New group moves into 'The Surreal Life'
By Bruce R. Miller, Journal staff writer
You'd think the fireworks would come from putting a porn star in the same room as an evangelist.
But in "The Surreal Life," it's the "Baywatch" babe, the "Real World" retread and the white rapper who mix things up.
In the second installment of the bizarre reality series, Traci Bingham and Trishelle Canatalla get in a real cat fight (meeeeeooww!) and watch as Vanilla Ice melts down when he sees a photograph of his former self. He's the Corey Feldman of this group and one of the big reasons the new edition is going to be a memorable one.
While Erik Estrada (or "Hasselhoff," as Ice calls him) is also in the house, he's hardly the bait. That honor goes to Tammy Faye Messner, the former PTL televangelist who used to cry at the drop of a mascara wand. Now, she insists, she doesn't cry on television (although an upcoming episode belies that statement) and is willing to go with the flow. She covers her ears when the profanity flies, tries to minister to porn king Ron Jeremy and serves as a sounding board for the overly pickled Trishelle.
They're living in what Rob Van Winkle (Ice's real name) calls "the ultimate bachelor pad," a kitschy L.A. place where Warhol-like photos hang on a big wall and abstract patterns decorate so-so rooms. Tammy Faye is appalled (bless her good taste) and agrees to sleep in a closet when the six discover there are only five beds to be had.
The first episode deals with sleeping arrangements and Bingham's late arrival. She insists she has been busy "on the set," but she never elaborates about the program. When she whirls in, the others are good and mad -- and ready to rumble. She throws down a glove and, before you can say "praise the Lord," the bout has begun.
Estrada believes she has been hired to stir the pot, but that's just Traci. She wants to come off as more successful than the rest; she doesn't want to look like she's slumming.
She picks on Jeremy (who looks like a big lump -- shades of Vince Neil) and digs at Trishelle. She's a good one to have in the mix. But she's not likely to open up and reveal a side we haven't seen.
That honor belongs to Messner. All the phoniness that seemed to accompany her days as Mrs. Jim Bakker are nowhere to be found. She's a commoner with a lot of sense. She's the most surprising surreal-er and the one we'd like to see more of.
Estrada hasn't changed a bit; Van Winkle's still bitter and Jeremy could be grasping at his last non-infomercial bit of fame.
When the group goes grocery shopping, they have a rough time deciding what to get. It shows what happens when you film has-beens doing simple tasks that mere mortals don't even think about.
As reality shows go, "The Surreal Life" isn't the most stellar example of the genre. It's the supermarket tabloid butting up against the National Geographic of "Survivor" and the People magazine of "The Bachelor."
It's down and dirty. But it sure is fun to watch.
"The Surreal Life" premieres at 8 p.m. Jan. 11 on The WB.