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'Schmo' bears the brunt of the joke

September 02, 2003|Mark Sachs | Times Staff Writer

After dropping out of law school, moving back in with his parents in Pittsburgh and securing a job delivering pizzas, Matt Kennedy Gould was in a rut. Sure, all those pickup basketball games filled many idle hours, but he needed something new in his life, a fresh goal that was both fun and challenging.

So when he got word that Hollywood producers were in town auditioning prospects for a new reality series, young Gould figured he had found his ticket out of the doldrums, and he gave it a shot.

But what the producers actually were looking for was a patsy, someone who, unbeknownst to him, would be surrounded by eight actors taking part in a faux reality show created to have some devilish fun with the unsuspecting mark. And once the producers got a load of sweetly gullible Matt, they knew they had found their man.

The result of all the subterfuge is one of the guiltiest pleasures this season, as unsuspecting Matt is thrust into the title role of "The Joe Schmo Show." The Spike TV series premieres tonight at 9 with back-to-back hourlong episodes, but the airing of future shows will continue only as long as Matt remains in the dark. And as becomes evident within the first few minutes of tonight's show, keeping the ruse going is tougher than even the producers may have figured.

The show Matt thinks he's part of is called "Lap of Luxury," and with $100,000 in prize money supposedly at stake, Matt and the eight other "contestants" are sequestered in a hilltop mansion while they duke it out in a series of competitions. But the insidious genius of the series lies in how the producers have inverted the usual reality-TV conventions (instead of featuring regular folks who want to be actors, we have actors pretending to be "civilians") and amped them up to ridiculous heights that almost dare Matt to wise up.

One challenge has the players model each other's underwear, then guess the real owners. An endurance test has them see how long they can keep a designated body part in contact with a semi-nude porn star. All the contests have been rigged for Matt to win, but sometimes even these plans are thwarted.

Host Ralph Garman presides over the sublime silliness with the perfect touch of over-the-top solemnity; here he is introducing a voting-off ceremony: "One of you is about to say goodbye to high society and return to your sad existence -- working for the man."

And when an eliminated contestant is sent off with: "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, [player's name], you are dead to us," even the actors have a tough time keeping from laughing.

Fortunately, you won't have to.


`The Joe Schmo Show'

Where: Spike TV

When: Tonight at 9

Executive producers: Scott Stone, David Stanley

Starring: Matt Kennedy Gould

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