Somewhere around the mid-2000s, coincidentally the same time when every TV writer was fired and all good ideas were banished from the Earth, celebrity-based reality television, or Celebreality as VH1 forced everyone to call it, invaded television and all the networks were relieved to no longer call upon such burdens as story and character to sell ad time. NBC, of course, had The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, with Donald Trump’s “You’re fired”s serving as a perfect catchphrase for the economic meltdown on the horizon. Not to be outdone, ABC launched Dancing with the Stars, MTV had The Osbournes, and, the reigning overlords of Celebreality, VH1, struck gold The Surreal Life. And surreal it all was. Celebrities acting like celebrities and trying to insist they were just like us, only crazy because of all the money.
But somewhere deep in the crevices of your grossly overpriced cable bill lay a channel called Oxygen, whose claim to fame, Bad Girls Club, features several emotionally and psychologically unstable women sharing a house. Apparently, finding out what happens when people stop being polite and start being real is Oxygen’s wheelhouse because Coolio’s Rules, the reality show that sticks rapper Coolio and four strangers who happen to be Coolio’s children in a house together, is pretty much a Celebreality version of Bad Girls Club.
Cashing in on the success of MTV’s Newlyweds, The Osbournes, and Meet the Barkers, Oxygen found a likely collaborator in Coolio, who wasn’t afraid to act totally insane in front of the cameras and whose name still held some clout in nostalgic circles. Unfortunately, much of the show relies so heavily on a narrative thread (Coolio’s kids needing a job, Coolio needing to open a catering business) that when it all intersects, it becomes even harder to call this reality television.
After a 12-year absence, Coolio emerges from the pits of the Juggalo Nation to reunite with his estranged family, moving them to his Southern Californian home. There, he expects the kids he has never known to respect his rules and heed his word, all the while making up for the parenting he never had the time to give. Now a gourmet chef whose speciality is “making something out of nothing,” Coolio seizes the opportunity to get his catering business off the ground, because, well, he can’t rap forever.
The kids move in and immediately clash with Coolio. In one instance, they refuse to help with dishes after the pasta dinner Coolio botched, so he litters the house in noodles in hopes of getting the kids to clean up. Another plot sees the kids demanding a car, and after Coolio suggests that they get jobs to pay for one, he employs them as caterers and buys them a burnt-up Toyota Camry. The show’s final plot revolves around Coolio’s relationship with his son, a self-made entrepreneur with no apparent hustle. Spoilers: they don’t get along.
But Coolio’s Rules, if nothing else, benefits from how strange it all is. Between Coolio’s acting and the alien relationship he has with his kids, nothing could be further from reality. The show runs on several components: bizarre lessons for Coolio’s kids, a complete lack of self awareness, and turns at catharsis that attempt to humanize Coolio. But from the onset, things feel off. These people don’t know each other, and the children Coolio hopes to father are grown, ranging between the ages of 16 and 20.
Most reality shows superficially offer a glimpse inside the lives of celebrities, and while part of the entertainment comes from seeing entertainers as real people, an even bigger part comes from seeing them as the larger than life stars we see on TV. Coolio’s Rules definitely heightens the myth of Coolio, but everything is so contrived it’s hard to see Coolio’s Rules as anything other than a scripted, hour-long sitcom. With story-arcs, such as Coolio suggesting his unemployed kids work for the catering company he started moments after they moved in, so carefully structured, even the most glazed-over reality show junkie wouldn’t buy it. At least it’s all weird enough to be entertaining.
Coolio’s Rules didn’t last long. Reality shows work best when the editors create narrative out of life. Like Coolio, the gourmet chef whose speciality is “making something out of nothing,” much of Coolio’s Rules never seems to know what it’s doing and instead tries to make something totally unappetizing out of nothing.
Get lost in Coolio’s hair as it peaks out from beneath the top of his baseball cap in the first episode here.
Matt Schimkowitz is a writer, TV-watcher, and has been spending most of life his life looking for the right caterer to host his corporate event. Find more writing about canceled TV shows and other irrelevant nonsense on the twitter and blogosphere, respectively.