Reality television, like pop music, is much harder than it looks. You could watch "Newlyweds" and conclude that showing a dim musician out of his depth guarantees a hit. This seems to have been the thinking behind "Tommy Lee Goes To College" (NBC, Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET), which follows the former Mötley Crüe member to the University of Nebraska.
But don't confuse this with a (mostly) candid show like "Newlyweds" or "The Osbournes," in which celebrities are seen in what is, roughly speaking, their natural environment. Everything from Lee's attendance itself to his drop-ins on camera-friendly classes like frog dissection is a stunt that occurs solely to be televised.
This week brought the conclusion of the story that comes closest to being interesting: Lee's tryout for the marching band. As a professional musician, he's been surprised to learn that participation might require work that he doesn't want to do.
And therein, really, lies the show's fatal flaw: Tommy Lee doesn't care about any of this. He doesn't care about college, and aside from fear of being shown up, he doesn't care about the band. Doesn't care whether his "hot tutor" gooses his chemistry grade, doesn't care about making "friends," doesn't care whether his athletic "efforts" lead anywhere. He's just happy to be on television.
With nothing at stake in this enterprise, Lee acts out a series of slapsticky set pieces that don't matter to him or anyone else.
Say what you will about Jessica Simpson — she craves the success and acceptance she chases. Tommy Lee doesn't want anything. And cruelly enough, the struggles of a buffoon are funny only if the buffoon is invested in them.
When Tommy Lee banging his drums with a college marching band comes off as a giant yawn, something has gone horribly awry.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.