The curse and boon of our industry is its ease of distribution. If you can produce a video, it’s up in as long as it takes for YouTube to process it.
The curse comes because with a more typical path of distribution there are people who will look at your show and consider if it really should be made. (Of course, that’s its own double-edged sword; great shows will be overlooked because an executive ate a ham sandwich instead of his usual egg salad that day.)
This is the problem I have with Starvival. From the storyline to the shooting style to the painfully obvious link baiting episode titles, this is a show of vanity and low self-esteem to the point of outright self-degradation.
The premise is like so: Danielle Barker—doing all of it off ‘cell phone and a half broken camcorder’—goes after her dreams of being a Hollywood star while resorting to the most insane odd-jobs she can find. One of these jobs is being tickled for $50, found on none other than Craigslist. Think a scarier, non-scripted version of Odd Jobs.
Barker claims that what occurs on the videos are real, and we of the YouTube post-lonelygirl15 generation are quick to assume fake. She wants us to believe it’s real, she insists on the show itself that everything happened as filmed, but I’m still not completely buying it.
That said, regardless of its authenticity, Danielle, I’d like to ask: What the heck are you doing?
I could literally only sit through the first episode, because what I watched was the complete transition from down-on-her-luck-girl to the Hollywood nightmare scenario of a young, pretty girl lowering herself to the dregs of society and… okay, I spent ten minutes looking for a different way to say this: She whored herself out in some of the most degrading fashions possible. And worse yet: She’s trying to make it funny and lighthearted. As if this is something for us to root for.
“[Starvival] appeals to parents who fear for their children’s safety while satisfying the widespread curiosity about the online world of web-scams and oddities,” wrote Barker about the series. It’s Exhibit A for parents to use to further lock their children up. And while I don’t ascribe to knee-jerk “protect the children” reactions – I would consider parents’ reactions to this perfectly rational.
The editing, while schizophrenic, is effective in getting us into the mind of the main subject—Danielle. It’s just that I’m not sure we want to go there.
In reviewing Kick-Ass, Roger Ebert gave the film zero stars, because he found the glorification of violence and the children committing said violence absolutely reprehensible. While I’ve got a decent sized ego on me, I’m not so arrogant to think that I’m above that man and should try and find something artistically viable for something that is so patently offensive.
What’s worse, that it could be real and we’re watching a young woman willingly put herself in physical danger and ask us to laugh along? Or that it’s completely scripted, and this is a show trying to take the fears for our children and spin it into something breezy and lighthearted, while using clearly provocative titles to blatantly titllate? I don’t know what upsets me more – the complete lack of standards for oneself, or (if it’s scripted), the blatant attempts at manipulating me?
What makes this sort of bottom-feeding different from the gleefully nihilistic It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is that Sunny has the full-on awareness that their characters are reprehensible. Starvival pays lip service to these deeds being less-than-ideal with a “don’t try at home” disclaimer, and brief pauses and starts that are little more than the equivalent of “this girl is so crazy, isn’t she?” My answer: Absolutely terrifying that the typical Hollywood story of “artist grasps for fame, finds debauchery” is played so cavalier.
Win, Fail or Trainwreck: This show Fails on so many fronts. It fails to understand, much less acknowledege, that doing these things at all are reprehensible – no matter if the show creator knows it herself. It fails to acknowledge that a father’s extremely rational worry for her daughter – whether real or scripted – isn’t fodder for cheap laughs. It fails at being a show worth watching.