VH1 continues to test the waters of scripted programming with a series that bridges the gap between the network’s reality shows and something more ambitious. In the new half-hour comedy Barely Famous, sisters Sara and Erin Foster play fictionalized versions of themselves in a mockumentary-style series based on their real lives.
The daughters of Grammy Award-winning producer David Foster, the Foster women grew up in (and are related to the people of, through many step-marriages) the Hollywood lifestyle depicted on so many current series — most infamously, of course, Keeping Up with the Kardashians (to whom, yes, they are also related to by marriage). Sara has had bit parts as an actress, while Erin works as a writer. But as Erin says, “our upbringing was really fucked up.”
Reality TV is easy to make fun of, but to do a great satire, it has to feel like a real show. Barely Famous, like Hulu’s hilarious The Hotwives of Orlando, and Yahoo! Screen’s Burning Love (a Bachelor parody) is almost too successful in capturing exactly what is so obnoxious — yet so addicting — about the scenes they lampoon.
In their fictionalize versions, Sara is desperate for fame, and deludes herself into thinking she’s on par with Hollywood A-listers. When she tries to get a free Birkin bag, she’s denied, only to have Kate Hudson walk in and swoop one up (there are many celebrity cameos in the series). “Why does she get one?” Sara asks incredulously. “Because she was Oscar nominated,” the clerk replies. “Yeah, like, 15 years ago …” she scoffs, before accepting the bag that the Birkin bag was shipped in, and leaving.
Erin, on the other hand, is desperate to be “normal,” attempting to date a guy she meets at the Apple store. Though she ignores James Franco’s sexts to her while with her date, saying that’s “not her scene,” she also starts to realize some of her own prejudices, like when she yells at him to stop wanting to go to P.F. Chang’s. Of course, Barely Famous also takes it to the extreme where Erin ends up helping push her date in his car to the gas station, because the tank was empty (“My mom was supposed to fill it up, it’s her car!”), and TMZ catches it all on video.
Having only viewed the pilot, it’s hard to say whether Barely Famous will rise to the heights of Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Comeback, but it has potential. The series touches on some inside jokes of reality shows, like insisting theirs be called a “docu-series” instead of reality TV. The Fosters are also able to use their real-life connections to play meta-driven bit parts in this story of two “nobodies.” On the other hand, some of those celebrity interactions (like one with real-life friend Nicole Richie) are a little stilted, and the material in the pilot feels easy, covering topics that have been done many times before when sending-up shallow celebrity culture. Like any comedy, though, it will take some time for the show to find its own voice.
Ultimately, Barely Famous is fun, and while it has a clear sense of the scene it’s deconstructing with perceptive humor, it’s never mean. It just forces truth in a place where everything is covered up, obscured, and spun into something else. As Sara says regarding fame and the L.A. scene, “I’ve never wanted to sell my soul. But I’m open now to selling a piece of my soul.” In another subversion, Barely Famous allows that to lead to hilarity, and not the tragedy that it really is.
Pilot Rating: ★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism
Barely Famous premieres Wednesday, March 18th at 9:30 p.m. on VH1