By Darren Franich
Updated June 27, 2011 at 03:43 PM EDT
Credit: Vince Bucci/VH1

If there is one semi-intelligent thing about Celebrity Rehab, Dr. Drew Pinsky’s den-of-misery reality show that began its fifth season of self-righteous wallowing last night, it’s the perhaps-accidental thesis that hovers over every interaction on the show: That, when you put aside the alcohol and the cocaine and the prescription meds and every other drug under the southern California sun, the show’s participants are addicted most of all to fame.

On last night’s premiere, former Baywatch kid Jeremy Jackson explained how he started using a whole galaxy of steroids in order to get fit for a comeback. ’80s movie icon Sean Young simply noted that she was an actor, and “Actors drink.” And then there’s Michael Lohan, a man who has created a curious career for himself as a pop culture bête noire, perpetually present at the scene of a tabloid train-wreck. (Remember when he was planning a show with best buddy Jon Gosselin called Divorced Dads Club?)

Of course, Dr. Drew never really presses his charges in such directions; he never suggests that what they might really need is to get away from cameras for awhile. After all, no camera, no show. Maybe you are able to accept the essential argument of Celebrity Rehab, that people who descended into drug addiction while in the spotlight should also experience rehabilitation in the spotlight. For me, Rehab is an experience in endurance. That’s not a knock on any of the participants, who all seem genuinely in need of professional help.

I hope that they can get professional help. The gang of hooligans who run Dr. Drew’s celebrity center sure don’t seem up to the task. At one point in the premiere, the show took a curious left-turn. Dr. Drew informed his staff that Steven Adler, former Guns n’ Roses drummer, was on his way to the facility. Drama: Jennifer, one of Dr. Drew’s assistants, had a bad experience with Adler on Sober House. She talked about having welts on her back; the camera caught her crying to another co-worker. The music was dramatic: Could Jennifer do her job? Could she stand up to big bad Steven Adler? And also, could Dr. Drew help Steven Adler get better this time?

Oh, what a crock. What sort of boss wouldn’t tell one of his employees that kind of information ahead of time? “Hey, you know that patient who abused you? He’s driving over right now!” Also, if the show is about the celebrities getting better, what’s the point of showing one of the rehab employees suffering a panic attack onscreen, except to expand the show’s quagmire of misery?

The whole medium of “reality TV” leans toward train wreckage. But at least most bad reality TV is innocent enough to be fun. Five seasons in, Celebrity Rehab has never felt more guilty.

Viewers, did you watch the premiere?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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