In the modern era, one thing is certain: people will do whatever they can for attention. For the last decade-plus, our civilization has grown increasingly desperate for any semblance of celebrity. Whether it’s wading into the Amazonian jungle with only your wits and a roll of toilet paper or baring all in a private Instagram shoot, the populace crave to be seen as “special”. Entertainment has followed suit, crafting a profitable market of “reality” television shows which follow these vacuous fame-seekers on any absurd idea networks can choke up. So in The Show, when reality host Adam Rogers (Josh Duhamel) becomes a national sensation after tragedy erupts on his Bachelor-esque series, it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one the chain of events that ensue.
After the brutality of this episode, network executive Ilana Katz (Famke Janssen) formulates a TV series so bonkers it just might work. Audiences have become obsessed with death and pain, so Katz surmises that they would love nothing more than witness actual human beings commit suicide live in a new TV series, “This Is Your Death.” Feeling this could be a great meshing of concept and host, she begs Rogers to sign on as the master of ceremonies, leading the public-at-large through each contestant’s punishing history, as well as fundraising for their families before arriving at the main event.
The ideology of such a premise is mind numbingly topical. As a culture, can you not imagine a time in the very near future where we crave or demand blood for entertainment of this level? For those shaking their heads, how certain are you? Because I’m not. There was once a time, not too long ago, when gladiators mercilessly slaughtered each other for sport. Isn’t that what MMA fighters do now? Do you truly believe the cynical nature of our modern desires are so far removed from a conceit as revolting as watching another person take their own life, vividly brought to your home in 4K? You’re far more optimistic than I.
In all honesty, The Show resides in the love it or loathe it section of your local satire library. There are numerous times throughout this occasionally preachy screenplay from Noah Pink and Kenny Yakkel that ring manipulative, even seeming to finger point directly at the audience, screaming for us all to just “turn the channel”. And director Giancarlo Esposito – pulling double duty as Mason, a potential contestant in dire straits – fixates his POV on this sentiment that we, as a culture, are to blame.
How you react to The Show will vary greatly on your own perception of the realities at play in the narrative. For me, I’m stunned we haven’t already arrived at death’s door, offering a blood sacrifice for a few minutes of extra content. This script may be a bit on-the-nose and predictable, but so is our society. We live in a world where no one can go far enough, stunts are never dangerous enough, and lives are rarely trivial enough. Mankind wants their pound of flesh, so long as the camera is facing the proper direction.
Adam Rogers is a celebrity forced to face demons of his own making, and Duhamel ditches his own machismo for a chance to stretch his dramatic rhythm, more than proving his mettle. Rogers signs on to “This Is Your Death” to utilize meaning in his brazen attempt to force superficiality into the background. As the series gains greater ground, demanding increasingly tragic ends, Rogers learns he might not be as enlightened as he once believed. Battling the disputes of his producer, Sylvia (Caitlyn FitzGerald), and his sister, Karina (Sarah Wayne Callies, giving a gut-wrenching performance), Rogers proves to be every ounce the showman his audience demands. But, is that a compliment?
The Show is not breaking new ground, nor will it bulldoze the landscape of change, shepherding in a fresh era of hopeful entertainment. What Esposito and his crew do accomplish, is leave their audience with eyes wide open to the saddened state of modern amusement. The film offers a version of The Running Man for contemporary times, with Richard Dawson’s brutish ways replaced with the much more empathetic mannerisms of Josh Duhamel.
No matter if it was emitted from behind a pulpit or a camera, the point is the message was received and The Show delivers. It also left me with a single lingering question, still permeating my mind as of this writing: are we not entertained?
Formerly titled This Is Your Death, The Show was originally reviewed for the SXSW Film Festival
Starring Josh Duhamel, Famke Janssen, Sarah Wayne Callies, Giancarlo Esposito
Screenplay by Noah Pink and Kenny Yakkel
Directed by Giancarlo Esposito