On ''Hey Paula,'' our heroine breaks down because her assistants are providing no assistance, then she takes solace in an overenthusiastic admirer
Paula Abdul

”Hey Paula”: A cry for help

Paula Abdul needs help. Seriously. And I say this without the slightest hint of malice.

It’s a conclusion that not even her most rabid fans could deny — not after viewing the first five episodes of Hey Paula, a show that continues to be surprising only by plumbing depressing new depths of a celebrity culture where there’s no such thing as a graceful retirement — only the siren lure of the camera (any camera!) and the ability of basic cable to make sure it’s charged, manned, and ready to shoot.

The good news is, Paula has already taken the important first step to getting her life back on track: admitting that she has a problem. Take her limousine-ride breakdown after discovering that a snowstorm might prevent hairstylist Daniel and ”consultant”-cheerleader Billy from accompanying her to an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman. ”I can’t stand the fact that there’s nobody directing me. I need somebody. I’m as vulnerable as vulnerable can be….I need help,” she sobbed, as a ”consulting producer,” ”wardrobe assistant,” regular assistant, and stylist (all presumably on Paula’s payroll) stared blankly out the window. What a startling admission from a woman who’s built the entire second act of her career by giving spontaneous (if not always coherent) critiques of aspiring singers on America’s most popular television show. Does this mean all her ”I felt your soul” speeches are prefabricated? Oh, probably not.

More likely, I get the sense that Paula is a woman who, despite a career that’s spanned almost two decades, hasn’t developed a smidge of corresponding inner confidence. I’m not exactly sure what bomb those Bratz producers dropped on her, but Paula’s subsequent emotional collapse was genuinely distressing to watch. Sure, we’ve seen in prior episodes — the perfumery visit, anyone? — that Paula’s code of professional business conduct involves sexual innuendo, loopy non sequiturs, and a complete lack of focus, but nobody wants to be dumped via e-mail. Worse still, Paula seemingly has no one to turn to when she’s facing a real crisis. Sure, the hired help will pretend it’s funny when Paula plants turd-shaped beef jerky in their beds, but apparently, doling out the occasional badly needed hug is not in their job descriptions.

I half-wished Paula had caught mean girl Kiley’s mocking smirk in response to her visceral ”I’m trying to tell a goddamn story!” outburst. And I’m not entirely certain, but I got the feeling that ”best friend” Daniel was making fun of Paula behind her back when he held up one of her dresses and made it shout, ”Hurry up!” as an aide packed for the trip back to Los Angeles. I mean, if Paula really wants a second reality series, why not Extreme Makeover: Staff Edition?

Instead, she looks for answers in all the wrong places. I’m sure it was delightful running into her own personal Crying Girl — overwhelmed teenage fan Megan — outside Letterman’s studio, but Paula pretty much knocked me off my couch with her comment that the autograph-signing session represented ”the stuff that really puts things into proper perspective for me.” Um, say wha’? Paula needs to recognize that much like cholesterol, there are healthy and unhealthy kinds of perspective. And using a 30-second ego boost as justification for a lifestyle that’s incompatible with personal happiness falls squarely into the latter category.

Then again, if Paula ever decided to take a day off to work at a soup kitchen or maybe crash on her couch and veg with a Lifetime movie, she wouldn’t be providing the kind of footage those aforementioned cameras really want to catch. And as Warren Beatty so presciently put it back in that 1991 Madonna tour documentary, Truth or Dare, ”Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing?” Here’s hoping someday Paula finds an answer.

With only two episodes left of Hey Paula, how are you feeling about the show? Has it changed your feelings about its titular star? And anyone want to bet on whether newcomer gopher Patti headed directly to her employment agency the minute she got back to Cali?

Hey Paula
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