This is TV Time Capsule, our chance to revisit moments that defined a genre, era, or generation. In each episode, we’ll take a critical look at a show, theme, or entertainer to relive the absurdity of pre-streaming programming.
Today we remember a show that many people would like to forget. Dismissed as “disgusting” and “a bad home movie” upon its release and currently suppressed by the network that aired it, Being Bobby Brown was one of the most notorious reality shows of its era. Some saw the fly-on-the-wall depiction of Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston’s dysfunctional relationship as a nadir, a reveling in once-thriving musicians’ misfortunes. Some tuned in to join in the reveling.
Few gave its complexities the credit they deserved. Being Bobby Brown was a fourth-quarter rally in a relationship that was plagued by very public problems (the show’s second episode features footage from a court hearing Brown attended after he was charged for domestic violence against Houston...who showed up to court in support of her husband). It was a portrait of two dyed-in-the-wool entertainers—pop cultural icons who were compulsively watchable even when they were merely (and, perhaps, barely) existing. It was a meditation on the trappings of fame with varying perspectives (Brown seemed hungry for more, while Houston seemed decidedly over it). “This isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” read Houston’s message in a bottle—a message that missed a culture obsessed with becoming famous in the ensuing 15 years.
The deaths of Houston and her daughter with Brown, Bobbi-Kristina Brown (a BBB principal cast member) casts a shadow over the show, which portrays substance abuse with not-so-subtle implications. But it doesn’t, in our opinion, deprive Being Bobby Brown of its capacity to entertain. Today, the show still abounds with joy and humor (however foolhardily) and is frequently breezy viewing. To Being Bobby Brown, time has been, if not quite kind, then fortifying, complicating a show that was unfairly dismissed by far too many.