Aren’t “Reality” Shows Fake Enough Already?

This past weekend, I went to the movies, which is actually becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence these days. During the annoying “Pre-Show Entertainment” reel of commercials was an ad for what appeared to be a new Reality show called ‘My Generation’ that will premiere on ABC this fall. It’s about a group of former high school friends who were filmed for a documentary a decade ago, and have now met up again to see where their lives have gone. Sounds boring already, right? Every stereotype is accounted for: the jock, the preppy, the nerd, the popular girl, etc. But wait a minute, isn’t that “former star athlete turned Iraq War vet” the actor who plays Eggs on ‘True Blood’? What the hell?

Sure enough, that’s Mehcad Brooks playing “Rolly Marks.” The promo came clean a moment later that ‘My Generation’ isn’t a Reality show at all. It’s a fully scripted drama cast entirely with professional actors. It’s just been shot in the style of a Reality show. The ad boasted of this being a “bold new experiment in television programming” or somesuch nonsense.

First off, the premise of following a group of school kids through the later years of their lives has already been tackled in a compelling fashion by the very real ‘Up’ documentary series. In 1964, director Paul Almond made the documentary ‘Seven Up!’ about a group of young prep school children for British TV. Michael Apted (who was a researcher on the original) checked in with the same kids later on for ‘7 Plus Seven’, and has continued to revisit them every seven years through the most recent ’49 Up’ in 2005. The stories are all real, and refreshingly free of cliché.

Based on the promo, ‘My Generation’ appears to trade almost exclusively on cliché. Every character follows exactly the arc you expect them to. The popular kids are now losers, the geeks are successful, etc. We’ve seen these stories before in a thousand other shows. Other than the shooting style, I really don’t see anything new or innovative here.

But that isn’t even what bothers me about it. I’m annoyed by the continual breakdown of the barriers between so-called “Reality” programming and regular scripted drama. I think we all know by now that most Reality shows are as fake as can be. All of the personal turmoil and conflict on ‘The Hills’ and its various spin-offs are 100% scripted by a team of writers. Although Heidi, Spencer, and all those other jackasses use their real names and pretend to be themselves on camera, they are in fact actors paid to perform roles – the role of “Spencer Pratt,” the role of “Heidi Montag,” and so forth. They’re really bad actors, yes, but actors all the same.

The only things that set ‘My Generation’ apart are the use of actual professional actors (at least one of which is recognizable from previous work), and the fact that the series is up-front about being fictional. I think Reality TV is fake enough already. We don’t need new shows pretending to be Reality shows now. I hope this crashes and burns.

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