Judge Bill Gibron's own family looks positively sane when compared to the peeps of MTV's Bam Margera.
"Wut dey gonedoo, you gund take it to a junkyar?"
There is something very satisfying about destruction. From the time we are tentatively toilet-trained to the moment we recognize the joy outside of our own private parts (which may actually never occur, mind you), people get a kick out of devastation. They long to see objects, from buildings to boyfriends, blow up in red-hot eye-candy fireballs, and relish the reality of objects of unequal weight and density plowing into each other with supersonic abandon. Nothing amplifies our endorphins more than witnessing wanton recklessness, and as long as there is minimal bloodletting and a sense of fractured fun about it, we'll buy into any irresponsible anarchy—from a demolition derby to a ballet recital. Let's face it, we're a nation of rubberneckers, eager to gawk at any accident, smoldering homestead, or decaying corpse as long as it is not our own.
But it wasn't until recently, when reality TV took over the airwaves, that programmers saw the profit in pointless pandemonium. Suddenly, pop culture was betting on ballistics to make their shows more demographically attractive. Tapping into the entire PlayStation nation with a combination of insanity and irresponsibility, these half-hearted hidden camera crapshoots promised delightful disarray, but could only manage to deliver dullness. The glass teat goof needed a miscreant Messiah, a gratuitous guiding light to shine down on all the worthless wannabes who think they understand the happiness in the hazardous. Enter Bam Margera: skateboarder, director, entertainment entrepreneur. With an iron will, an irreverent attitude, and an ingeniously inventive mind, Margera managed the unthinkable. He found a formula that mixed high times with havoc, perfecting what others could only fumble through. The resulting riot, Viva La Bam, is now available in a complete first season DVD box set from Paramount. And it proves this mayhem maxim brilliantly.
Facts of the Case
Brandon "Bam" Margera lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania with his typical suburban soccer mother, April, and his morbidly obese father, Phil. Down the street lives Phil's equally elephantine brother, Vincent, whom the family lovingly refers to as Don Vito. Bam hangs with his crew, a gaggle of goofballs with names like Raab Himself, Rake Yorn, Brandon DiCamillo, and Ryan Dunn. These friends enjoy rock and roll, skateboarding, and pulling pranks on each other. Along with buddies Tim Glomb (an ersatz Mr. Fix-It / Make-It) and crazy Compton Ass Terry (straight from the hood and into the skate park), they form a conglomeration of deconstructionists bent on breaking all the rules and loving every minute of it.
There are eight episodes of the show, representing the entire first season. The set claims that these installments of the series are "uncensored" and for the most part, they are. Cursing is left intact (with just a little pointless bleeping, for some strange reason), but any blurring originally done for sexual, controversial, commercial, or grotesque content is still present here. If you're interested in what's going on behind those pixelated portions, it will still be a mystery once you've watched the DVDs. Individually, each episode is divided up into a main storyline, accented with various skits and individual stunts. Here is what you'll see:
• "Episode 1: Phil's Hell Day / Bam's Skate Park"
• "Episode 2: Don't Feed Phil"
• "Episode 3: Family Reunion"
• "Episode 4: Viva Las Vegas"
• "Episode 5: Paint Phil Blue and Other Stories"
• "Episode 6: Very Merry Margera Christmas"
• "Episode 7: April's Revenge"
• "Episode 8: Scavenger Hunt"
When Jackass arrived to stain the airwaves with its wicked, weird notion of entertainment, there were a couple of crazed sequences that really stood out. One had host Johnny Knoxville standing in a Port-a-Potty as the outdoor commode was flipped upside down. The resulting feces shower was quite memorable (as was Knoxville's car wash bath afterwards). Knoxville also crafted a clever spoof on unsuspecting parents when he left a baby doll in a carrier on top of his car and just drove off. The reactions from manic adults in the vicinity were priceless…and pointed. But perhaps the greatest lasting impression was left by Bam Margera, one of the Jackass jesters, who loved to torture his family—in particular, his overweight father Phil. One sequence in particular was sadistically sublime. Staring straight into the camera and making the clear, concise statement, "Today, I'm gonna kick Phil's ass," Bam spent the majority of the show segment pounding on his Pops. He did it every chance he got: while on the phone; while working; while sleeping. The father, surprisingly, took it with good-natured aplomb, proving that he was either a very good sport or a really stupid glutton for punishment (or a little of both). Along with Phil's wife / Bam's mother April—a bossy, benevolent victim of her son's savagery and her husband's nonchalance—the Margeras became the poster peeps for the nuclear family in full atomic meltdown. So when Jackass went off the air and spin-offs were proposed, it seemed only natural to give Bam and the clan a shot. The results, as they say, were magic.
All mindless violence and skaterat rendezvous aside, Viva La Bam is an amazing show. It seems to capture the kick-ass concept of a guilt-free adolescence without the mind-numbing boundaries of the parent/child dichotomy. For the most part, Bam's mother and father seem to tolerate his obliteration-oriented idea of fun, and occasionally break out of their "should know better" shell to join right in. This is beyond button pushing and a far cry from any counterculture shock. Bam is directly taxing the idea of socially acceptable behavior, using his family and friends as a generational guide.
Indeed, the most interesting aspect of Viva La Bam is how Margera's two "families" react to him. On the one hand is the crew, a Central Casting fantasy flock of miscreants, buttheads, and arseholes. Combined together in a kind of confidence gang of suburban hoodlums, they represent the disaffected youth of a nation (albeit a decidedly rich and famous bunch of brats). On the homefront, there is the living dead dimension of Bam's near-inert relations. Phil (the father) is a buttery ball of suet stumbling around on two legs, body filled with the mass-marketed muck that Madison Avenue says is good eats. Equally porcine is Phil's flabby fool of a brother, Don Vito. Seemingly illiterate (or just unintelligible) with a staggering capacity for self-abuse and anger, this mumbling mountain of man lard is a human gag just waiting for a Bam-manned punchline. April (or "Ape" as she is nicknamed) rounds out this trio of targets as the mother who means well, but can't quite get as worked up over her son's shenanigans as she does the trappings of postmillennial domesticity. Her goal is not personal safety so much as the protection of private property and status.
And standing directly in the center of the merry maelstrom is Bam himself. It has to be said right now—Margera is some manner of genius. Call him the idiot savant of idle destruction or the male monster of the Id, but this guy sure knows what sells. He desperately tries for the "I'm just a normal guy having a ball" routine, but the vast majority of his maneuvers feel like the jaundiced just rewards of a life in the limelight. Since the CKY series (a stunt-and-skate-oriented showcase which was more or less the precursor to Knoxville's daredevil shtick) turned its cult phenomenon into international superstardom, there's been a battle between the down-to-earth and the living-large mentalities in Margera. Throughout Viva La Bam, both get to play like mysterious, maniacal pixies. Bam needs something? Out pops the cell phone and in walks one of his "peeps." Bam wants to buy 10 cars, just for the hell of it? The credit card gets a super-scan and the Margera crew is outfitted for automotive mayhem. Sure, the show benefits from such high-style production value (what's more satisfying—seeing Bam destroy a $40K car, or a $400 car?). As some manner of social statement, a devil-may-care, "throw caution—and anything caustic—to the wind" fusion of merriment and menace, Bam and his buffoonery are hard to beat. Always funny, never totally nasty, and always seemingly spiked with just that rarest hint of self-deprecating decency, Viva La Bam is like every adolescent nocturnal emission directly channeled into a Tony Hawk video game. And lucky us, we're wired to play along.
The best episodes of Viva La Bam avoid all the juvenilia joking (though every time Bam farts on someone, it's good for a giggle) and actually introduce us to taboo, twisted subjects. In "Episode 4: Viva Las Vegas," Raab Himself gets a gold-digging, probably illegal Russian mail-order bride, and we witness the hours-old couple getting hitched in all its surreal glory (whether or not it really happened, and wasn't just some weird staged sampling of punk performance art, is another review altogether). Phil is grossly overweight and Bam feigns concern, so much so that he manages the almost unthinkable (in "Episode 2: Don't Feed Phil"). He rallies his entire community around the concept, and it's hilarious to watch the befuddled fat man wander around West Chester begging for food. "Episode 7: April's Revenge" is a nice twist on the series' ideals, even if the ending is a little bit of a letdown (Bam's retaliation is rather routine).
"Scavenger Hunt"—"Episode 8" here—is probably the perfect illustration of the power of Viva La Bam. Using a time-honored premise (that sleepover / birthday party perennial—the treasure trek) and a completely insane and uninhibited group of participants, this citywide search for such strange items as road kill and a pizza box autographed by a bum is weighted against even weirder stunts (bowling with cheese in your shoes, getting a piggyback ride from a cop) to become an amazing experiment in motorized mayhem. There is a great deal of outrageousness in Viva La Bam, almost all of it excused by the participants and the people they involve (the hypnotic eye of the temptation of being on television must help a great deal in the release retrieval department). And unlike cinematic slapstick, the real life version hurts like a bitch. Still, Viva La Bam is a brave show, one in which we develop a kinship with the crackpots tossing turds at each other.
Sure, the show sometimes fails, but never fatally. The family reunion in "Episode 3" should have been more memorable than it was. Bam's grandmother, Mum Mum, seems certifiable, a real good old-fashioned divan-in-the-front-room kook whom we don't get to learn nearly enough about (the family finds her sitting in the grass once her drunk ex-con son shows up). The "Skate Park" show sees Bam's efforts for a competition go up in smoke as rain renders his elaborate ramps unusable. But instead of playing up that angle with some last-minute improv, we get sulking and a little incidental indoor skating.
While Ape is always good for a goofy reaction, Phil seems oblivious to most of what's going on around him. His lack of a counterpoint reply can sometimes make Bam's labors seem pointless. But maybe the biggest dramatic mistake in the show is the lack of a follow-up. When Bam paints the entire kitchen blue, it would be nice to see how the "problem" was corrected. The same goes for the ice rink conversion or April's pimped-out PT Cruiser. Bam waives civil code violation notices at us, and there are occasional conversations about insurance and liability, but for the most part, Viva La Bam exists in its own La-La land of acceptable assumption of risk. Like the classic Warner Bros. cartoons, always accused of never showing the aftermath of animated violence, Bam and his clan could be accused of making show-off deeds of personal exploitation appear cool. A little cautionary example would be perfect to offset the show's potent precariousness.
But it's the breakout stars who have the most enduring impact from this show. Once his gargantuan, goitered girth is revealed, Don Vito is hard to forget. Typifying everything that is wrong with being nearly 500+ pounds, he is a man of massive appetites and even bigger bumbling. His dialogue is a combination of grunts, groans, and growls, and he misapplies the language to suit his stupid needs. Capable of ranting over anything and easily wolfing down pounds of processed foods, this is a man whose heart is just a nanosecond away from bursting like an overripe zit. He can barely walk, looks hygienically challenged, and always finds a way to mutter the most inappropriate sentiment. And yet Vito is, by far, the most exciting, amazing thing about Viva La Bam. Like finding a caveman living in your cellar, or seeing an actual circus freak in real life, Bam's behemoth of an uncle is an enigmatic, engaging skid mark of a presence throughout the series. We are drawn to him for very unnatural reasons. It could be that he's a fat-filled time bomb just waiting to explode every time he's on screen, or maybe we're drawn to his human car wreck of a persona (remember our need to rubberneck). Whatever the case may be, Vito is an odd duck dynamo in this series.
Equally interesting are the members of Bam's crew. From Ryan Dunn's constant references to his own gayness (really?) to Rake Yorn's Dungeon Master-by-way-of-Renaissance Faire sense of flair, this posse of pals is just a wealth of wildness waiting to be unleashed (and it is, in future seasons of the show). Together with the terrific chemistry between the Margeras proper and the mandatory bedlam, you have all the makings of a very addictive show. We may come for the chaos, but we hang around to see how—and what—the family and friends are doing.
For all its misguided ideas about individual well-being and human interaction, Viva La Bam is one of the best reality-style shows on television. It could all be fake and the conceit would still work because of the "characters" created: i.e. the Margeras and the gang of guys. And if it's 100% real without any staged or inserted elements, then it just goes to show that people will do—and view—anything if the price is right. We can live vicariously through Bam Margera and his "take no prisoners" approach to all facets of life, and we never have to pay a single cent in legal or moral penalties for it. Like a one-man rebellion against the growing ennui in a world warped by the malaise of the media, the guys of CKY (which stands for Camp Kill Yourself, by the way) are out to grow some funk and some fun of their own. They spit at pop culture and curse the day when the planet went passive. For them, life is just one big banquet, and while most poor sons of bitches aren't quite starving to death (sorry, Mame), they definitely suffer from amusement anorexia. Thankfully, Viva La Bam is like one big, ballsy buffet of corn, backbone and ass. It's the midway mixed with the sideshow into one big carnival of comic confusion. Call it a guilty pleasure. Label it a lowbrow lark. Talk about it in terms of tweens—just don't dismiss Margera and his mindset. It's rare when someone can so completely tap into our desire for destruction. It's even more elusive to make it entertaining and intriguing. But Viva La Bam is just that. It's the boob tube equivalent of a skyscraper implosion. And nothing satisfies better than a little kaboom-based disorder. This is one great f*cking show.
On the technical side, Viva La Bam looks and sounds exceptionally good. All issues with the "uncut" aspect of the DVD aside (more on this later), the presentation by MTV and Paramount is very good. The 1.33:1 full screen image is sharp, clear, and free of defects. Since this is a handheld, POV production without a great deal of professional lighting and polished production value, it's amazing the show looks as good as it does. "Questionable" elements are still blurred here, and there is still an occasional bleep as part of the soundtrack (and it's not names or privacy concerns being masked by the aural wipeout). Yet you will hear substantial swearing and see deleted material on this DVD set. Viva La Bam is presented in a dynamic Dolby Digital Stereo mix that really keeps the chaos crisp and understandable. Certainly, you'll hear some distortion and auditory hiccups along the way (you can't record 1000 people screaming at a concert without breaking the camcorder decibel meter), but for the most part, the episodes offered on this box set are nearly flawless in their transfer attributes.
All the shows from the first season are offered on Disc One, with an entire second disc utilized to house a wealth of additional material (quite unusual for the Barons of Barebones Releasing—Paramount Home Video). The only bonus on the first disc is something called an "Uncommon-tary," which turns out to be a running narrative by the cast regarding all the aspects of the show. The Margeras (Bam, Phil, and April), Ryan Dunn, Brandon DeCamillo, Rake Yorn, Raab Himself, and Tim Glomb all sit down for a freestyle verbal volley of anecdotes, jokes, and insights. This insane bitchfest is one of the best alternative narrative tracks ever created, with everyone pitching in to riff and rag on the others. Since he is not part of the commentary crew, Vito becomes the center of most stories. We hear about his legendary "choke hold" (he once downed an Elvis fan with it) and how disgusting his house is (complete with seven TVs in his bedroom). Toward the end of the "Don't Feed Phil" episode, Don Vito shows the guys his horribly rotten, jam-filled big toenail. It is perhaps the most disgusting, grotesque and repulsive thing ever shown on television. When the cast revisits the moment, the revulsion is obvious. They scream, laugh, and choke, wondering aloud how this foul fetid facet became the most popular part of the entire series. For all its hectic humor, this is still a wonderful bonus feature.
Disc Two provides the rest of the extras, and it's a treasure trove of added wonders. We get over an hour of deleted footage from all eight episodes of Season One, with some prime prank parcels contained therein. We witness "the director's cut" of the "Skate Park" show (read: more shredding, less family fracas), an extended version of the hilarious "Hip-Nosis" routine from the "Vegas" show, and some extra Turbonegro (a band featured in the "Don't Feed Phil" episode) rock showboating. But the best bit of bonus footage comes from the "Scavenger Hunt" installment. We get several more sequences of stunts, silliness, and successes as our searchers score points and solve problems in their never-ending quest for a place in the hunter hierarchy. (We are even treated to the actual list of activities / artifacts required during the competition in a nice text screen presentation.) Also included here are a few salient statements from the cast (contained in something cleverly called "Q&A**holes"), a photo gallery, music videos from CKY, Clutch, Turbonegro, and DiCamillo Sisters, and some interactive menu fun. While it would have been nice to have two seasons in one set (since eight episodes seems pretty paltry in the installment department), this is still a fantastic DVD package from the usually stingy Paramount.
Perhaps it's good that we never really outgrow our love of things fatal. Either as catharsis from a stress-filled life, or a chance to experience circumstances you'd never dare try yourself, a little mindless violence and aimless demolition has some amazing curative powers. After the laughter has faded and the heartbeat has regulated, though, ethics and conscience kick in, and we are reminded of why such extreme elements aren't part of everyday life. In the '70s we celebrated the daredevil, giving a guy like Evel Knievel applause just for jumping his motorcycle over a dozen dead cows. In the '80s, we channeled our desire for self-challenge into the never-ending pursuit of money, bad hairstyles, and really big shoulder pads. The '90s saw the birth of the whole "X" experience, with sports going extreme and outrageous games gaining mainstream acceptance. So the whole CKY/Jackass phenomenon was simply the natural outgrowth of a percolating generation looking for a way to blow off a little nuclear winter worry.
While it represents both a more calm and a more acute example of the desire to sleep with danger, Viva La Bam also has a personality-driven dimension that keeps the series from wallowing too wantonly in its own excesses. Although it definitely feeds our visions of violence and tries to make antisocial behavior seem boring, it also supplies a little something to smile—and think—about as well. Viva La Bam is a very entertaining experience in mindless pandemonium. Can a monster truck rally say the same?
All code violations are excused, all personal lawsuits are dismissed, and any illegal activity is remanded to the State Attorney's office for consideration. In the opinion of this Court, however, Bam and his boys are found not guilty and are free to go. Viva La Bam is also acquitted of all charges and commended by the bench for its desire for destruction.
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Scales of Justice
• "Uncommon-tary" Track on All Eight Episodes, Featuring Cast Members Bam, April and Phil Margera, Ryan Dunn, Raab Himself, Brandon DiCamillo, Rake Yorn, and Tim Glomb
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