By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
House of Carters
8:00 p.m. Mondays
Suri and Survivor. That's all anyone will talk about anymore. First, Tom Cruise released those squicky Leibowitz portraits of his InstaFamily. (I've heard of babies being born with full heads of hair, but that kid looks like Seed-of-Moe-Howard.) Then Mark Burnett had to go and implement the most offensive/intriguing Survivor gimmick since that cute teacher stripped for peanut butter: racially segregated tribes! Heated debate is fogging up water coolers all over America. Will we ever see Suri again? And will the Asians be able to out-kayak the Latinos when a reward of cool, crisp Mountain Dew is at stake?
People, there's more to life than shaggy, mean-eyed celebrity babies and Burnett's TV adaptation of The Turner Diaries. Hey, that's what people tell me, at least. Let's focus on something substantial, earthy. Something that actually affects the way we relate to each other in this godless vacuum. A sincere antidote to the candy-floss vulgarity of modern pop culture. I am referring, of course, to House of Carters, a stark portrait of a showbiz family in crisis.
In the tradition of Breaking Bonaduce and The Osbournes, this show offers a barely censored peep at the lives of the Carter kids, now half-grown, emancipated, and, in some cases, rehabilitated. This is fascinating shit, trust me. It's like The Royal Tenenbaums, Orlando-style! (To continue the analogy, Britney and Kevin: Chaotic was Bottle Rocket, with Kevin playing the mute, baffled Inez to Britney's lovestruck Anthony.)
So who are these people? Most of us are already acquainted with Nick Carter, the ex-Backstreet barfly who allegedly slugged Paris Hilton in 2005. This whole social experiment—reuniting five borderline-estranged siblings in a Hollywood Hills manse—was Nick's idea, or at least the show is edited to appear that way. He's the self-appointed surrogate father to the clan—and tackles the job with the relish of a Castro leather daddy.
Next, there's young Aaron Carter, who recorded the squeamishly titled Oh, Aaron in 2001, at the age of 13. Then, he was a rangy pubescent faun "rapping" about Shaquille O'Neal and Disney Channel hotties while his family fell to pieces and his brother's star went supernova. Aaron was never legitimately famous, though his physical beauty did ignite the legendary Duff-Lohan feud.
Then we have the considerably less-famous Carter girls: First there's Angel, Aaron's socialite twin, who says she's working as a model. Whatever you say, Angel. Younger sister Leslie Carter tried in vain to launch a pop-singing career back when everyone and his half-uncle was signed to Jive. She briefly had a single called "Like, Wow," which pretty much sums up the Carter philosophy. Older sister Bobbie Jean—she actually answers to "B.J."!—is the only sib who's deliberately evaded the spotlight, though a few moments of Googling yields her impressive mugshot portfolio. (Apparently, Amy Carter was unavailable for the series.)
"All those years of tears—sometimes it needs to come out," quoth Angel in the premiere episode. And come out they do! This family fights so often that you realize why they've been avoiding each other. The most memorable beef thus far involves Nick telling Aaron not to (loudly) play his crappy rap tracks at 1:00 a.m. Aaron responds by whining, "But it's grind time for A.C!" Yes, he really says that.
The fight escalates until Nick eventually accuses "A.C." of wooing Paris Hilton in the wake of big bro's breakup. Aaron claims he never touched her. Meanwhile, the other Carters have emerged from their quarters to watch the boys shove each other ineffectually. "Don't spit in my face, dawg!" Aaron warns Nick. B.J. looks like she's about to burst into tears, but that's sort of her default expression.
All this superficial roomie angst is very amusing, but scenes in which the kids deal with their psychologically disturbed mother are less than hilarious. Unlike most other reality-TV clans, the Carters are openly dealing with financial woes, illness, and full-bore dysfunction. This show has more in common with Intervention than Hogan Knows Best. Hearing Aaron say that he blames himself for his parents' divorce isn't snarkworthy or even enjoyably pulpy; it's depressing. A scene in which Leslie and B.J. worry about who's going to pay Mom's hospital bills is surprisingly candid. Like, wow. Most shows about celebrities try to dazzle us with excess and "uptown problems," but it appears that the Carters are paddling up the same rank creek as the rest of us schmucks.
According to online previews, things are only going to get rockier: Angel pulls a kitchen knife on B.J., Leslie confesses to having been medicated for mental illness, and a licensed therapist makes a visit to the Carters' temporary digs for a Starting Over-style rap session. And there's always the possibility that Mom or Dad will show up and further agitate their fractured brood. It almost feels dirty not to flip away from this program. If I wanted to see irrational people threaten each other with flatware, I'd go to my parents' house more often.
Watching these humbled showbiz kids army-crawl toward adulthood makes for riveting TV, to be honest. In Young Hollywood, what happens to a dream deferred? Does it crust over like Katie Holmes's upper lip? Or does it, as the famous poem says, explode and shit? I'm sure the Carters are hoping for the latter; maybe these aging golden children can mount Ashley Parker Angel-esque comebacks, despite the fact that most of them were never here to begin with. Go ahead and catch these falling stars while they're still throwing off some light; it's not going to be pretty when they hit the ground.