‘The Houstons’: Too Soon and Too Staged

You'd think a reality show inspired by a heartbreaking death would have a bit more heart.


(The Root) — Reality television is exploitative by definition. It’s a fishbowl with sharks — entertainment at its most primitive. You root for the good guys, boo for the baddies and gasp when a table gets flipped or a drink gets thrown. Simple.

But in Lifetime’s new reality series The Houstons: On Our Own, the formula gets a bit complicated as the masks of comedy and tragedy melt into a hot mess.

Debuting on Wednesday night, fewer than nine months after Whitney Houston’s death in February, the show chronicles the grief-stricken survivors of the Houston clan: sister-in-law Pat, brother Gary, mommy Cissy and, of course, daughter Bobbi Kristina (and her “brother-boyfriend,” Nick). Something of a macabre crew.

Appearing on The View earlier this week, Pat Houston, Whitney’s longtime manager, batted down criticism that the show could be summed up in just two words: “too soon.”

But even while being polite, Barbara Walters wouldn’t back down. “Would Bobbi Kristina not have been better off if you didn’t do a reality show? If you didn’t show her visiting her mother’s grave with cameras on her? If you just let her grow up to have a life without the kind of attention that maybe contributed in a way perhaps to her own mother’s death?”

Pat explained that 19-year-old Bobbi Kristina, the only child of Whitney and Bobby Brown, “has had cameras following her since she was born.” This, I guess, we’re supposed to believe is a good thing? Or perhaps a necessary evil?

“Too soon” has become a pat comeback lately. When someone jokes about a hideous haircut moments after you’ve stopped crying? Too soon. When Mitt Romney holds a press conference criticizing the Obama administration the morning after the Benghazi, Libya, attack? Too soon. And when a famous family enters the reality arena months after a tragedy? Too soon.

So about those cameras.

Premiering two episodes back-to-back on Wednesday, The Houstons is hardly thrilling enough to devote an hour of your life to. (But honestly, what reality show is?) The show lacks a center, an emotional or physical headquarters, aside from the obvious fact of Whitney’s tragic death, making the entire enterprise  — this close to Halloween — seem more morbid than anything.