Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. It was just a few years ago that VH1 could profitably fill hours of airtime with the likes of I Love the ‘70s, but that cultural energy has waned, and, meanwhile, there are celebrities of a certain vintage in need of the salvation that only reality shows can provide. The new thing is more like I Hate Myself for Loving the ‘80s, or maybe I Love the ‘90s, but They’ve Stopped Loving Me Back.
Let us avert our eyes from the sorrily staged spectacle of Messrs. Feldman and Haim reuniting on The Two Coreys (A&E) and move straight to Scott Baio Is 45 … and Single (VH1, Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET). The concept: I’m Incapable of Love Because of the ‘80s. Apparently, Scott Baio—once a heartthrob on Happy Days as Chachi (beloved by Joanie) and on Charles in Charge—either got so much tail during his days of sitcom stardom that it stunted his emotional growth, or else persisted in a compulsive tail-getting that is symptomatic of a deeper soul sickness. Whatever the particulars of Baio’s malaise, this eight-week case study has thus far made for embarrassingly handsome viewing: an over-the-hill Entourage meets Dr. Phil.
Baio—sincerely worried that he’ll drive away his girlfriend of 18 months and likely end up alone and seemingly unencumbered by a surfeit of acting gigs—is taking some time to address his fear of commitment. In the pilot, we saw him auditioning therapists from many different schools of SoCal quackery. These included a clairvoyant, an excavator of past lives, a probable hooker, and a woman who specializes in “body feng shui” and therefore ought to know where she can stick it. He settled on a tough-love clinical psychologist who ordered him to take a two-month break from his girlfriend and to get back in touch with his exes.
First came Susie, now happily settled in the Valley with a husband and a lovely daughter and an even lovelier kitchen. Wary of arriving at her doorstep empty-handed—and surely hoping to reinforce our impression of him as a sweet doofus—Baio brought her a bucket from KFC. Lured into candor by the chicken, Susie set the tone for all Baio’s subsequent encounters by asking him, “Do you remember breaking up with me for like a weekend to go out with, like, some Playmate? That happened, like five times.” The handsome devil had sympathy for her: “If I met me back then, I’d kick the shit out of me.”
Next came Joanie herself, Erin Moran, to whom Baio lost his virginity as a teenager, as long as you don’t count those moments immediately prior to their physical union, which he spent accidentally humping the corduroy couch on which they nested. Moran, intuiting a connection between Baio’s romantic problems and his continuing distress at being recognized as Chachi and thus a has-been, suggested that he appear at an autograph signing, which he did, receiving some kind of catharsis for the effort. Thus, with Scott Baio winning the battle against Scott Baio, the show now turns to conflicts among the secondary characters. Baio’s therapist tells him, “I think you need to have a clean break with Johnny V.” Johnny V., a fat and particularly rancid little friend of the star, sees things differently, of course. “Don’t stifle my time with Scott Baio!” he screeches at the therapist in the montage of the season’s coming highlights, and we wait with bated breath for the ultimate showdown between the medicine woman and the toxic wingman.
Mission: Man Band (VH1, Mondays at 10 p.m. ET), with its where-are-they-now? approach and Making the Band formula, promises to splash in similar Freudian shallows. It reintroduces four former members of boy bands to everyone whose eardrums don’t rupture at the sound of their music. These are LFO’s Rich Cronin (charismatic, a leukemia patient), 98 Degrees’ Jeff Timmons (charismatic, lives at his parents’ house), Color Me Badd’s Bryan Abrams (fat, a recovering alcoholic), and ‘N Sync’s Chris Kirkpatrick (fat, a practicing alcoholic). The quartet holes up in Kirkpatrick’s tastefully appointed Orlando, Fla., home with the goal of making a record and getting a deal. In three weeks. A ponytailed blonde named Katie will be their manager/coach/dominatrix. Introducing herself, she tells the manboys: “I got a lot of hesitation from everyone at my company when I agreed to do this project.” You don’t say? Best of luck, gentlemen, with the album and the show and getting inside of Katie’s turtleneck and, most of all, with finding success as a nostalgia act in a culture whose very short memory is matched by a very tall thirst for humiliation.