Whitney Houston died in February, so Lifetime moved quickly to get this docu-series exploiting her name on the air. There’s no sugar-coating the queasiness induced by “The Houstons: On Our Own,” slated to consist of 14 half-hour episodes featuring surviving members of the singer’s family, including her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown. Stilted and stiff, the show’s actual contents are virtually irrelevant, and the subject matter alone augurs a hit by basic-cable standards. Yet when Bobbi confesses, “I’m just numb,” she unwittingly captures at least one inescapable reaction to this sordid, tabloid-ready exercise.
The project is driven largely by Houston’s sister-in-law and manager, Pat Houston, who is married to her older brother, Gary, and not incidentally, is one of the exec producers. Already parents to a 14-year-old daughter, the couple has also (if anything in this show is to be believed) taken 19-year-old Bobbi Kristina under its wing, expressing concern — mostly through arched eyebrows and swelling music — at her romantic relationship with her adopted brother, Nick Gordon.
Bobbi Kristina and Nick defend their relationship, but it’s Pat who really captures the absurdity of the situation. There she is lamenting how her niece must live in the public eye, while participating in a program that transforms even their private exchanges into made-for-TV drama.
“It is very difficult to deal with her sometimes, because the world is so involved in our family,” Pat tells Gary, without a trace of irony or self-awareness.
Frankly, it’s hard to blame Lifetime for capitalizing on the interest surrounding Houston stoked by her death, or the producers for orchestrating moments like the family’s first gravesite visit on Mother’s Day weekend. In the world of unscripted TV, those who flinch at such distastefulness merely risk seeing the same concept become a hit for somebody else, and the Houstons’ ratings potential received a tantalizing preview when Bobbi Kristina’s interview with Oprah Winfrey yielded record tune-in for the mogul/host’s little-seen network OWN.
No, any finger-pointing here should begin with the family, which could easily have passed on subjecting their exploits to further scrutiny, especially within the confines of a docu-soap genre designed, by its very nature, to emphasize conflict and trouble.
Everyone responsible can no doubt mouth the customary psychobabble about moving along the healing process, but that’s clearly not what this is all about. And it’s why no matter how the parties might attempt to spin it, “Houstons,” we have a problem.