By Gillian Flynn
Updated July 08, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

The title is Being Bobby Brown, but of course what we really want to see is Brown being Bobby with Whitney Houston. How does that work exactly, that life-between-court-appearances stuff? He’s faced charges as varied as marijuana use and allegedly hitting his wife (a charge Houston dropped); she returned to rehab a second time in March (a fact that lends the Bravo series, shot last year, an unintentionally wistful overtone).

If the joke on The Osbournes was that the metal-rocker was actually a sweet, doddering family man, the catch to Being Bobby is that the Brown-Houston universe is as surreal as you might guess. The two are prone to random bouts of song-and-dance: In a restaurant, in a gift shop, they switch on unexpectedly like robot performers, and the wires unhook just as quickly. They’re dogged by fans — there’s a moment when Houston looks up from a hotel pool in the Bahamas that’s been closed to other guests to find herself surrounded by gawkers, and you can’t help but pity the woman, who wanders the beach like a dazed Norma Desmond, relentlessly seeking privacy.

So why would the singer agree to be trailed by a reality-show camera crew? Probably because hubby asked her to. The two do seem smitten — they may be the only reality couple who talk more about doing it than Britney and Kevin. If, as Katharine Hepburn once said, Fred gave Ginger class and Ginger gave Fred sex, then Brown gives Houston humor and Houston gives Brown. . .a lot of crap. At lunch she holds forth on ”little bugs” that form on the rectum, thereby positively begging for a ”crack is wack” reference. (Done.) And who’d have thought that the hair-bowed doll from ”I Wanna Dance With Somebody” would someday be recalling how her husband manually assisted in a bowel movement, prompting her to cry, ”Now, that’s love — black love!” (That kind of love, I feel, transcends color boundaries.)

The duo — occasionally joined by their daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who appears unscarred by that gawkward 1999 Divas concert, during which her mother flamboyantly serenaded her — seem, for all their idiosyncrasies, quite genuine. After a few decades stalked by paparazzi, they are apparently void of self-consciousness: They neither play to nor are bashful of the cameras. With the singers smoking and tippling and making really bad jokes, theirs is not the tidiest of portraits, but it feels like an honest one.