Tuned In

Not the Same Girl I Used to Know

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The problem with Martha Stewart—even before ImClone and prison—was supposed to be the coldness, the distance, the all-business, I’m-your-teacher-not-your-best-friend attitude. For me, though, that was reason number one to love Martha. Unlike almost any other daytime host, she did not care whether you liked her. She did not smile too much on her old show, and when she did, it was that particular frosty Eastern smile that is a more effective shield than Kevlar.

The new Martha wants us to like her. In fact, her new morning show, "Martha," pleads with us to like her, literally—the theme song is the pop chestnut "Am I the Same Girl?" ("Girl" seems a little odd, yes, but she does seem to have gotten about 20 years younger since jail.) The old Martha would not have lowered herself to ask us to "stop / And look me over." But the new Martha flirts kittenishly with the camera. She makes nice with David Spade, who savagely impersonated her on Saturday Night Live. She emotes—a little stiffly— over the New Orleans catastrophe and the 9/11 anniversary. And she jokes—jokes!—about her imprisonment. In a skit at the beginning of her first show, she outfitted her entire crew with cute little gold faux ankle monitors.

I have to give Martha props for including, in the opening montage, a picture of her being led off to prison (just after the lyric "Am I the same girl/ Whom you hurt so?"). And hey, maybe jail really changed her. But I don’t care. I don’t want this new, fun, vulnerable, self-deprecating Martha. I want her to ignore her problems with chilly, Mary-Tyler-Moore-in-Ordinary-People silence, moving on as if they never happened, and God help the interviewer or underling who mentions that they did. Martha’s lifestyle empire is about beauty and perfection and Americana and a lot of things, but it is above all about control. For her to give that up, in whatever tiny way, breaks her compact with us. Martha is making a mistake if she tries too hard to prove to us that she is human. That’s our job, not hers.