I believe the public has heard basically everything they can possibly hear, you know, about my so-called life. I just think, you know, it’s a bunch of garbage. Don’t judge me by what you have read. Love me by what you know about me, about my music, you know, about my life.
—Bobby Brown, Being Bobby Brown
[H]onestly, the main reason I wanted to do this is really for my kids. They’re always saying, “Daddy, why do they always make you look so bad in the press?” You know? They don’t see their father as a screw-up.
—Bobby Brown, Newsweek (21 June 2005)
Being Bobby Brown
Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston
Regular airtime: Thursdays, 10pm ET
“And the winner is! Bobby! Brown!” The first seconds of Being Bobby Brown recalls a happier time, when a high energy kid performer was winning talent contests, looking adorable even in his fade, and he plainly loved the spotlight. Within a minute, though, another time emerges, a more or less present moment, splattered across the screen in multiple tv monitors. Brown is in the news for being arrested—for drugs and for battery—and for crying in the courtroom, when, as Keith Olbermann’s voice intones, the star appeared to reach a “tipping point,” convicted and sentenced to yet another prison term, this one, some 30 days.
Time is important for Bobby Brown. The first episode, post-credits, opens on his first visit in over a month with his kids LaPrincia (“It’s really hard for me to see my daughter grow up, you know”) and Bobby Jr. (“He’s special to me because he carries my name, that’s my legacy”). He doesn’t get to see them often enough, he explains in voiceover, because they “have a different mom.” Bobby and the kids hang out in Boston’s Charles Hotel, go bowling, hug, smile, and murmur, with unnecessary subtitles marking his teary affirmations to his young son: “You know your father’s got you, right? There ain’t nobody like us.”
He’s probably right about that. But even if nobody’s going to mistake Bobby Brown for a representative figure (if only because his bad behavior is so instantly public), the series gives him some room to perform for cameras, make a few comments on the Southern legal system (“I live in Atlanta, Georgia, the first state that had these slave laws. It’s still going on, it’s still the South. You know, dirty, dirty”), recast his image a bit, and above all, in the first two episodes, anyway, assert his love for Whitney.
His second stop out of jail is Whitney. They meet at the Atlanta Hyatt, where they can get some “private time,” with reality show cameras in tow. Arriving at the airport, he’s besieged by reporters who just want him to clear the air, to share a tidbit for the mics pressed up in his face. Once he’s got some distance on them, Bobby speaks to his own camera: “I just wanna be normal, okay?” And that’s why he’s doing a reality show, to be normal.
In interviews, he’s already let on that Whitney wasn’t so happy with the concept at first. After all, she’s always been the one mobbed in public, and Brown has been planting himself in front of cameras, posing with fans but also making sure they get his name right (as he notes here, he’s still mistaken for Puff Daddy). Waiting for Whitney’s appearance, Bobby winds down (“I’m having beer and water,” he announces. “This is the diet of champions”) and calls her a few times (“Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Bring that ass in quick, I’m gonna show you what I do with it”).
Their hours together are precious—they’ve been apart too much because of diverging careers, his time in jail, and hers in rehab. “For those that don’t understand,” he explains, while literally waiting outside the hotel for his baby’s appearance, “A man is a man. And they spell my name M-A-N.” When signals get crossed and she slips in a back door so he has to hustle up to catch her, he chalks it up to their celebrity, and specifically, her prerogative. “With a power couple, she gets to go upstairs and make me run around.” At this point, you’re starting to like him. He’s the most agreeable reality star you’ve ever seen.
Indeed, the reality show seems an ideal vehicle for Brown, who at last gets to star in a version of his life with Whitney (at least in the title; she gets some voiceover work and certainly attracts your attention every time she’s in frame). He introduces her to his camera, “This is the world,” and she smiles broadly, “Hi world,” acting like it is his world and not hers. The frame freezes, so Brown can underline: “Beautiful, ain’t she?” (Yes, always, and here thin but looking better than the last time she appeared in public.) Whitney wants to eat in their room, to go to private beaches or closed off pools. When crowds gather, she shoos them off or quits the area. “I can’t do this,” she mutters, “I just want to be a real person.” Bobby soothes and cajoles her at the same time: “Why you so mean?” he wonders out loud, while patting her shoulders. “I’m a lion,” says, “I protect mine.” Bobby takes it otherwise, opening his arms wide as they leave the public area: “I’m known like the President, they might as well just give me the Oval Office.”
Brown brings the sweetness, no doubt about it. At a dance club, he checks the camera as he tells a girl she can’t get in touch with him, because, well, he’s married. She rolls her eyes (also for the camera), but Brown’s fine with a night of drinking with his boys (including brother and “ace” Tommy) and then head back home to the wife (“These women today,” he tells the camera in the limo, “Just don’t give a fuck. Some of ‘em, they just like dancing.” Oh. Was that what she wanted?
Still, he’s close to magnificent with Whitney: when he suggests they make a baby when they go vacationing in the Bahamas, she sighs and says it would “only last a week” (suggesting whatever you think she’s suggesting, but in any event, still in some pain over her own past) and he makes her laugh with some clowning at the dinner table; when he mentions “Pop-pop,” her recently deceased father, she begins to weep, and he cuddles her and blames himself for not thinking first when he speaks.
Brown’s new time is all gravy, and he makes a point of reminding himself of that. As he observes during the series’ second episode (premiering directly after the first, both 30 June), “I’m growing up man, and that’s the main thing. Most 35-year-old men, black, don’t get a chance to grow up again.” That seems right too. This episode begins with his visit to an Atlanta courtroom, where the judge leaves him off with bond, but Brown knows how close he came to more jail time. To celebrate, he takes Whitney for champagne and strawberries, a massage, and fancy soothing makeup session (after he makes sure she’s not going to be rubbed down by any good looking male masseuse: “He don’t need to be feeling on my wife”).
For dinner, he dresses her up so she looks like Rachel Marron (her character in The Bodyguard), in a sleek gown and mysterious hoodlike scarf. He’s married to a great, glimmering, struggling star. And he’s making her laugh. At the restaurant, he explains, “I like to order a lot of food because I got different taste buds and I like to eat.” Again, he makes her laugh, and together they make the waiter uncomfortable with some wait-till-we-get-home talk. “I like to make she enjoys herself, I like to make sure anybody around me enjoys themselves. That’s what I’m about.”
While he likely believes this, the primary point of Being Bobby Brown is that he understands the stakes of reality tv. He can remake or redestroy himself. Given that the premise of so much reality programming is precisely to make folks look dim, unpleasant, or silly, so far Being Bobby Brown looks to be its antithesis. The man looks earnest, affectionate, and generous. Whether this is truth or not hardly matters. Camera-truth is relative. But survival, that’s something else.