|Michael Ian Black hosts the competition series "Reality Bites Back," which premieres tonight.|
At this point, the networks and cable channels let fly more than 150 unscripted series a year. And while a few of them try to play it straight - the cautionary diaperings of "The Baby Borrowers," the tear-duct seizures on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" - most reality shows do like to tug on our pigtails. From the demented soap operatics of Tila Tequila and those lunatic "American Idol" auditions to the ironic glee of "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List," they openly dabble in humor and burlesque.
So "Reality Bites Back," a new reality TV spoof on Comedy Central, feels a bit redundant and unnecessary. The show, which premieres tonight at 10:30, is a parody of a genre that is already more or less self-parodying. It's like trying to mock William Shatner or George Hamilton - they're already way ahead of you. "Reality Bites Back," which is hosted by Michael Ian Black from "The State" and "Ed," tries to poke holes in a phenomenon that - let's face it - really doesn't hold much water anyway.
Each week, the 10 comedian-type people of "Reality Bites Back" will send up a different reality series, using titles such as "So You Think You Can Dive," "The Amazing Disgrace," "Almost American Gladiators," and "The Big Chubby." Based on a preview of tonight's takeoff on "Big Brother," called "Extreme Manipulation: Home Edition," the satire is as funny as the fake titles - that is, not very. The comics are tricked not only into attempting to seduce one of their parents or grandparents in a darkened room, but into spending days with them. Contests are held, Freudian taboos are teased, and one comic is finally eliminated.
It's all kooky nonsense - staged kooky nonsense - which isn't as much a comic exaggeration of "Big Brother" as it is a reenactment. Meanwhile, Black presides over the show like Julie Chen meets James Lipton. "In the business," he intones amid the incest-flirting prank, "we call that a twist." Then, holding up an ice-cream cone, he adds, "In the ice cream business, we call this a twist." Yeah, it's that funny.
The "Reality Bites Back" performers include Donnell Rawlings from "Chappelle's Show," Bert Kreischer from Spike's "Fresh Baked Video Games," and Mo Mandel, a standup who likes to riff on his hippie parents. You'll also get to see Theo Von, formerly Theo Vonkurnatowski, the dude from Louisiana who was on MTV's "Road Rules" and "America's Prom Queen." Theo appears to want to cross over from reality to the comedy fast lane, but, alas, I don't think he's chosen a very sturdy vehicle.