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Paramount Studios presents
"One of you is about to say goodbye to high society... and return to your sad existence... of working for the man...."
DVD ReviewOkay, I'll admit it without pretense or shame: I am an unabashed fan of reality (or as I kiddingly dub them, psuedo-reality) shows, sometimes to the point of slightly going over the edge with the plotlines. Not in a nutty, "mail yourself in a box to Elizabeth Hasselbeck" way (no, that would be bad), but say, like your sweet, otherwise normal grandma's soap opera fixation with The Edge of Night back in the day, or your Mom throwing up her hands in disbelief at the latest plot developments on Days of Our Lives.
Still, I must admit to a little of that self-imposing drama crossing past the picture tube into my own life via addiction to my Big Three guilty pleasures: C'mon, who among my reality watching brethren didn't have at least a little saltwater in your eyes when ultra cool Kentucky school principal Roger got voted off on Survivor: The Australian Outback? Man, it was like kicking your dad or grandfather out of the game (and don't get me started on Rupert Boneham being forced to make an unjust premature exit from Survivor: Pearl Islands). Hey, how about the recent example of Jennifer Hudson getting voted off much too early on the most recent American Idol? Speaking of a river of tears, how, oh how could Aaron Buerge pick money clip bestowing Helene over the serenely sweet, Southern as made-from-scratch biscuits Brooke on Season Two of The Bachelor? Then again, I did have an Alistair Cooke-ish moment while watching Helene (whom I think is a really nice girl, by the way) bestowing her little token of affection to her future (and eventually, ex-) fiancée. As God as my witness, I applied right hand to cheek and quietly uttered, "Interesting strategy."
Such moments typify why I love this outrageous genre: I live for the exaggerated dramatics, laughing at supposed take-charge gurus who find they're not" the boss of this place", giggling like The Riddler when the makers of deals/alliances get bamboozled in the end, delighting in unlikely heroes who become household names within weeks (e.g. Ruuuuuuuueben Studdard) and relishing juicy villains on par with imaginary cinematic creations (remember dentist Will of Big Brother 2? He's not working on my crowns!).
Of course, there are many who wonder what in the everlovin' world do we see in "mindless crap" that instigates the cramming of network phone lines when Idol gets bumped for a night thanks to the president (actually Georgie, good move. Ticking off coming-of-age POTENTIAL VOTERS. But worry not, Mr. Texas, its only television's highest rated show, you know).
In the fall of 2003, Spike TV premiered a new entry in the reality program sweepstakes that turned the format on its ear. What if an average Joe (pun not intended) landed a slot on a reality show that wasn't real? A program where all the other participants are actors, every outcome is pre-determined, and the ultimate destiny of the chosen one lies in the hands of a crew sequestered in a remote television production truck (and no, smarty pants, one of them isn't named Christof, but you're not too far off the track).
The Joe Schmo Show: Season One collects the initial run of a series that is a true rarity among the reality pack: a program that detractors and devotees can enjoy in equal measure. More so, it's probably the only show of its kind that can boast the dual honor of critical hit and fan favorite. Nine contestants compete for a $100,000 cash prize on the faux-series, "Lap of Luxury" starring its all-too-typical smarmy host, Ralph Garman. Through a series of challenges, mental exercises, games, and alliances not unlike many of its predecessors, one contestant will reign supreme—and for my money, I think it might just be Matthew Kennedy Gould, the show's equivalent of Truman Burbank. But it's not gonna be a cakewalk as he does battle with his eight fierce opponents.
Hutch (David Hornsby): Not a hunky, blond guitar strumming police detective, but a jerk of all jerks who lives to stir the pot of t-r-o-u-b-l-e.
Dr. Pat (Kristen Wiig): An intelligent, successful marriage counselor who's been divorced three times.
Earl Bradford (Franklin Dennis Jones): Military veteran with a tough façade that's not easily cracked. And, oh yeah, he doesn't dig alternative lifestyles, like gay guys.
Carlos "Kip" Calderas (Lance Krall): The gay guy.
Molly Crabtree (Angela Dodson): Flirty blonde who, for some reason, announces she's a virgin
Brian Keith Etheridge (as himself): Everbody's best bud and also one of the show's writers.
Gina Price (Nikki Davis): Strategically savvy gung-ho player.
Ashleigh Rivera (Melissa Yvonne Lewis): Wow-how-how beautiful brunette that makes guys bite their hand like Lenny in the opening creds of Laverne and Shirley whenever she passes by. Sigh.
A brilliantly whipped mélange of reality show spoof and improvisational comedy with as many live-wire surprises as a big top circus, Schmo's premise may sound like an elaborate, one note, heartless practical joke along the lines of Punk'd; I wholeheartedly assure you, that's not what you wind up getting. Preventing it from such branding is Gould, the unlikely attraction in the center ring.
With a face that brings to mind the lovably wonderment of Gomer Pyle spiced with the laid back flavored cool of Sylvester Stallone and a dash of Sha-Na-Na's Jon "Bowzer" Bauman, Matt's refreshingly sweet demeanor charms the pants off his top-secret thespian co-stars to such a point, that they sometimes temporarily (and hilariously) lose sight of character details (Earl forgetting what type of briefs he contributed to an underwear guessing contest; Molly having to be reminded of her Christian tradition to say grace before a meal); only working with the most basic of projected plot lines, things like these set up the equivalent of improvisational landmines our performers must maneuver carefully around. Such instances garner polite chuckles compared to planned scenarios that crack like Humpty Dumpty in front of the ensemble's eyes. One such howlingly hilarious sequence occurs during a game involving an eye-catching, "special guest star" blonde in a black bikini. Oh, I don't want deprive the laughs to those of you that haven't seen the bit I'm referencing, so let me just say this: 99.9% of the male population (myself included) would have NEVER committed what amounts to an ultimate "no-no" during a dream moment such as this; but damn if it doesn't provide one of the biggest laughs I've ever had in response, period.
Stellar comic storytelling, flawless performances with no weak links (Krall and Hornsby merit particular kudos), brilliant skewering of reality show competitions (the talent show sequence is a complete masterpiece featuring Survivor alumnus, Jerri Manthey, in a great cameo), and a disarmingly likeable leading man combine to make The Joe Schmo Show: Season One consistently funny, surprisingly touching at times and enormously entertaining. Not bad for a show that dares to bite, no, chew the hands of the likes that inspired it.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Coming from Stone Stanley, the production company responsible for visually astute series including The Mole and Freddy's Nightmares, Schmo's topnotch look is replicated very nicely on this set. Sharp colors, rarely a gremlin to be found and gorgeous as Melissa Yvonne Lewis' smile. (Hey! No hissing from the readership...I'm entitled to a Matt moment, aren't I?).
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: No Amazing Race in terms of aural achievements, this transfer is pretty basic Dolby Surround stuff. The low end that comes into service during those intensely dramatic musical cues is worth a mention and the nice stereo spread to the incidental soundtrack does its job very well.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 60 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Reno 911
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Episode Eight (Season Finale) w/ Co-Executive Producer Rhett Reese and star Matthew Kennedy Gould
Packaging: Box Set
Remember the unforgettable segment of the comely models covered in chocolate? Then the behind-the-scenes look (05m:04s) will wet your whistle.
Give me a moment, please... Okay, I can concentrate once more.
One of the high points of the series is showcased in The Making of the Meal (The Gross Food Stunt) (4m:05s); Schmo game coordinator Mike Miller and a culinary expert known only as "Bob" describe what went on in the kitchen to put together a fake set of entrees.
Eviction Interviews contains over 30 minutes of mostly unaired comments from the actors as well as Matt's full-length farewell video messages and reflections on his departed competitors.
Finally, there's a breezy, fun commentary track for the season finale, coupling co-executive producer Rhett Reese and the star of the show himself, Matthew Kennedy Gould. Although it only lasts for the first half of the episode, lots of additional information is unearthed: the intense nervousness of cast and crew, deleted concepts (including the enormously funny idea of Ashleigh's artistic and psychotic sides meeting head-on as she paints a portrait of Matt, only to gouge its eyes out), and just how close the show came to shutting down after the emotional outcome of the second episode. Throughout, Gould exhibits the same charming candor that won the hearts of viewers and everyone involved in the production.
Now that's he become such a big shot at Spike TV, I wonder if he could help me get one of those flat-screen televisions, too.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsLet The Joe Schmo Show: Season One take you away from "your sad existence of working for the man" (LOVE that line). Superbly archived with fun bonuses, it's one of the few shows of its kind that elicits additional viewings; it's just that much fun.
A definite contender for my Ten Best List of 2004.
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