I always wanted to be on TV. Ever since I was the mere wisp of a boy TV was my friend and hero. I wanted it all. To host SNL, have my own talk show, game show, make out with Jennie Garth on 90210, ride shotgun with Bo and Luke on the Dukes of Hazard and eat the lobster tails on the Ron Popeil Showtime Rotisserie. Set and forget it. I achieved my goal in 2000 as I appeared as an audience member for a taping of pro wrestling for the Aboriginal People’s Television Network. If you look close during the epic struggle for the North American Championship between “Showtime” Robbie Royce vs “The King of Old School” Steve Corino, I’m in the background. I can be heard yelling “Ol’ school, daddy” and scurrying about in my raincoat and football jersey. As my life went on I thought I would be awesome as a Chunky Soup spokesdude finally answering the Fork vs Spoon debate. Spoon, obviously.
So I always marvel when regular folks get on TV. Obviously the beautiful and striking belong on TV. A girl I went to college with did a Taco Bell commercial and she is a much better person than me. Her broadcast passion for a Baja chicken fajita only cemented what I already knew. But regular people who are not attractive and clever have negotiated their way onto the television. Does this cheapen the medium? Probably, but it is no less commendable. As the great David Letterman said, getting to be on TV is like marrying Pamela Anderson. Sure, others have done it – but it is still a tremendous accomplishment.
One such regular schmo is Big Smo, star of the show Big Smo on A&E. I’m not quite sure when it happened but at one point A&E was at the highest of highbrow stations. Time Well Spent. With daily episodes of Biography, shows on historical content of the bible, Bill Curtis’ grizzly true crime shows and then, at night, often many-year-old episodes of Evening at the Improv. And then it got infected by the reality show bug. I believe it started with Dog the Bounty Hunter and now the network is engulfed with Billy the Exterminator and various shows about southern beauty pageants and duck murderers. But the oddest is Big Smo. He is America’s number 1 hip-hop country superstar. Never heard of him? Oooh, aren’t we posh, too highfalutin to enjoy Big Smo? You disgust me. In my formative high school years I was swept away in the rock-rap craze of the early 2000s where Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit ruled. A time where music videos mattered and you taped them, with a cassette, to watch them later. We put on our red baseball caps backwards like Fred Durst and dressed like off-duty garbage men like Kid Rock. Then we kicked ass, banged chicks, did blow off of strippers, won fights against rival high schools and got straight A’s (we did none of these things). Big Smo is, instead of rock-rap, the purveyor of country-rap, “Hillbilly hip-hop”. He is a bald, heavy-set, schlubby guy with a mic and a dream. The show revolves around him, his two precocious daughters from a previous relationship, the new girlfriend and his mom. That is part of the show, the other part is him going out on tour with his crew of hip-hop outlaws. After ten minutes of stumbling upon this program it will dawn on you as to the merits of how this could make a show. And it doesn’t, that is its charm. I’m not quite at the level of hate-watching Big Smo. It’s more bewilderment. But it’s on; so I feel obliged to watch it. I guess I’m the problem then. And this is this emotional dance of the paradox of me feeling better than the person who is on TV when I know that I am not better than them by rules of TV. Just the fact they are on makes them better and next thing you know the half-hour is done and I lay mentally exhausted and morally bankrupt.
Going off on a tangent – of course the daughters’ are smarter and wiser than him and he’s too wacky to be tamed until his ma puts her foot down and by the end, he’s a good dude and provides for his family. I do take umbrage with the oafish nature of the “TV Dad” as a general rule. It seems that everybody saw Homer Simpson and just went with that. They forgot about the quality of the quantity of bits and stories. Big Smo is not conducting a monorail anytime soon. That it just became a given that dads were boobs. Was Reginald VelJohnson’s portrayal of Carl Winslow the last positive representation of a male role-model? Raymond, Tim the Tool Man, and every dad on Disney shows are bumbling buffoons who are kept in check by their saviour wives. The best we have today is Ruxin from The League. Nick Kroll’s villain is too scheming and cunning to be a bad dad. He has to outwit others in raising his boy properly navigating him from his devoutly Catholic hot wife, and Jeff Goldblum (watch the show and that will makes sense). Big Smo is more like sitcom without the com. Reality show is too vague. It’s just a sit.
The keys to Big Smo and another program featuring a person who stumbled upon getting on TV is repetition. Big Smo is always on. I saw the pilot in three separate non-consecutive chunks over 4 days. The Liquidator starring Jeff Schwarz is another. It’s on OLN, constantly. There is daily hour chunk and a weekend 3-hour block of the adventures of Jeff’s direct liquidation store. It’s a blue collar Pawn Stars of sorts. Jeff will go to companies that are going out of business and get their product at a discount and then try to flip said merchandise in his own warehouse. It isn’t as baffling as Big Smo – but I like how it is, in essence, a look at the seamy underbelly of how to get high-quality mattresses at rock bottom prices. I do like watching people haggling and Jeff will haggle over everything. From a monkey head, the novelty display shark, to women’s jeans, a machine gun, guitars, Asian noodles and it goes on and on in this highlighting of the minutiae of life. A person begging for money is compelling, as is the person on the other end of the transaction. I watch not in some sort of psycho-TV-submission-delusion like with Big Smo, but by the small gnawing in my brain that The Liquidator is able to intimate. How much does a fleet of used go karts cost? He’s not going negotiate 75 cents each for these Columbian picture frames? Why would he buy an entire Californian Wild West ghost town? So you sit for five minutes and that turns into ten and next thing you know you’ve ploughed through a whole marathon.
So as my youth saw TV stars placed on a pedestal by their simple appearance, it appears now that just being on TV is not the only criteria for worship. The pedestal has been lowered and it now serves as incentive rather than a barrier. If they can do it, anybody can. I could contribute some stimulating content; or I could own a wacky store or have a wacky family. Ultimately, I am non-plussed about the easing of the difficulty of getting on TV. Instead of honouring them, the inverse is now present. Being on TV can be shameful. Simply getting on is no longer the goal to achieve respect. I still hold out for the sanctity of TV. Although, I can see a day in the not too distant future where the only thing better than being on TV is not being on TV.
Raphael Saray is a writer/one-time extreme sports announcer whose latest production, XHL, is premiering at the 2014 Winnipeg Fringe Festival.