TV: On OWN, ‘Ryan & Tatum’s’ paper gloom

Hank Stuever
TV critic June 17, 2011

Add this to the list of questions no one seemed to be asking: What’s up these days with Ryan and Tatum O’Neal?

Watching “Ryan & Tatum: The O’Neals,” a new reality show debuting Sunday on OWN, is like finding a really old stack of People magazines on a shelf in a summer beach rental — issue after issue filled with people you vaguely remember, all of them playing tennis or going into Studio 54.

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation. View Archive

The O’Neals correctly intuit that you’ve largely forgotten them or that you may not even be old enough to clearly remember when they were stars. In the first few minutes of this icky and inauthentic show, father and daughter briefly recap their professional histories and personal woes.

Ryan, the star of 1970’s “Love Story” and other films, was once a gingerly handsome Hollywood Lothario. He was huge. But a series of box-office duds and his anger-management issues (guns and handcuffs have been involved) slowly escorted him far down the C-list. At 70, he is mostly known as the late Farrah Fawcett’s lover, a grief he makes plain to whoever will still listen, a task that currently falls to his young female-assistant-errand-girl-flirty-friend, Marketa. In the Malibu beach house that Ryan has lived in for three decades, it’s always time for another glass of white wine. He looks like cold cuts on wheat bread wearing khaki shorts.

Tatum, 47, is a recovering addict with varying success at sobriety. She married the tennis star John McEnroe in the 1980s, had three children and then divorced in true tabloid style, losing custody along the way. The youngest is now in college, so Tatum decides to move from New York back to Los Angeles, so she can “focus” on her relationship with her father (translation: get paid to make a reality show). Still nominally an actress, her most recent accomplishments include an arrest for cocaine possession and the release of a tell-all memoir about her abusive childhood.

It turns out Ryan and Tatum’s only perfect moment together was “Paper Moon,” a black-and-white 1973 caper about a pair of Depression-era grifters, for whichTatum won an Oscar at the ripe old age of 10. The movie remains a delight, but sadly it was also the beginning of a very long end. “You know, it isn’t all red carpets,” Ryan tells viewers. “There are some black carpets.” He’s full of these squinteyed insights, which make him seem fatuous at best and menacing at worst.

Tatum is convinced that with enough therapy and scenes of reconciliation arranged for the camera, she and her father might forge a more normal relationship, which is dubious. What they have instead is a pathetic TV show about a specific category of rich-people problems.

Ryan, who long ago nicknamed his daughter “Tantrum,” says he never read her memoir because he is certain that it is full of lies. He’s permanently estranged from two of his other children (Patrick, a sportscaster; and Griffin, another nominal actor); his youngest son, Redmond, has been in and out of jail on drug convictions. Yet somehow none of this is terribly interesting to hear about.

This is the second bummed-out-celebrity reality show that OWN has launched in as many weeks; last Sunday it was Sarah Ferguson in “Finding Sarah,” which at least wallows in a hurt that comes across as more genuine. “Ryan & Tatum” has an unsavory viscosity to it, making all this soul-baring seem all too calculated.

Needing to gin up a scene, Tatum invites Ryan to her birthday dinner party. He gives her a pair of framed photos of the two of them together on the set of “Paper Moon.” It’s supposed to be a tender moment, a bridge across all that regret and nostalgia, but everyone else at the table just smiles nervously, trying hard not to be creeped out.

Ryan & Tatum: The O’Neals

(one hour) premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on OWN.

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