Back in my Oprah-loving days, I used to genuinely enjoy the episodes that featured Dr. Phil. His frank, common-sense approach to relationship issues was a refreshing change from her usual parade of psychologists peddling their latest self-help book. As much as I enjoyed his appearances, I was skeptical when Oprah waived her magic prosperity wand over his head and granted him his own show. Some things – like boy bands, creme brulee, lobster ravioli and…Dr. Phil – should be consumed in moderation so as not to cross the very fine boundary between really awesome and really awful. Not surprisingly, Dr. Phil crushed that boundary almost immediately.
Not since Don King have we seen this level of self-promotion. His narcissism has no bounds. Every show is a shameless commercial for one of either his or his painfully vapid family members’ latest books. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of his show is his inability to conduct an
intervention interview without pulling his plastic wife, Robin, into the conversation so she can give viewers a glimpse into their incredible relationship, sons and/or home life. Because, after all, the show is not about the guests; it’s about the McGraw family.
The only Dr. Phil episode I’ve successfully watched from beginning to end aired while we were on vacation last September. The entire show revolved around an extravagant surprise 60th birthday party that Robin organized for him (though he is alleged to have planned the party himself, going as far as to practice looking surprised) – from the venue (The Beverly Hills Hilton) to the ice sculptures to the expensive menu to the music (a private Seal concert) – they spared no expense rubbing their wealth into the noses of what is likely an audience of downtrodden housewives and unemployed factory workers struggling to get by.
As disturbing as the planning scenes were, they definitely saved worst for last. The show culminated in an awkward behind-the-scenes look at Robin’s sessions with a band and choreographer who helped her reenact…wait for it…wait for it…Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like A Woman” video as a gift to her husband. Take that in for a minute. Robin Not-As-Sexy-As-She-Thinks-She-Is McGraw dressed herself up in a teddy, fishnets and stilettos, donned a top hat and danced around in a music video that, though better-suited for viewing in the privacy of the McGraw bedroom, was broadcast both at the party and on national television. I still have flashbacks.
Throughout the entire episode I was all, “Jack, are you watching this? Can you believe this?? Oh. My. GOD! JAAACK! No, seriously! ARE YOU WATCHING THIS?!?!” Why would I stay glued to such a shameless display of self-promotion? For the same reason I, and many others, watch the Real Housewives of New Jersey – like a moth to a flame, I couldn’t turn away. And those images will forever be burned into my brain.