How is it, in an age when every single thing about every single person on earth is instantly Googleable, that a “where are they now?” show manages to be the most riveting thing to hit the airwaves since, I don’t know, the Breaking Bad finale? How is it that a full hour of catching up with celebrities whose whereabouts you have never once wondered about—people like Downtown Julie Brown, Eight Is Enough‘s Willie Aames, Fabio and Michael Bolton—manages to keep you panting in anticipation? “Where are Sully Sullenberger, 90210‘s Ian Ziering and Rick Springfield right now?” you will be shocked to find yourself asking. (The answers: being a best-selling author and national hero, starring in Sharknado, and battling depression but still singing, respectively.)
I have no idea why Oprah: Where Are They Now? is as gripping as it is (considering I’m pretty sure not even E! does those 50 Child Stars Who Had Careers After 18 specials anymore) but I do know that it involves Oprah, it involves celebrities just obscure enough that no one you know has ever thought to look them up, and almost every segment has a happy ending. The format of the show is pretty straightforward: Oprah, looking gorgeous with a giant mane of curls and usually wearing tortoise-shell glasses that make her look smart and sleuthy, like she tracked down these celebs and former Oprah show guests herself, introduces each segment with a trip down memory lane. She flashes back to that Oprah episode where we first met, say, Jenny Lee, the mom addicted to plastic surgery. Then I imagine her team of producers does the catching up part, which usually involves flying out to the subject’s house and interviewing them in their blandly styled kitchen where they joke around with their surprisingly normal spouse and three children.
Most of the segments involve one sad detail of the subject’s life, like how Rick Springfield struggles with depression or model Niki Taylor was in a major car accident in 2001. But the final note is always one of uplift, an Oprah ending where lessons are hard-won but cherished. Unlike pretty much every other show on television that isn’t on Nat Geo Wild, there is absolutely nothing about Oprah: Where Are They Now? that isn’t joyous.
I have heard people describe this show as a guilty pleasure, but I am hardly guilty about my adoration for OWN’s crowning jewel. At the top of a recent episode, Oprah interviewed the Unabomber’s brother, and I have to admit I was deeply moved. (He still loves his brother! The man is a saint!) There is something totally inane about getting an intimate update on Janice from Friends, but it’s also pretty refreshing. We’re a world of know-it-alls. There’s no fact, no matter how arcane, that we can’t access in mere seconds. How absolutely delightful that there’s a show out there that manages to re-instill the world with a tiny bit of wonder.