TV NOTES: Sara Rimensnyder has outed me: I watched the final episode of Joe Millionaire, and I enjoyed it, too. Or, at least, I enjoyed the self-deconstructing first hour -- the second half was much duller, and eventually dissolved into tedious talk about miracles and fairy tales. As those of you who read my last Reasoncolumn will recognize, this means I watched America's favorite "reality" show back to back with Michael Jackson Unmasked. Some highbrow I turned out to be, eh? (I mean, I thought it was a Tarkovsky movie, but...)
The fact is, I think reality shows are the best thing to happen to network television since animation came back to prime time. Whatever else you might say about them, they're almost always more enjoyable than the sitcoms and dramas they're competing against. (Do any Joe Millionaire-bashers really think the show is more "toxic" than Friends or Providence?) The genre depends on constant novelty, a welcome contrast to scripted shows that depend on the constant reiteration of formulas. Of course there are reality formulas too, but it's fun to watch one species mutate into another so rapidly -- much more rapidly than TV's fiction genres do. (Joe Millionaire obviously began because Fox was trying to think of a way to imitate The Bachelor when somebody suddenly thunk, "Hey! Remember how the rich guy in Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? turned out to be a fraud? I bet we can turn that bug into a feature!")
The best thing about the shows: You don't actually have to watch them. The simple news that a program like This Surreal Life exists is enjoyable enough; actually viewing more than one episode is going an extra mile. Our time is spared, and the network suits are forced to devise yet more novelty for our amusement.
As some strikers once said, "Give us bread -- and circuses, too." Or something like that.