Why Not? With Shania Twain: TV Review
UPDATED: The show, which airs on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, solves the mystery as to why the singer stopped performing and recording, but it won't likely assure her fans that a successful comeback is in the wings.
Question: Why has Shania Twain, that spunky crossover country-pop minx who sold more records than any female artist in history, stopped singing? Well, pull up a chair. Better yet, lie down on a comfortable couch, because OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network has a rather exhaustive answer in store for you.
Executive producer Gay Rosenthal (The Judds, Ruby) brings the world up to date on the vanishing star with Why Not? With Shania Twain, a new weekly reality show/therapy session that seems specifically tailored to appeal to the Oprah demographic.
In a nutshell, with her career in full bloom, Twain's former producer, co-writer and husband of 14 years, Robert "Mutt" Lange, abruptly announced he was leaving his wife. Lange had been having an affair with Marie-Anne Theibaud, Twain's friend and former secretary. After being hit with this succession of sucker punches, Twain discovers she can no longer bring herself to sing for her adoring fans, let alone write a new album full of hits.
"The shock of the betrayal in my personal life brought on the realization that I have lost my ability to express myself, and my ability to sing," Twain says to the camera in the series premiere. "I've lost it. I just can't express myself."
Fortunately, reality television is here to help, and Twain does what any woman in her situation would do: she boards a tour bus with a film crew and sets out to conquer her demons in a very public way.
Accompanied by her younger sister, Carrie Anne Brown, and largely filmed by her new husband, Fred Thiebaud (yes, the guy who was married to Marie-Anne before the messy wife swap went down), the result is a sometimes compelling, sometimes turgid program that feels equal parts emotional rescue and public relations coup.
The magical misery tour hits a few stops already chronicled in VH1's Behind the Music, such as the home where the Twain family lived through spousal abuse and rough economic times and where Shania began singing to please her depressive mother.
We also see the less shabby digs where the Twains lived in shortly before their parents were killed in car crash, forcing Shania to postpone her career to take care of her siblings, and take a trip to the graveyard where the couple is buried. That's all well and fine, but when the bus then makes a stop at the home of a young family of brothers and sisters who have also just lost their parents to cancer and a car crash so that Shania can impart words of wisdom, the show runs off the Dr. Phil rails.
"So I'm getting out on the road meeting people, finding things in common with others," Twain explains. "I want to meet people that have experienced similar things to me and know what we've been through."
Thrusting cameras, microphones and Shania Twain in the faces of suffering strangers doesn't seem like the best way to help either this grieving family or our befuddled star.
Moreover, the reality show artifice makes us question what's keeping Twain from getting back into the music business. After all, since Lange left her high 'n' dry, she has appeared as a guest judge and mentor on American Idol, and was also rumored to be up for the empty slot now occupied by Jennifer Lopez (in what has been another singer's brilliant comeback maneuver), so whatever this problem is it isn't one of stage fright.
"I really can't complain," Twain says early on in the premiere of Why Not? "I've got a beautiful man. I have everything I could ever want in life, why am I so unhappy?"
It's a good question, and one that will engage Twain's fans for a limited amount of time. Even after the first hour, however, you wonder whether her new husband shouldn't put down the camera and direct the bus driver to the office of a grief counselor to try and figure that one out.
UPDATE: Indeed, Twain does meet up with a grief counselor in episode three of the series, albeit with the cameras still rolling. In a vast and vacant auditorium at Caesar's Palace, where Twain has been offered her own showcase, Dr. Gordon Livingston attempts to help her unpack the still smoldering anger she feels toward the "traitor" friend who stole her husband.
"I think a certain amount of reality helps here," Livingston tells Twain as she goes out of her way to defend Lange's character while trashing that of her former friend. "Nobody slipped and fell into bed."
Yes, you feel for Twain during their exchange, and you sense a glimmer of hope that the singer may yet rid herself of her psychological baggage and resume her storied career. Still, the very public route she's taking to try and get back on track may not prove to be the quickest, or the most entertaining, way to get there.