The Price of Jessica Simpson

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I think the monk said it best. During the VH1 premier of Jessica Simpson's The Price of Beauty, the songstress, better known for her glorious malaprops than for her music, found herself in Thailand, seated before an orange-robed Buddhist monk and flanked by her hairdresser Ken Paves and her best friend CaCee Cobb.

On a mission to learn what makes women in different cultures feel beautiful, the Ambassadors of Aesthetics have traveled to Bangkok, where they, predictably, shriek after munching on fried bugs, board an elephant in inappropriately-heeled footwear, and visit a woman whose zealous use of fade cream to bleach her skin to the pale hue prized in Thai culture has resulted in a Michael Jackson-esque splotchy complexion (a pop up box tells us that beauty products in Thailand aren't regulated by the government.)

Stopped at a Buddhist temple for a little meditation, the beauty brigade sits Indian style waiting for instruction.

"Relax," says the monk. "Empty your mind." He's of course addressing Simpson and gang, but he may as well be speaking directly to us.

We're just one episode in and her show already feels like an elaborate set up to a joke. Who would have thought a monk would play Burns to Simpson's Allen?

I wanted to like this show because I still, despite it all, root for Simpson. She's had a rough go of things these past few years, between her poor choice of men and even poorer choice of movie roles. (Frankly, I don't know which is more humiliating, Nick Lachey moving on with Vanessa Minillo or Employee of the Month). But the point is: the show is bad. And not in a so-bad-it's-good way but more in a so-bad-it's-irresponsible way. (Plus, better shows could and have been made by National Geographic and Guinea pig-eating Andrew Zimmern.)

At first I thought the problem was just in poor casting (Where is Quentin Tarantino when you need him?). After all, how could the woman who famously hit the stage decked out in a pair of Mom jeans be any sort of beauty divining rod? What's more, when asked to explain the highly unflattering figure she cut in them, she fought back (on Oprah's couch no less) insisting that the jeans were a size four. Simpson says that the purpose of her journey was to regain her inner confidence, why then, does size matter?

Simpson's lack of insight once worked on this continent. Playing into the stereotypical dumb blond on Newlyweds, her previous show with former husband Nick Lachey, she let the labeling of a can of Chicken of the Sea set her off on a philosophical monologue of Kantian proportion.

"Is this chicken, what I have, or is this fish?" she famously pondered.

But there isn't anything funny about The Price of Beauty. Future shows promise lighthearted moments, like Simpson being attacked by a moth, getting in a heated debate over short shorts, and throwing up, more than once. I wonder what a rim shot sounds like in Uganda.

Least funny of all is her father's involvement in the global mess. Joe Simpson serves as executive producer on the series and the logo for Papa Joe Productions appears prominently at the end of the show. In a recent interview, he said he wanted to answer his daughter's critics (not to mention revive his daughter's career) by showing her in a more positive light. If you have a fall from grace, where else to land but on reality television (hello, Rod Blagojevich.) But so far, what he's managed to do is turn Jessica into our most famous Ugly American.

The show, which tonight finds Simpson in Paris walking the runway and meeting with a severely anorexic model, has only managed to attract 1 million viewers, a meager accomplishment in today's TV metrics. Both Simpson and her show may be due for a serious makeover.

"Maybe I have some more work to do," sighs Simpson when she bursts out laughing after a few minutes of meditation. I wonder if she sees the humor.

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Cathy Alter is a DC-based writer and author. Her articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in local and national newspapers and magazines including the Washington Post, Washingtonian, the Huffington Post, Self, and McSweeney'sMore

Cathy Alter is a DC-based writer and author. Her articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in local and national newspapers and magazines including the Washington Post, Washingtonian, the Huffington Post, Self, and McSweeney's. Her book, Virgin Territory: Stories from the Road to Womanhood (Crown) was released in 2004 and her memoir, Up for Renewal: What Magazines Taught Me About Love, Sex, and Starting Over (Atria) was released in July 2008 and is now available in paperback.
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