Although reality shows engage in various levels of artifice, it’s hard to remember one that feels more staged or bogus than “The Will,” a contest for the ranch of a family patriarch with all the animation and charisma of Disneyland’s “Mr. Lincoln.” The show’s most salient attribute involves several prominent breasts almost surely not created by nature, some of which belong to a “family friend” and a “trusted employee.” Apparently, producer Mike Fleiss couldn’t scare up enough surgically altered blood relatives to participate, and beyond the camp factor, CBS should face the same problem ratings-wise.
Wealthy Bill Long, the show’s 73-year-old prop, sets the inheritance hi-jinx in motion by allowing very extended members of his family circle in Arizona to compete for his sprawling Kansas ranch. The series labors to create drama through the usual interviews, focusing on the septuagenarian’s avaricious 45-year-old wife, aptly named Penny, who despises Bill’s son from his third marriage.
“It’s gonna get ugly,” one of the 10 contestants announces early on, with less conviction than a scene from “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
Unfortunately, the entire concept plays so tiredly that the best one can say about the 90-minute premiere (before settling in as an hour the second week) is that two contestants are ousted, meaning the jockeying for Bill’s estate will mercifully wrap up a little sooner.
Even the immunity challenges exhibit a level of excitement normally reserved for waiting in line at Home Depot, the first being that everyone must keep a hand on an over-sized safe (this is known as symbolism) for hours on end. After a few minutes of this, I began to wonder what was on C-SPAN.
The other stunt, which is more physically demanding, results in an older character becoming alarmingly fatigued — something that also happened during Fleiss’ recent TBS production “The Real Gilligan’s Island.” So while it’s nice to know that players are vetted for felony convictions, putting them on a treadmill would be a nice idea too, if only to ensure no one dies in the name of garnering a 6 share.
Fleiss describes the show in CBS’ press materials as “reality TV meets ‘Dynasty,’ ” but to borrow an old Texas zinger: I know “Dynasty,” and son, this ain’t no “Dynasty.” While some might buy into the concept’s camp value, the low-impact time period also suggests that CBS isn’t among them.
Then again, “The Will” itself is something of a throwback, ordered before the reality bubble burst, when it seemed as if any elimination game would corral an audience. With ratings waning, things suddenly don’t look quite so bright for Crystal, the family friend, and her dreams as an “aspiring model/actress.”
As it stands, she’d be better off clicking her heels and wishing she was in Kansas, or even home in Arizona. Anywhere, in fact, that puts these heirheadsout to pasture.