Billed as a TV experiment, “Todd TV” is a blatant ripoff of movies such as “Ed TV” and “The Truman Show,” in which TV cameras follow around an average Joe and basically make his life hell. Executive producers John de Mol and Tom Forman are banking on low overhead and the public’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for reality TV. But given how painful it is to sit through a single episode of “Todd TV,” cabler FX may be asking too much of viewers prodded to call, email or text-message their suggestions for the direction of the life of Todd Santos, a 30-year-old slacker living in an oceanfront apartment in Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Give the producers credit, though, for finding the quintessential reality TV star — commercial-ready looks, offbeat charm and not a lick of good sense; it’s proof the era of quasi-celebrity that began with Kato Kaelin lives on.
Todd moved from Massachusetts to California with dreams of musical fame but no apparent career path. Instead, he waits tables at a neighborhood restaurant, apparently never cleans his apartment and repels women the minute he opens his mouth with captivating opening lines like, “Nice boobs.”
Goateed host George Gray, along with a cadre of cameras, invades Todd’s life with helpful suggestions from the viewing public. Todd is forced to quit his job and become a paper boy in an effort to teach him discipline — or at the very least, get him out of bed before noon. A more cynical audience might vote for sterilization.
Producers come up with two predetermined plot twists per show. Each week he complies, Todd receives $5,000. The choices aren’t as horrible as he deserves, but Todd still pouts. Should Todd live with his mother or his therapist? Should he date Tina or Stacey? Should he go for a casual look or Hollywood glitz?
Would someone please just call Carson and the Fab Five and get the job done in one episode?
But that wouldn’t leave enough time for product placement — a big part of the show. T-Mobile is the preferred method of communication here, as viewers are encouraged to communicate their wishes for Todd. Supposedly this gives viewers a feeling of participation, but it’s just a gimmick for an otherwise standard reality show.
Not that the standards are that stringent. There’s the requisite hillbilly music a la “The Simple Life” whenever Todd is required to perform tasks that stretch his mental capabilities, such as separating electrical cords and washing cars. There are no confessionals or interviews, but that may be because everyone feels free to talk to the camera ad nauseam.
In fact, everybody here wants a piece of Todd’s 15 minutes of fame, including producers, cameramen, neighbors and even the therapist’s family. When Todd is tasked with writing and performing the show’s theme song (with significant help from eccentric music producer Don Was), the crew even sings backup. Adding to this cannibalistic feel are cameos by Nicole from “Survivor,” a friend of Todd’s; and his ex-girlfriend, Suzanne, a contestant on “The Bachelor.”
This self-proclaimed TV experiment doesn’t prove TV can influence Todd’s life; it proves just how much TV has invaded society. The notion that viewers will build a better Todd is just a ruse. Most likely, viewers will build yet another unemployed actor-waiter.