Do you take this imbecile…?

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THE handsome young man stands with his beautiful new bride, enacting that age-old marital ritual -- the recounting of his day's events. On this particular day, he has discovered a dead mouse in the swimming pool.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/10/2003 (6996 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE handsome young man stands with his beautiful new bride, enacting that age-old marital ritual — the recounting of his day’s events. On this particular day, he has discovered a dead mouse in the swimming pool.

“It was all, like, stiff and rigor-mortised,” he tells her.

“Riga-who?” she replies.

The camera moves in. The emotions are easily read on our hero’s face. First, puzzlement, then amusement. And, finally, the sinking horror that comes with this realization: I have married the stupidest woman on Earth.

“You know — when you die, and your body gets all stiff,” he tells her, hoping for a light bulb to turn on.

“Learn something new every day,” she mumbles.

There is simply no light bulb there.

This is one of the many sublime moments on a show full of them: Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, MTV’s reality show following the lives of the recently hitched pop singers Nick Lachey (of 98 Degrees fame) and Jessica Simpson.

Only six episodes old, the show is fast turning into the most valuable cultural document of our young century: It’s both a study in our modern celebrity obsessions and a scathing attack on the celebrities who fuel them. Nick and Jessica are young, gorgeous, spectacularly wealthy, enviably privileged — and, ultimately, two gullible fools who have unwittingly given us front-row seats to the train wreck that is their celebrity marriage.

What’s so terrific about Newlyweds is that it is a very contemporary gloss on a decades-old genre: the warts-and-all anatomy of married life. In 1973, director Ingmar Bergman made Scenes From a Marriage, a six-part television miniseries that followed a fictional married couple as they tore at, and finally tore apart from, one another. Scenes From a Marriage is transfixing in its grasp of the nuances of the envy, hatred and jealousy that swirl inside a married couple’s home.

All the envy, hatred and jealousy are here, but in deliciously inane, star-studded permutations. Watch Jessica get mad at Nick for checking out other women’s backsides. Watch Nick blow up at Jessica for ruining his afternoon golf outing by complaining of her golf swing, “My boob gets in the way. My boob makes it curve.”

Oh, to have these people’s problems! Except that’s the brilliant joke here — you wouldn’t want these people’s problems. Newlyweds seduces us with its glimpses into the tinted limousine windows of the rich and famous: their fabulous vacations, their photo shoots, their recording sessions, their expansive Hollywood Hills homes.

But the more we see, the more we understand this relationship to be built on a foundation of ego and image. There is only token affection expressed between the two newlyweds; more often, you simply see Nick irritated and bored with Jessica — grateful, for instance, to be able to escape to a Playboy Mansion party and to turn off his cellphone from Jessica’s incessant nagging.

This isn’t a marriage so much as a public relations campaign — a point brought home by the omnipresence of the cameras in their home, by the very existence of the show.

So we relish Jessica’s whiny, spoiled-brat inability to pick up after herself. We delight at Nick having to put up with her pestering him about how he spends too much time with his brother Drew. Mostly, we laugh at what spectacularly stupid thing Jessica will come up with next. She doesn’t realize that Chicken of the Sea is not actually chicken. She always thought “platypus” was pronounced “platymapus.” She thinks buffalo wings are made from, well, buffalo.

That sometimes makes Newlyweds rather mean-spirited viewing — surely Jessica never bargained on becoming the American poster child for imbecilic hot chicks. But this mean-spiritedness feels deserved — and, for the ordinary Joes like us watching the show, it is extraordinarily cathartic.

Not just because Nick and Jessica achieved success in spite of their rather dubious singing talents. And not just because we live in a world that heaps limitless rewards upon the dumb, the young and the beautiful. But also because these two newlyweds had the hubris, and the vanity, to think that we would be interested in seeing every moment of their lives on television.

Well, yes, we are interested in their lives, but there’s nothing to be ashamed of. That’s the genius of the show. Instead of exalting these would-be idols, it gives them what they deserve.

— Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
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