Tiffany "New York" Pollard is a woman of little talent. Her appearance is something akin to that of a streetwalker; her eyes sparkle with a gradient of colored shadow, her legs, slathered in Vaseline, gleam from upper thigh to painted toe. She is all implanted breast and snappy confidence, emoting loudly and forcefully, swinging pendulumically between spitting insults and exposing her vulnerability. Tiffany is, indeed, a television star if for no other reason than she is painfully entertaining to watch. She is the product of a VH1 reality show pedigree that has become a star-maker in and of itself. But for all of her vapidity, Tiffany is a beacon. I continue to watch her, following her from shoddy premise to shoddier premise, because she is just that good. Really, it's gotten to the point at which worst is best.
LOOK AT THE SIZE OF MY BOOBS!
Embarrassing television is predatory; it has found me and hooked at my most helpless, most inebriated and most incapacitated. The most addictive of the bunch run at off hours: too late or early for prime time. When they are in marathon form, they beckon the viewer with the promise of more sex talk and fighting and test dates and strange confessions of love. Each utterance upon the screen is complimented and complicated by the timely bat of a fringe of fake eyelashes, the toss of a weave, the throwing of a jewel-toned mixed drink, a bloody lip.
It all started with VH1's "Flavor of Love," a reality show that found me on an unmemorable afternoon several years ago. As I flipped through the channels I was caught by the caterwauling sound of ladies vying for their beloved: Flavor Flav of Public Enemy fame. Flavor Flav had worked his way up through the ranks of reality television, first starting on The Surreal Life and wowing audiences with his odd charisma and his ability to tote large clocks on his scrawny neck. He was later granted a reality show of his own, "Strange Love," in which he fumbled through a, yes, strange romance with his former "Surreal Life" costar, the leggy, platinum-haired Brigitte Nielson. Of course, said romance did not last long.
Rather than turning the cameras off and trying to assimilate back into society where true sentiment is more likely to flourish, Flav decided he was better off hosting a show of his own in which 20 ladies would compete for his affections.
Flavor of Love was thus introduced in 2006, as were the frightful personalities who came along with it. Each dubbed with an oddly free-associative nickname, the women who were out to win Flav seemed almost comically serious about the gravity of their situations and the weight his mercurial opinions held. "I love you"s were exchanged, followed by bombastic displays of affection, often manifested in physical or verbal altercations between competing contestants. While the premise of the show would make even the most casual of feminists cringe, the then 24 year-old Tiffany Pollard, working under the pseudonym "New York" (she was born in Utica), snatched the spotlight away from the other women with a barrage of pointed insults and a gash at the face with her acrylic talons.
YOU MIGHT BE A BITCH, BUT I'M THE HBIC!
Having been sucked into the franchise, when I heard wind of Tiffany's own spin-off (at this point we've spun off three times), entitled "I Love New York," I scuttled to the television. The tables had indeed turned, with Tiffany now at the helm of the love boat. Over two seasons, forty thugs, losers and a lone Harvard Law graduate all attempted to make New York their own.
Considering her previous performances on "Flavor of Love," only the most dedicated masochist would show up at any casting call, much less grovel for her on national television. Perhaps, considering her histrionic tendencies, this was the best solution for her anyway; the fame-hungry dejected contestant rounding up a crop of similarly fame-hungry submissives whose interest in poor Tiffany ranged from absolutely manic to nonexistent. Each week, when she would bid one gentleman farewell, he would spit a pointed insult her way in his post-rejection interview: usually some form of (and this is generously paraphrased) "all I ever wanted was to be on television anyway."
After 'finding love' on the second season of "I Love New York" with a particularly wormy male named George Weisgerber III (henceforth known as "Tailor Made"), Tiffany seemed to be running out of material to pitch to Chris Abrego and Mark Cronin, the brain trust behind the entire dynastic franchise beginning with "The Surreal Life." Scrounging for material, the team has brought New York back to her devoted audience (myself included) for another season of mayhem, this time as she attempts to become--as she puts it--a "certified actress" in "New York Goes to Hollywood."
PLEASE LIKE ME!
Though Tiffany is still her insufferable self, the show assumes a slightly more dejected air than Pollard's previous efforts. Several episodes began with a shot of a slovenly Tiffany, pajama-clad and somewhere between bed and kitchen, waiting for the phone to ring. Her voiceovers amplify her loneliness, making me almost feel sorry for her.
If anything is 'Hollywood' about this show, however, it is the obvious plot manipulation and carefully chosen cast of characters that are meant to bend to Tiffany's every whim. Without a bevy of men, who still managed to appear unpreened in front of the cameras in spite of having signed their personal lives away, Tiffany is left to surround herself with a group of people, clearly culled from plenty of off-camera searches, meant solely to buttress her already inflated ego.
Tiffany's assistant, Lizza Monet Morales, was chosen based on a series of disastrous on-camera 'interviews' conducted by the star herself in the first episode, though the choice screams of backstage strategy. To Morales's credit, her credentials far exceed those of her competitors in terms of assistant skills. In addition, a quick google search pulls up her lengthy resume courtesy of IMDb. Having worked as a bilingual correspondent for Access Hollywood since 2004, Morales is at least on par with the woman whose oranges she is currently juicing and whose phone calls she is currently taking.
Other characters include Tiffany's new manager, Chuck Binder, the only catalyst for any action in the show at all, her acting coach, Scott Sedita, her acting partner, the dreamy Vos (who seems to display some interest in her--what's in it for him?), and (now former) fianc√©, the well-moisturized Tailor Made. Tiffany's mother, known as Sister Patterson and prone to spouting some sort of religious dogma that seems to reside at the point where paganism, Christianity and Astrology intersect, is another recurring character, intent on bolstering her daughter's self-image no matter how many others she leaves shaking their fists in her pleather-heeled wake.
I GOTTA MAKE LOVE TO THE SCRIPT.
Each week, "New York Goes to Hollywood" struggles for plot points, often transparently centering on VH1-connected acting spots for our protagonist to complete. We follow Tiffany on a few auditions (never could I imagine someone would accidentally botch a Condoleezza Rice reading so badly--and then cry over it), and subsequently watch her work her way through an unpaid "spec" commercial that might air in Japan, sometime, maybe. She lays down backing vocals for the band Little Jackie who, coincidentally, were responsible for the catchy theme song that plays during "New York Goes to Hollywood"'s credits. A photo shoot for In Touch magazine goes horribly awry given Sister Patterson's determination to demand more reverence from both the photographer and the costume designer, pointedly suggesting that they learn their crafts a little better. In spite of it all, Tiffany remains absolutely watchable, whether she is loafing about her house or berating Tailor Made on her cell phone. "You have a beautiful, successful black woman on your arm," she screams at him, "that has not been [laid] in over three months and you need to be ashamed of yourself." What Pollard lacks in talent she overcompensates for in confidence.
HOW CAN YOU JUST IGNORE, I THINK IT'S THE FIFTH AMENDMENT? FREEDOM OF SPEECH?
Half of the show's punchlines are based on cultural ignorance and simple miscommunications between Tiffany and others: the videographer who made her reel wishes her to "break a leg!" to which Tiffany responds, "How 'bout I break your leg?" When she is asked how she feels about Japanese culture, she mentions that she "like(s) Thai food." It is impossible to know, based on Tiffany's delivery, if she had rehearsed these one-liners previously or had at least planned them in tandem with the producers. When she is lead to realize she has misinterpreted an entire cultural construct she responds with a shake of the head and a simple "Oh shit."
Perhaps Tiffany truly is a symbol of some sort of struggle, that is, the struggle to break out of the Paris Hilton-style status of non-celebrity, and become known for some sort of craft. Hilton's name alone, however, was responsible for her ability to command headlines, while Tiffany Pollard has yanked herself up to the D-list by her own stiletto straps, realizing that it feels empty at the bottom of the top, especially when the only things on your reel are snog-fests with an aging rapper and violent altercations with amateur porn stars.
New York will be punished for her ambition and she knows it; she has succeeded in "New York Goes to Hollywood" but will falter almost immediately thereafter. She will trudge back to Abrego and Cronin who will sign her on for another something-or-other and I will watch like the dutiful fan I am. But, hey, if anyone's in on it, it's Tiffany herself. In this week's season finale, Tiffany bids her production team a teary on-air farewell, promising to dedicate herself to acting but a moment later, we see her svelte, pulled-together and in narrative mode. "Who in the hell am I kidding?" she chirps, "If this thing doesn't work out, I'll be back for "I Love New York" season three through 13. And if it does work out, I'll be back for "New York Goes to Hollywood" part two. I am not turning down a paycheck!" That's my girl, Tiff. I could watch you fail every time; it always leaves room for a sequel.
AMANDA MARQUIT B'09 likes it medium, sauce on the side.