If you're a fan of ''The Partridge Family" or ''The Brady Bunch," start feeling guilty. It looks like your dose of smiley-faced escapism from the 1970s has spawned all kinds of misery and emptiness. For at least two of the child stars of those shows, Danny Bonaduce and Christopher Knight, adulthood has become a sad regurgitation of youthful glory. And for the grown-up Bonaduce, in particular, life has turned into a spectacle of legal and psychological transgressions that have kept his freckly face forever in the tabloids.
Tomorrow night, VH1 will introduce new reality shows about each of these men. ''Breaking Bonaduce," at 10:30, is the shocker, as Bonaduce falls apart in the course of the series, losing his sobriety, attempting to take his own life (not on camera), and landing in a psychiatric ward. Also, he and his wife, Gretchen, consider divorce as Bonaduce's rage flares at home and in their therapist's office. ''My Fair Brady," at 9:30, is the shlocker, with Knight and girlfriend Adrianne Curry having love spats and makeup sessions in his fabulous condo.
''Breaking Bonaduce" is the perfect candidate for this week's ''What has reality TV come to now?" prize. We've seen all kinds of human tragedy exploited for prime time, from the addictions on A&E's offensive ''Intervention" to the pathological duplicity on the likes of ''The Apprentice." Now we get to watch the implosion of a man who is a tinderbox of anger and self-loathing, a father of two who says of his approach to child-rearing, ''I teach them not to be like me." We get to see a nervous breakdown unfold.
On one level, of course, the series is a gripping viewing experience, particularly since Bonaduce acts on all his feelings, no matter how irrational they are. On another level, though, it's a dirty experience, as viewers become almost complicit in Bonaduce's spiral downward. After all, fame certainly has not helped this man, and giving him more of it seems counter-indicated. It's giving audience to a drama queen.
Indeed, at times Bonaduce seems to be pushing himself into a frenzy to make his reality series more exciting. He is a showoff, which is obvious to anyone who has seen him on TV or heard him on the radio. He openly loves attention, particularly from women (he and Gretchen are dealing with his recent affair when the series opens). With the reality cameras circling him all day long, his deep instinct to perform had to have kicked in. Some reality stars need coaching from producers hoping to create telegenic story lines, but probably not Bonaduce.
One of the awful punch lines to ''Breaking Bonaduce" is that he is encouraging his daughter Isabella, now 10, to become an actress. If the VH1 series does well, of course, Isabella may be in luck. Or is that out of luck?
''My Fair Brady" aims to be a romantic comedy, which means the couple -- who met and fell in love on ''The Surreal Life 4" -- try their hardest to be cutesy, sexy, and whiney. Knight, who is 47, is condescending and smirky with Curry, 22, who won the first season of ''America's Next Top Model." And yet he is smitten with her, and thoroughly titillated when she playfully whips him and forces him to call her ''Bubble Queen."
There are two set pieces in the premiere. The first is a party kiss between Knight and one of Curry's friends. Clearly, the two kissers are going for comedy, but Curry milks it and tries to make Knight apologize. The second scenario is a visit from ''Dr. Flo" -- that would be Florence Henderson, Knight's TV mom from ''The Brady Bunch." She privately warns Knight that Curry needs to move out of his home for the relationship to work, advice that makes Curry rather unhappy. Argument ensues.
It's banal, of course, as well as exhibitionistic. But next to ''Breaking Bonaduce," it just seems like harmless brain suck.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com.