Attempting to bring Jerry Springer’s brand of mayhem back to daytime, Springer security enforcer Steve Wilkos teams with his former boss and producer Richard Dominick on this tawdry daytime strip, which casts the host as a kind of bald Batman, seeking vigilante justice in dealing with his pathetic guests. Wilkos spends most of each hour barking into the face of easily labeled straw men — deadbeat dads, child molesters, drug users — occasionally even daring them to take a swing at him as howling idiots cheer him on. If the Romans were still around, they’d love this crap.
Those who pay attention to such things may have noticed a disquieting racial component in the first few episodes, with Wilkos screaming at African-American men for being stalkers and pot-smoking deadbeats. Yet he’s also found time during premiere week for “pedophile advocate” Jack McClellan, a redneck who allegedly abused his stepdaughter, and a woman teased in the promos as “Devil Mom.”
If Wilkos and company really cared, one suspects they’d bypass the televised morality plays, spare tearful teenagers from watching their father humiliated and go straight to the cops for restraining orders, but that’s not nearly as cathartic as getting in people’s grills and yelling at them. This is all captured in super-closeup, until you can practically feel the wayward spittle (or maybe that’s just me).
Imposing and seemingly impassioned, the ex-cop host lacks Springer’s sense of bemused detachment and instead goes the avenging angel route, as the contestants (er, guests) dutifully oblige this impulse by spouting hoot-worthy nonsense. “You gonna follow us back home?” the alleged stalker says in the premiere, all but inviting Steve to open a can of whupass.
NBC has unleashed several high-profile misfires into syndication of the kinder-gentler variety (think Jane Pauley and Megan Mullally), so Wilkos clearly represents a bid for more down-to-Earth, blue-collar glory. Even if the show works, however, it’s hard to imagine anybody making much money off this program given the collection of bottom-feeding advertisers showcased thus far — a problem that plagued Springer’s show throughout its popular run.
So far, anyway, Wilkos does his best to manifest a burning desire to help redeemable guests while dismantling those miscreants labeled blights on society. And you know what they say about TV and sincerity: If you can fake that, the rest comes easy.