In the world of Hollywood where one flavor of the month theme can hatch many other series with the same concept (see CSI, home makeovers, etc.), the newest theme to hit the airwaves is food-oriented shows. Starting with "The Restaurant", a couple of years ago, eating has become a topic that is now being explored not just on the Food Network.
The best new show of the summer is "Starved", which follows 4 New Yorkers, who know each other from the overeaters self-help group they all attend. The "self-help" therapy group is like something out of the movie "Fight Club", but with more attitude. When an individual shares one of their failures in controlling their appetite, the group leader eviscerates them like they are being roasted by the Friar's Club.
Self-hatred and self-absorption are both core elements of anyone with a substance problem, be it binge drinking, drugging, or eating. The writer, director, producer, and star of "Starved" is Eric Schaeffer, who just might top Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), as the most repugnant lead character in a comedy show.
Schaeffer's character, Joe, begins the show by digging around the dumpster for a brownie he had thrown out, because he needed the chocolate rush to make him feel better about himself, after being rejected by a potential internet dating prospect because he was too old. Later on in the pilot episode, Joe (Schaeffer) questions if he made the right decision in asking a woman out that he met on the subway, because he couldn't tell if she was too fat to be his type. (In Joe's world, 5'9"-120lbs is good, 5'9"- 140 is too fat)
Joe also has a foot fetish, which he "solves" by bringing a new pair of red shoes to their first date and insisting on her putting them on. Towards the end of the episode, another one of Joe's idiosyncrasies arises, while he's getting a hummer from his new girl. I won't give away what this issue is, but the scene is shot from the view of Joe looking down, as you would happen to do when getting oral treats. Amazing what basic cable (FX network) will allow. What a great racket Newscorp has, as they have the FX Network to provide the morale depravity that Fox News hosts can rant against.
So I'm sure many of you, after reading this review would ask, "And what is funny about these situations?" Well, all I can to do in answering this is to state if you like dark comedy, "Starved" is for you. All the discussion in regards to the "death of the sitcom" has been overdone. Sure the traditional laugh track sitcom doesn't work anymore, as I'm guessing that "Everybody Loves Raymond" will be the last one with mass appeal, but the sitcom still thrives, if it doesn't seem formulaic. Both "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Arrested Development" prove this and the pilot episode of "Starved" shows potential to join these shows as quality comedies.
One could argue, with shows like "Nip and Tuck", "The Shield", Rescue Me", and now "Starved" that the FX Network is close to eclipsing HBO for the being the network with the best original programming. With the end of "Six Feet Under" and possibly "The Sopranos", HBO's might be looking up to FX soon.
Another show dealing with food addiction is VH1's "Celebrity Fit Club". While possessing none of the artistic elements that "Starved" brings to the table, this particular season of "Celebrity Fit Club" is like a Cinnabon: No nutritional value, but highly addictive and strangely satisfying.
Starring former big league actor and now citizen of Neptune, Gary Busey, CFC is a sociological experiment gone right in my twisted brain. Combine D-grade celebrities, with a reality show concept that embarrasses them on a weekly basis and I can't turn away. What is amazing is that while Busey and former SNL cast member, Victoria Jackson are completely certifiable, the most authentic nutcase is Willie Aames.
Aames flips out during one episode and threatens to shoot one of the personal trainers, if he doesn't leave. Nowhere is the lovable Tommy Bradford (Eight is Enough) or the goofy Buddy Lembeck (Charles in Charge) seen during "Celebrity Fit Club", as former Tiger Beat Willie, now covered with nasty-inked tattoos, sports a crazy look in his eyes that even scares Gary Busey.
I've never been impressed with Aames' acting chops (yes, not even in "Zapped"), but the psychotic nature he demonstrates on this reality show says to me that if they ever do another remake of "Cape Fear", Willie Aames would make Robert DeNiro or Robert Mitchum seem as menacing as Hugh Grant, in comparison.
***It should be noted that the author of this piece has a vendetta against Willie Aames for having the opportunity to get naked with Phoebe Cates in the "Blue Lagoon" ripoff, "Paradise."
During the first episode, when the "celebrities" are meeting each other for the first time, someone asks CFC member, Phil Margera (Jackass) what his claim to fame is? Margera answers that "My son beats the crap out of me." Is there any better example of how little it takes to gain celebrity in our society?
Finally, the best part for me about "Celebrity Fit Club" is watching former Warrant lead singer, Jami Lane. Lane is nearly unrecognizable, as the late 80's hair metal "Cherry Pie" looks are gone, replaced with a fried out zombie, who is a shell of his former self. Sure, some would find it sad to watch, but I take pleasure in the fall of a guy (Lane) who made millions and probably banged about a million hot chicks, despite having no discernible talent. Sure it's sad to get your jollies watching the deterioration of a person on television, but hey, that's what makes most of these type shows worth watching. Thank you, VH1.
(Since both of these shows air multiple times during the week, consult your local listings.)