Who's worried about 'Joe'? We, we are
October 15, 2003
BY PHIL ROSENTHAL TELEVISION CRITIC
If we are to believe Fox's promos -- a dangerous proposition unto itself -- the gimmick of this season's "Joe Millionaire" will be to have an American cowboy lie to a bunch of foreigners.
About oil money.
Like we haven't seen that before.
This is all our ongoing search for Fox's weapons of mass distraction has yielded? This is the smoking gun that will hold us spellbound for the next few months?
Foreign women with foreign names such as Giada, Jerusha, Petra, Alessia, Anique, Lina, Olinda and Yassmin, all played for fools by an $11,000-per-year rodeo hunk mainly because they do not watch American TV and thus do not know how this wicked game is played.
Hard to believe this is the best Fox can do to follow up last season's wonderfully subversive postmodern gem of wholly mean-spirited reality TV with the debut of "The Next Joe Millionaire: An International Affair" set for 7 p.m. Monday on WFLD-Channel 32.
It was one thing to bring in poor, vacant-eyed mouth-breather Evan Marriott to victimize a bunch of wannabe models clawing one another to win his affections, win a share of his pretend fortune and score some national TV time. The appeal there was easy to discern. Those women were depicted right from the start as deserving to be duped, and that was made clear from the first set of well-produced promos.
These ladies may be just as cutthroat and greedy in their pursuit of David Smith as their catty predecessors were in the chase for Marriott points, but Fox has not made that case yet. All it has done is show them to be blissfully unaware that Fox likes to play little games on people stupid enough to want to be on its shows.
At this stage a few days before the January debut of the original "Joe Millionaire," Fox's ads had folks eager to see just how the network would hoodwink these gold-digging harpies.
This time around, the "Joe" promos engender only a collective "been there, slurped that" yawn and the uneasy feeling that this "International Affair" has international incident written all over it.
It of course would be a huge mistake to underestimate Mike Darnell, Fox's Evil Genius in Charge of Reality Programming, the guy who keeps dreaming up these nightmares. But unless there is some other gimmick still to be trotted out, this could play like a xenophobic rerun, an accented accident waiting to happen.
While the series ending and "reunion" postmortem were colossal letdowns, the only justified complaint during the original "Joe" run was that Fox -- desperate to bogart its Nielsen high as long as possible -- promised viewers twists and resolutions toward the end that it had no intention of ever fulfilling.
This one looks from the start to be about as much fun as cheating tourists out of their travelers checks through three-card monte or some other con. There just has to be more to this sham than meets the ay-yi-yi-yi-yi.
The problem is that other series, spawned by the success of the original "Joe," have done what they can to bend, fold and mutilate the "Joe Millionaire" formula before it could tweak itself.
NBC's "For Love or Money," for example, dangled a cash prize as reward for messing with a would-be romantic partner. Spike TV's "The Joe Schmo Show" has one contestant who's preyed upon by a bunch of actors. Still another variation was Bravo's "Boy Meets Boy," in which a gay man tried to find a lover, unaware some of the would-be boyfriends were really straight guys in it for the money.
Judging by the shirtless pose Cowboy Smith strikes in one of Fox's publicity photos, the 6-foot, 190-pound, 24-year-old rodeo bareback rider who pretends to be an $80 million oil heir for our amusement and the deception of 14 European beauties looks like he might have had a shot on "Boy Meets Boy."
Like Marriott before him, he'll have the services of butler Paul Hogan, who was far more charismatic than his first TV master, if not his second. It's a safe bet Smith will be more convincing astride a horse than Marriott was.
Whether Fox and the producers of "Millionaire" (the same high-minded men behind the hit-turned-has-been "Temptation Island") have managed to stock their contestant pool with another foot-fetish film star or someone with some other skanky past remains to be seen, naturally.
But a lot is riding on this for Fox, which plans to run "Joe" on both Mondays and Tuesdays and will need it to shore up its post-baseball schedule until the next edition of "American Idol" is ready to launch next year.
The idea that a network controlled by an Australian-born magnate is banking so heavily on the idea that Americans want to see people from other parts of the world made to look like morons is more amusing than the show's actual conceit.
This is why they hate us in some of those countries, you know.
And if it succeeds, we may hate ourselves.