''Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew'' -- EW critics Ken Tucker and Lisa Schwarzbaum argue for and against the controversial VH1 show

”Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew”

KEN TUCKER I approached Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew through squinched eyes. I really didn’t want to see stars on the order of Daniel Baldwin, Jeff Conaway, Brigitte Nielsen, ex-wrestler Chyna, the lead singer of Crazy Town (who-zytown?), some mixed-martial-arts dude named Ricco Rodriguez, Family Matters‘ Jaimee Foxworth, and porn star Mary Carey all being coddled through their various addictions by the camera-lovin’ Drew Pinsky. I don’t watch TV to be taught life lessons. But damned if I didn’t get caught up in the, yes, poignance of it all. Conaway, gnarly and slurry from heaven knows how many drug and alcohol problems, is, along with his enabling Gothy girlfriend, something out of an unedited Raymond Carver short story. When it comes to exposing the lying, hideous behavior of addicts under pressure, it’s pretty great.

LISA SCHWARZBAUM Great??? Arggh, Ken, this show is as shameless as a highlight reel of car-crash footage. Plus, it’s an equal-opportunity exercise in exploitation that damns the miserable, addicted, two-bit ”celebrities” (I can’t bear to write the word without quotation marks); opportunistic Dr. Drew (always on call and camera-ready when a ”celebrity” is in crisis); the camera crew; the production company; VH1; and me and you and the manufacturers of boob implants, too, for our willingness to call this voyeurism edutainment. Which means I watch, of course — will Conaway complete the treatment or won’t he? Will dazed, damaged Mary Carey quit her porny ways? — but I feel dirtied and depressed by the experience. And then not even easy jokes about all those less-than-fabulous Baldwin brothers can console me. Speaking of enabling, do you really think Dr. D is in any position to facilitate a group session about breaking the debilitating ”celebrity” addiction to the camera’s eye?

KEN Lisa, as a veteran of watching Flavor of Love, lemme tell ya — VH1 is doing near-Frontline-quality work here in exposing the layers of hypocrisy that surround reality TV…via a reality TV show! No better auto-critique of the program has been given than Conaway snapping out of his stupor long enough to observe, of a black-muscle-shirted Dr. Drew, ”Hey, nice arms!” And we haven’t mentioned the true hero of this show, the long-suffering ”Resident Tech” Shelly Sprague, who takes no guff from this whining crew. I love the way this mighty twig of a woman sees through all the ego power trips and imposes what they all need: discipline!

LISA But even Shelly-the-tech is tainted by her association with this brazen theater of the damned-in-recovery. Shelly, a hero? Because she collects cell phones from her pampered patients at the end of a supervised day of golf and ballet lessons? I’d be more willing to consider her for a citation of honor if, just once, she would challenge Dr. D on camera to justify his willingness to contradict the tenets of privacy and anonymity so necessary to recovering non-celebrities. You’re ascribing sophisticated notions of a reality TV ”auto-critique” to a show in which we gawp at people who are addicts (however celebrated they are for their outrageous personas). I’m saying, if we watch, let’s not kid ourselves: We’re part of the problem.

KEN Indeed, anonymity and privacy are tenets of many recovery programs. But part of the reason for that is, ”normal” people don’t want their addictions known to anyone outside their chosen group. Anonymity/privacy in itself doesn’t cure anything — it facilitates a nonceleb’s willingness to vent, admit, and go cold turkey in a supportive setting. All of which, I insist, prevails in Celebrity Rehab, the big difference being, camera-aware celebs know that their biz colleagues and we ordinary blokes are watching, which helps Dr. Drew and Shelly in their quest to break a Jeff Conaway or a Mary Carey down and rebuild them, healthier. That there are some big failures here doesn’t negate the motive. Sure, VH1 wants ratings, but the show is incentive not to screw up. While I feel unclean and IQ-lowered watching, say, the American Idol auditions, watching Celebrity Rehab leaves me feeling that everybody has their flaws, and even a camera hog with a medical license can be of humane help.

LISA So, hey, Ken, I guess we can look forward to VH1’s Celebrity Cancer Ward next! It might not be as sexy as Rehab — no buxom women in wet T-shirts, no naughty late-night texting to a nearby Baldwin brother, probably fewer group snuggles on comfy Pasadena Recovery Center dorm beds — but it would certainly be great TV, right? And it would be something really, truly inspiring, as ”celebrities” (who after all, as you say, are camera-aware) allow us ordinary ”normal” people to see them hooked to chemo drips, zapped with radiation, losing weight, losing hair…just like any other sick patient in this byzantine American health-care system of ours. Oh, wait, what sufferer, famous or not, would want to bare such private pain to millions of strangers? My point exactly: Why encourage Chyna and Brigitte, Ricco and Jaimee and Crazy Town Guy et al. — sad folks in no reliable position to make the best decisions for themselves in the first place, who clearly lack any trustworthy advocates in their Surreal Life corners — to go with the show for the sake of, oh, you know, entertaining us? (Not to mention, for the sake of getting paid; never the best incentive for getting clean, I’m guessing.) And why, oh why, put our trust in a doctor who thinks this intrusion is fine? I mean, even though Dr. Drew’s biceps do look really buff in his black T-shirt.

Who’s right: Ken or Lisa? Cast your vote at tvfan.ew.com/throwdowns. While you’re there, challenge other users with your very own Throwdown.