While nothing that will find its way into the television Hall of Fame, the second season of "The Simple Life" was a noticable improvement over the first attempt. Once again, long-time friends and rich socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie found themselves in Middle America - they crossed the country (from Miami to Beverly Hills) in a giant trailer, stopping along the way to meet with new families and take on new jobs in order to get enough cash to make it to the next stop.
The second season also saw the emergence of Nicole Richie as the star of the series, as the "sidekick" of the first season returned as a woman with no filter, delighting in saying whatever comes to mind, no matter how inappropriate. As the tabloids have discussed many times since, the two stars have gone from lifelong friends to bitter enemies, and one can only wonder if one of the reasons was that the tables turned and seasons two and three of the series saw Paris suddenly in the "sidekick" role.
Changing the general format (but staying the same in many ways), the third season of "Simple Life" saw the two going around the East Coast in a Greyhound bus, staying with different families along the way and interning at everything from factories to marketing firms to funeral homes. The result was occasionally amusing lightweight TV, but seems more staged (see the "Funeral Home" episode, where Nicole "accidentally" drops someone's "ashes" and vacuums them up) than the prior season.
The fourth season of "Simple Life" saw the series move from Fox to E! and further changes took place, although the show's problems are still carried over. This time around, both Paris and Nicole must live with a different family each episode, taking on the role of wife. At the end of the episode, the parent(s) give their opinion on who did a better job. Given that the two are apart throughout the season, neither has each other to play off of.
The main differences here is that the girls do not have their money taken away in the first episode (while things were still likely paid for before, at least it gave the series something to go on) and they don't travel to their next destination, which is what made the second and third seasons mildly more entertaining than the first, as the travel at least connected the episodes somewhat. Also, the show's reliance on sound effects to accompany any incident - a staple of the series from the first season and essentially the show's version of a laugh track - does return here.
The fifth season of the series picks up after the "To Be Continued" ending of the fourth season, where Paris and Nicole were pushed to try and make-up after their friendship had been broken up by an argument that I don't believe anyone ever actually found out the exact reason for. With the two back together as friends at the start of the fifth season, the series does regain a bit of the humor that it clearly lost in the fourth season.
The season's gimmick also works better than the last couple of seasons, as it's enough of a change from the prior seasons to make it seem at least somewhat fresh. This time around, the girls head off to a camp, which plays host to five different groups over the course of the season: a group of overweight people looking to lose weight, couples with relationship issues, pageant contestants, a drama group and a survival camp. The whole thing is undeniably phony and staged (some of those who appeared are reportedly actors who auditioned), but once one can get past that, the new situation is mined for a few more laughs, especially later in the season, when the ridiculous survival camp starts up, and Paris and Nicole are more than a little unprepared. The drama camp portion of the series is taught by...Sally Kirkland, who has seemingly gone off the rails - and is driven further off the deep end by Paris and Nicole.
"Simple Life 5" is still goofy, it's still very staged and it's still lowbrow, but there's something about the show that makes it amusing despite its faults and easy viewing when you just want to have something on in the background.
VIDEO: "Simple Life 5" is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame for each of the episodes. The picture quality is generally very good, with no major concerns. Sharpness and detail are very pleasing, as the picture remains crisp and clear throughout, with only a couple of touches of softness.
The only issues with the presentation were the presence of some minor shimmering in some scenes and a couple of light traces of pixelation. No edge enhancement appeared, nor were there any instances of wear on the source material. Colors remained bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The show's Dolby 2.0 soundtrack provides a decent spread of music, along with clear dialogue and ambient sounds.
Final Thoughts: I've considered "Simple Life" occasionally amusing "cotton candy" entertainment in the past, and the fifth season is o different - but at least it fixes some of the major problems of season four. The DVD presentation offers fine audio/video quality, but no extras. Recommended for fans.