By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated December 01, 2003 01:00 AM

Maybe Paris Hilton just shouldn’t appear before a camera.

While gossip columnists spent a healthy part of last month covering the 22-year-old hotel heiress’s pirated sex tape with then-boyfriend Rick Salomon, TV critics are now delivering blistering reviews of her new FOX reality show, “The Simple Life.”

The premise of the new program, which debuts Tuesday, is that two young women of privilege, Hilton and Nicole Richie, daughter of musician Lionel Richie, drop in for a month to live with a farm family in Arkansas and forego their usual cell phones, limo drivers and credit cards.

According to several reviews, Hilton comes off making Jessica Simpson look like Albert Einstein. While Simpson, on her MTV show “Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica,” famously asked hubby Nick Lachey if Chicken of the Sea was tuna or chicken, Hilton on “The Simple Life” inquires whether Wal-Mart is the place one goes to buy “wall stuff.”

New York Times critic Dwight Gardner writes that “Simple Life” is so painful — and condescending — that he had to watch it through his fingers. He also had extremely unflattering things to say about the normally praise-worthy physical looks of Hilton, whom he likens to an amalgamation of Uma Thurman, a borzoi dog and Robert Plant (in the early ’70s).

On the other coast, Seattle Times critic Faye McFadden laments that “Simple Life” lacks friction or dramatic tension, and that Hilton and Richie never in any way connect with the farm family, the Ledings. (The Times notes that Hilton suggests that the fresh-faced 19-year-old son would make a fine addition to a sexual three-way.)

More to the point, McFadden says outright that Hilton and Richie are dense and unlikable, and that Anna Nicole Smith delivered a better show.

Both critics agree, however, that the notorious Hilton sex tape, which flared up all over the Internet, will bring viewers to “The Simple Life.” Whether they will continue to tune in remains to be seen.