Paramount // 2004 // 486 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // August 4th, 2004
Ashleigh (an actress): "I just...I just think this is sleazy. This is
Matt (thinks it's all real): "Welcome to television!"
What could be funnier than seeing some good 'ol goofball of a dude blatantly fooled into thinking he's on a reality show, his every move and reaction captured on tape for a national audience to laugh along at his expense? What could be funnier -- plenty of things. The funniest thing about Spike TV's The Joe Schmo Show, though, is how the featured schmo (Matt is his name) pushed a team of actors and producers to their own emotional limits when he, unknowingly of course, simply refused to be manipulated as intended.
It's all an elaborate hoax: Matt Kennedy Gould (the Schmo) thinks he's been selected to compete for $100,000 on Lap of Luxury, a mock-reality show that wickedly parodies the likes of Survivor, The Real World, and Fear Factor. Matt, as the gag goes, doesn't know his in-house competitors are actually eight actors assigned to assume the personalities of the usual reality show whack jobs: Ashleigh, the superficial rich bitch; Molly, the innocent yet teasing virgin; "Hutch," the insufferable asshole; Earl, the take-no-prisoners ex-Marine; Gena, the conniving schemer; Dr. Pat, the inept psychoanalyst; Kip, the stereotypical gay guy; and Brian, the rotund buddy-buddy. They're all herded into the mansion (the veritable game grid) by Ralph, the cardboard-cutout "Smarmy Host," to share a week of high living, unbecoming competitions, and over-the-top melodramatic eviction ceremonies. Little does Matt know that, just on the other side of his master suite, a roomful of producers and technicians chart and attempt to choreograph his every move, leading him through a script designed to deliver twists, titillations, and television ratings for fledgling Spike TV, the First Network for Men. But will simpleton Matt be so malleable as to fall for every clandestine queue and furtive foolery through this minefield of manipulation, or will he turn the tables on everyone and expose the entire charade? If he does catch on, how will he react -- is he the perpetual "Good Joe" who'll take it in stride and partake in a little lighthearted self-deprecation or is there really a time bomb ticking in his large frame, ready to blow if so triggered?
Well, gee, it's just a joke.
Everyone certainly enjoys a hearty laugh, especially when it's at someone else's expense, right? Maybe. The Joe Schmo Show isn't what it appears; it's effect runs far deeper than you might initially expect and it proves to be the very antithesis of it's original concept: it is the most realistic reality show yet (that despite it's tagline of "the reality show that's not real"). None of this, of course, can be credited to any producer or writer's original wishes, they who tried to deliver a voyeuristic yuck-fest for all of us who are in on the gag, watching clueless Matt give it his all within the pre-fabricated plot ("I got to get my head in the game!" he admonishes himself while pounding his forehead). Instead, Matt unwittingly takes control of the script, sending the cast and crew scrambling to keep the unexpectedly adroit dupe from connecting the clues. As the actors occasionally stumble and stammer when caught in their own inconsistencies (Molly is a bible-toting Southern girl who fails to pause for grace before the housemates' first meal; Earl utters a critical gaffe following a bizarre game of underwear swapping), Matt's brow furrows as he immediately brings the missteps to their attention. Each time, the control room squad cringes in a collective pucker.
In essence, the show is an experiment that is clearly cribbed from 1998's The Truman Show yet nets a far better result, since the highly-likable Matt proves himself more unpredictable in his responses to the staged shenanigans than the producers anticipated. Matt, at first blush, looks to be something of a, well, dork, complete with the exaggerated Clinton-esque mandible and rather pronounced set of choppers. As something of a gym rat (the producers spotted him playing hoops with his Pittsburgh homies), he appears the classic white-guy-can't-jump "playa" who feigns all the hip-hop, smack-talk, be-bop mannerisms of true inner-city ballers yet clearly comes off looking like a laughable "poser." Immediately upon arriving at the mansion, though, Matt shows his affinity for establishing quick alliances and fast friendships. By Day Three of the mock-competition, he has absolutely overwhelmed the cast of actors by his truly good nature, ready acceptance of others, and bona-fide big-heartedness (he is the perpetual cheerleader to one and all, even asshole Hutch).
The whole experiment takes a severe turn when Matt becomes deeply distraught following the dismissal of one of the actor/contestants during the second night's eviction ceremony. With tears streaming down his face, sobbing uncontrollable, and literally collapsing on his way upstairs, the cast and crew are likewise disturbed over Matt's emotional reaction and consider aborting the entire production ("We gotta f***ing stop this," one producer laments). With that, the tables have turned, the mouse is not following the prescribed path through the maze, and the cheesy joke isn't quite so funny anymore. They decide to press on but the actors are now struggling to keep up their façades in light of Matt's infectious warmth and caring nature. One actress is actually reprimanded by a producer after slightly breaking character while expressing her admiration of Matt during a group hot tub exercise where each must say something positive about the others. Now this is reality TV.
And while it's fun for we viewers to rubberneck our way into Matt's petri-dish world, there's a bit of reality that we, too, will likely experience along the way. To bend the rather trite phrase, you can't judge a schmo by his cover. Yes, Matt looks to be something of a ineffectual schlep upon first encounter yet, as he reveals his true character and irreproachable moral integrity, we are left feeling like the real dorks, those who would make such dismissive assessments of others based on physical first appearances. That's the other side of the true reality if this supposed unreal show. Heavy stuff, yes, and yet it makes the show all the more entertaining, engaging, and relevant. Like the actors, we, too, are soon fully invested in Matt's emotional state and are highly involved in hoping his faith in others will not be irreparably shattered upon the final reveal, the admission that it was all a gag. You'll see, as did the producers, that Matt's reality quickly usurps the pre-staged ploys and leaves everyone involved wondering if this was such a good idea after all.
Alright, but is it funny? Remember, this is a show developed by MTV subsidiary Spike TV, a network for men that caters to all things crass. Yes, there's plenty of ridiculous goings-on like underwear-swapping fashion shows (Matt's concerned his personal reveal might not measure up), nude porn star standoffs, Sumo suit assaults, chocolate-coated swim model word searches, and, of course, two girls kissing. Along the way, there's plenty of nose picking, toe picking, nut scratching, and butt trumpeting to deliver the finer things in life that we Joe-meat-and-potatoes guys bust up about. Plus, the melodrama is so painfully thick at times (largely thanks to our resident Smarmy Host) that you can't help but laugh at how well the show thumbs its nose at the outrageous nature of the other reality shows it berates. Truly, this is the reality show for men/people who hate reality shows. Now if only we could get a soap opera featuring nothing but bi-sexual babes.
Presented in a three-disc boxed set, The Joe Schmo Show -- Season One Uncensored looks as good as you'd expect on DVD (maybe even better). The episodes are spread out among the three ThinPak-housed discs with episodes one through three on Disc One, episodes four through seven on Disc Two, and the final episode eight plus bonus features on Disc Three. The transfers here really look terrific. Framed at the expected 4:3 fullscreen aspect ratio, the image quality is incredibly clean and stable with vibrant colors, accurate flesh tones, and great detail. Sure, it's just a TV show so why would we expect it to look like anything else yet these transfers are so clean they wind up looking better than I expected. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix matches that of the original broadcast and sounds just fine.
Unfortunately, the extras on this set are quite disappointing. The audio commentary on episode eight, featuring show creator Rhett Reese and schmo Matt Kennedy Gould, is the bright spot, thankfully, and is surprisingly informative thanks to Reese delving into the morals and responsibilities of producing reality TV while Gould muses on the experience of being bushwhacked on national television. The commentary runs for the first hour of the final episode, through the ultimate reveal, then halts when the The Joe Schmo Show -- The Aftermath segment begins (that being the recap with real host Ralph Garman chatting with the duped Matt). The rest of the bonus features are generally throwaways. The deleted scenes live up to their name, revealing nothing of real interest or value to you or I, hence, their deletion. The "Making of the Meal" feature shows how the on-set cook developed the mock gross-out goodies served during the "Meal Not Quite Fit for a King" competition. Only mildly interesting, this bit. Extended cast interviews simply provide more off-stage, out of character discussions with the actors, they who talk a bit more about their feelings on putting one over on lovable Matt but nothing new is exposed here. The extended "Chocolate Sauce on Models" segment merely shows the models getting painted up in chocolate and only draws visibility to how empty-headed these borderline lesbos really are.
Well, there's no doubt this show is quite engrossing and offers more than what first meets the eye. Paramount, however, promises an "uncensored" look at this eight-episode adventure but the result is dubious. Sure, there's plenty of language flying about, f-bombs dropping on an almost regular basis (though not usually in mean-spirited fashion), but much of the macro-blocking blurs we find on the television broadcasts are not removed.
"Wha-hottt is go-ing onnnn?"
Yes, we get clear view of the porn star's breasts for the duration of the "Hands on a Hooker" competition but the unintentional reveal by Molly, her right happy hump slipping out of her bikini top, remains blurred. Liars! This isn't uncensored! Also, the male nudity, that of Kip and Brian on separate occasions, likewise remains obscured. Granted, I've no immediate interest in peering at either fellows' mud whistle or jangling junk but, if this is billed as uncensored, then have the...that's right, balls...to follow through. Who's the tool now, Paramount?
The Joe Schmo Show succeeds on many levels, mainly in its unbridled expose of how unreal and inane reality shows have become. The only reason Matt goes along with much of it, he later confesses, is not due to his easily being fooled but, rather, because of his awareness how stupid and wantonly provocative reality shows have become; he just figured Lap of Luxury was another such show.
More importantly, this show works because it lays bare the reality of real people (like Matt) and their refreshing belief in the goodness and value within each of us regardless of our outward appearance or social digressions. The fact that Matt's moral fabric causes the actors around him to respond with their own very real emotions is what makes this unreal show the very best of its kind.
The cast and crew of The Joe Schmo Show are exonerated of any misdeeds, many though they are, in light of the fact they've shown us all that goodness still wins out in this increasingly cynical and confrontational world of ours.
Spike TV is ordered to pay an additional $100,000 to Matt Kennedy Gould for the mere fact that he and he alone was responsible for drawing a record 3.4 million viewers to the show's finale.
Finally, the real schmos at Paramount Home Video are sentenced to be filmed for eight days in their offices and production facilities, completely nude, as part of a court ordered public humiliation. Footage of all involved will be aired nationally as punishment for perjuring themselves in attempting to peddle this otherwise fine disc set as an "uncensored" presentation.
Review content copyright © 2004 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 486 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Extended Cast Interviews
* Making Of Gross Food Stunt
* Uncensored Chocolate Models
* Spike TV Official Site