2003 September 16

The limits of fake

I've been watching "Joe Schmo" on Spike (was: TNN), and find myself strangely addicted. It's a gimmick "reality" show that's trying to more-or-less do the "Truman Show" plan: there's this staged, absurd fake reality show where all the contestants are actors except for one, who thinks it's real. And so everything is scripted around this colossal practical joke, trying to string along Matt Gould (the Schmo) so he keeps believing it's all real.

The interesting thing about it isn't the plot, or the characters. For me, anyway, the interesting part is that the entire efforts of a Hollywood production company are devoted to creating a fake reality around Matt, and you can see them sweating bullets that their house of cards could crash down at any time. The actors have to improvise almost everything, of course, because Matt is blundering around in their scenes, and he's not playing by the script. They have to stay in character around the clock, day after day, and sometimes they get the hunted look in their eyes, like Matt is the Gestapo agent who's friendly-like questioning their cover stories. "Wisconsin! I thought you said you grew up in Florida!"

They could probably sweat less if they weren't trying to manipulate Matt into going along with anything in particular, but they are, and so they have to. It's interesting to see the limits of a classic Twilight Zone kind of premise poked at for real.

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