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Television: Tom Cruise 2.0:

Oprah pulled out the stops last week to help rehabilitate Tom Cruise’s nearly dead career. After one public relations disaster after the next, Cruise is finally poised to emerge as a phoenix rising from the ashes. Can he, in fact, shake loose the stigma of being Tom Cruise? He might have been able to, back when there wasn’t the Internet. The gossip sites, though, seem to rule the day when it comes to celebrity news. Mainstream outlets are perceived as “behind the times” if they don’t pick up on the same trashy stories the popular sites do.

Nonetheless, Oprah did a two-parter. The first hour aired on a Friday and took place on Cruise’s spread in the mountains of Telluride, Colorado. The second hour aired the following Monday and reunited Cruise with Oprah and the couch, though he did no jumping. The fake reason for the show was “celebrating 25 years of Tom Cruise.” The program seemed so contrived, however, as anyone who was there or watching surely picked up the rallying cry.

The first part was an extremely awkward sit-down with Tom Cruise at his mountainous mansion. Only Oprah Winfrey would walk into Cruise’s sprawling, state-of-the-art kitchen and declare, “it’s so normal!” Cruise tried to make his life seem fairly ordinary, allowing cameras to see his daughter’s playroom and intimate pictures of his family. It appeared that they spared no expense during their home visit with Cruise, but the question is, did it do any good?

The next episode had Cruise facing down Oprah’s enthusiastic audience, which played slightly better than the home visit. Guests like Will Smith, David Beckham, Dustin Hoffman, Renee Zellweger, and Steven Spielberg took a moment to give Cruise props. But Jamie Foxx was the only one who talked about “it,” saying that Cruise is bothered by the career breakdown, even if he won’t talk about it. Foxx and others, even the non-Scientologists, were showing so much support you’d think Cruise was diagnosed with a terminal illness, God forbid.

Watching the public turn on Tom Cruise was almost as bizarre as watching him try to woo them back on Oprah. What is depressing about it is that when Cruise jumped up and down on Oprah’s couch he was having a true moment, forgetting public relations for a minute and just being himself. All of these disastrous years later, the Cruise we get is like a “Stepford” actor – subdued, safe, measured.

Cruise will have to wait and see whether or not this has any impact. Lucky for him he has enough money to just go away and live his life if the rehabilitation doesn’t work. For Oprah’s part, she has more than atoned for her sin of being the catalyst that started Cruise’s downward spiral. But Cruise isn’t the type to walk away; the truth is, he seems to need to the love and attention of his fans.

His own sadness at his current predicament was palpable, even though he did his best to smile graciously and laugh. It had to be difficult to face down the Oprah crowd again, this time lacking in confidence. The thing that’s become painfully clear about the actor is that he’s an awkward human being. Despite his career choice and religion, he isn’t someone who comes off at ease with himself. His worst fears seemed to be confirmed when he was publicly shunned for displaying affection for his girlfriend on Oprah.

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