Jessica Simpson's TV Show Means She's Finally Famous for Being Famous for Being Famous
Jessica Simpson's TV show--that is, her new TV show, a sitcom set to air on NBC--is going to be about her life as a celebrity. You should immediately be able to spot the problem, here: Her life as a celebrity is already about her life as a celebrity.
The first 22 episodes are going to be board-room meetings in which Jessica--a wacky thirtysomething blonde with a heart of gold--and her team of creatives make a lucrative deal with a broadcast company a lot like NBC to televise the next board-room meeting. The target audience includes moms whose Facebook profiles say they have "more to love," NBC fans who are sure it's secretly a new season of 30 Rock, and stoned PhD candidates in lit theory. It is perhaps the only broadcast sitcom currently in production that should solicit a script from Jacques Derrida.
That DC9 At Night is covering this is maybe the only reason you might remember Jessica Simpson was originally famous for being a musician. What happened?
I am not a Jessica Simpson expert, but I did really love the Mellencamp-sampling "I Think I'm In Love With You" when I was 12, so I can attest to this: She was briefly a regular pop-star, with songs and videos and appearances on NOW That's What I Call Music!, probably.
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It's such a 1999 pop song--the post-New-Jack R&B rhythm and drum sound, the slinky little guitar figures and Janet Jackson synths under the "Jack & Diane" hook, the insistently carefree amusement park video. There are no Y2K jokes or foil lounge pants, but there's also no reason to see Jessica Simpson as anything other than another pop star who is famous in a way that's only moderately reflexive. It's well-executed and harmless enough that parents would happily direct their nine-year-old daughters to AOL Keyword Jessica Simpson for free buddy icons and an exclusive message to her fans.
But even then she was never quite--or just--a pop star in her own right. She was The Wholesome Pop-Star. Writing wholesome pop is a perfectly laudable goal; it's exactly what appealed to 12-year-old me, who mostly listened to CCM and was a little threatened by Britney Spears's collection of leather bodysuits and color-matched headsets. We can debate the phenomena behind all the abstinence pledges and purity rings in contemporary boy-and-girl-pop, but after the ring is on and the pledges are made it seems consistent enough to release albums titled Sweet Kisses instead of ... Baby One More Time.
But Jessica Simpson was--even in 1999--defined entirely in relation to other pop stars. She was famous for being famous differently than Britney Spears. That's not a healthy place to proceed from, and if the rest of Simpson's music-first career is a little inconsistent--the self-consciously sexed-up Irresistable followed--that weird opening gambit probably has a lot to do with it. Christina Aguilera was about to start mud-wrestling in hot garbage; the target never stopped moving.
In that sense, going all-in on being meta-famous was a career-saving move--if you're going to depend so much on where you stand in relation to someone else's image, it might as well be yours. We're still talking about her in 2013, so it worked.
Early PR for the show is playing up comparisons to Lucille Ball--dotty, fame-hungry, ultimately well-meaning--which is smart. I Love Lucy occupies the same space in sitcoms that Shakespeare does in literature--references and homages to it are so thick on the ground that even someone who's never seen the chocolates-on-a-conveyer-belt scene or the Vitameatavegamin commercial unwittingly knows a lot about it.
It's flattering, too, to the PR guys' boss; Lucille Ball was an astounding comedic talent, a beautiful woman, and a frightening businesswoman. I Love Lucy is funny--still funny--because that shrewd, calculating talent was dropped into something that's recognizable as middle-class domestic life.
Whatever ridiculous thing she does, Lucy is constantly bumping into reality: A household allowance has to be balanced, Ricky's about to return from a business trip, a neighbor's about to interrupt her in mid-snoop. She gets herself into situations we wouldn't even think to get ourselves into, because she's almost Lucille Ball, and then she fails about as spectacularly as we would. That's what drives the show: She's an any-housewife with Lucille Ball's hustle and ambition and about 70 percent of her brain.
Jessica Simpson will be playing herself in her upcoming Lucy-influenced sitcom, which has--confusingly enough--been labeled a scripted reality show in some early coverage. Actors will be playing not her character's husband Eric and father Joe, but her husband Eric and her father Joe.
Viewers will be treated to dramatizations of "'everyday' circumstances" (their air-quotes) ranging from "running a fashion empire to wrangling her public image as a new mom." Jessica Simpson's public image will be playing Jessica Simpson's public image wrangling Jessica Simpson's public image.
If you were wondering, then, why Jessica Simpson stopped making music--why she isn't in a position to make anything that is not herself, anymore--that's where I'd start. She's succeeded so completely that there's nothing but there there.
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