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A surreal judgment of Paris

October 02, 2008|Robert Lloyd | Times Television Critic

Paris Hilton has gone on television to find not just a new best friend but a new best friend forever. Tuesday night, MTV premiered its latest reality series, "Paris Hilton's My New BFF," in which 18 complete strangers vie to fill that empty spot in Paris' life.

There are some kinds of celebrity that are apparently immune to scandal -- neither sex tapes, nor jail time, nor a catalog of youthful indiscretions posted permanently on the Internet have significantly sullied the star's reputation or made her less of a figure of fandom. This is because she seems really, really nice.

Although not even Paris thinks her life is hard ("I feel very blessed," she told David Letterman recently), it's not as if she doesn't do anything: Looking totally hot all the time takes effort, and expertise. (She looks totally hot even in her LAPD booking photograph.) And she earns money too, millions every year -- she's affixed her brand to perfumes, jewelry, hair extensions. Her 2006 CD, "Paris," is not the worst record ever made by a person not otherwise known as a singer.

It's my own inclination, too, to give her the benefit of the doubt. I would like to think she's as sharp as whoever wrote the words she hilariously speaks in the announcement of her mock presidential candidacy. ("I'm not from the olden days, and I'm not for change like that other guy.") From out here, however, it's difficult to discover anything of substance about her -- it's all parties, promotions and the increasingly rare bit of damage control. But she seems, you know, nice.

Her show is not always as nice. In the first "challenge," blindfolded contestants were nastily interrogated by Jeff Beacher, a Las Vegas impresario, as Paris and boyfriend Benji Madden looked on. "Do you think you're hot?" "Are your breasts real?" "How many guys have you slept with?" ("Tonight?" one girl asked back.) "Would you die for Paris?" There is only one right answer to that question, and it isn't the one they were after.

The contestants represent a cross-section of types and styles and backgrounds, none as fabulous as Paris'. What they share primarily are a kind of mystical belief in the star and the hope that her reflected glory might make their own glory apparent. (And, of course, "reality-show star" has for a generation become -- and I am amazed by this, really -- a potential career, rather than just a mad detour on the way to real life.) They will be judged on taste, class, "business savvy," ability to party, realness, devotion to Paris -- "and, of course, they'll have to be hot."

Some seem sweet, some are just annoying. ("Is it mostly losers, right?" Letterman asked her.) In the way of these things, they are all shut up together in a kind of Barbie Dream House by way of Candy Spelling. Players include the androgynous Onch, who feels he represents "the best of both worlds, an amazing girlfriend and an amazing boyfriend"; the self-loving Kiki, who says people hate her because "I'm pretty and nice"; and Baje, pronounced, "beige," who declares, "I haven't met anyone more mean than me," though I wasn't sure she meant among her competitors or in the entire world. There has already been drama, and there will be more. Possibly there will be love as well.

As a contest that combines infatuation with a famous person with the desire to serve her, it's somewhere between "Flavor of Love" and "I Want to Work for Diddy." Because all the power belongs to Paris, the proper term for these aspiring BFFs is not friend but minion. Paris has claimed that the winner -- the events of the show have already transpired in this, our real world -- has actually become a friend and that she's socialized with all the rest of them.

But in the context of "My New BFF," they are merely her pets and playthings.



'Paris Hilton's

My New BFF'

Where: MTV

When: 10 p.m. Tuesdays

Rating: Not rated

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