There are Reality Shows, and there are Documentaries. Chasing Farrah is a Documentary...
To those of us who view the reality show phenomenon with contempt and boredom, I appeal to you to put aside your disdain for what you think this show is about. Chasing Farrah is not the usual mindless reality show that traffics in titillation, lacking any redeeming social or anthropological value.
There is certainly enough bad stuff being produced these days that can easily be reviewed and dismissed without actually watching a single episode. For this genre of crap, it is possible, even preferable, to write a thoughtful and well-reasoned critique based entirely on the spin, the trailers, the thumbs up and the thumbs down. But you would be wrong to lump Chasing Farrah in with the kind of shows that can be reviewed in absentia.
Except for the occasional episode of Leave it to Beaver, I rarely watch the TV Land channel. I may be as much an admirer of pop culture as the next thinking man, but TV Land's line up is just not my kind of nostalgia. So, it was while channel surfing in the wee hours of the morning that my thumb paused at the site of Chasing Farrah. I'd heard nothing about the show, it wasn't at all on my radar; though earlier in the evening I did notice a listing in the program guide and thought it might be quirky enough to have a look if there was nothing else on.
I instantly fell in love with the whole gestalt of the show: the concept, the editing, the writing, the pacing, the interviews, the rambling conversations, the subplots, and Farrah as the worthy focus of it all. There is a sheep-like mass media judgment of Farrah Fawcett as empty-headed and "flaky" (the adjective with which she's been branded since her 1997 appearance on Letterman), but there really is a lot more going on there, and it would be wrong to review and dismiss her without actually taking time to watch a few episodes.
The Farrah stereotype (and that of Ryan O'Neal later on in the show) fell away during the offhandedly funny and underdramatized scenes that give us a glimpse of how she interacts with her fans. In these scenes, Farrah is deeply empathetic, relaxed and sincerely appreciative toward the socially inept, middle-aged geeks, known as her superfans. The unexpected sweetness of these scenes is what belies comparisons with similar shows, like the loathsome Anna Nicole or the Osbornes. In one scene there is an unpleasant, mean-spirited exchange between her security guards and one of these hapless fans, whose jittery excitement at the prospect of finally meeting Farrah makes you think of every downtrodden geek in high school who was bullied and mercilessly teased by his peers. In an exchange that has likely been repeated his entire life, the fan's poor social skills and general weirdness alarms the security personnel who then treats him like so much vermin in order to get rid of him.
Quick cut to Farrah sitting in her dressing room chatting with the above mentioned fan. (Apparently she had intervened and vetoed his dismissal by the nervous security guard). It is in this moment that she shines, and even humbles the rest of us, by revealing her real and best nature as she interacts with respect and loving acceptance of this besotted Walter Mitty. There are other similar encounters with male superfans who receive the same attentiveness, sincerity and warmth from her. During these human moments you see the so-called flakiness replaced with a quick wit and almost maternal quality toward the male fans who are mostly awkward and lonely social misfits. She puts them at ease, never condescends to them, and graciously responds with the kind of appreciation you can't fake. Like the Wizard of Oz, in the absence of magical powers, Farrah figures out what each fan needs. She deftly dodges their unrealistic requests for her time by giving them a few moments of her undivided attention, which is all they really ever wanted. It works like a charm as the men visibly relax, their obsession with her, satiated. In the end, it is enough just to be granted an audience with the woman they have fantasized about since adolescence.
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