Josh Wolk's Pop Culture Club talks 'Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew': Silly, then powerful, then back again
Welcome back to the Pop Culture Club, where this week we visited one of my pet obsessions, Dr. Drew’s latest “D-listers get the D.T.’s” series: Sex Rehab. I have been down this road with Dr. D for two Celebrity Rehabs and a Sober House, and — to use the most common pun possible for this show — I’m addicted.
The dilemma I always face in watching his shows is that I can never decide whether it’s exploitative or not. Do you remember, from when you were kids, the “That’s good/that’s bad” story? Someone would tell a long shaggy dog tale and it would constantly switch from being good news to bad, e.g., “I fell out of a plane. That’s bad. But I had a parachute! That’s good. But the parachute didn’t open. That’s bad. But I landed on a giant feather bed! That’s good. But it was filled with rocks! That’s bad”…etc. Well, that’s exactly the frequency with which I changed my opinion about whether Sex Rehab was ridiculous or haunting while watching the premiere. One minute I was high-mindedly snickering at a patient who was acting like a typical reality-TV exhibitionist bonehead, and the next I was agape as Dr. Drew pointed out exactly why that behavior could kill them.
Ha, ha, that surfer masturbates to the point of injury! That’s ridiculous!
Wait…he might have contracted a cancer-causing virus because of his promiscuity. That’s haunting.
But hey, that porn star just tried to smuggle in a suitcase full of dildos! That’s ridiculous!
And with one swift question, Dr. Drew has stripped her of her porn persona and reduced her to a weeping mess. That’s haunting.
But wait, here comes the drummer for Skid Row, and it’s not even the original drummer, but the guy who came in ten years after they were popular…
And so on.
On Monday I had a long debate with some of my co-workers about whether this show is a force for good or just as tawdry as Bret Michaels’ Rock of Love, and we circled the argument multiple times, alternately switching our own positions because nobody could land on a staunch conclusion without toppling off. The patients are so easily dismissed, as they fit so perfectly into the typical low-wattage reality-TV archetypes of buffoonery (a stripper married to the winner of Rock Star: Supernova? That’s the full house of celebreality poker hands!). And yet those very traits that would make them stars on any other reality show (drunkenness, promiscuity) are here put under an electron microscope to reveal them as the sad building blocks of an unhappy life that they are.
Not so fast, here I go around again: BUT…can we really trust these people’s revelations? Amber Smith’s hooking revelations and convulsive detox on Celebrity Rehab, and needy relapse on Sober House, were eye-openingly raw. But now she’s back for show number three? She seems no less troubled, but after this many go-rounds, you wonder whether she’s here for the therapy or the attention. If she’s cured of her addiction to men, will she start overeating just so she can get on Celebrity Fit Club? This is not to mock her pain, which seems real, but once you factor in the need for fame, everything starts to seem suspect. This is why a show like Intervention is ultimately more powerful: With everyday addicts, you’re freed of the nagging suspicion of ulterior motives.
But I’ll keep watching Sex Rehab. While I have little patience for the manic surfer James, and Penny the porn star née Jennifer needs to drop her showboating “sex is sexy sex!” façade (which, granted, is the reason she’s there), I’m intrigued by Kari Ann Peniche’s abrupt shutdown under Dr. Drew’s questioning. And I’m still thinking about director Duncan Roy’s quote about his days of surfing Internet porn: “My fingers just dance across that keyboard, and suddenly I’m in this other world.” That’s the most poetic image about Web porn that I’ve ever heard. The man is the Robert Frost of self-abuse.
So what did you think about Sex Rehab? Did your opinion of the show change as you watched it? Do you think it actually does help some people? If you’re someone who always thought that “sex addiction” was the kind of fake ailment that only exists in Hollywood, did you leave the show thinking it had more validity?
As for next week’s assignment…well, I’m sorry to say there will be none. After 12 wonderful years at Entertainment Weekly, I’ll be leaving next week (after one last Amazing Race recap) for another challenge. (It’ll be easy to find me; I’m very easily Google-able.) Thanks for being part of my club for the last six months, and keeping these boards filled with your opinions, insight, and snappy jokes. So for old times’ sake, let’s talk Sex Rehab.
Wow, that closing sentence did not come out as emotionally as I’d hoped it would. Thanks a lot, Dr. Drew.