As Seen on TV
I chose to review As Seen on TV because I’d heard good things about Sarah Mlynowski and because the premise of a reality TV show experience seemed interesting and original. Unfortunately, this interesting premise was simultaneously compelling and off-putting.
Sunny Langstein has a boyfriend, a wonderful boyfriend named Steve who lives in New York City. This is a bit of a problem since Sunny lives in Fort Lauderdale. When Steve proposes they move in together, Sunny is excited and begins job hunting in the Big Apple. But the job she thinks she lined up falls through, and she’s left with no way to pay half the rent. When her father’s girlfriend Carrie, a casting associate, offers her a chance to be on the reality TV show, Party Girls, Sunny has to be talked into it. What kind of person allows their privacy to be trampled over like that? But she doesn’t have anything else, and the cameras will only follow her around on Saturday nights. She figures the rest of the time she can job hunt. The whole thing will be a lark.
Sunny soon discovers that Party Girls will be far more intrusive than she assumed. Making her over inside and out into Sunny Lang (“less ethnic-sounding”), the show encourages her to act in ways that she’s uncomfortable with because they need someone outrageous to hook the viewers. Why doesn’t she take one of the guys she meets back to the hotel with her? It’d make for better viewing. As Sunny’s life gets more and more taken over by the show, her relationship with Steve gets strained. Both Party Girls and Steve push her to decide. What does she want: fame or love?
At the beginning of the story Sunny is a very likable character. She’s down to earth, caring, compassionate – a good match for sweet, horny, guy-next-door Steve. She’s even sympathetic in her Party Girls guise. She doesn’t compete for the attention of the camera and gets on well with the other girls. But as the book progresses, Sunny becomes increasingly spoiled by her fame. She becomes obsessed with her own image and how her fans see her. She wears only the most expensive clothes, and she seriously considers a fling with famous TV star Matt Rowler. It’s more than a bit painful to watch the only truly kind and selfless character (Steve) get the shaft from Sunny over and over.
The reality TV angle was an interesting way for Mlynowski to explore the world of TV programming as well as the de-evolution of character, but after reading about a hundred pages of it, I was thoroughly disgusted by this form of entertainment. All of the characters associated with the show, with the possible exception of Carrie, are either exceedingly oily or coy, or else they are abysmally stupid. Party girl Erin sleeps – on camera – with anything walking, Brittany gets ploughed every Saturday night, and Howard, the producer, hits on all the girls. The party life these girls lead is dark and callous, and Party Girls is happy to exploit their stupidity, promiscuity, and humiliation. And Sunny’s private life isn’t a great deal better. She has no friends in NYC outside of the show, and her father is one of the more revolting sperm donors to be found in romance fiction.
This is not a romance, as the focus of the story is entirely on Sunny’s character arc, but there are some sweet, silly, and sexy moments between Sunny and Steve. The story’s resolution seemed unsatisfying, however. The plots and subplots of Sunny’s New York existence unravel over the course of the book, only to be tied up in a neat bow at the end – which seemed improbable given how much Sunny screws up during the c ourse of the story.
As Seen on TV is a book that I wouldn’t have finished had I not been reading it for review, but, having finished it, I can’t say that I’m sorry I read it. It certainly helped me to clarify my thoughts on reality television. Mlynowski has a brisk, modern style, and a clear understanding of what it’s like to be young, female, and single in America. Readers who like reality TV or who clamber for books about the urban scene will probably find something to like here, and those who don’t will likely be reminded why not.