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Rivers again run shallow in latest mom-daughter "reality" gambit

Joan & Melissa at Television Critics Association session. WE tv photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Jan. 25th at 8 p.m. (central) on WE tv
Starring: Joan, Melissa and Cooper Rivers plus an assortment of interlopers
Produced by: Annabelle McDonald

The well-received documentary film Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, released last summer, accomplished the virtually impossible by making her a somewhat sympathetic figure with unquenchable needs to be both wanted and appreciated.

It also was made abundantly clear that Rivers, 77, will turn down nothing in her determination to remain in the public eye. This unfortunately brings us to her latest thinly-based-on-reality series, Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?. The premise: mommy not so dearest relocates from the East Coast to Malibu to get closer to both her 43-year-old daughter and grandson Cooper, who was nine during filming of this eight-part concoction for WE tv.

None of this is to be bought, even though the elder Rivers persists in thinking she can buy love. Her staff and friends all feign shock when she breaks news of her move to them while the cameras roll. Meanwhile back in Malibu, viewers are introduced to an array of Melissa's hanger-ons. They include a boyfriend named Jason (who looks like one of the bulkier Baldwin brothers); a layabout live-in lout known as Conrad and reminiscent of Kato Kaelin; a ribald, parasitic BFF named Lynne; and a voluptuous, scantily-clad Swedish nanny called Dominica. Where does the girl get the money? Is Fashion Police that lucrative?

Joan in turn will bring her abundant demands and baggage plus beloved dog Lola, who has "bladder issues" when excited. Melissa is prototypically aghast, even after mom tells her that Lola is "the Gayle to my Oprah." Jason braces for the perils of Joan moving in, summing up his fears thusly: "I don't want to be living under duress the whole time here, and feel eyes piercing through my soul."

Episodes are one hour each, requiring ample manufactured "drama" to keep this thing percolating. In Tuesday's opener, Joan rails against Dominica ("You either hire an ugly nanny or a gay guy"); angers Melissa with her continued addiction to plastic surgery; and secretly buys Cooper a surfboard after the kid easily manipulates her. There's also time for Dominica to doff her itsy bitsy bikini top during a beach outing so that Joan can layer her back with lotion.

"I think it's a good way for Cooper to learn how to count," Joan riffs.

Here's also a mother who in next week's Episode 2 incessantly lobbies her daughter to go topless for a Women of Hollywood Gone Wild video being put together by notorious sleaze merchant Joe Francis. (D-FW angle: Francis was very briefly married last year to former CBS11 entertainment reporter Christina McLarty.)

It seems that Joan objects to a "hooker watering the plants" (namely Dominica), but is perfectly at ease having Melissa go topless while her chest is still up to the task.

"When my breasts fell, they were measured on the Richter scale," Joan cracks before mother and daughter visit Francis to see how much money he'll offer. The figure he comes up with isn't shared with viewers. But Joan can't help proclaiming, "I would just be so proud to say, 'You see that slut on the cover?' That's my daughter.' "

She can't possibly mean that. But in return for exposure of any kind, television's most desperate mother-daughter duo apparently know no bounds or boundaries. It's unfortunate, because the elder Rivers truly was a groundbreaking standup comic in a field where women remain few and far between. The Piece of Work film brought that home while also making it clear that Rivers' manifest insecurities continue to get the best of her.

This time it's led to this super-ludicrous WE tv eyesore, which also includes mom sneaking up to Melissa's bathroom to snap pictures of her in the shower. Daughter shrieks in protest but mom is only out to prove that her only child has "a great ass" among other things. Alas, you can't make this stuff up. Except in these cases, you most certainly can.