As a student at the University of Nebraska, Tommy Lee is an ET -- an empty terrestrial. He stands out like a piece of rusty urban detritus in a field of corny wholesomeness, a specter of leathery tattoos amid fresh-faced Midwest youth. He's Motley Crue to the school's marching-band crew.
And that's the big joke in ''Tommy Lee Goes to College," a new reality series that premieres tonight with back-to-back episodes at 9 on Channel 7. The rock star is -- brace yourselves for a new concept -- a fish out of water, and everywhere he takes his nose-'n'-nipple-ringed body on campus, jaws are seen dropping. From the chancellor's office to the chemistry lab, he's the strutting antithesis of formal education, a baggy-eyed Beavis in brainland. Or make that Butt-head.
The joke is tired, just as it is on other TV products of this reality-com genre -- ''The Simple Life," for example, in which mixing Paris Hilton with Middle America was amusing for negative-15 minutes. Of course, the ''Tommy Lee" producers do what they can to keep things peppy and buoyant, as if aware of the limitations of their concept. The show is styled like a broad romp, with lots of comic jump-editing and a facetious narrator who sounds like Tim Rice with a lisp. At one point, the ''Hallelujah Chorus" blares over the soundtrack as we see that Lee's new tutor is hot in a scrawny Pamela Anderson sort of way.
And there's no shortage of contrived set pieces to keep the reality from getting too tedious and Warholian. The producers throw obvious traps in Lee's path to manufacture lively TV, including a series of inappropriate potential roommates. One is gay (OK) but snores (not OK); another has no Motley Crue records (not OK). Lee finally chooses a guy named Matthew, then pimps up their room with a cappuccino machine, PlayStation 2, and musical instruments.
In tonight's second episode, as Tommy lustily awaits his beloved blond tutor, the producers send along a far less attractive and more full-bodied woman for his session. See Lee mug disappointment. And, of course, Lee tries to play drums for the school band, for which he has to rise and shine at 5:30 a.m. ''Normally, I wouldn't even get up at this hour for sex," Lee tells us.
At this point in the evolution of reality TV, most of us know that these shows are not real, that these little scenarios were pre-planned in a boardroom. But at the end of each episode of ''Tommy Lee," notes in the credits remind us just how fraudulent the show is. We are told that Lee actually lived off campus, despite the impression that he and Matthew are in a dorm room; that Lee was not actually enrolled as a student at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln; and that ''some elements have been produced and/or edited for comedy." In other words, don't believe a thing you see.
All you really need to believe is that ''Tommy Lee Goes to College" doesn't make the grade. It's all bluff, nothing more than a series-length music video to promote Lee's new solo album and Motley Crue's world tour.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.