Toast to the Bride and Groom

MTV’s latest celebsploitation show.

Shiny, happy people: MTV plays newlywed game

I’m late on this, but MTV’s got something good going with Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, the shiny documentary series about new celebrity couple Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson. The channel must know it because the pilot’s in heavy rotation. This unscrupulous, uproarious reality show may well spawn many back-to-school drinking games.

Two days after a Disney wedding, Simpson and Lachey are sitting on the couch together in their bland starter palace. Lachey’s goggle-eyed, watching basketball; Simpson’s curled up with a white bowl of something she has just prepared for herself. The first inkling of marital discord comes when Simpson makes a bid for attention. “Is this chicken, what I have, or is this fish?” she asks her husband. “I know it’s tuna. But it says chicken. By the sea.”

Lachey turns to glare at her.

“Is that stupid?” she asks. “Why is it called chicken by the sea, or of the sea?”

TV sports roar in the background. “A lot of people eat tuna, a lot of people eat chicken, so it’s like ‘Chicken of the Sea,’ ” Lachey explains at last.

Simpson, who got a record deal at 14, has always lived in hotels. “I didn’t really have this upkeep thing,” she says, amazed at how dirty skillets can get and the fact that flowers fester. Laundry bewilders her, too; she tends to toss clothes and towels over a balcony outside her bedroom onto the floor of the foyer. “Somebody’s always picked up after me,” she says. (Eminem’s “Cleaning Out My Closet” is MTV’s theme for her laundry problems.)

Lachey, who’s in the band 98 Degrees, seethes. It seems that he’s a cheapskate who balks at paying a housekeeper $20 an hour. He rarely addresses his wife in a voice that isn’t laced with spite. He complains about her to his stylist and leans on his brother for support.

Simpson, in the meantime, regains her confidence after the tuna-chicken perplex only when she’s getting her eyelashes curled in her mother’s company. To someone on the phone, she says, “I need a maid, but Nick won’t let me hire one because he wants to trust them. He wants to interview them and do all that thing first. Do you even know if there’s, like, maids for like celebrities?” Calmly, the phone friend says, “I’ll find out.”

A prototypical conversation between husband and wife occurs toward the end of the show:

“What are you pissed about? What’s the problem?”

“You should do whatever you want to do.”

In the Newlyweds drinking game, a player could drink whenever this kind of exchange goes down.

“It’s just so plain,” Simpson whines about her bare house, as horror-movie music plays. She seems very stuck. Her mansion comes to represent a new kind of haunted house—one with central air and uniformly bright light.

This so far is a dangerous marriage, but it plays as comedy because Simpson and Lachey seem far too good-looking, rich, giggly, and lightweight to be headed for anything really bad. Of course, I may not know them well enough; Tina and Ike Turner may have started with housekeeping spats. Still, drinking games—like TV-watching—aren’t founded in scruples, and, among consenting adults, Newlyweds is funny television.