By Lesley | January 18, 2010
I’ve written about Carnie Wilson, albeit somewhat savagely, before. When I first heard about her new reality show, Unstapled, I immediately thought about recapping it, given the crazy positive response to my recaps of More to Love last year. I was on the fence, however, mostly because it seems to have a clear weight-loss component, and I avoid shows with that sort of vibe. Obviously, I’ve decided to go forward with it anyway. It’s true that avoiding this sort of diet-happy crap is how I manage to maintain my sanity as a self-accepting fat person, but I also think it’s important to look at these pieces of media critically, and to illuminate other ways of seeing our bodies and our world. Thus, I’m once again forging into the breach (much to my husband’s chagrin, my protestations that “it’s only half an hour!” going unheeded) and attempting to provide a funny, sarcastic, but ultimately smart and thoughtful take on a bit of media that is, however subtly, helping to shape how we perceive and understand fatness as a society. This is not about being snarking on Carnie Wilson. Though that will inevitably happen, Carnie’s TV persona is extremely likeable and relatable overall, and I’m not attempting to make her look like the bad guy. That said, she is inviting a nation of millions into her home and her life, so I feel as though my publishing my observations, which are certainly more kind and better-intentioned than many, is fully justified.
But enough of that. The circus is coming to town!
We open with the totally-not-hackneyed intro in which Carnie says, “Welcome to my world!”—which seems to involve lots of whooping and dancing. There’s a short version of Carnie’s life so far: she’s the spawn of a Beach Boy; she was the fat one in beloved-by-seventh-grade-me musical act Wilson Phillips; she had gastric bypass surgery, live, on the internet (uh, see above link); she made lots of money, but spent even more; she’s the host of the current incarnation of The Newlywed Game (coincidentally right here on this same network!); she’s a mom and wife. There are many pictures depicting Carnie’s ever-changing levels of fatness over the years. Then we get a short snippet of a terrifically annoying theme song. With so much music in this family you’d think they could do better, but what do I know? Maybe Chynna wrote all the songs.
The episode starts with Carnie getting on a scale. Of course it does. And of course Carnie has a full-on doctor’s office scale IN HER HOUSE. I initially wondered if this scale wasn’t provided by the show, as I always assumed those things were stupid expensive, but amazon.com will sell you one for between $150 to $250, so maybe not. As an aside, did you know there is a scale manufacturer called “Detecto”? I find that hilarious for some reason. Carnie (sort of adorably if I’m being honest) tells the scale “I never liked you” before heaving her really sort of mediocre fatness onto the weighing platform. If the scale is to be believed, Carnie weighs 216 pounds. Hm. I find myself wondering how short she is.
In the kitchen, Carnie’s older daughter Lola wants candy for breakfast. Who doesn’t? Carnie confessions: “Yes, that’s my Lola. She loves all the sweet things in life, just like her mom.” If this show turns into a document of a mom passing down her body/food issues to her daughter, I may lose my fucking mind. But it’s only the first episode! And Carnie is so likeable! So let’s be optimistic! We’re only 120 seconds in!
Reality show plot point #1: Carnie wants to turn her love of sweet things into a baking business. OH! Okay. Helping her in this endeavour is her Aunt Dee Dee, who was in a girl group in the 1960s. Dee Dee, you had me at “girl group”. Dee Dee, recently laid off, is currently working as Carnie’s personal assistant. And check it out, it’s Carnie without makeup. Her skin looks pretty great. While Carnie and Dee Dee begin their baking prep in the kitchen, Carnie’s husband Rob comes in carrying their baby daughter. Rob has yet to say a word, and I am absolutely sure he’s an awesome guy, a loving husband, and a wonderful father. But I hate his hair. I know it’s ridiculous, I know it’s nitpicky (though these recaps are all bout it), and seriously y’all, I have seen pictures of this guy without That Hair and he is definitely a cute enough fella. But the hair is killing me. It’s like… I don’t even know what it’s like. No wait, I do know. It’s a bit like one of the guys from Air Supply, circa 1982. Rob’s is less puffy, so I suppose it’s like if the guy from Air Supply figured out how to use conditioner in the past thirty years.
Carnie says Rob is a great, hands-on Dad, “but it’s been god knows how long since he’s had his hands on… me.” Poor Rob confessions that he feels left out of Carnie’s busy-ass life. It’s not really clear why they’re not connecting, though I would expect busy schedules and two young kids factor into it more than anything else. Possibly Carnie does not like Rob’s hair either. Rob, consider a haircut.
While Carnie gets to baking, her manager stops in to harass her about taking too much on. Evidently she has to record 768 episodes of The Newlywed Game in the next two hours or something. Basically Manager wants Carnie to reconsider her plan to start this baking business. Carnie comes back, rather emphatically, stating that baking is work she actually enjoys and which relaxes her, and provides balance. So she doesn’t feel the urge to go suck down a box of wine every night. You can have her baking when you pry it from her cold dead hands, Manager. Also, Carnie? Is a super intense person. When she tells Manager to back off, bag of chocolate chips in hand, it’s intense. Carnie could probably kill a man with a bag of chocolate chips. At least, I believe she could.
Carnie decides to defuse the situation by making everyone scambled eggs. She does that flippy-pan thing a bunch of times, and I’m envious, because every time I try to do it I just dump food all over. Already I am impressed with Carnie’s kitchen skills. Ding-dong, who’s at the door? It’s Art the Stylist, pulling a rolling rack of clothing. Carnie tells us it’s Art’s job to “hide the 50 pounds that I promised myself I would lose after having Lucy.” I spy a Torrid tag! Art says he has 65 outfits for her to try on, and Carnie isn’t thrilled. Carnie, girl, you can send Art and his rack of clothing over to my house, I will unselfishly take that bullet for you. Carnie says trying on clothes is “worse than the dentist” for her. WHAT. MADNESS. A MAN IN AVIATORS BRINGS A RACK OF CLOTHING TO YOUR HOUSE AND YOU COMPLAIN? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND YOU, CARNIE WILSON. NOT ONE BIT.
Art is cute. Carnie tells him she is most self-conscious of her arms right now, which she says have gone to bleep. To be clear, Carnie doesn’t say the word “bleep”, but “bleep” is the sound we hear. I think bleep means shit. Art confessions that his job is to “make her feel beautiful, make her feel good, and confident.” I am totally enraptured by the idea of Art the Cute Stylist collecting fat-lady clothes and delivering to the fat ladies of the world in need of confidence, like a plus-sized-clothing-specific variation on the tooth fairy. Art talks about “tweaking sizes” and Carnie, seen over his shoulder as he speaks, has a look of mortal fear. “I assume you pulled, like, 2Xs and stuff.” Art says yes. I wonder what “and stuff” indicates. Carnie confessions that Art is supposed to be a “genius at working with the big girls. So, good luck with that, Art!” Carnie tries on a black dress with blue-colorblocking on the sleeves—actually I first typed “cockblocking” there and I think that’s a fair expression of my feeling about this dress. Carnie hates her arms, so let’s wrap them in giant wide graphic sleeves! Okay! There are more try-ons. Lots of dresses. Not my personal style, but frankly they’re all cute and Carnie (who is, in fact, kind of short) looks great in all of them. Carnie, however, disagrees, and exclaims “I hate mirrors!” at one point. Oh Carnie, there ain’t nothing wrong with you that some Gossip CDs and a fabulous dinner with a bunch of self-loving fat femmes couldn’t fix.
She’s unhappy with pretty much everything. Poor Art! Carnie confessions: “I look awful, I feel awful, and at this point, there is only one person that can help me.” She calls this Mystery Person on the phone. She asks them to come by tomorrow, and says she knows they haven’t spoken in while but she really needs their Mysterious help. As we go to commercial here I am taking my chance to say FIFTY US DOLLARS SAYS IT’S GOING TO BE A PERSONAL TRAINER. Or Jenny Craig, Or Kirstie Alley. Oh god, if Kirstie Alley appears on this show I will lose my mind in the best possible way. I don’t even know if they’re friends.
And who’s at the door? It’s a nine-foot dude in a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off! I’m guessing this is the personal trainer I predicted, and Carnie confirms: “Dallas, a former pro wrestler, [SERIOUSLY. SERIOUSLY.] kicked my butt. I lost fifty pounds before I had Lucy. I haven’t seen him in months, and I’m really not sure how this is going to go.” You really get a sense of Carnie’s trepidation—real or put-on—here, and this irritates the shit out of me, because it implies that somehow Dallas has any kind of right to be angry or disappointed with her for getting fat again. This expectation so many folks have that their personal trainer should be a misery-inducing drill sargeant? This is why I can’t find a personal trainer at my own gym who isn’t an asshat. I’m not saying all personal trainers are inherently asshats—I know a couple personally who are not—but I do think a lot of them learn to do their jobs in an asshattish way because that’s what the client expects. And ultimately, just like your doctor, your personal trainer is in your employ. Their responsibility is to deliver a service unto you, for which you pay them. Paying someone to employ their superior knowledge of physical fitness to help devise a great workout routine makes sense. But paying someone to make me feel like shit about myself just seems silly. I can get that much cheaper just by reading Cosmopolitan and watching The Biggest Loser.
Sitting on the couch together, Dallas says they need to clear the air. He says his feelings are hurt, because he worked with Carnie so she could have her newest baby, and then after she had the baby, she evidently vanished. Dallas is sad he hasn’t even met the baby yet. And he seems legitimately upset. Well. That’s sort of a bummer, really. Carnie says but wait! She almost lost her home then! Dramatic music swells! Apparently just after Lucy was born, Carnie was super broke and, like the commericial says, being harrassed by creditors. She says she couldn’t afford Dallas’ services, though she also says she wouldn’t even let her sister and her kids come into the house for a month at one point. (Did she think her sister was working with the bank to steal the house away? This is not made clear.) Carnie’s more upset that she’s fat again, which Dallas seems not to give a shit about (in truth, I expect clients getting fatter again is what keeps dudes like him in business). When she tells him about her plan to start a baking business, he emphatically makes a truly unfortunate analogy between baked goods and cocaine: “That’s like a guy who went through rehab coming out and saying, ‘Now I’m just going to deal the cocaine and cut it up and give it to other people, but I’m not going to do any of it though.”” Okay, first on the list of things I’ve learned from this show: food = cocaine. Wait, does Dallas shave his pits? Am I imagining that?
Dallas says Carnie needs to think about whether she’s committed to make this lifestyle change (yes, he actually says “lifestyle change”, boldly ignoring what a cliche this term has become), and call him when she decides.
Carnie, feeling beat up on by everyone, goes to visit her “gay BFF” Daniel, who works in a salon. She brings him banana bread, with “extra chocolate chips”. I gotta say, there are few things I find so disappointing as a loaf of perfectly good banana bread that somebody’s ruined by putting chocolate chips or raisins or whatever in it. Next we meet Brian, Daniel’s “better half”. I should pause here to note that I had to rewind this sequence twice to check their last names because they look like twins. I mean, seriously like twins. Tall, blonde, tanned twins. It’s kind of creepy. But they have different names so I presume “better half” actually does have its usual romantic context and isn’t a cute/weird way of indentifying a twin. Carnie is BFF with both. They do her hair, and Carnie unloads on… uh, I think it’s Daniel, about her distance from her husband and how they’re strangers in their own house and… yawn. Next Carnie starts talking about being such a giant fatass—she’s actually gained sixteen pounds when she’d planned on losing weight prior her gig on The Newlywed Game coming back up—and…. um, Brian I think, says “you know you’ve done it before, you can do it again.” I find these sorts of encouraging statements so profoundly depressing, as it basically lays bare the reality that most folks who lose a large volume of weight will likely have to go through the process more than once, or more than twice, or more than three times, etc., over the course of their lifetimes. I don’t doubt ?Brian’s good intentions, but ugh, it’s so bleak.
You know, for expediency’s sake I’m going to start referring to them both as DanielBrian because there is no way I am going to remember who is who. In the meantime, Carnie’s hair is done. I guess it looks different. She seems happy, though probably more with the company than the results. Commercial.
[Oh hey, it’s the Sham-Wow guy’s new piece of crap, the Slap Chop! I can’t believe he says “You’re gonna love my nuts” with a straight face.]
Later, Carnie’s having a dessert-tasting party at a local baked-goods shop in hopes of getting support for her new business. She’s wearing a seriously cute brown and black zebra-print dress with a studded belt. Dude, I want that dress. She talks to Rob and his hair in the bedroom. She says, “You don’t like my banana bread,” and Rob counters, “No, I don’t, not the peanut butter” — at this, Carnie starts making a nasal whining noise that sounds EXACTLY like Lucille Ball whenever Ricky hurt her feelings on I Love Lucy. Rob and his hair then finish with, “Stop adding so many things!” Rob and hair, the three of us are simpatico on this issue. Carnie and Rob (and hair) hug. Carnie is totally melodramatic in a good-natured way and whenever she starts to annoy me I realize how much she reminds me of myself. How sobering.
Carnie trudges off down the hall to finish getting ready, and we see she has a giant framed print of a Rolling Stone cover with Wilson Phillips on it. Guys, I…. I don’t know how to feel about that. Like I imagine Tyra Banks has her whole house wallpapered with photos of herself, and I’d be disappointed if that weren’t true, but… Carnie Wilson? If I were on the cover of Rolling Stone, would I get a giant framed print of it to hang on my wall? I don’t think I would.
Carnie has double-barrelled assistants tonight, both Dee Dee and her PA from The Newlywed Game. They bring a ton of Carnie’s baked goods to a local baked-goods shop called Sweet Harts. The plan seems to be for folks to show up for this tasting party and respond well, as well as to impress the shop owner, and then BAM: Carnie’s got a new business (and a new source of income). Oh, sister Wendy (also late of Wilson Phillips; her name on screen is subtitled with the words, “Rock Star Sister”) is there. Sadly, nobody else is.
Back at Casa Carnie, Rob and his hair are reading a bedtime story to Lola, which is actually adorable. Meanwhile, Sweet Harts’ owner is about to take his first bite of Carnie’s confections and EVERYTHING RIDES ON HIS RESPONSE. Oh, commercial.
Yay, Dean the shop owner loves it. Carnie worries about other folks turning up. DanielBrian shows up next. And then a few more other people, ostensibly strangers drawn in by the promise of free baked goods, appear as well. Moderate success!
The next day, Carnie heads out to the pool with her day planner and her iPhone and calls Dallas. She observes that, “When I weighed 300 pounds and I had a gastric bypass surgery, it was a life or death situation.” As she dials the phone (with her amazing manicure): “This time,” she says, “I’m doing it for me. I’m ready to commit.” Again.
Next week: Carnie spends too much money; Art gets a fashion award; Carnie moons a crowd (?). Maybe she invested in those Gossip CDs after all.
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