Reality Bites: Freakshow

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Todd Ray was a rich 90s music producer (Cypress Hill, Helmet, White Zombie), and he gave it all up for freaks. Specifically, the Venice Beach Freakshow, which he founded several years ago around his vast collection of two-headed animals, vintage photos, and people who enjoy swallowing sharp objects and breathing fire.

Put that way, how could they *not* make a show about it?

So now AMC has another unscripted show to add to their roster that includes such illustrious fare as Small Town Security and Comic Book Men. I found nothing specifically bothersome about Freakshow, just the constant nagging feeling that AMC missed the boat by about eight years.

The first episode begins with the arrival of 7' 8" George Bell, who provides our vector to meet the bulk of the rest of the "family," both literal (son Phoenix - abilities undetermined, daughter Asia - sword swallower/contortionist, wife Danielle) and figurative: Bobby, who is apparently in the Guinness Book of World Records for, I dunno, worst shaving etiquette (his entire face is covered with hair, but there's nothing about him on the show's website, sue me); "Creature," billed as one of the most tattooed people on Earth, and others.

Todd spend the entire episode trying to get George to join the Freakshow, but the not-so-gentle giant (he's a law enforcement officer in Virginia when he's not "freaking") is a little put off by the term, until he mingles with the other VBF folks and realizes it's all about acceptance, maaaan. I'm glad this show was only 30 minutes long.

In his many attempts to assuage George's concerns, Todd introduces him (and us, remember) to the rest of the crew: 3' 5" "Amazing" Ali Chapman, Brianna "The Indestructible Woman" Belladonna, and "Morgue. One of the benefits of freakdom is getting to choose your own cool name, I guess. Kind of like roller derby. Or in video games. WELCOME THRILLHO.

I have no intention of watching this show ever again, so somebody please let me know if giant George and diminutive Ali get together. Because you know that's what AMC desperately wants.

What Todd wants, on the other hand, is a real bearded lady (and not that woman in San Francisco who just had "peach fuzz"). He's going all out for the birthday of his two-headed bearded dragon (named "Pancho & Lefty," so props for that). He finds Texas native Jessa, who certainly went through early menopause as a teenager and certainly qualifies in the facial hair department. She and George bond over their respective difficult upbringings, mostly shutting up the likes of other cast members who just stick a lot of shit in their noses.

One of the sword/fire eating people ("Murrugun the Mystic") claims he was inspired by Tod Browning's Freaks, inadvertently highlighting the difference between many of these current performers and Browning's film: mainly, that half of the Venice Beach crew are there voluntarily. Morgue, Murrugun, Creature, Brianna, and Asia are all otherwise normal human beings who've chosen to commit dangerous acts for the entertainment of themselves and others. For all their talk of acceptance and the like, I have a hard time believing Jessa and George wouldn't have preferred a more typical life.

Then again, they're here "voluntarily." The same could rarely be said of the circus and sideshow attractions of bygone years. So as the party rolls on, we can at least be sure Morgue is drilling his nose of his own free will.

All that said, Freakshow is pretty mild stuff by jaded 21st century standards. The Jim Rose Circus first made headlines over 20 years ago at Lollapalooza, after all. If we can Google or YouTube any medical anomaly, if we already have a half dozen tattoo reality shows, and if every other week finds Teresa Giudice flipping a table or a Kardashian attempting to mimic human emotion, who are the real freaks here?

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