You know reality TV has degenerated beyond all aspects of tasteful society when the exotic dancer and the virgin with an attitude can fly below the camera radar. Sci Fi Channel’s newest series is an amalgam of all that is wrong with reality television, and the world itself for that matter, rolled into one grotesque and ridiculous hour.
“Mad Mad House,” the most contrived of reality gameshows — a dubious distinction to be sure — is from exec producers Arthur Smith and Kent Weed, previously known for what now seems like Mensa-inspired programs such as “Caught in the Act” and “When Stars Were Kids.”
Devoid of even train-wrecklike curiosity, “Mad Mad House” certainly puts all of the relentless hype over the demise of “Friends” into perspective. When actual entertaining shows, even those past their prime, are gone, is this what viewers are left with?
Ten everyday folk (if such a thing still exists), called guests, move into a house to live with five alternative lifestyle practitioners. If only this show were about gay marriages and vegetarianism.
The alts, as they are called here, include the self-proclaimed Wiccan with a broom, Fiona; Art, a modern primitive who proves body piercing has no boundaries; Ta’Shia, a voodoo priestess; Marilyn Manson look-alike Don, who fancies himself a vampire; and the relatively normal-by-comparison Avocado, a naturist.
The guests, including a laundry list of reality archetypes, undoubtedly savvy to the “twists” of reality TV, don’t seem too shocked when they are greeted by their odd assortment of hosts. In fact, the only shocker is that no one breaks out in fits of laughter at the nonsense. What is supposed to be a very dramatic moment feels extremely staged, as noted by jaded janitor Noel, who comments that the five alts are most likely well-paid actors.
Silly Noel should realize that reality TV is all about playing it on the cheap. Relatively inexpensive to produce and definitely cheap looking, even the show’s grand prize is a paltry $100,000. But, if “Mad Mad House” proves nothing else, it’s that even most folks are willing to part with self-respect just for the notoriety.
The alts pick people to share rooms with; the guests compete in rituals like blood baths and voodoo ceremonies and then are judged by their willingness to accept these alternate lifestyles. At the end of each episode — there are 10 — the alts and one guest with hard-won immunity can vote out one of the remaining guests.
The most the show has going for it, other than vigilant editing, is that the alts, Avocado the naturist in particular, take their jobs quite seriously. When Kelly the Republican virgin takes her loss in the bloodbath competition personally, Avocado finds himself playing psychotherapist to the insecure young woman.
Similarly, as the quintet discuss the various personalities of the guests, their insight and clarity into human nature is a little unnerving. Whatever statement “Mad Mad House” is purported to make, it definitely says something about today’s reality TV culture when the supposed freaks look normal in comparison with contestants.