'Monica: Still Standing' falls flat

BY BRIGID KILCOIN
Daily Arts Writer
Published November 1, 2009

If you've been aching for original BET programming following the life of a former R&B starlet, "Monica: Still Standing" will be right up your alley. Styled in the grand tradition of Ashlee Simpson and Keyshia Cole's reality shows, it follows the singer Monica, best known for her 1997 duet with Brandy "The Boy is Mine," in her quest to reclaim her glory days of B-list celebrity.

"Monica: Still Standing"


Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
BET

The main problem with "Monica: Still Standing" is that Monica's life is not eventful enough to merit a show. While it seemed impossible for BET to come up with a reality show less interesting than "Tiny and Toya" (which followed the former flames of T.I. and Lil Wayne around Atlanta), they have succeeded. The two major plot points in the premiere episode are the remodeling of Monica's house and a conference call with her label. The conference call gets canceled and the house goes unfinished. Judging from the previews, a primary plot point in the future will be a bus trip to Alabama. It's difficult to believe that people who aren't Monica's immediate family will enjoy watching this.

This completely average life is at odds with the general premise of the show — that Monica has remained an international media superstar and that people have been actively awaiting her return to the public eye. One excruciatingly long scene shows Monica, her producer and several of her hangers-on sitting in the recording studio, listening to the playback of her most recent session in absolute euphoria. People bounce and sway in time to the music and close their eyes to more fully appreciate the genius of Monica. Producer Bryan-Michael Cox, (the mastermind behind Usher's "Confessions, Pt. 2") cheerleads Monica and her talent excessively, coming up with dozens of overblown adjectives to describe the perfection of her music and voice. Even Monica's boyfriend gets into the act: "You are what we call a triathalon singer!" he gushes. "You do it all!"

"Monica" embodies every comeback reality-show cliché, from sickeningly heartfelt theme song lyrics performed, naturally, by Monica ("I been through the storm, had dirt on my name / I'm still holding on, champion of the game") to the faux-philosophic dialogue ("It's all happening, or not happening, at once." "I'm a person who believes that after rain there's a rainbow") to a redemptive church scene in which Monica tearfully tells an audience of large-hatted women that she wants kids to give life a chance and "not give up."

Dozens of sit-down interviews with Monica in which she tears up talking about her past struggles and restates her emotional strength take place in front of oddly colored backdrops. These actions would be a little less offensive if they didn't seem so horribly insincere, but "Monica" is superficiality at its best.

While Monica may be a talented performer, this lackluster, cookie-cutter reality show could only hurt her career. "Monica: Still Standing" veers dangerously close to self-parody and seems unlikely to inspire the miraculous comeback that all of its participants seem to be expecting.