Come On... Get Happy?
I’m a train wreck, man. I’m a slow, pitiful train wreck, and you’re welcome to watch me slowly go down.
Danny Bonaduce’s public life started with a big bang, followed by a series of downward spirals. After The Partridge Family (1970-1974), Bonaduce found himself without a job, attention, and any way of dealing with a lack of the first two. He became a poster boy for Child Star Syndrome—as tabloid fodder, he was more famous for his drug and booze binges and fights with transvestite hookers than anything he did as an actor.
Proving that life on the fringes of fame is more debilitating than riding full-throttle in the fast lane, the 45-year-old Bonaduce now looks physically destroyed. And so it is fitting then that the reality show based on his current predicament is called Breaking Bonaduce. Over a black and white opening credit montage of reactions and answers to off-screen questions, he appears desiccated, carved open, and bled out. To call him a shell would only grant too much structure to the fragile hull we see.
And he is not alone. Episode One opens on a major marital crisis. Danny has cheated on Gretchen, his wife of 18 years. Though this is killing Gretchen, Danny is merely singing the self-hating blues that have become so familiar to him over the past three decades. Moderating this mess is the plucked and tucked Dr. Garry Corgiat. Danny defends himself, that it was a minor “fling,” a reaction to a lack of sex in the couple’s marriage. But we can see already that there’ll be many more demons demanding attention as the show continues its limited run.
Honestly, we can hardly wait. No recent nu-reality series has been as instantly addictive as Breaking Bonaduce. True, Danny’s story is not unusual and neither is the public display of painful psychologizing sessions (a certain heavy metal rock band stole the therapy and theater thunder). What is startling, is how every single bad decision, personal fuck-up, and human flaw is written on Bonaduce’s raw face. It is an icon to a life spent in the mad pursuit of some sort of outer recognition, or inner peace.
That Gretchen has stuck with him all this time is amazing. Throughout their unorthodox relationship (Danny married her in a cheapie ceremony after their first date, as the upfront Christian gal wouldn’t sleep with him unless they were wed), Danny has been haunted by numerous sinister spirits. Abused as a child, plagued by a highly addictive personality, and unbelievably restless in his own skin, his Id is only moderated by a desire to be a good father. When confronted by Dr. Corgiat about the message his behavior sends to his kids, Danny’s talons appear. “Don’t question my kids”, Danny says, “I teach them right. I teach them not to be like me.”
Indeed, during the few family interactions we see, Danny is a terrific dad, loving and deeply concerned. He accompanies his daughter, Isabella, to an audition and glows as she shows off for the camera. Danny sees this as vindication, since it’s his plan to give Isabella the kind of fairytale, problem-free career arc that he never had. “I owe it to the people” he says, “to produce a child actor that doesn’t rob the local video store.” Yet Dr. Corgiat repeatedly asks the tougher question. He wants to know what Danny owes himself and his marriage. Suddenly the subject is silent, lost in a cloud of thoughts that we can read through his tired, rummy eyes.
Breaking Bonaduce appears a kind of ex-star’s Pilgrim’s Progress. On the first episode, Danny heads to Vegas for a stand-up comedy gig. He believes in the idea of Sin City, and knows he will get in trouble if he goes alone. Gretchen, still smarting over the infidelity, decides she cannot make the trip, and the obvious fear on Danny’s face as he discusses the trip with Dr. Corgiat is spellbinding. If he goes alone, he knows the worst is destined to happen.
The omnipresent crew follows along as Danny enters his first of what look to be many dens of inequity (in a promo for future episodes, he decides to use steroids as he becomes addicted to exercise). What happens in Vegas complicates rather than confirms our worst fears. Danny proves weak and tempted, but commits a final act that almost redeems all his bad thoughts.
It may be one of the few triumphs during Breaking Bonaduce‘s run. Like any tale of redemption, a bottom must be reached, and Gretchen and Danny haven’t really found their nadir yet. In order to make this more dramatic and less pathetic, the creators employ some obvious entertainment elements. Popular songs with ethereal ambience play in the background as extreme close-ups and slow-motion sequences underscore their horrors.
Danny is plainly used to living under a microscope (he currently makes his living as a tell-all radio talk show host). He’s also a bitter, broken man. The only question left is, will anything make him whole again? This reality trip may not have a happy ending. Ever.