in the streets naked is stupid. But, in my forties it’s still OK.” “What’s the point of the show? To pay my rent and feed my children.” Danny admits to being obsessed with the Absolut Vodka that somehow got into his hotel room cough producers cough and then takes a bow. That’s it, folks – tip your waitress, try the veal.
Like A Bird On A Wire...
This being Destrozando a Bonaduce, Danny next climbs up to the rooftop. A camera crew is waiting. Danny’s on a platform (hidden below camera range), standing looking out over Mexico City. It’s the same shot we saw in the episode’s black and white title shots. It is a bit less stark in color. The director is happy with the first shot, and calls it a wrap. Danny seems bored with this, and decides to go out onto the roof’s edge for real. (I thought that was juice in that bottle he’s holding?) Danny blithely skips somewhat along the roof’s edge; it’s a very long way down. The director tries to talk him down and not panic, but Danny is clearly scaring the entire crew. Then suddenly, and jauntily, he says “That’s all!” and skips down to safer ground. The way he’s been swaying up there, and chuckling oddly, it makes me wonder if either the entire episode has been acted – a grey area since the things we’re shown really did happen – but is Danny ‘acting’ his reaction to some things? The acting in that filmed segment is a lot like some of Danny’s “wild” behavior. The boundaries on this show are blurrier than Barbara Walter’s camera lens.
Some hangers-on follow Danny around an open air market. He tests a sword, signs some autographs and waves. Other than the sword, it’s low key. Time killed, Danny stops by a dubbing studio to watch BB being dubbed into Spanish. I’m impressed by the actors, who haven’t even seen the episode before. Their voices seem character-appropriate, and they act laughter or tears easily. They are dubbing (therefore watching) the scene from Season One in which Danny forced the show’s crew to lend him a cell phone. He proceeded to harass his wife with that phone, because her friends might have gotten her a male stripper for her birthday party. He goes ballistic, throwing out ugly threats, and finally hops in a total stranger’s car, to go to Gretchen’s hotel. He’s completely manic. Watching himself on tape, Danny’s expressions go from amusement to surprise to shock and disgust. At one point, the same crying jag Howard Stern made fun of, plays in the dubbing studio. Danny leaps to put his hand in front of his face so as not to see – then runs far from the sight. When he returns he admits he doesn’t remember any of it. Still, his reaction in this low key atmosphere is interesting – he is mortified and calls the scene “hideous”. Makes a bold contrast to the nonchalant way he tried to joke about it all with Howard Stern.
Now footage of Gretchen’s party complete with male strippers in only a towel, flicker on the studio’s computer. At this, any trace of shame about the past seems gone, as ferrety detective Danny is back, and keenly interested in what Gretchen did or did not do that day. Not only that, but Danny compulsively tries to get the dubbing actors on his side, by telling them the ‘strippers story’. He’s not mean or manic here especially, but he’s obsessive and it shows. The dubbing studio actors – who clearly first thought he’d give them advice on how to portray him etc. – seem confused and more than a little rattled. One actor has a smile frozen on his face. That’s a mini tundra of fear right there.
Back in Danny’s Mexico City hotel room, he and the Absolut bottle duke it out mano a mano in a staring contest. Wanna bet on a winner? No, me either.
But for now, Danny seems to be betting just on nicotine and some James Dean wheels. Danny looks rather ragged in his rear view mirror and admits he is “tired”. Gretchen is filmed behind the wheel of her own car (there are a lot of driving scenes in this show – maybe Gretchen doesn’t want Danny to hear some of what she’ll say? Maybe VH1 hopes Danny crashes in his and they get a new season cliffhanger? Oh, like this show is beyond stooping low for ratings, after last year’s wrist-slashing?). Gretchen says she thinks Danny’s been backsliding.
Only Liza Gets Away With That Much Eyeliner.
And at long last…the Breaking Bonaduce cast member we have all longed to see. There was speculation last season in some corners as to whether “Doctor Garry” would keep the eccentric eyeliner he seemed fond of last year. Nope – a new haircut, and some face work perhaps, but no visible makeup (just the usual Hollywoodite’s Mystic Tan). One habit he hasn’t let go of, though, is arguing with and yelling at his patient, and making this all about Evil Danny. I’m no doctor, but I can see that a lot of Danny’s problems are due to low self esteem, and lingering effects of child abuse (there are heavy rumors and a Tv biopic claiming he was beaten often as a child). There’s a mechanism inside many formerly abused children that says “I will hit myself first, and worse, than you ever could”. This is because the worst part of abuse is the second right beforehand. That second is an eternity long, and the wondering if or when the next shoe is gonna drop is an awful feeling. Some grow up to, like Danny apparently, erase that void, that silence, that waiting, by making life one long obliteration. Look Ma, top o’ the world. No suspense here…the only way is down.
So what does Dr. Garry Corgiat (Ph.d) do? Openly sides with the self-loather’s partner as to what a problem the offender is. Openly taunt and insult the patient. It’s immensely irritating as a viewer – though many wonder what type of therapist would allow sessions to be filmed for ‘entertainment’ in the first place. Some things are warped by a camera lens – and not on Tv, but in life, where it matters. I see no way Danny or Gretchen or their family can possibly get help in this setting. But…if we look at it as a filmed train wreck – as Danny is either astute or self deprecating (or both) enough to point out first, then from that point of view we can absolve ourselves from culpability and enjoy the show. So from that point of view, this scene is one awesome stretch of twisted metal.
smirkslistens to Danny claim their marriage is very good now. Gretchen says that lately things have been very bad again. Danny simply and sincerely apologises to her, and says he didn’t know. Danny looks absolutely exhausted…and admits when Gar asks, that he’s been more angry lately. Gretchen thinks something happened in Mexico. That sets off Danny’s anger and he begins a story about sweating with temptation over that Absolut piece of Forbidden Fruit, and that he called Gretchen in America, only to be told she was busy and couldn’t listen just then. I know where Dr. Gar wants to take this – to get Danny to be less codependent upon Gretchen for every crisis or need – but he goes about it in a totally tactless and combative way. Instead of being objective, and maintaining a nonemotional distance for Danny to notice and perhaps later emulate…Dr. Garry has instead cast himself in the role of the accuser – the latest in a long, long, LONG line in Danny’s life by the history we’ve been told. Danny’s living out the role of the perpetual screwup, and destroying himself for it. Danny was literally crying in despair, and Garry begins digging into his own personal drama, becoming defensive, even baiting Danny. Yelling at him that he’s screwing up and he is the problem and not Gretchen, seems an odd therapeutic tactic to take. Should only one of the patients in therapy get supported? These “therapy” scenes make me a little ill. Dr. Garry – countertransference. It’s a concept. Look into it.
To close out the opening episode with a preview of the rest of Season 2, we get bits and pieces of what bits and pieces Danny’s psyche are chewed into this time around…More Danny and Garry arguing; Garry smirking; Danny talking to Adam Carolla on radio; Danny being belligerent to someone; Garry asking if Gretchen would leave Danny; more talk (as in last season) of Danny moving out, of divorce, and possible suicide. And just when you’re ready to shrug your shoulders in exhausted resignation? You notice the children are there feeling or witnessing it all. Despite a stranger’s advice on some restaurant patio, despite promising Dr. Useless he’ll do better this time, despite Danny’s promising (and I’m sure there’s been many broken promises) Gretchen he only wants to come home to her…Where this all stops being entertaining or funny or disturbing and just becomes tragically sad, is the moment we see one of their children sobbing on a curbside about it all.
Maybe Danny’s not the Bonaduce being broken here.
What do you think? Brandy@fansofrealitytv.com