AMC is pairing its new unscripted series “Freakshow” and “Immortalized” with “Comic Book Men,” which is appropriate, since the newcomers are almost comically bad. While the first, insisting the Venice Beach Freakshow operated by Todd Ray is really a tribute to being different, advances an unconvincing feel-good message; the latter is essentially a taxidermy version of “Top Chef,” so overblown it could only work as parody. The network is seeking to balance its prestigious scripted fare with these silly cheaper offerings, but the results are so off-brand that even TLC has license to ridicule them.
Ray and his family preside over the Venice Beach showcase, and he spends the half-hour premiere recruiting new traditional carnival attractions — a 7’8″ giant, a bearded lady — to join his menagerie. Yet the owner also maintains “freak” “isn’t a bad word at all,” which might come as news to those who aren’t compensated for being gawked at.
The main problem, as constructed, is what “Freakshow” does for an encore. OK, we’ve met and seen some of the acts. Ray and his brood — either extended or related by blood — simply aren’t interesting enough to merit more than a one-off, even with the “Broadway Danny Rose” aspect of his struggles to keep this peculiar labor of love afloat.
Still, “Freakshow” falls several evolutionary rungs above “Immortalized,” a competition show that pits a different challenger against one of four established (at least, that’s what we’re told, anyway) taxidermists each week. In addition to two experts, the judges include comic Brian Posehn, but nothing he says is as funny as the dramatic music or limp buildup to see who wins.
Contestants are given a theme, then must design a piece around it. In the premiere, that includes a lot of dead bugs, and one very unfortunate cat, put to use by a “rogue taxidermist,” whose creations redesign departed creatures as opposed to just dutifully animating them.
It’s obvious AMC wants to tap into the freak-show, modern-carnie elements TLC has successfully exploited, but this pair is too inane to be anything more than laughable. Still, AMC is heavily promoting them within its mega-hit “The Walking Dead,” which should give the Thursday block a fair shot of being sampled by the most zombie-like subset of its young-male demo.
Granted, AMC doesn’t have to attract huge numbers to make such fare pay off, so the strategy makes sense conceptually. That said, based on the sheer inanity of these shows, there has to be a better way to skin a cat.