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After seeing Barry Bonds up close in the visitors' clubhouse as he was getting ready for a game at Dodger Stadium recently, I couldn't help but think that the San Francisco Giant slugger looks more like a Hollywood heavy than a baseball player. With his gleaming shaved head and giant biceps and upper body, Bonds has the cartoons air of a computer-enhanced movie villain who should be battling Hugh Jackman in "X-Men," not menacing a Dodger pitcher. When the comic Robert Wuhl saw Bonds jogging out of the dugout onto the playing field, he sized him up perfectly. "Hey," he quipped. "It's Darth Vader!" With Bonds' home-run total ascending at the same time that his reputation has been ravaged by the allegations of rampant steroid use in the new book "Game of Shadows," the public's love-hate fascination with his exploits has been channeled into "Bonds on Bonds." The weekly reality show, which airs Tuesday nights on ESPN2, offers backstage glimpses of the slugger doing such things as reading aloud a GQ story about the 10 most hated athletes he's incredulous that he finished behind Terrell Owens to trying to get someone to fix a busted pipe under his fish tank "911, brother," he says gruffly over the phone. "You guys get to my house ASAP." So far, the show's ratings have been somewhat lackluster. The reviews have been withering. The Chicago Sun-Times' Jay Mariotti said the show represents Bonds' "lame attempt to persuade the public to buy into Barry's pity party." Our sports columnist Mike Penner called it "checkbook journalism," wondering "how much of the story is being left on the cutting-room floor by the production company working in association with Bonds?" The producer under siege, Mike Tollin, is a Hollywood veteran, having made, with his partner Brian Robbins, a string of inspirational sports movies, including "Coach Carter," "Hardball," "Radio" and "Varsity Blues." But Bonds' bad rep has rubbed off on Tollin, who's been getting thrashed in the sports pages, not only for having a questionable partnership with his subject Tollin-Robbins shares any profits from the show with Bonds but for offering Bonds a friendly platform to rehab his image. Sitting in the Giants' dugout before one of their games here, Tollin defended his company's relationship with Bonds, saying that although Bonds gets to review the tapes of each episode, his input has been "almost nonexistent." He says the only shot Bonds asked to have taken out was a brief sequence involving his personal chef. "We've never had discussions about shots having to do with steroids or his antagonistic relationship with the media," Tollin says. "We had shots of a reporter saying Barry was still using human growth hormones. We had fans saying he should be kicked out of baseball. So I have to ask if Barry was controlling the content, why would he be allowing all that into the story?" The other question many people have asked is: Who's using whom? The show's first episode concluded with a scene in which Bonds becomes so despondent over the media's sniping that he begins to weep, giant tears everything about Bonds being bigger-than-life spilling down his cheeks. But was that genuine self-pity or simply a shrewd audition for Bonds' next career? The slugger has often said that he'd like to get into the entertainment racket when his playing days are over. Or is "Bonds on Bonds" simply another example of the runaway narcissism that has enveloped our culture? For what makes the series especially intriguing is how in sync it seems with a whole generation of reality shows whose subjects wallow in a queasy combination of shameless exhibitionism and bottomless self-absorption. There's nothing new about narcissism, only the fact that it has migrated in the last few decades from the lunatic fringe to the mainstream.
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