Intended as the "true story" behind Playboy Playmate-turned-reality-show topic Anna Nicole Smith, Showtime's Dark Roots: The Unauthorized Anna Nicole is every bit as lowbrow and exploitative as the program it seeks to expose.
Nor does the William H. Macy-narrated documentary shed much new light on the platinum bombshell. Much of the information — her real name is Vickie Lynn Hogan; she's surgically enhanced; the details of her relationship with oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall — have long been available.
What the documentary is heavy on is interviews with Smith's relatives in Mexia, Texas, a busted oil-boom town where Vickie was sent to live as a teenager, when her mother and stepfather in Houston found her too much to handle.
Appearing most on camera are Anna Nicole's Mexia relatives — aunts Kaye Heard and Elaine Tabers, uncle Floyd Harrison, and cousins Shelly Cloud and Melinda Hudson. They tell that young Vickie was somewhat of an outcast, yet aiming for stardom; characterize her early marriage to a co-worker at the local fried chicken shop; and follow her back to Houston, where she begins her march toward stardom working in strip clubs.
What's obvious is their poverty — the squalor in which the Mexia relatives live actually lends the documentary a pathetic and exploitative feel. You get the sense that these folks don't realize they're the punchline to a tongue-in-cheek joke.
We also meet Sandy Powledge, a woman with whom Anna Nicole had a two-year lesbian relationship, and hear from her about the starlet's insatiable sexual appetite. She, along with stepfather Donald Hart, is the only person from Anna's past who doesn't seem to reek of desperation. (Tellingly, only the legal representatives and hired help of Marshall's estate agreed to appear on camera.)
The documentary spends quite a bit of time on Smith's legal battle with Marshall's heir, son Pierce Marshall, but much of what transpired between them occurred in open court.
Along the way, we hear of Anna Nicole's rags-to-riches-almost-back-to-rags story, including her estrangement from the Mexia relatives after she accused them of stealing $5,000 sometime after her star and funds had fallen.
The doc sinks to its nadir near the end when cousin Cloud is persuaded by the filmmakers to confront Anna Nicole directly in Los Angeles. She knocks on her door — on a day when E! Entertainment Television's The Anna Nicole Show
is also in production — but Anna won't come out to play.
Later, Shelly gets invited to dinner with Anna — at a time when the documentarians' cameras aren't there, but the E! cameras are. It's just another exploitative incident in a prurient documentary .
The documentary bows Sunday, May 4, at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime and repeats throughout the month.
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Mike Demenchuk has served as content manager of Broadcasting+Cable and Multichannel News since 2016. After stints as reporter and editor at Adweek, The Bond Buyer and local papers in New Jersey, he joined the staff of Multichannel News in 1999 as assistant managing editor and has served as the cable trade publication's managing editor since 2005. He edits copy and writes headlines for both the print magazine and website, wrangles the occasional e-newsletter and reviews TV shows from time to time. He's also the guy to bother with your guest blog, Fates & Fortunes and Freeze Frame submissions.