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Misjudging: it’s complicated

More often than not, “celebreality” programming elicits little more than my schadenfreude: the vapidity, the shallowness, the disconnect from the real world by opportunity-rich adults never fails to delight and depress me. And Paris? Nick and Jessica? Britney and Kevin? Dina Lohan? I AM LOOKING AT YOU. (You too, Anna Nicole, but grave-dancing is just tacky.)

And yet, these are people you already expect the worst from. More surprising are the reality-show celebs who not only surpass your low expectations, but actually ENDEAR themselves to you.

First came Tori Spelling. I was a few years past the “90210” demographic, but Tori always struck me as a case of nepotism at its worst: a spoiled, plasticized Daddy’s girl who couldn’t get the gig on her own merits. But “Tori and Dean: Inn Love” revealed someone altogether different: a smart, funny young woman with mother problems, a baby on the way and a surprising work ethic. She was. . . adorable.

More recently came the debut season of E’s “Denise Richards: It’s Complicated.” Richards has been excoriated in the tabloids for her ugly divorce, her relationship with Richie Sambora, even her decision to take part in a reality show. It’s been years since she made a successful film, and her last Playboy cover made her look as dumb as a Christmas tree. Needless to say, my expectations were gutter-low. Even the girls I heart over at Go Fug Yourself got into a catty froth before a single episode had aired:

I don’t know about you, but every time I see an ad for Denise Richards: It’s Complicated, I fly into a foaming rage. It’s NOT complicated. You had a brutally wretched and acrimonious divorce during which both you and the MaSheen said incredibly disturbing things about each other, and then you hopped into the sack with your best friend’s husband before either of you were even legally single. That isn’t complicated. Physics is complicated. Brain surgery is complicated. Figuring out what color shoes to wear with a navy blue dress is complicated.  I would have accepted Denise Richards: It’s Embarrassing, or Denise Richards: It’s Awkward or even Denise Richards: I’m Disgusting, but Denise Richards: It’s Complicated I reject wholly. Don’t pretend your life is gloriously and fascinatingly complex in a way that wasn’t totally engineered by your own actions.

Youch. And still, I TiVoed the show, and now I’d like to treat Denise Richards to a bucket of Pinot Grigio and a brow retouch at Wax Bar, as exemplified by this segment:

To be honest, she had me in episode one, in which we tour her farm-like home (complete with pigs!) in an LA suburb, meet the recently-widowed father living with her, and sit in on a kitchen talk with Denise and Dad while her toddler daughters paint her in makeup. For a woman who’s made a career from her looks, Richards’s total disregard for sporting blue eyebrows and lipsticky cheeks on camera — and focus on letting her girls have fun — was unexpected, anti-diva and altogether sweet.

Like me, Denise has untameable potty mouth (this episode also features her father making her donate a pair of shoes from her cherished collection every time she curses), and the fact that she calls a cunty People magazine editor a cunt was simultaneously shocking and refreshing.

But what happens later in the episode is positively BALL-BUSTING.

To begin with: to a person — whether a tabloid journo or even a mainstream lady mag like Redbook — every last writer and outlet has flatly branded Richards a “home wrecker” and “husband stealer,” shamelessly, definitively and repeatedly, as though this were common wisdom. Like the theory of relativity. Or the length of the pool scene in “Wild Things.”

But we’ll never know what went down when between Denise, Richie and Heather, and frankly I don’t care. What really chaps my ass is that people (in this case, people with voices accessible to millions more) so casually paint women with terms like “husband stealer” and “home wrecker” with nary a withering glance at the men involved. In this case, Richards was legally separated at the time of her involvement with Sambora, a free woman (in every sense) entering a new relationship with no harm to her family. While it’s unfortunate that man happened to be the husband of a former friend, it in no way alters the fact that the sole person involved “wrecking” any home was Richie Sambora: his own.

And “husband stealer”? How very antiquated — as absurd and misogynistic as a scarlet letter. And how terribly. . .  LAZY. People are complicated, relationships even more so. No one outside a marriage or partnership will ever truly know what takes place between two people: the wounds and slights, barbs and indifferences, all reducing to their potent essence in time’s slow boil.

(Coincidentally, the same names were lobbed at Tori Spelling when Dean McDermott left his pregnant wife and young child for her.)

So to see Denise earnestly expecting a softball from a “legitimate” journalist who turned out to be yet another smug, judgemental asshole — then to watch Denise stiffen with apparent spine of titanium and pointedly ask the bitch, “How does someone really ‘steal” someone’s husband?” — well baby, you hit it out of the park.

(Also, I really like Denise’s girlfriends, who couldn’t be further from Hollywood princesses: they’re a spectrum of ages and sizes and income levels, and I’d love to crash one of their “spa parties.” We could eat vinegar chips and give each other mani-pedis and convince Denise we’d find her the perfect guy — someone who’d love, respect and adore her and her girls, flaws and all. Someone a lot less like Charlie and a lot more like. . .  Dad.)

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