HDTV: The Houstons: On Our Own

Posted November 1, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in HiDef

Houstons, we have a problem: Season opens up with plenty of problems, not enough answers

Whitney Houston’s family usually does what they do best when they air the family business on their new reality-TV show. Although they aren’t as camera-hungry as the Kardashians, they have had their fair share of reality-TV startime. On the short-lived 2005 reality TV show Being Bobby Brown, the Houston family kicked off the “all eyes on me” adventure while exposing a vulnerable Whitney during a tumultuous time while battling with substance abuse and denial. Afterwards, Pat Houston, Whitney’s longtime manager and sister-in-law, began her expedition to assemble a reality-TV show surrounding her life, which she confessed on The View on October 24. That expedition never happened, but now her opportunity of being in the news cycle has fully come with the advent of The Houstons: On Our Own. Airing on Wednesday evenings on Lifetime (9/8 CST), it’s a TV show that picks up from the last TV episode – yeah, Whitney’s highly-televised, star-studded funeral. What is missing this time around is the stars: Bobby Brown isn’t present, the Bible-toting Winans family aren’t there, Dionne’s not even in the picture. Shocking as it may seem, Cissy Houston, Whitney’s beloved mother, is hardly shown. But when she makes her debut on the first episode when the family unites together for Mother’s Day, she comes saying very little, but speaking enough. Her no-nonsense wisdom continues to send shivers up the spine of a quasi-rebellious Bobbi Kristina Brown and even leaves Pat speechless. She is the only thing holding the family up from becoming a natural disaster. Sadly, her time on the show is only for a little time, which is why the rest of the show crumbles into a bootleg counseling session teetering on the edge of despair.

Episode One’s only salvation is when the family unites in prayer at the gravesite of their fallen star. Although very few tears are shed, the scene – capping the last minutes of the episode – seems to provide a better understanding of just how far the family has come since Whitney’s passing. Episode Two explains how the confusion left from Whitney’s unfinished business (especially as a parent) continues to run rampant in their everyday lives. Kristina, 19, is too busy smooching up on her longtime live-in boyfriend Nick Gordon – someone that Whitney took in as an “adopted son,” according to Pat Houston and some sources. The two claims there’s no incest involved, since they both aren’t related, but the fact of the matter is Kristina’s still very young and now picking up on Mommy’s bad habits. She’s already drinking while under age – something that Aunt Pat addressed in Episode 2, but failed to successfully combat. Whitney’s older brother, Gary, is too busy cracking jokes and looking uninterested. He’s more interested in stopping his own daughter Rayah from dating white boys. “It better not be a white boy, unless he’s Hugh Hefner or some damn body,” he openly tells his daughter in a crowded room full of family.

The timing of all of this media attention raises a few red flags. Some have questioned Pat’s ambitions to rack up money for Houston’s estate. To this day, it remains unclear as to how much wealth is sitting in the cookie jar, although prior to Whitney’s passing rumors were flying over how much debt the ailing star had occurred. To make a dollar in this hour, while the iron is still hot, make sense, and it makes cents. Hours after her passing, iTunes lit up with grieving fans anxious for a quick download. Weeks later, her better albums – Whitney Houston, Whitney, even the disheveled and incomplete double-disc set Whitney: The Greatest Hits were all holding down the top spots on the Billboard 200. The demand for more Whitney tributes and product is still open for business. The Houston family – and those Bible-toting Winans – know that, so for them On Our Own is designed to meet those demands.

On The View two weeks ago, Pat Houston answered questions from Babs about the state of Whitney’s estate, saying that “there was no 20 million dollars” and “she wasn’t broke.” Babs, like most of us, now believes the figure inside Houston’s piggy bank is somewhere between the two. Strange enough, a quiet battle from Bobbi Kristina’s hands is being waged against the executors of Whitney’s estate – that would be Cissy and Pat, which is being conducted off the screen. That’s because Cissy and Pat, the grown folks in the equation, are concerned that Kristina would not properly handle the monies when she reaches 21. At that age, according to Whitney’s last will, 10 percent of her estate would be relinquished to her. Another one-sixth of those funds will be turned to her at 25 and then total access will be granted at the age of 30.

This situation – something the Los Angeles Times calls “an uncomfortable, intrusive watch” – is going to get uglier before it gets better.

TV remains our golden idiot box, a portal into a world of non-stop entertainment. In the hands of the careful, it can be a meaningful source of information. But On Our Own is neither. Rather than construct a meaningful documentary reflecting on Whitney’s achievements and legacy, the show’s subjects are obviously anxious for fame and are also looking for the easy ways out of their self-afflicted dilemmas. Kristi even turns to cousin David Elliot (Dionne Warwick’s son) to get her singing career poppin’, while Pat is looking at a professional acting coach to prop up Kristi’s chances of winning an Oscar. Judging from what we’ve seen so far, Kristi may need to stick to loving up on her boo in the arcade, something Pat calls “Nick-itis.” Right now the best thing this family needs is a really good shrink, because it’s starting to look like even the Big Man upstairs has left the building. This situation – something the Los Angeles Times calls “an uncomfortable, intrusive watch” – is going to get uglier before it gets better. It’s the kind of ugly that makes really bad TV.



  • Cast: Patricia Houston, Bobbi Kristina Brown, Gary Houston, Rayah Houston, Cissy Houston, Nick Gordon
  • Producers: Jarrett Creative Group
  • TV Network: Lifetime
  • Air Date/Time: Wednesdays at 9/8 CST




About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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