Upping the ante on ridicule by creating an entire town of Joe and Josephine Schmos, “Invasion Iowa” doesn’t push quite hard enough to be truly memorable, but it probably goes too far to leave any of those duped feeling sanguine about the experience. Some pundits, in fact, might even see this silly exercise as another sign of Hollywood’s disdain for the heartland, though it’s really more a case of frat-boy humor run amok and a star so accustomed to spoofing his inflated image that he’d rent himself out for such shenanigans.
Exhausting most of its cleverness in the conceptual phase, this limited series features William Shatner and a fake film crew descending on the Iowa hamlet of Riverside, where “Star Trek” alter ego James T. Kirk was legendarily born a few centuries from now. The idea is that Shatner has come “home” to direct and star in a low-budget sci-fi feature, casting locals in supporting parts — the twist being that it’s all fodder for a huge practical joke on the unwitting participants.
Most of the foolishness hinges on lampooning Shatner’s version of himself, as well as the fact that ordinary folk will believe any sort of idiocy coming from showbiz types. So Shatner comes across as an egomaniac who greets the crowd waving his Emmy, travels with a “spiritual adviser” and employs a leading lady who clearly appears to have earned the job with something other than her acting chops.
Ultimately, though, as in “Joe Schmo” and its sequel, the key lies in testing how far the producers can push such eccentricities before the rubes begin to suspect it’s all a charade. The answer comes during the second hour, when a burly fellow muses out loud that some of the goings-on feel “very reality-showish,” causing Shatner to concede in one of those asides to the camera, “If they say … ‘You’re making fools of us,’ we’re dead.”
Beyond bad manners, the biggest problem facing “Invasion Iowa” and its ilk is that at a certain point the show becomes all about the “reveal” — that is, the moment when the hopefully still-unsuspecting marks learn they’ve been punk’d.
Sustaining interest between the setup and that moment, alas, often proves difficult, which seems especially true here, since the show really doesn’t go for the throat during the first two episodes.
As it stands, the funniest bits belong to “Gryffyn” (Desi Lydic), the spandex-clad ingenue who keeps being “accidentally sexual” (as she puts it) and has a penchant for shoplifting. On the downside, a gag in which a foul-mouthed “Sean Connery” (actually a bad impersonator) phones in to discuss his role in the movie would fall thuddingly flat even if “Saturday Night Live” hadn’t done it first.
Doubling as an exec producer, Shatner at least appears to be having a ball, down to a riff on his awful spoken-word rendition of “Rocket Man.” Still, there’s no getting around the fact that those perpetrating this stunt have abused the gullible locals’ naivete, all for the purpose of filling a few hours on Spike.
While it’s not clear how the cast and crew feel about that, their roles in this scenario bring to mind another short-lived Spike offering: “I Hate My Job.”