Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is STILL incredibly un-fun in 2021 and I enjoy blogging. It’s Friday and these will be fun! This week’s list…
Top 5 Dumbest Reality TV Shows I Was DEEPLY Into
I think it was right around the time Pumkin [sic] spit in New York’s face on the penultimate episode of Flavor of Love in 2006 that I decided to be pretty much done with reality television. The whole thing just felt so icky to me, I decided to immerse myself in higher forms of culture like, uhhhh, video games and reruns of Family Guy.
Particularly in the early 2000s, television showrunners conducted a debauched race to the bottom to see how cravenly fame-hungry morons would debase themselves for money and/or gutter-level notoriety. It was a real trash heap of a landscape where you could tune in and see lots of bleeped out profanity, blurred out nudity, and aspiring guest DJs at shitty sports bars say idiotic things directly into a camera. And I’m no angel here. I watched a few episodes of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. I was a big fan of MTV’s The Challenge, which is still somehow going strong one billion years later. And CT Tamburello is still throttling dudes, no less!
And look, I’m not joking when I tell you I haven’t seen most of the mainstream reality tv shows. I’ve never seen an episode of The Apprentice (thank god!). Never seen more than 5 minutes total of Big Brother. I watched the first two seasons of Survivor, and no more after that. I only knew whatever my mom has told me about The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars even when I didn’t ask, and have now subsequently forgotten. And I have never in my life seen a full episode of a singing competition.
This is not some misplaced assertion of superior taste, rest assured. This is but useful context for understanding that I have unusual viewing preferences, and that even though most of that mainstream shit gratefully passed me by, the tentacles of reality television are strong, and hook into nearly all of us at one point or another. So here are five shows I was VERY, VERY INTO at one point in my life.
Dog the Bounty Hunter
I don’t generally have a problem with heartburn, which is nice especially considering the ways in which my wife and older daughter have to cope with it persistently. I have a great deal of empathy for them because just about the worst occurrence of heartburn in my life took place during the second year of graduate school where it felt like I was hiccupping pure battery acid. It was so bad, I couldn’t lie down, and I couldn’t get it to go away until shortly before dawn.
There’s fuck all on in the middle of the night, and this was pre-streaming, so I was limited to the whims of basic cable programmers. I happened upon Dog the Bounty Hunter, and… well, kudos to the story editor because I was sucked in pretty much immediately. I just HAD TO find out if Dog and his team of pseudo-vigilantes could nab this methhead who skipped bail (Spoiler alert: They could). I binged, like 8 of these in a row until the heartburn subsided and I could doze off. Then the sun blasted through my window all early as fuck, and I was grumpy the rest of the day. That apartment sucked in interesting ways. But I was now hooked on Dog!
Dog has a weird charisma. He looks like some burnout you’d run into at a shitty Panama City Beach tiki bar whose conversation you can’t get enough of for some reason, so you exchange tall tales with him over mullets, strong margaritas and mozzarella sticks that are too oily. His wife Beth had some of the most disconcertingly large boobs of anyone in the history of television. The other yardbirds in this orbit looked like Proud Boys on the outside, but had big hearts like soup kitchen volunteers on the inside. The whole show had a gravity I couldn’t escape for YEARS. I don’t regret it at all, but sometimes my brain will call up that crappy buttrock theme song, and then it’s four hours later I’m begging for a lobotomy to get it out of my head.
If you haven’t watched this show yourself, I’m sure you’ve seen one of the many ads for it, which on certain parts of cable, air roughly every 90 seconds. Jon Taffer is probably the loudest, angriest, most red-assed motherfucker on earth this side of Gordon Ramsay. He shows up at shitty bars, horrifies everyone when he uncovers how filthy they are, and then screams at bar owners who are drunk, derelict, incompetent, or all three. It’s wildly uncomfortable from a multitude of viewpoints!
Then he revamps the menu, provides training for the staff, and remodels and rebrands the place all while providing oddly tender counseling to the owners. He’s deeply sincere, persistent and effective in trying to get people to a place of emotional truth. Standing in stark contrast to the show’s first act, watching Jon Taffer turn from a giant-sized R. Lee Ermey into a soft-spoken Tony Robbins is probably why this show works at all. His terrifying verbal assault breaks you down; his coaching and freakish work ethic builds you back up.
The only problem is that many of his remodels are still butt ugly looking like thinly-veiled corporate chains you’d find in a parking lot of a big shopping complex. And, three days isn’t going to wholesale reinvent the thinking of a deeply flawed, fucked up owner. One time Jon did a flip on a place right near Coors Field that had an owner who wore these giant white sweaters and stood outside his bar shouting at passersby trying to get them to come in. “Free game pool!” “2-for-1 drafts!” A few weeks after his episode aired, I was down near his place for a Rockies game, and sure enough, standing out there in his white sweater, he shouted at us to come inside in defiance of Jon’s recommendations and had changed the name back to its original stupid one. Like pretty much everyone else that day and every other day, we did not go in.
Drinking Made Easy with Zane Lamprey
Buried on deep, deep digital cable was this gem. Mark Cuban’s AXS TV is the home of filmed concerts, professional wrestling, goofy travelogue shows, and light female nudity. At least it was when Kristin and I happened upon this slice of alcoholism all those years ago.
Zane Lamprey is a charming comedian accompanied by two other dipshits as they drink their way through cities in the United States. Overall, it was a pretty good premise, but executed bizarrely. Two shows that came chronologically after this one (and on the now-defunct Esquire Network) were Best Bars in America and Brew Dogs. Both sort of similar in spirit, but presented with an eye toward elevating the material.
Drinking Made Easy featured Zane Lamprey going to nice places, dutifully learning the ins and outs of a complex cocktail, and then chugging the holy fuck out of it as fast he could. It would be like watching a cake decorator explain the details of a complex frosting pattern, and then handing it to Gallagher grinning like a maniac while holding his stupid sledgehammer. And sometimes the show was just flat out gross. Each episode featured a challenge that nearly always made me want to ralph. In San Francisco, Zane and his cohort Steve (I think that was his name?) raced to see who could eat hot clam chowder out of a breadbowl the fastest. Who the fuck is that segment for?! The show had this tension – cool insights about bar culture and cocktail craftsmanship on one hand, gross-out frat boy stunts on the other. I remember a handful of things about this show, and all of them make me a little queasy. Uncomfortable legacy, that is.
Man, remember when everyone was obsessed with storage units for a hot minute? The more popular show was Storage Wars on A&E, but for whatever reason I was drawn to this off-brand competitor on Spike. I think the editing felt zippier or something. Or maybe I just genuinely wanted to like Allen and Ton. Who knows, but I cannot imagine giving half a shit about storage units today.
With the benefit of hindsight, all of these storage unit shows were clearly scripted. Kristin and I had a storage unit for a time, and in it was a couch, a coffee table, a lamp, and a bunch of boxes filled with excess crap we no longer had room for once we moved in together. It was mostly just textbooks, some of my old toys and duplicate stuff like cheap steak knives. Nowhere in there was a safe with an obscure, antique gun in it. Yet, every single episode, whaddaya know?!?! Here’s some ornamental fucking vintage cash register hidden behind a working ATV! And the guns! So many guns!
It might be interesting to check out real stories of people who do this for a living or a hobby and see what’s really lurking in these things, but I’m sure I’ll never do that. So, here’s to this dumb show that served as great background noise to a lazy Sunday afternoon!
The Joe Schmo Show
Remember The Truman Show? It had an underrated Jim Carrey performance, some surprisingly trenchant commentary about entertainment trends, and interesting insight about the human condition. It was only a matter of time before someone took the central premise – what if everyone was in on the fact that a show was completely staged except for one guy? – stripped it of all its art and meaning and put it on Spike TV. As you can probably guess, I was very much there for it!
The Joe Schmo Show featured a guy named Matt Kennedy Gould who thought he was competing on a show called “Lap of Luxury” to win $100,000 when in reality he was just a sort of lab rat in a bizarre social experiment. In doing a little light reading about the show, apparently he was such a good-hearted dude, the producers halfway through production went, “Oh, shit! We can’t fuck with this guy too much? The audience is going to love him too much.” So they re-oriented the show and made sure the audience didn’t hate the creators’ guts for what they put this guy through.
And he was undeniably charming! Just a big, friendly Golden Retriever of a man who, while looking unavoidably like a total goober sometimes, Gould managed to salvage his dignity throughout this charade simply by being a nice guy and a good person. You couldn’t not fall in love with him! The rest of the show looked mostly cheap and shitty, but did feature a pre-SNL Kristen Wiig playing quack psychiatrist “Dr. Pat.” Gould accidentally gave her a legit head injury during one of the “competitions” that caused her to have to go to the hospital. When she returned, Gould gave her the fake prize vacation he won in the challenge because he felt bad for hurting her.
What’s weird about writing about this show is that The Joe Schmo Show aired in 2003 when the concept of being on camera was still sort of alien to most people. This show could never work today. Go on Instagram or TikTok (Note: I have never, ever been on TikTok and I never plan to) sometime and you’ll find people doing their own fucking version of The Joe Schmo Show where either they’re playing Matt Kennedy Gould, or they’re surreptitiously filming someone else which makes them a cast member fucking with the normie. With the ability to curate our image online, everyone is the star of their own little reality show. I know I’m getting older because outside of this little slice of podcast and blogosphere, I have no desire to have my own any longer. I’m much more content to just shut the hell up a lot more.