Reality TV, what if ?

Anyone with a passing interest for the genre knows by know how Reality TV (like documentary film) is all about storytelling, be it at the expense of facts and 'reality' (unlike good documentary film).

So why do we still buy in Reality TV, knowing it is, in no way, 'real' ?
Call me biased (I am), but I'd wager it is somehow tied to expectations management.

Reality TV sets us in a hawk/voyeur mindset, were we expect to see 'real people' confronted with situations they aren't entirely prepared for, without the lifeline of a script, or the pact with the director she will try to make the best of their performance.

Ofc, this is a broad generalization, Reality TV is not so much a genre as it is a technique, or a platform, and not all shows focus on the same story, nor tell their stories the exact same way, yet beyond the pure voyeur shows exploiting the assumed candor of the consenting stalkees (which are pretty much constant in their mechanics and attraction), players' performances in recent shows generally stand apart from the typical lamb-to-the-slaughter of yore.

We all have stopped being naive about the medium a long time ago, both the viewers and the protagonists of reality TV.
The we-know-that-you-know-that-we-know convention may be why, ultimately, we can still identify, empathize with the people on display: both they and us are trying to bring out some depth and relief from what we all see through for a shadow play.

This dynamic may be more obvious in "People" shows (a la "Big Brother") than in game/adventure shows (such as "Survivor"), where the weight of character drama on the storyline is mitigated by action-centric plot devices, but even gamey shows such as Survivor would make for a pretty poor show of Iron-Man-Next-Door, without the backstory and character contextualization.

Why I am rambling on that now ? Well, because of a TV Show I've been watching, of course.
It's called "The Comeback", ran for only one season of 13 installments in 2005, and revolves around a has-been TV actress who agrees to be stalked by a Reality TV crew as the condition to get a part in a fledgling sitcom.

There are just as many good reasons to watch this show as there are to explain why it didn't make it past season one: it's unsettling, lacks pace and rythm, and is actually painful to watch (at times) for being eerily verisimilar — arguably more than most audiences are asking for.

And there's a catch: it's not Reality TV, it's fiction, docudrama-flavored.

The Reality show in "The Comeback" isn't real, the main protagonist (Valerie Cherish, of non-real "I'm it!" fame) is portrayed by an actress (Lisa Kudrow, of undisputable "Friends" fame), followed around by a pretend Reality TV crew, led by Jane (Laura Silverman).
Valerie's misery is exposed yet staged, as she's filmed acting a supporting part in a (nonexistent) network sitcom called "Room and Bored", directed by Jimmy Burrows (as himself).

Shown to us (directed by James Burrows, how clever) is what we're told to be the raw, unedited footage shot by a single camera, assumed to be that of the quite-not-entirely-fake-then-maybe Reality TV show.

Yeah, like it wasn't enough of a mess already. Eyeballs melt under matriochka-induced overload.

It's really hard to believe we're talking about one-take, no-edit footage, despite the aforementioned aching pace of the show... since we know what we're witnessing is an act, shown to us by professional actors and showbiz people, presumably following a script.

There's a strong disconnect happening here, not the least because of the irreprochable acting — man, these people pretending not to act really look like they're not acting... — yet also because our trained couch potato brain isn't sure what it's meant to look at/for.

The hurdles of grainy footage, mumbled lines, dragged-out developments and semi-boring memes we are willing to endure, or even embrace for the sake of watching something 'real', but they unsurprisingly turn out to be more than most viewers can take when watching a fiction.
Unless you stamp a large 'modern art' sticker on it, this turkey won't fly better than a videogame designed by the Windows Vista Experience Team.

Our perverse curiosity can get no satisfaction here, as we know from the onset we're watching a scripted performance, but neither can we indulge in a cozy ride of crafty entertainment, for half of the skill here goes to make "The Comeback" everything but cookie-cutter entertaining.

In a nutshell, "The Comeback" feels too close to reality to be entertaining or funny, and is not real enough for us to hope for any moment of truth, except maybe flaws in the fabric and cracks at the seams of the showmanship.

"The Comeback" feels very much like a labored jaywalk about the immediate surroundings of the Uncanny Valley.
That it doesn't quite ever makes it there is titillating, irritating, and definitely food for thought.
...enough that I'll ramble about it some more in an upcoming "Monica vs Phoebe" entry.


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