This episode is a difficult one, because it seems to consist primarily of Anna Nicole screaming at Howard for various reasons of questionable merit. But there is more going on here, if you take a closer look. This episode offers a revealing examination of the character that Anna Nicole plays for her public appearances, and how she interacts with her fans vs. how she interacts with her friends.
The episode opens with a quick montage of Anna Nicole berating Howard in outtakes from Season Two episodes. Of particular note, the scenes from the Wasabi Tuna meeting offer a close look at Sugar Pie's black travel bag on the conference table, and for the first time we can see that the bag's side panel is a ventilated mesh. At last, we know how Sugar Pie is able to breathe when she's all zipped up inside that thing. Now the ASPCA can rest easier.
The main story here is that Anna Nicole has been invited to the Kentucky Derby and the Barnstable Brown Gala, a Derby Eve charity ball that raises money for diabetes research. Unlike some of her other road trips, this is not going to be a vacation. Instead of slobbing out and just being herself, Anna Nicole is out to play the celebrity part to the hilt. And her glamorous persona starts with clothes.
Riding in a limo on the day of her Easter Bunny appearance on The Tonight Show (as seen in Episode 21), Anna Nicole grills Howard about researching her outfit for the Derby. Someone has recommended that they look on the Internet for the traditional fashions ladies wear to the race -- most importantly, the hats -- and Howard has failed in his appointed duty to gather these images online. Howard says he couldn't find any pictures of Kentucky Derby hats on the Internet, and Kim backs him up, saying she could only find images of jockeys and horses and stuff.
"Howard, don't look at me like I'm f***in' retarded," Anna Nicole bellows in response to Howard's excuses. "Don't talk to me like I'm stupid, either." Daniel is riding in the limo between his mom and Howard, and as her temper intensifies, the poor kid crouches down and hides his head as if taking cover under heavy artillery crossfire.
Howard's legal argument skills are of no use against Anna Nicole's reasoning, as usual. Finally, he remarks that he doesn't know why she's getting so uptight. "Because I don't know what the f*** to wear!" she hollers. It's really just that simple.
All right, dammit, I decided to check this out for myself. I went to Google and did a search for "Kentucky Derby" and "hats." On the first page of results, boom, there's a link to a page full of ladies' big frilly hats from the 2002 Derby, similar to what Anna Nicole ends up wearing. It took me ten seconds. Howard and Kimmie, I love you guys, but you suck at web surfing.
You see, world? Anna Nicole Smith really does need me!
Next we jump ahead to the flight to Kentucky. Howard and Kim roll Anna Nicole through the airport on a wheelchair, although her knee should be fully healed by this point. The gang kills some time on the concourse playing with a lively Sugar Pie, and Anna Nicole gives one lucky fan a spanking. On the plane, Anna Nicole amuses herself by drinking cocktails and reading aloud from a wretchedly cliched book of lawyer jokes. At one point she consoles her pal, "Oh Howard, you're not a lawyer," which perhaps lends support to Bobby Trendy's unconfirmed accusation that he got fired from his law firm.
On Derby day, Anna Nicole is touching up her lipstick in her Louisville hotel bathroom. She is decked out in full Southern belle regalia: a lace-trimmed navy blue dress, white gloves, and a marvelous wide-brimmed flowered hat that could have come from Scarlett O'Hara's wardrobe. Someone halfway competent must have finally Googled what she was looking for.
So Anna Nicole loses her grip on the lipstick and it splashes straight into the toliet. She starts giggling and pleads for Howard to get it out, Howard, Kim and everyone else point out that she'll never use it again, so there's no reason to retrieve it. But she keeps pleading for it anyway. Howard reluctantly uses a coat hanger to scoop out the lipstick, then asks if he can put it on her. It's highly probable that Anna Nicole deliberately dropped the cosmetic into the john. First of all, what was she doing applying her own lipstick before a major appearance when makeup boy Troy was right there?
After that humiliation, Howard takes care of everyone's wagers on the race, handing over wads of cash to Anna Nicole's security director, Tad. Anna Nicole's sure-fire gambling strategy is to place bets on just about every horse.
Then Tad has some bad news for Howard. Because of the ultra-high security for the race which has drawn the involvement of the FBI and the Secret Service, no animals are being allowed into Churchill Downs. If they try to carry Sugar Pie in, they will all get kicked out of the racetrack. "That's gonna be a problem," Howard sighs.
So he tenderly passes this surprise along to Ms. Smith. She takes it well at first, but after reflecting on it for a bit, she explodes. "Howard, how in the hell can I not f***in' take Sugar Pie? She goes everywhere with me!" Anna Nicole orders him to "fix it." Howard asks if she expects him to call up Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge and ask for permission to bring in Sugar Pie. "Don't mock me!" she flares.
But the crew does indeed go to the Derby sans Sugar Pie (at least the black bag is nowhere in evidence). Churchill Downs seemingly has a whole platoon of soldiers stationed around its perimeter. Anna Nicole is escorted inside arm-in-arm with Tad and Kentucky State Police Trooper Frank Thornberry, as adoring fans kiss her gloved hands and yell that she's hot.
Anna Nicole's party take their seats in the elite "Millionaires Row" section, where she hobnobs with such luminaries as Larry King, boy-band star Joey Fatone, and Slash. Her frilly hat and dress fit in perfectly with the fashions of all the other high-class ladies in attendance, and she definitely wouldn't have felt right about herself if she had ended up wearing anything less to this event.
Then it's time for the Run for the Roses, the most exciting two minutes in sports, or whatever it is they call it. One of Anna Nicole's multiple bets was on the winning Funny Cide, and she wins $1,700. Even though that's chump change by her financial standards, and she surely must have anteed up more than that on all those horses, she celebrates like she's hit the jackpot.
"I love Kentucky, because I won your money!" she gloats as her limo whisks her away from the track. "And you are some kind people. And I like your chicken, too!"
At this point, we take a flashback to the night before, and the Barnstable Brown Gala on Derby Eve. It's a ritzy black-tie event, and even Howard and Kimmie are dressed to the nines. Anna Nicole is outfitted in a strapless silvery gown that looks very much like the one she wore to her art opening, though I would never be so coarse as to suggest that she has ever gone out twice in the same dress.
After getting primed for the evening with some mint juleps ("That's pure f***in' alcohol!" Anna Nicole observes), our gang goes to the ball. Outside the facility, Anna Nicole is greeted by a screaming horde of fans assembled behind barricades. The roar is nearly enough to blow your TV speakers. In the face of such a reception, I don't see how anyone can claim that Anna Nicole is a has-been or no longer commands the public's interest. The media pundits can hate her all they want, but we the people still love her.
At the glitzy Barnstable Brown Gala, Anna Nicole crosses paths with some more celebrities, including Kid Rock, LaToya Jackson, and Slash again (or for the first time, actually). There is a strangely historic or apocalyptic moment when Anna Nicole Smith meets Tammy Faye Messner, formerly Bakker. What happens when two titanic tabloid scandal queens collide? They are very sweet to each other, actually. Tammy Faye tells Anna Nicole she watches her show all the time, and she gleefully recognizes Sugar Pie in Howard's lap as "the baby." You could easily imagine Anna Nicole and Tammy Faye hanging out and becoming friends, weirdly enough.
As the Barnstable sisters and other officials begin addressing the crowd at the party, Howard tries to take preemptive action. "No matter how drunk she gets," he instructs Kim, "we don't let her onstage." Of course, the next shot has Anna Nicole being announced on the stage, bearing Sugar Pie. We don't get to see her remarks, but I read elsewhere that she simply said hello and introduced Sugar Pie before sitting back down.
Now I'm beginning to understand why she was so upset about not being able to take Sugar Pie to the Derby the next day. It's not just that she's childishly attached to her dog. At these high-profile public events, Anna Nicole strives to present her proper persona, and now Sugar Pie is firmly established as part of her public image. The two new elements that The Anna Nicole Show has most successfully embroidered into her mythology are her love of pickles and that little black dog. Without Sugar Pie, she's unable to present her fans with the complete package they want to see.
"Well, I love it," she says of mingling with the common folk after leaving the party. "They're my fans. They make me happy." And I believe she most sincerely means that.
What follows next is one of the most bizarre and baffling sequences ever featured on this program. Back at the hotel, either Derby Eve or the night after, Howard is down at the bar getting two drinks for himself and Anna Nicole, to take back to her room where she's waiting. A busty young blonde named Stacy starts flirting with him, saying someone said he had a crush on her. She asks who's going to eat the cherry in his drink, and Howard lets her have it. Howard is interested in pursuing things further, but first he his to take care of business.
"Okay, so I hadda head up to Anna's room to take her her drink, but I also had this girl waiting for me down in the bar," he says. "I'd have to play this very carefully." Of course, the rational question is "Why?" Howard and Anna Nicole have sworn a hundred times that they're just friends, so what does it matter to her if Howard might get to hook up with somebody? But Howard has learned to accurately anticipate her psycho behavior.
He finds Anna Nicole in her bed and hands her drink to her, telling his story about Stacy. Anna Nicole claims not to care what he does with this girl in the bar, but she suddenly decides that both the drinks were supposed to be for her. She gets steamed that Howard gave her cherry away, which Howard thought came out of his own drink. But Anna Nicole is convinced that she asked him for two. "When do I ever get one drink?" she asks, as if that would be the silliest notion in the world.
Somehow, Anna Nicole is moved to get out of bed, get dressed, and go downstairs to the bar with Howard and Kim. They grab a table next to the table Stacy and her mother are seated. Anna Nicole encourages Howard to go sit with the ladies, but he stays put. Stacy starts talking again about Howard having a crush on her, quite transparently interested in him. Still, Howard just kind of sits there. He mumbles something about being in "a weird situation."
This statement enrages Anna Nicole. "She knows what that means, you f***in' lyin' motherf***er," she hisses, sotto voce. "You're a piece of s**t. I thought I knew you. You're just like any other man."
Howard is justifiably bewildered by this blow-up. Before he can ask what the hell she's talking about, Stacy's mom chooses the absolute worst moment to step over and start chatting.
"I watch Anna Nicole and Howard all the time," she cluelessly gushes. "It takes me away from reality and puts me in a world of fun and laughter." Certainly, Stacy's mother seems to be away from reality right then.
What's fascinating is how Anna Nicole is forced to snap out of her fit and switch into fan-greeting mode. She has to quit bugging out and graciously accept this lady's ill-timed blitherings on how sweet and angelic she is, and proves her capacity for controlling her emotions like a big-rig trucker shifting gears.
Finally she excuses herself to go back to her room with Tad the security guy, and here Howard has the opportunity to go after Stacy unencumbered. But he chooses to go upstairs and plead for Anna Nicole to tell him why she's so upset. She acts like his transgression is completely obvious, although she can't manage to articulate it in any coherent way. She says it's something about wrongly sending "secret codes." Maybe she felt that Howard was trying to blow off Stacy by falsely insinuating that he had a relationship with Anna Nicole, and she took offense at that? I really have no clue. Howard says that "Darren" made up the story about him having a crush on Stacy, probably referring to the show's supervising producer Darren Ewing.
"Don't play me stupid! I ain't f***in' retarded!" Anna Nicole tells him, echoing her comments in the limo at the start of the episode. She shuts herself up in her suite, getting Tad to keep Howard out. Howard pathetically grovels on the floor outside her door, begging her to let him in and talk it over. They may not be in love, but it sure looks like these two have a weird emotional relationship that goes beyond being best friends, in whatever twisted way.
There is a time-lapse shot of the Louisville skyline and the Ohio River as night turns to daybreak, with the exact cinematography and background music used for the morning transition scene in the camping trip episode. Very interesting as a reference to an episode when Anna Nicole and Howard's vicious conflict goes unresolved, as it does again here. The editing makes it look as though Howard spent the whole night in a fetal position outside Anna Nicole's door, which could be a misrepresentation. The two of them wrap things up in their interview segments by saying that they buried the hatchet and they're still great friends, etc., with no further elucidation offered on the Stacy controversy.
In the Louisville airport, Anna Nicole expresses surprise when he says he's going to miss Kentucky. "We're in Kentucky?" she asks. "Nuh-uh, we're in Louis-i-ville." Believe it or not, this is most likely not a scripted gag, and Anna Nicole's grasp of U.S. geography really is that bad. Photographer Eric Redding loves to tell the story about Vickie Smith's confusion when Playboy offered to fly her to California for a photo shoot, and she believed Los Angeles was located in New York. Howard just laughs and says it's time to get her home. Too weary for any further arguments, Anna Nicole just nods in agreement.
She closes the episode with one last wacky twist: "I forgot my hat!" This most likely is a scripted gag, and nothing more than a lame attempt to tie everything up with a neat Seinfeld-ian bow. But there was no need, since this episode already had plenty of thematic cohesion, in the form of Anna Nicole and Howard's unscripted interplay with their respective admirers.