Newest reality show really twists truth

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

You know reality TV has come of age when it produces a truly inspired satire. "The Joe Schmo Show" (8 p.m., Spike) sends up every cliche and character associated with the genre. And, like every reality show, "Schmo" has a killer twist: It isn't a reality show at all. But one contestant doesn't know that.

Matthew Kennedy Smith, a law-school dropout and part-time pizza delivery guy who lives with his parents in Pittsburgh, jumped at the chance to appear on the reality show "Lap of Luxury." As he later told his video diary camera, "I've got nothing better to do." But Matthew doesn't know that all of his fellow contestants and "Lap"'s smarmy host are actors whose sole job is to react to Matt's every move.

The cast includes every reality TV archetype. Matt bonds with Brian, the chubby buddy character, and lusts after Ashleigh, the snippy rich girl, and Gina, the strategist. Karl, the grizzled Vietnam veteran, seems a bit out of place, but he inspires Matt with his Spartan ways. Dr. Pat, the thrice-married marriage counselor, is the quirky gal of the group, and small-town girl Molly is the self-proclaimed "virgin." There's also Kip, "the gay guy," and Hutch, the rude dude prone to insulting conversation and some serious personal hygiene issues.

While Matt turns to the confessional camera and discusses his strategy and his impressions of the other players, the actors use the opportunity to tell the audience just how close they come to blowing the show's secret. On tonight's two-hour premiere, two performers completely forget key facets of the game, throwing Matt into confusion. We also get to see the troupe when they sneak off to a nearby trailer, where the producer and director coach them through their next scenes. It's fun to think that reality TV, a fad that threatens the livelihood of actors and scriptwriters, should inspire this extended exercise in dramatic improvisation.

Tonight's other highlights

Late night

Kings of Leon perform on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno welcomes Ellen DeGeneres, Jamie Kennedy and The Allman Brothers on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).