The Surreal Life (VH1)

VH1 seems to have moved through its "Vestigial Hilarity" phase and into the "Vengeful Humiliation" era, cutting back (finally) on the snarking-head commentary shows in favor of ones which catapult "Various Has-Beens" into "Virulently Hostile" situations so we can laugh at their expense. I must say, though, this can make for some pretty jaw-droppin' TV.

Back in '93 or so, a couple of friends and I spent a 7-hour car ride hatching an idea for a show called Two For the Road, which would pair up unlikely celebrities, preferably ones who only vaguely had any knowledge of each other, and send them on a road trip to do various banal tasks (going to a flea market, looking at condos, transporting fireworks across state lines, etc). The point was to be as pathetic, awkward, and boring as possible, and show the celebs as unremarkably as possible. The Surreal Life, in its first couple of seasons on the WB, came pretty close to this ideal, relying on easy-punchline cast members (Gary Coleman, Erik Estrada, Corey Feldman, Hammer, etc) and throwing them into a house Big Brother style to see what happened. The series hit its stride after moving to VH1 with a highly memorable season which saw, most notably, the unlikely romantic hookup of Flavor Flav and Brigitte Nielsen!

That accidental success paved the way for what is sure to be The Surreal Life's best season, as the network has wisely chosen to up the "party" stakes considerably by weeding out the more upstanding celebs who won't degrade themselves too much. This time around, it's Joanie "Chynna" Laurer, Verne "Mini Me" Troyer, Adrienne "America's First Next Top Model" Curry, Jane "Go-Go" Wiedlin, Christopher "Peter Brady" Knight, Da "Da Brat" Brat, and some Calvin Klein model from the 90s named Marcus something-or-other.

The difference this time is that the sex-and-booze quotient is already (after one episode) alarmingly high, with Curry and Wiedlin going skinny dipping in the pool, and Troyer getting so trashed that he ends up fully nude on his scooter, urinating in a corner! It really removes all the easy-punchline value from someone like Troyer to see him helplessly pissing himself while Da Brat looks on in horror (and she had already expressed ample horror upon realizing that this was a house full of has-beens, not huge stars like her!).

It's primo Trainwreck TV. Jackie Gleason would be mortified to see television in its current state, but who cares.

Review by La Fée © 2005