At the center of a great reality show is a great character. Whether they're profoundly honest, laughable, or just bats**t nuts, they end up making great TV because they can work the camera and transform their world around them into watchable drama.
That makes The Houstons: On Our Own one of the more bizarre reality experiments. The show follows the family of the late Whitney Houston: her brother Gary, her sister-in-law/manager Pat, their daughter Rayah, their mother Cissy, Bobbi Kristina, the daughter of Houston and Bobby Brown who moves in with Gary and Pat, and Bobbi's pseudo-brother/boyfriend Nick Gordon. Aside from Bobbi, who went on to become tabloid fodder in the wake of Houston's death, none of them are particularly famous, and as the show reveals, particularly interesting. Luckily, that's not a major hurdle, because there's one more character who keeps the show moving: Whitney Houston.
Houston died of from an accidental drowning in February of this year but she's the invisible star of The Houstons: On Our Own, part examination of a celebrity death's ripple effect, part mournful tribute, and part schadenfreude-filled character study of the musician's stardom-hungry daughter. In a family where every hand was on deck to serve Houston's career, it's not a surprise that the the gang can't stop talking about the singer, but that doesn't make it any less creepy, thanks the show's insistence on playing up the run-of-the-mill reality show drama over what really concerns the family after Houston's death. Here are the many ways The Houstons: On Our Own isn't actually about "The Houstons" so much as it is all about Whitney:
She's Front and Center in the Opening Credits
From the get go, it's obvious that Whitney Houston is the driving force of The Houstons. The title cards introduce us to the many Houstons, but it's Whitney who towers over them with blinding white glow. The odd arrangement screams, "know your place in the world, lesser Houstons."
A Trip to Whitney Houston's Grave
Wacky antics work wonders on reality shows, but how about grieving? The Houstons: On Our Own' first episode "White Roses" throws us into the lives of the Houstons at the peak of their mourning. Coinciding with the arrival of Bobbi to Gary and Pat's home, the whole gang has planned a wild outing to New York City! Where Whitney Houston is buried. A necessary confrontation on Bobbi's first Mother's Day without Whitney, but a bummer of a half hour television show.
The Are They/Aren't They Having an Incestuous Relationship Hook
As the overseer of all things Whitney, Pat can't help but worry about her newfound responsibilities as Bobbi's surrogate mother. Anyone would feel the same way if their new 19-year-old dependent declared over dinner that she and her best friend/potentially adopted brother were getting married, the case between Bobbi and Nick. Pat can't even begin to tackle Bobbi's emerging drinking problem because she's too grossed out by the too-close-for-comfort relationship. Most of the problem solving amounts of lamenting about Whitney not being around and how Pat could never take her place in Bobbi's life. Thankfully, Bobbi and Nick are aware that they're making everyone around them gag — if anything balances out the Whitney references in the episode, it's the couple's insistence that "everyone has [their] relationship screwed up."
Bobbi's Music Career
One prospect that lights up the eyes of everyone in the family is the potential for Bobbi to jump in the recording studio with cousin Damon Elliot (also in NYC for the family meet-up) and lay down some of her own tracks. Bobbi wants to escape her Mom's shadow, be an individual. She let's us loud and clear in a confessional. "Being Whitney Houston's daughter can put a lot of pressure on one person. I am here to prove to the world that I am my own person." Her own person… who is also Whitney Houston's daughter. Bobbi's ambition is music to the ears of Pat, who gives off the impression that the Houston could use someone to carry the banner (and keep them all employed).
Would The Houstons: On Our Own be any better if it didn't forcefully remind us every two seconds of Whitney Houston's untimely death and never-ending legacy? Probably not, but there may be a better direction to explore and one that previews of upcoming episodes don't hint at. Now if they get Bobby Brown to show up….
The Houstons: On Our Own airs tonight at 9 P.M. on Lifetime.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Richard Knapp/Lifetime]
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You approach one of Tyler Perry's Aunt Madea movies with certain expectations. Lively banter, wacky anecdotes, and maybe a few references to classic television. When it comes to Perry's newest venture, Madea's Witness Protection, these things aren't limited to the film alone. They were front and center on the Red Carpet.
On Monday, Hollywood.com got a chance to catch up with two of Witness Protection's most versatile stars: John Amos and Marla Gibbs. Between the two actors' résumés, just about every single television show in American history is covered. Amos might be best known as Good Times star James Evans, Sr., but he has so many programs and films to his name that it's really difficult to pinpoint him to a single role. One of Amos' more recent ventures was The West Wing, created by Aaron Sorkin, who Amos calls "That writer that is a cut above most writers working in television today. I had the pleasure of doing some of the best words I’ve ever had as an actor when I was doing Admiral Percy Fitzwallace on The West Wing," adding that he was "looking forward to" Sorkin's new series The Newsroom.
Amos then delved into a tale about how his West Wing character got him in good with Secretary of State Colin Powell: "That was an unforgettable hour in my life. I’m sitting outside his office. I’m waiting for him to be free to see me. I thought it was going to be a very cursory meeting — ‘Hi, here’s a picture for you, I’ve got to get back to state business.’ He came out, he looked at me, and he said, ‘Percy Fitzwallace! What kind of name is that for a brother?’"
Amos laughed, continuing the story: "Totally disarmed me! I fell on the floor! He said, ‘Get up, you’re embarrassing me!’ We went into his office, and he called his wife Alma. He said, ‘Alma, you’ll never guess who I’m sitting in my office talking to.’ I thought to myself, ‘She’ll never guess who he’s talking to?! If my mom and my dad could see me sitting, talking to the secretary of state, my dad’s chest would pop buttons through a brick wall!’"
Going back a little further into the realm of classic television, the Witness Protection Red Carpet also granted an opportunity to chat about The Jeffersons with Marla Gibbs, who was unforgettable as Florence Johnston, the titular family's wisecracking maid. In this age of TV-to-film adaptations, Gibbs was enthusiastic about the idea of a movie version of The Jeffersons.
Gibbs joked, "I'd consider going back to anything!" before contemplating the casting on a Jeffersons picture: "Mr. Jefferson’s still with us, so he can play Mr. Jefferson. There’s not that many of us around. But Ralph the doorman is still here. Jenny is still with us." As for the rest of the roles, Gibbs optimistically remarked, "I’m sure there are talented young actors out there who can pick up the parts."
The prospect of a Madea's Witness Protection Red Carpet is uplifting enough, but getting a chance to dish about great TV shows with the actors who starred on them? That's just gold. Catch Madea's Witness Protection in theaters now.
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Madea's Witness Protection
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.