Judge Adam Arseneau is about to pimp your ride, fo' shizzle. Also, he is about to get beat up by a lot of black people, and deserve it.
He's about to pimp your ride.
A reality show / rap video / home improvement crossbred in a high school auto shop class by a mad scientist, Pimp My Ride is garish, puerile, slightly obnoxious, and above all else, exactly the kind of show I would never, ever be caught dead watching. To my great personal surprise, it is also extremely enjoyable, incredibly fun to watch, and exactly the kind of show I would, in fact, watch. Go figure!
Facts of the Case
Pimp My Ride is a lot like Trading Spaces would be if Dr. Dre were executive producer. In every episode, host Xzibit ("X to the Z" for all you honky white-boys) takes us on a tour of California's worst automobiles owned by well-intentioned teenagers who seem to do plenty of charity work on the side. He shows up at their houses and "surprises" them—an amazing feat, considering camera crews having shot endless footage of the contestants driving around in their cars previous to Xzibit's visits. After making fun of the subject's car for a few minutes, Mr. X takes it away to West Coast Customs, one of the premiere custom auto shops in the country for some…ahem, "pimping."
The West Coast Customs crew sits down, examines the pile of metal that barely resembles a motor vehicle, then proceeds to sand, strip, paint, rebuild, pound, smash, jury-rig, and customize the heap into a top-of-the-line street machine. Cars destined for the scrap yard are transformed into garishly painted, tricked-out machines, lowered and subwoofered with tens of thousands of dollars of gear and bodywork. After the restoration, Xzibit brings the lucky teen back into the shop, pulls the sheet off the finished car, so the kid can cry and cheer and slap hands accordingly. The rejuvenated teen drives his/her new car away, much to the envy of his/her friends.
That's about it. Add a terrible theme song and lots of MTV-friendly ghetto terminology, repeat fifteen times, and you have the first season of Pimp My Ride.
Pimp My Ride is the kind of show of which I would make serious amounts of fun without ever having watched, and with good reason. Combining cars, which I never particularly cared about, with the lame appropriation of hip-hop ghetto lingo perpetrated by un-hip white kids, was more than enough for me to judge Pimp My Ride as the dumbest show ever made.
When my girlfriend started watching it, I mocked her incessantly and without mercy. For exactly all the reasons I hated shows like Trading Spaces, I hated Pimp My Ride: the not-so-subtle product placements, the corny editing / camera tricks, the annoying host, the gibbering contestants, and worst of all, renovations of things I didn't care about. How irritating.
Then my girlfriend—the big meanie—sat me down and forced me to watch Pimp My Ride. And the most terrifying thing happened. I liked it.
At some point, after a few episodes, the show transformed from being completely fake, insulting, and onerous to entertaining, fascinating, and compelling. I have little idea how or when it happened, or what substance was slipped into my drink during my washroom break. Whether you dig cars or not (me, I do not), the inherent fascination of watching exceptionally talented artisans at work, on any medium, takes over and fills you with a sense of wonder. And as silly as the guys from West Coast Customs are, they are definitely artisans. The sheer talent and skill and dedication these people put into their work is astonishing, and watching them at work—well, a sped up and edited together in epileptic MTV fashion version of their work—is mesmerizing. The transformation from rust box to road warrior borders on the unnatural, and even the tackiest cars become things of absolute craftsmanship and beauty.
I am not the only one to discover that Pimp My Ride is surprisingly addictive and fun to watch. The show is incredibly popular all across the planet, way more than you might ever realize. In fact, from what I understand, Pimp My Ride is currently the most popular MTV show in every single worldwide subsidiary that the channel airs, which totals almost a hundred countries. Except, ironically enough, in the United States, where the show loses the top crown to The Real World—go figure.
Outside of the magical allure of on-screen restoration, a major reason the show is so darn enjoyable is the cast of creative misfits doing all the automotive work themselves, who for obvious reasons enjoy a fair bit of camera time. The West Coast Customs crew is composed of extraordinarily fun-loving guys who play off one another exceptionally. Not only does their level of talent for automobile work border on the unearthly, they manage to weather the intrusive camera surprisingly well, only appearing as stilted and awkward as producers think audiences would find amusing. Every moment on-camera with them is entertaining, not only to see what amazing things they shove inside a 1958 Volkswagen minivan, but to simply enjoy their in-jokes and casual banter.
As a host, Xzibit is incredibly personable and enjoyable—a bit annoying at times, but well-balanced out by his joviality. He has a hearty laugh, a juvenile sense of humor, and a narcissistic streak which makes him a fantastic host for a tacky MTV show. He hogs the camera, makes fun of everyone, makes a few ghetto poses, and takes off to let the crew get to work on the car. It works perfectly, since he is on screen just long enough for us to enjoy his persona, but not long enough for him to get on our nerves.
There really isn't much more to the show. Each episode substitutes a "well-meaning but down on his/her luck" white boy or girl with a lousy car, who on cue breaks into hysterical screaming when the sheet is pulled off a newly "pimped-out ride." This is seriously formulaic stuff here, and if you have seen shows like Trading Spaces you will know exactly what to expect, since the formula for each episode is virtually identical, merely substituting cars for living rooms. If that kind of thing fascinates you, then chances are good that Pimp My Ride will enjoy the same level of success in your mind. Personally, I could never watch a home improvement reality show, but a show hosted by silly rappers and a jolly car crew installing video game consoles and plasma televisions into crappy cars seems to stir something inside me. Who knew?
For a television show, the presentation is within respectable limits, but I was not blown away by the transfer to video. Colors are vibrant to the point of being slightly doctored, black levels are washy, and the image suffers from a pixilated lack of focus from time to time. It is on par with documentary-quality, but I expected more in the way of detail and fidelity. Audio fares better; the simple Dolby Digital 2.0 track covers the basics adequately, with decent bass response and clear dialogue. The soundtrack is a kaleidoscopic blend of rap / punk / rap / punk / popular trendy song / repeat, all edited together in ten-second snippets throughout the episode. It could actually make a music critic nauseous to listen for extended periods of time. Luckily, the show is distracting enough that you barely notice the gaudy soundtrack.
The third DVD contains nothing but extras, and while the material might be questionable in terms of breadth and substance to justify an entire third disc, the material is sufficiently amusing to pass muster. The deleted scenes and blooper reels will keep you chuckling for hours; most involve Xzibit fudging his lines in Thespian fashion, the West Coast Custom crew's inability to remember their scripted dialogue, or the inherent lameness of the white kids picked for the show trying to say cool ghetto lines without sounding like total tools. In addition to the general reels, you can navigate by episode to find some behind-the-scenes flubbing. The best sequences are the extended reaction shots of the West Coast Customs crew examining the "cars" they have to work on. Some of their knee-jerk observations are pure hilarity. A few other extra features dot the disc, including an Xzibit music video (surprisingly enjoyable), a tour of Travis from Blink 182's incredibly sexy custom 1954 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, and a featurette entitled "What We Drive," featuring brief interviews with three members of the West Coast Customs crew.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though I admittedly found myself amused by the subject matter, the format of the show is still egregiously and fundamentally lame. The terrible wannabe thug lingo, the inane soundtrack, the corny editing, the rigorously formulaic episode structure, the catchphrases…all of it makes you want to swallow your remote control. And for all his charm and camera savvy, Xzibit's constant hammy spotlight-grabbing can get on the nerves. This is an MTV show, all right; admittedly one of the better ones, but still an MTV show, take it or leave it.
The second inescapable problem I have with Pimp My Ride (and by extension all "makeover-type" reality shows) is the inherent simulacrum of the rewards, the false sense of illusion put forth by the show in order to obscure the truthful nature of the restoration. I had a friend who managed to get on the Canadian version of Trading Spaces and had a whirlwind carpenter team come through her living room, transforming it into a lavishly painted pink-and-white affair. On camera, it looked quite splendid, but she found herself incredibly disappointed with the actual results once the camera crew packed up and left her to actually live in the space. Corners were cut in extreme ways, to say the least. Cabinet doors that looked functional on television turned out to be solid blocks without actual hinges, paint was slopped around carpets, nails stuck out, and so on. She ended up spending over a thousand dollars to have a professional carpenter come in and fix all the stuff that was messed up by the "restoration." It was hardly the fantasy makeover she envisioned it to be, and ended up costing her more money than if she had done the work herself.
As fantastic as these new cars look on television, one cannot help but wonder how wonderful they would be in real life. A paint job and a stereo system do not make up for the inherent crappiness of the engine on a 1988 Daihatsu minivan. When your $200 car breaks down on the side of the road, at least you will look good standing beside it, I guess. Plus, the way MTV hams up the "good kids down on their luck" angle is pretty misleading, as if the makeover illusion suggests that these new cars will solve all their problems, change their lives, reinvent their personalities, and so on. In actual practice, I cannot help but wonder. I mean, these poor kids are getting $20,000 worth of gear—they probably have to pay some serious taxes on their "winnings." Nothing is free these days.
Maybe I read too far into these things, but this is the stuff that I think about. The show does a marvelous job of crafting an illusion, but it doesn't take much to pull away the curtain and reveal the Wizard pulling the levers.
Considering the fact that, prior to this DVD review, I would have made vehement fun of any person watching this show until they broke down and cried; the fact that I actually walked away from this DVD set a genuine fan of the series is a major miracle. Pimp My Ride, despite its many flaws—like having a silly name, the lamest theme song of any television show in the history of commercial broadcasting, and the same fundamental fake and insincere falseness of all reality television—is a darn entertaining and surprisingly endearing show. Way more than I ever thought it could be.
The only genuine downside to the show? It makes you suffer serious car envy. I liked my car before I started watching this show. Now, I just feel shame.
Not guilty…but if anyone grabs my shirt, pulls it and declares my ride "pimped"? I will smash his face in with my elbow. Just try me.
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