At the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills, E! presented three shows: “Hollywood Medium With Tyler Henry,” “Mariah’s World,” and “Botched By Nature.” The first show follows a purportedly talented clairvoyant who speaks with the dead on behalf of celebrities. The second is a docuseries following diva Mariah Carey’s weird and wonderful life. Both have neat, expository titles. The same cannot be said of the last, a spinoff of the extant series “Botched.” “Botched By Nature” follows plastic surgeons Terry Dubrow and Paul Nassif as they perform cosmetic reconstruction on needy clients — survivors of accidents and individuals with congenital abnormalities, for example.
The new program is striking a distinctly charitable tone, which is in contrast to its older sibling — an enthusiastic freak show that parades around clients (mostly women) who suffer from too much plastic surgery. “Botched By Nature” seeks to move away from that uncanny valley of appearance-obsessed individuals. But it retained the word “botched” in its title to indicate that it is what we are forced to call the “Botched” family of shows (ugh). As a result, the title presents cognitive dissonance akin to an uppercut followed by a Band-Aid. The mission of the show could be the most well-intentioned premise in the universe, but that title is so off-putting it inspires an spiral of vaguely metaphysical questions: Are birth defects, and more broadly, disabilities, really “mistakes”? Is someone “botched” if something terrible has happened to them? Are car accidents “natural”? Does a notion of God or fate factor into the “Botched” televisual universe? And more practically: Is that really the best title that E! could come up with?
At the TCA panel, Dubrow, Nassif, and executive producer Matt Westmore seemed surprised that there was any controversy or confusion about the title “Botched By Nature.” Of course, for them, the essential element of “Botched By Nature” is that its title fits under the “Botched” umbrella, creating an opportunity for cross-promotion and a larger footprint for the brand. Nassif also pointed out that for their patients, the title offers name recognition.
Dubrow agreed: “When we show up to the door — when the ‘Botched’ doctors show up to the door — we hear them say, the ‘Botched’ doctors are here. I now have hope. And so in many ways,’ ‘Botched’ doctors, the ‘Botched’ program, has become a synonym for hope that they can be fixed and helped.” Dubrow added that he wouldn’t use, for example, the word “abnormal.” (He did, however, later use the word “abnormality.”)
Nassif, in some ways, was even more blunt. He said of his “Botched By Nature” clients, “You improve them, help them, try to bring them back to being normal somewhat.”
When asked if they were uncomfortable with the implications of using words like “fixed” or phrases like “back to normal,” the panel said that while “labeling issues” were troubling some critics at TCA, 4,000 people had reached out to “Botched By Nature” to be treated by the doctors on their show.
“I think the word ‘botched’ has transcended our show and is used out there publicly for anything that kind of deviates from the norm,” said Westmore. “You see that word used in industries all over, but it just means that it’s deviated from the norm a little bit, whether it’s positive or negative. It’s kind of a general term now to people.”
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of “botched” — “Mended or patched in a clumsy or unskilful manner; clumsily put or cobbled together… poorly executed, bungled” — would indicate that conclusion is disingenuous to a fault.
It is painful enough to contend with the fact that the human body can be botched through surgery. It is deeply unsettling to contend with the notion that the human body can be “botched” by genetics, disease, or a twist of fate. The word introduces a note of deliberate carelessness to the heavy realities of any one person’s life; it implies that they are the seconds off of the assembly line, the dented cans on the shelf. “Botched By Nature” seeks to do good work, but also wishes to sell it with a thin, slimy veneer of condescension — one that clings to the beauty standards and status quo that fuel the continued existence of “Botched,” E!, and the profession of plastic surgery.
Of course, this is a complicated dynamic. Plastic surgery contributes to an unpleasant set of assumptions about bodies (and usually, female bodies), but it is not evil; indeed, “Botched By Nature” makes a brilliant case for just how humane and gratifying the profession can be. The surgeons are responding to the desperation of participants who could not find or afford quality cosmetic procedures of their own.
But, in the words of beleaguered editors since time immemorial: Words mean things. E! might insist that they are just attempting to properly brand their new show. But that branding also codes their programs as modern-day freak shows: where the viewer is invited into the story in order to both stare and judge. And while it’s to be expected that some wannabe celebrities will flock to this kind of exposure, exploiting the desperation of the needy for this show’s notion of human worth is particularly unsettling.