Armed & Lame-Ass
In the latest reality TV nightmare, five sort-of celebs patrol the streets with real guns and badges.
By Billy Frolick
Reality, as Lily Tomlin said a good three decades ago, is for people who can’t handle drugs.
The intervening years have proven that we are, as freedom-lovin’ Americans, more than capable of handling drugs. In fact, let’s be honest. Network television—with its chronic inability to create “reality” series that don’t—well, seriously suck—has really just become the stuff between the drug commercials—which, I must admit, are really good. I especially like the one where the people in windbreakers stand on separate little islands, looking blissfully into the clear blue sky, ostensibly waiting for their purple pills to arrive. Now, if downing whatever medication they’re hawking will transform me into a serene, Members Only-wearing archipelago dweller, then get out your prescription pad, Dr. Feelgood.
The irony is that today, we need all the drugs we can get in order to escape from the noxious ubiquity of reality TV, which has become the broadcasting industry’s version of rap music. A quarter-century ago a prediction that Grandmaster Flash would earn induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would have probably gotten you a 1000-to-1 ticket at the Sands Hotel casino sportsbook. Cut to 2007—GF and the Furious Five have been voted into the Hall, while the Sands itself, alas, is but a distant memory.
So it is with the sons of “Survivor,” the reality juggernaut that seemed like a passing fad at the time of its 2000 premiere. In addition to lasting seven-seasons-and-counting, “Survivor” paved the way for what seems to be hundreds of variations on the “unscripted” theme.
It all kind of makes sense. When I was a kid, my parents took me into Manhattan every year for the circus at Madison Square Garden. One of my most vivid memories is a Times Square electronics store that had a video camera pointing out its front window, with a monitor underneath. “See Yourself on Television!” the sign said, no doubt promoting the wonders of Living Color, as the then-coveted process was known.
Two decades later, “The Jerry Springer Show” proved—and continues to prove—that despite consumer-priced, user-friendly video technology, there is a never-ending supply of individuals who will do anything to be televised.
The retarded—er, mentally challenged… sorry, special offspring of all this mishigas is the bargain basement genre known as the “Celebrity Reality Show.” In this cheap-ass format, evidently being called a “celebrity” (and paid a few grand) is flattering enough to entice the has-beens and Fifteen Minuters to make asses of themselves on a weekly basis.
The latest tweak on celebrity reality—where, as with scripted programming, each new show is just slightly different than some other one—is “Armed and Famous.” Obeying the “clever title” mandate, CBS has fearlessly ignored the “Armed and” curse established by “Armed and Dangerous” (unfunny Dan Aykroyd movie) and Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous” (unfunny Sandra Bullock sequel).
"A&F" plops five—okay, I’ll play along and call them celebrities—into Muncie, Indiana, population 70,000, where they attend Police Academy and are sworn in as bona fide officers.
Erik Estrada, one-time star of the marginal ‘70s series "C.H.I.P.S.," in which he played a motorcycle cop, evidently lives out a childhood dream thanks to "A&F." According to the program’s website, Estrada was “…raised in a tough neighborhood in New York City’s Spanish Harlem”—as opposed to what, the one in Spain?—and “decided early on to pursue a career as a New York City police officer. His plans quickly changed when he landed the lead role in his high school play and switched gears to acting.”
Now, that’s commitment. Let’s hope the Muncie Community Playhouse isn’t casting a middle-aged production of “West Side Story” in the next 13 weeks, or Officer Estrada may jump leagues all over again.
In the episode this reviewer was fortunate enough to see, Estrada is dispatched to an apartment, where a woman has called 911 with an abuse complaint. Though the actual procedural lingo seems to escape him like an Uzi-toting sprinter, Estrada offers life advice to the victim, with almost as much conviction as he musters in those Jenny-O turkey commercials with the creepy freeze-frame at the end.
LaToya Jackson, an Indiana native, is another cop on the Muncie celeb-beat. Evidently the producers don’t find LaToya’s life, which includes buying a replica of the nose her most famous brother bought, interesting enough. Hence, they had to weave a subplot around her biggest fear—are you sitting down?—cats. Dripping with desire to overcome this phobia, Officer LaToya lapses into paranoid fantasy when imagining what might lie in wait through any strange portal. “What if there were snakes or tigers in there?” she frets. You’d think that weekends at the Neverland Ranch would have inured her to all creatures great and small, but no.
Hence, LaToya’s "A&F" therapy session with—I kid you not—a cat whisperer. If you’re wondering whether prime-time television is doomed, consider this line from a grim-but-determined Officer Jackson: “The only way to face the fear is to get over it. Touch the cat. Touch the cat.”
Spoiler alert: Officer LaToya pushes through the pain! “My family will never believe that I overcame my fear of cats,” she gushes. Now, somehow I think they’ll be able to handle the news. Once one of your brood marries Elvis’ kid, “allegedly” has sex with a pre-pubescent cancer patient, and becomes best buds with a chimp, conquering kitty-phobia just doesn’t sound all that tough to swallow.
LaToya is later summoned to a bar that has “allegedly” been robbed by a homeless woman, who claims she’s only crying because she has two babies and doesn’t want to go to jail. Unfortunately, it turns out that being driven down to headquarters by Tito Jackson’s sister doesn’t have a terribly soothing effect.
Later, in her “civvies” —a yellow feather boa and cowboy hat—LaToya insists that she can help women make the right choices in their lives.
The other cop-lebrities include Jason “Wee Man” Acuna, a dwarf, er, little person—oh, fuck it, he’s a dwarf!—known for his distinguished work in the “Jackass” films; Trish Stratus, a World Wrestling Entertainment “star”; and Jack Osbourne, fresh out of alcoholic rehab. “You haven’t disappointed me yet,” Jack’s real-life police officer partner tells him, which, after an 18-year sentence as Ozzy Osbourne’s son, must feel like a compliment.
Okay, I’ve told you enough. I’m not going to ruin your experience of watching the first—and, God willing—last season of “Armed and Famous” when it’s (undoubtedly) released on DVD. The only thing missing will be those fantastic drug commercials.
Give me “Reno 911” any day. Now that’s reality.
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Contributing editor Billy Frolick’s last piece was A Sly Feat.
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