It would be easy to make fun of Mariah's World (Sunday, E!, 9 p.m.), so let's get started.
Not that I'm familiar with Mariah Carey's body of work. She is known as the "songbird supreme," I gather, from minutes of deep research. She has a remarkable voice, with incredible range. I know that for a fact. Also, it's my impression that her ostentatious style has been enormously influential and that about half the contestants on American Idol and The Voice are trying to mimic her. She does love songs, mostly – pining for some guy, that kind of thing. She has done carefully chosen duets with rappers. Her song All I Want for Christmas Is You is now considered a standard holiday tune.
None of it matters in the context of Mariah's World. The show, such as it is, "documents" a period in the life of Ms. Carey. Over eight breathless episodes. She has to plan a wedding and embark on a tour of Europe. The point, though, is that Ms. Carey is a diva. You know, a diva of the old school who spends most of her time lounging around in a corset and silk dressing gown while sipping champagne and looking misty-eyed about some guy who was the hunk that got away. She's very, very rich, but sheesh, money can't buy love.
That's pretty much what the show is about, actually. On the evidence of the first instalment, Ms. Carey spends vast amounts of time stretched out like a mackerel on a chaise lounge. Vast amounts of time, I tell you. Watching it is like being trapped in a tacky couch emporium. Money can buy you a lot of couches to lounge on.
Nothing Ms. Carey says is terribly interesting. But what is fascinating about this nonsense is that it's done with a wink and a nod to the ridiculousness of it.
Carey cannot stop being mannered and utterly artificial. It's not an act. It defines her very being, this diva persona. She knows she's fashioned an image and persona and she finds it all a tad amusing. She jokes about her legendary rider, the contract that stipulates everything she needs backstage at a performance. White roses, white puppies and a bevy of white doves.
"It'd be so cute to have puppies here. C'mon, wouldn't that be cute?" she asks the camera while giving the impression she might just demand that her assistant Molly rustle up some white puppies immediately. That poor Molly. But Molly signed up for what Ms. Carey calls "the lunacy." Molly has to make sure there's a TV on all night in Ms. Carey's hotel room. The diva can't sleep without that. And then there are the managers, creative directors, choreographers, makeup artists, dancers, hairdressers. Sometimes, somebody bursts into tears. But only Ms. Carey gets to lie supine on a couch and feign melancholy.
I am unacquainted with the lurid details of Ms. Carey's life. I gather the wedding is to a billionaire Australian chap, but it all went awry and a backup singer claimed her heart. This, presumably, is the dramatic core of Mariah's World. You probably know better than me.
What makes it all interesting, when you stop laughing at the winking celebration of bling, vulgarity and brazen self-promotion, is the fact that Ms. Carey's persona and demeanour are derived from actual achievement. She has talent, moxie and a clear understanding of the appeal of the diva ideal. There's all that wealth, certainly, but the origins of it are what matter. The Kardashians, bless them, have fame, money and the same level of tabloid ubiquity, but they don't really do anything much. In the popular culture they are decorative but very dull. Ms. Carey isn't dull and she's having a fabulous time, getting a kick out of the whole fandango. You can, too.
Also airing this weekend
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (Sunday, CNN, 9 p.m.) ends a strong season – one that was often hard to find thanks to CNN's ceaseless political coverage – in Rome. Among his guides are actress Asia Argento and writer-director Abel Ferrara.
The Passionate Eye – Children on the Frontline: The Escape (Sunday, CBC, 10 p.m.) was seen on PBS's Frontline last spring. It is a sobering, heartbreaking and, eventually, uplifting documentary about one family – mainly the children – escaping from Aleppo. The second of two astounding docs made by Marcel Mettelsiefen about the same family, it follows them to Turkey and on to Germany. When it aired, I wrote: "What is incredibly powerful and what makes it unmissable is that everything is seen, really, through the eyes of the children. The effects of war, with its horror, grief and then hope, joy and pained longing, is communicated through them; their young and guileless eyes."