What do you do when your career-defining moment happened nearly a decade-and-a-half ago? If you’re Ashlee Simpson, you go on TV and continue to dwell on it. Within the first minutes of E!’s latest celebreality venture, Ashlee + Evan, which premiered Sunday night and chronicles Simpson and her husband Evan Ross (maybe you’ve heard of his mother, Diana Ross), Ashlee gives a CliffsNotes version of her career: the younger sister of pop singer Jessica Simpson releases a No. 1 album, has a lip synching disaster on live television, and manages to overcome, though no one remembers that last part. “Of course I bring it up,” Ashlee recently told W Magazine of her SNL blunder. “That moment in my life shouldn’t have been as big of a deal as it was. I just put it out there because it’s something that people got obsessed about.”
OK, with that out of the way, the premiere episode of Ashlee + Evan—smartly slotted after new episodes of the network’s reigning reality family spectacle, Keeping Up With The Kardashians—hurls viewers into the beautifully filtered world of the Simpson-Rosses. Evan has recently returned from a months-long acting gig and Ashlee throws him an “Evan-themed barbecue,” wherein every guest must wear hats, very long jackets, and faux fur, which Ashlee initially refers to as “fox fur.” It’s here where we’re introduced to Ashlee and Evan’s cast of besties: Stephanie, Naz Tokio, and Jaz—the show’s real standout, who at one point describes himself as having lived in both the poor and rich parts of L.A., being a consumer of KFC, and as one who does not use a salad fork.
But this is Ashlee and Evan’s world, and to live in it, you must know one thing: Ashlee really wants to get back to work. She’s been a stay-at-home-mom for a decade and would rather be a working one. However, the biggest speed bump in her road to creative comeback is Evan, who considers taking another acting job despite his recent homecoming. This doesn’t seem like that big of an issue until Ashlee hammers home the condition that her musical return must be with Evan by her side. I can only assume this is because love conquers all—and Ashlee and Evan are very in love and tell each other as much as possible.
Perhaps the most cringe-y of their constant pecking and hand-holding comes in the midst of their showcasing “I Do” to Diana Ross in the studio. The couple pat themselves on the back at having won mom’s approval with a loving kiss while mom beams on from an uncomfortable few feet away.
Their PDA knows no bounds. Ashlee and Evan kiss, embrace and hold hands:
- constantly during a backyard barbecue
- while sashaying into a restaurant
- in a van with their friends driving through Connecticut
- on the hill where they were married
- in the studio
- very casually by the fire
Over a dreamy dinner date, Evan breaks the news of this potential new job and viola, Ashlee Simpson is back on TV nervously giggling while simultaneously looking like she’s about to cry.
Just as her first reality jaunt, The Ashlee Simpson Show, which aired on MTV from 2004-05, served as a publicity push for her debut album, Ashlee + Evan works as a behind-the-scenes look into the couple’s work on their collaborative album. They manage to make a quick visit to the studio to start writing a song—the recently released “I Do,” which they ultimately unveil to Evan’s mom (who, may I remind you is Diana Ross) on a family trip to Greenwich, Connecticut, where Evan grew up.
All Ashlee wants to be is a good mom and musician like her mother-in-law, whom she affectionately refers to as Momma D, and mission accomplished. Upon hearing “I Do,” Diana Ross cries and gives the couple the song’s first review: “It warms my heart.” As if prompted by his mother’s strong reaction to the music, Evan ultimately turns down the looming acting job, and he tells his wife the news in the flattering glow of their backyard fire. Ashlee is low-key stoked and Evan affirms that the choice is fueled by his desire to finally record their collaborative album. And, of course, love. Naturally, they kiss some more.
The Simpson-Rosses are moderately entertaining, sure, but fail to capture the charm of other reality couples like Kristin Cavallari and Jay Cutler in Very Cavallari or even that of Ashlee’s older sister Jessica Simpson on Newlyweds. Ashlee and Evan’s banter is almost too PG. For a couple with already successful careers and famous families, the stakes on Ashlee + Evan are relatively low. So what if Evan turns down another acting job? He’s got a few already in the queue. Even if Ashlee can’t top Pieces of Me-level fame, she’s still got love and Momma D on her side.
With the couple’s schedules cleared, expectations are high for this album to not be a flop—and honestly homeboy better work to get his wife the comeback she so rightfully deserves. But alas, we must watch more Ashlee + Evan as the album is slowly unveiled to determine if any of the music is listenable just as marketing gods intended.
Allie Volpe is a writer based in Philadelphia. Follow her on Twitter @allieevolpe.