A Woman Scorned Turns Scornful

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This past summer, Oxygen premiered both “The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency” and “Breaking Up With Shannen Doherty,” two new reality shows starring notorious, larger-than-life bad girls. But while Dickinson found herself trapped between playing to the audience and playing nice in an effort to ensure her agency’s success, Doherty is faring far better in a show that not only embraces her bitchy persona but encourages her to play it up.

Helping weak-kneed men and women break up with their significant others, Doherty gleefully concocts scenarios that allow the unknowing dumpees to (supposedly) see the error of their ways. Anyone who can read between the lines, however, understands that these elaborate plots have little to do with planting hints to ease the coming breakup: They’re all about the sadistic pleasure of watching people getting an elaborate comeuppance. And while many of the breakups go smoothly, it’s the messy ones that make the show hum.

When a man who just boasted to a fake policeman that he has a secret live-in lover that his long-distance girlfriend doesn’t know about (everyone involved is amazingly open about their personal lives), Doherty is practically chomping at the bit to get out there and work out her rage in a healthy way. Stalking through the doorway and grinning maniacally at the cheater, she snarls why he’s really there, her voice shaking with fury. But he remains unrepentant to the bitter end, even telling Doherty that she’s pretty hot on her way out.

“Yeah, I am,” she snaps. “But you’ll never have a chance with me!” These moments of pure, uncontrolled emotion are few and far between, however. There are the occasional tears, but few people actually lose their tempers. Or perhaps it’s thanks to judicious editing that everyone acts like a civilized adult. And that’s the charm of the show: watching a breakup in which the wronged party gets the last word in. There are no counter-arguments or hurled accusations when Doherty is running the show because she takes care to focus her infamous rage and disgust on the most deserving partner (usually a man). She’s taken sides, and though she may ultimately offer the newly dumped person a shoulder to cry on, it’s distinctly chilly.

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