Sunday, September 14, 2003

Speaking of reality tv...

If you like reality television and cruelty (and as you know, I enjoy both), you need to check out The Joe Schmo Show. The basic premise is this: Average Joe goes on a highly unoriginal reality show called The Lap of Luxury. Only that show doesn't exist, and he's the only contestant. Everyone else is an actor, enlisted to play reality show stereotypes: the Virgin, the Asshole, the Gay Guy, the Grizzled Veteran, the Rich Bitch, and so on. And they play with this poor guy who thinks it's all real.

Now, I say "poor guy," but part of what makes the show fun is what an idiot he is. I mean, it's hard to second-guess the psychology of anyone on a reality show -- there are so many factors we'll never get to see. And until recently (and who knows how long ago this was taped), reality show contestants had no reason to assume that they were being duped. But this thing is like a Christopher Guest version of a reality show. In the room where they do the eliminations, Survivor style, they have plates with each of the contestants' picture on them, and when someone is sent home, the Smarmy Host smashes the plate in the fire and says, "You're dead to us." It's pretty ridiculous.

But I can accept that Matt (Joe's real name) wouldn't necessarily catch on to all that, especially if it's being edited to look even more ridiculous for the audience's benefit. But no, if Matt had a reality show cliché title, I think it would be "The Doofus." There's one on almost every show, at least the ones involving a house, and Matt fits the role well. When a challenge involved a special guest porn star (seriously), he not only recognized her, he shouted about how he recognized her, and then basically said "Yay, boobies!" It was pretty much all one take, and there's really no way to make that up. In a series of interviews in the first episode, he talked about how he wanted to "get with" every single woman in the cast, and talked about his "chemistry" with them. I kind of root for him 'cause he seems like such a nice guy, but then I enjoy watching them play him because he's just so easily played, and seems to have so little sense of his own self.

Lest it get too mean for poor Matt, the other fun part of the show is watching the actors screw up. They have a huge task, improvising within a pre-established character for so many hours a day, with no chance for "re-shoots" with Matt. if they screw up and he catches them, it's all over. Of course Matt, being Matt, is unlikely to ever catch them, but it's fun to watch the actors contradict themselves and forget their backstories, or come up with new stuff and then suddenly realize they'll have to remember it.

In the end, I would love it if the final twist were that Matt is an actor too, and it was the rest of the cast being played the whole time. But somehow I suspect I'm over-thinking it.

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