Thursday, June 26, 2008
Chuck Barris & The Big Question
If you were a boy growing up in the 70s, there’s an excellent chance you were a huge Chuck Barris fan. Sure he created seminal game shows like The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, but all that really mattered to the pre-pubescent set was his masters of ceremony stint on the brazenly twisted Gong Show. TV at it’s finest. Ordinary folks acting like fools in front of a live studio audience with a panel of celebrity judges ready to gong them at a moment’s notice. Check out this clip of an early incarnation of Oingo Boingo tearing it up on The Gong Show stage. You won’t be disappointed. For much of the 80s and 90s Barris receded from of the public eye, but in 2002 he published Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind. Confessions was ostensibly his autobiography in which he claimed to have been a CIA agent in the 60s and 70s, working dangerous missions abroad, dancing with death, all the while maintaining his straight job as a Los Angeles-based television producer. Utterly baffling. Ultimately, Confessions is a brilliant book. It’s superbly written and spellbinding. A read that leaves you with question marks popping up all around your head. As implausible as it all seems, the writing is so stellar and captivating, that the story seems believable.
I recently picked up Barris’ latest foray into fiction, The Big Question (2007). Set in the near future, The Big Question focuses on a washed up television producer from the 60s who attempts to get back into the game by producing a new reality show, wherein contestants vie for a million dollar cash prize. The twist in the game show is that if the finalist fails to answer the show’s final question, they’ll be executed on national television. Bummer! It’s an absolutely stellar premise offering up many brilliant jabs at realty t.v.
Unfortunately the writing is nowhere near as sharp as in Confessions. The Big Question is littered with the storylines of the would-be contestants who come across as big, broad caricatures. Kind of like Harry Crews-lite. There’s so much time spent developing these unrelated characters that the game, which is the book’s driving force, is unveiled in surprisingly slow fashion. The book is almost half way done, before readers get a full glimpse into the show’s inner-workings. The show itself is relegated to the last 30 pages or so. But what a last 30 pages it is! As slow as things develop, once the game is on, the book becomes quite riveting. Which contestants will duke it out for the million dollars? Will there be a public execution? How’s it all going to end?
As inconsistent of a read as the Big Question is, it’s an easy read and there’s lots of high points to keep you moving to the end.