Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Every Show is Jerry

If you've ever seen the Sylvester Stallone/Wesley Snipes action movie "Demolition Man," you'll probably remember that in the future, every restaurant is Taco Bell. Apparently there was some sort of franchise war and Taco Bell won out. Thus, in a thinly veiled product placement move, the movie depicts a world where every eatery, from the most humble to the priciest gourmet hotspot, is called Taco Bell.

I'm afraid that something similar is happening in real life. Somehow every television show is becoming Jerry Springer (or Maury or take your pick of any other "I don't know who my baby's daddy is and besides I used to be a man and before that I was an alien and I'm in a polygamous semi-gay marriage to my own brother and sister" daytime sleaze show).

I'm not a big fan of mainstream television, other than (inexplicably) "The Office." I'm more about animated shows, like Fox's Sunday night cartoons, "South Park," "Futurama," and the new "Beavis and Butthead." TV is more of a guilty pleasure for me than an integral part of my life, sort of like mental corn chips.

My biggest guilty pleasure has always been the court shows, starting out with "The Peoples Court" and Judge Wapner back in the 1980s. Now, of course, my options have expanded into a crazed conglomeration of Judge Judy, Judge Mathis, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Alex, and the like. But alas, over the past few years, I've noticed a distinct Jerry-ization of my beloved court shows. Once upon a time they were all about cases of car crashes, store rip-offs, broken business contracts and the like...things you might really see in a small claims court.

Today, you're more likely to see "I caught my baby momma in bed with my best friend, so now I'm suing her for some money I have her that was a gift but now I decided it was a loan" or "I caught my boyfriend boffing my sister so he's suing me for pouring bleach all over his clothes, but the bastard deserved it." Worse yet, the court shows resemble Jerry et. al. to the point of screaming, fist-shaking arguments between the participants. I can't wait to see which show takes the Emmy-grabbing leap of having one side attack the other with a chair before the bailiff steps in with a taser.

Okay, so it's bad enough with the court shows. The drama llama content has driven me away from Judge Mathis almost completely, and Judges Joe, Marilyn, and Judy are teetering on the slippery slope (although Judy's still the most "I don't take no shit...shut up and stick to the case" of the bunch). But now Jerry-ism has invaded my one other bastion of television enjoyment: "Hoarders."

Having grown up with a hoarder, although in a home not nearly as bad as those portrayed on TV, and being a counselor, "Hoaders" and some of the other A&E and Discovery reality shows like "My Strange Addiction" fascinate me. Once upon a time "Hoarders" followed a simple, predictable, but enjoyable timeline. You meet the hoarder, plus some family and friends. You get a little of the background story. Professionals descend on the hoarder and house. The hoarder may or may not cooperate. The house either ends up cleaned or it stays a hellacious mess. An epilogue flashes on the screen. The End. Simple, easy-to-eat-and-digest junk food for the brain.

Of course, there were notable horrors like the woman who pooped in diapers since her toilet didn't work, then simply tossed them in a pile inside the house or the people in multiple episodes with dead cats and kittens buried among their hoards ("Hmmm, I haven't seen Fluffy lately. On an unrelated note, I wonder why my household stench is getting even worse.") or the family who said they never cleaned their coffee makers and that they simply got a new one when the old ones got maggots (how the hell do you get maggots in a coffee maker?!). That was plenty of drama for me.

Now "Hoarders" has hopped on the Jerry bandwagon. Every episode features some sort of talk show-esque surprise, like a long-lost estranged family member appearing out of the blue or the hoarder collapsing in the filth and being hauled away in an ambulance. The old poop and maggot shows are nothing anymore as the producers search for ever more horrifying homes. Poop bags in one room are nothing now that homes have been featured with human feces and urine in literally every room. Every week it seems that house has even more animals corpses than the week before or a greater variety of bugs and vermin.

I enjoy sensationalism as much as the next person, but for God's sake, stick to the topic at hand. Give me hoarders, not dysfunctional family fighting or animal abuse. I can watch other shows to get plenty of that, like Jerry and his ilk and "Animal Cops." Go a little more slowly rather than trying to top the last show every week. First, it eventually desensitizes the audience to the horror. Second, eventually you run out of ways to top yourself unless you feature a roofless house with trash and human waste stacked 10 feet above the roof line and entire zoo of endangered animals crushed to death in its basement.

I'm still watching "Hoarders," but pretty soon it's probably going to join the list of other Season Passes deleted from the Tivo. Maybe I'll just give in and start watching Jerry, Maury, and the rest of the clones since every other TV show mimics them anyway. Might as well just go to the source.

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