Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Undiscovered Gems - The Joe Schmo Show

This is a new feature where I will discuss a TV show that most people would never seek out yet really should. For this feature's maiden voyage I'm going to tackle the cultural phenomenon that took over television in the 20th century (and continues to do so): reality television. It started with Survivor and took hold with other crap like The Bachelor, The Apprentice, American Idol, and the list goes on and on. Basically, the public loves to watch normal people usually make fools of themselves. It's real life, man!

One show that came out before the genre completely overstayed it's welcome was a little show called The Joe Schmo Show that ran on Spike TV in September of 2003. Before I go on though, it must be said that this show is NOT a reality show but instead an elaborate hoax which was meant to play off the cliches that reality television producers try to shoehorn into their shows to boost the drama (and therefore the ratings).

The show consisted of just one contestant, and they got the exact right person for the job. Meet Matthew Kennedy Gould...

I assume most people have seen the movie The Truman Show, which was about a man who didn't know he was surrounded by actors and the whole basis of the show working was grounded in Truman never finding out about it. The Joe Schmo Show is The Truman Show if it was a reality show. The only real person on the show is Gould, and surrounding him are a who's who of reality show archetypes: The Rich Bitch, The Asshole, The Virgin, The Best Buddy, The Veteran, The Gay Guy, The Schemer, and the Quack Marriage Counselor. Rounding it all out is The Smarmy Host. All of these people are actors that are playing their particular role.

The "reality show" that they were on, called "Lap of Luxury", was a very run-of-the-mill reality show. Picture a mix between Big Brother and Survivor. Pretty much they all just hang out in a house, play some immunity challenges (which are completely ridiculous), and then vote each other off at the end. Interviews took place with everyone on the show but Gould was the only one that actually commented on the show, everyone else would just comment about Gould. There would also be big production meetings with all of the actors in the guise of interview appointments where they would discuss potential storylines for the show.

Another reason this show completely works is because of Gould himself. Before the show started, the producers searched the country for the most "normal" guy they could find. Someone who wasn't dumb but also not quite clever enough to figure out the stunt (not that anyone would really be looking out for it to begin with though). That's not just it though, the dude is all heart. I mean sure, he comes off as real dumb sometimes but by the end it actually gets really emotional. The actors themselves care about him and don't really realize what they've gotten themselves into. It gives the show another level. This show wouldn't work without a good mark and this guy was perfect.

Let's talk about the cast as well. A few of the characters didn't work for me (The Schemer and The Virgin specifically) but most of them pulled their weight very well. A few familiar faces show up too, including SNL's Kristen Wigg as the Quack Marriage Counselor, It's Always Sunny's David Hornsby as The Asshole, and the underrated Free Radio's Lance Krall as The Gay Guy. Hornsby and Krall in particular give great performances and play great foils for each other as the season goes on. Ralph Garman as The Smarmy Host also gets his share of great moments.

Since they are all in the house for weeks together, the cast has to be completely in character all the time. This proved to be a little trickier than the producers originally thought because although Gould doesn't seem like the type of guy to remember insignificant facts he totally catches them getting some personal stuff mixed up a few times. Some quick team cover-up ensues but I don't think it was quite as easy as they all originally thought. It makes for some pretty excellent TV though.

Sadly, even though Gould got the money and prizes, he still felt completely embarrassed and depressed by the whole experience. Not to mention one of the contestants on the show, The Buddy (Brian Keith Etheridge), became one of Gould's best friends during the course of the show. Gould used the prize money on weed and booze to deal with the depression. Fortunately he has gotten past his problems, married, and has a decent job. Good for him.

I won't get into particular storylines, moments, jokes, etc. of the show because I honestly think everyone should track it down and experience it first-hand. It really was a show made for it's time that still definitely holds up. They made a second season, surprisingly enough, which (also surprisingly) was very funny. The mark for that one was Tim Walsh (spazzier but just as gullible as Gould), and they added in a female mark as well, Ingrid Weise. Garman was the only one to return from the original cast, albeit with blonde hair and a British accent.

1 comment:

  1. I think this show (season one, that is) is one of the most utterly sublime things ever created for television. Everything fell into place perfectly and it is pure entertainment on so many levels. I watch my DVD set at least once a year, and all the comedic and emotional high points are there every time. I love the way the show became not only about Matt (who is perfect) but about what an emotional and sometimes harrowing experience it was for the actors and crew as well. For me, however, the second season had none of that and was a total washout. But we'll always have season one.