Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew is what I like to call "trainwreck television", which refers to the kind of program where the principals involved are such a mess that it's impossible to tear your eyes away, despite the moral argument pummelling your brain. It's bottom feeder programming...and it's highly addictive (oooh, the irony).
In a reality television wasteland that offers us such inane options as shows involving people who are exterminators, trash collectors, hoard junk, and feature Steven Seagal working as a cop (excuse me - lawman), why not a show about celebs battling their demons? A & E's Intervention first explored the addiction-as-entertainment terrain and it was a ratings hit. Dr. Drew Pinsky, a licensed doctor who became famous as a radio and television personality, hooked up with VH1 and debuted Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew in early 2008, which was also highly rated and lead to two subsequent seasons and a spinoff show (Celebrity Rehab Presents Sober House). The formula: throw a bunch of D-list celebrities and pseudo celebrities in an addiction treatment facility, watch them hit rock bottom as they work their way through a number of debilitating issues, and reap the ratings rewards.
Sex Rehab presents the usual oddball mix of characters. Amber Smith, a former supermodel and b-movie actress, is a returning veteran. Previously a participant on Rehab 2 and Sober House, this time around she's traded her pill addiction for an addiction to bad relationships and dating partners, seemingly traced back to some significant daddy issues (her mom is a piece of work, too). Smith's peak as a model may have been some years ago now, but she is still stunningly beautiful, which somehow made the sight of her puking while draped over a waste bin in the treatment facility's hallway during Rehab 2 that much more disturbing. Next we have Nicole Narain, a Playmate and model who is probably best known for starring in a sex tape with actor Colin Farrell. Her most shocking admission is that she has, at times, masturbated up to 18 times a day. Speaking of masturbation, next there's Jennifer Ketcham, also known by her porn star name "Penny Flame". One of the fine movies on her resume is Celebrity Pornhab With Dr. Screw, a Celebrity Rehab parody that starred Marey Carey, a participant on Rehab 1. Former porn skank (and current "dancer" - we all know what that means) Kendra Jade Rossi is also in the group. She's (in)famous for dating Jerry Springer, been linked to Kevin Federline, and married Lukas Rossi, the skunk haired Toronto singer who won the Rockstar Supernova TV competition. Finally, as far as the women go, we have Kari Ann Peniche. She was stripped of her Miss United States Teen title when she posed for Playboy and is also probably best known for recently appearing naked along with acting couple Rebecca Gayheart and Eric Dane in a private sex tape that, uh, actually had no sex in it.
As far as the male participants, there's former Saigon Kick and Skid Row drummer Phil Varone, who is now a stand up comic and actor. Phil says he has slept with several thousand women, but can't commit to a relationship. Then there's British filmmaker Duncan Roy, whose claim to fame are a handful of obscure movies nobody has heard of and who now teaches low budget filmmaking. Rounding out the group is James Lovett, a professional surfer and wakeboarder. As I mentioned, we're talking top tier celebrities here, folks.
The patients' 21 day treatment brings the expected amount of drama. Lovett jokingly tells Ketcham that he wants to "rape the shit out of her" and then acts amazed when the entire group takes offense and, in his opinion, gangs up on him. Lovett proves to be the second most grating rehabber, perfectly representing everything that those of us who don't care for extreme sports athletes find annoying. I'm sure I'm not the only one who celebrated his multiple skateboard wipeouts in the facility's courtyard. At one group session, he shows up wearing socks on his hands and mismatched shoes. The most annoying patient is easily Peniche, though. I genuinely can't remember the last time I saw someone on television who was as unlikable as her. She constantly breaks the facility's rules, whether it's refusing to get up on time (or only getting up after one of the staff members brings her a glass of orange juice in bed) or not participating in the group's therapy sessions. Her selfish, immature behaviour sparks feelings of resentment from the rest of the group. At one point she throws a vase at a staff member, who reacts by grabbing Peniche's hair slightly, resulting in the employee's termination. Peniche plays the sympathy card to the hilt on that one. After being given multiple chances to get her act together, Pinksky finally has no choice but to boot her out of treatment, although not before she milks what few moments of remaining camera time she has left by throwing a huge hissy fit and refusing to pack her things.
The treatment appears legit, but the biggest hurdle to overcome is the distasteful and exploitative nature of it all. Pinsky honestly seems to think he's doing profoundly noble work in exposing the taboos and inner workings of sex and substance addiction to the masses. I call it making a buck and furthering your career on the backs of weak people, who are just as complicit because they seemingly have no qualms about exposing their innermost demons and allowing themselves to be filmed at possibly the lowest moment of their lives, all while earning a paycheck for it. What shows up on screen is ugly enough and it gets even worse when you find out the patients are actually sought out by casting agents. Roy, in a blog post following his treatment, says that Pinsky didn't even appear to be very knowledgeable in the sex addiction field (his specialty is substance addiction). He also claims that Peniche failed a drug test while in treatment, which should be grounds for automatic dismissal. She stayed. He also claims that Lovett signed product placement deals with a couple of companies to wear their clothing on the show.
No, I'm not proud of myself for watching this pinnacle of guilty pleasure television. That said, I eagerly await the premiere next week of Celebrity Rehab 3, which will once again include Peniche, as well as Mackenzie Phillips, Dennis Rodman, Mindy McCready, Tom Sizemore, Heidi Fleiss, and others. Oh, Sizemore was convicted in 2003 for assault and battery on Fleiss, who was his girlfriend at the time.
God help us all.
Rating (as entertainment): ★★★★★★★★★☆
Rating (as a measure of any redeeming moral value): ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆