The current lineup of programming on truTV doesn’t make much sense for a network that was recently known as Court TV. truTV’s roster now boasts sketch comedy, a gimmicky quiz program, a talking-head advice comedy, and a reality performance competition — a very long way from a channel that once mostly aired OJ Simpson-related programming. This rebranding aims to make the network more accessible and to appeal to a broader audience by putting a greater focus on comedy. Its mission is stated in the new tagline that must have taken dozens of executives and countless meetings to come up with: Way More Fun! This week, truTV rolls out four new series to coincide with its brand evolution. Here’s the rundown on all of them, both the good and the bad.
Do we really need another quiz show on television? We have so many already that range in quality, but few stick out (Jeopardy! is the one exception, although surely that’s in its own category by now), and Hair Jacked is another forgettable one. Hosted by Jon Gabrus, Hair Jacked tricks unsuspecting people into being on a quiz show while they are just trying to get their hair done. Salon employees ask pop culture questions to customers and secretly score them. Later, after the reveal that they’re currently on a game show, the contestants go through several more rounds, all while continuing to get their hair styled. The big twist? If a contestant takes a risk and loses, they end up with a hilariously shitty haircut!
Bottom line: Hair Jacked isn’t good. There is a certain contingent that will like it — I’m thinking bored grandmothers if they happen to flip over to truTV on a night when Hot in Cleveland is a rerun — because it is an easy, calm watch. There is nothing to pay attention to or care about, which is the point of most of these game shows, and the questions are extremely easy. But even with those craaaazy stakes (a bad haircut!), it’s boring throughout.
Shortly after graduating college, I started watching MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. In ABDC, dance crews compete against each other to win $100,000 (and a statue!). Each episode is basically an hour of dancing. It is the sort of show you can become disturbingly obsessed with and emotionally invested in — but only when you happen to be underemployed in suburbia, and when MTV conveniently airs marathons every time you and your roommates are hungover on a Sunday. It was harmless television, something you could half-watch, but it also managed to be strangely wonderful and addictive. Fake Off is similar in all the right ways.
Easily the best of the four new truTV shows, Fake Off is a performance competition about the “captivating art of Faking.” The show never really describes what Faking is, but, from what I can gather, it is a mix of awesome dancing, crazy light shows, mind-boggling 3D sets, and theatrical performances. There are acrobatics and puppetry and an entire story told through shadows. The judges (Chilli from TLC, Harry Sum Jr. from Glee, and visual and concept designer Michael Curry) say things like, “That was really good Faking!” or “You really Faked it!” I watched two episodes and had no idea what’s going on, but it was completely mesmerizing.
Here’s what I do know: There are ten teams who are scored on a scale from 1 to 10. Some will get eliminated as the season goes on. They are tasked with recreating various iconic pop culture moments — specific ones like the Titanic tragedy or broader themes like “TV Dramas” or “Horror Movies.” It is very hard to describe on paper. One team used puppetry and dancing to recreate Breaking Bad; one portrayed the Winter Olympics with silhouettes representing everything from animals in Africa to bobsledding; a third faked every aspect of the Super Bowl (spectator, player, half time performer, and commercial actor) in a routine that included seven tearaway outfits. It is, above all, intimidatingly impressive. I still don’t know what Faking is, but I think Fake Off is my new favorite unscripted program.
How to Be a Grown Up is truTV’s most generic and derivative new show. It’s an “advice” show in the vein of MTV’s Girl Code with a mix of VH1’s numerous talking-head programs thrown in. Divided into loose segments, each episodes tackles a handful of “adult” topics — telling your children about the birds and the bees, proposing to your significant other, how to celebrate Halloween as a grown up, etc. — with comedians and personalities offering up their “humorous” takes.
Its main problem is right in the title: It’s a show that celebrates adults’ inability to function as adults, assuming that we are all just giant toddlers. And granted, many of us are, but How to Be a Grown Up fails to add anything new, funny, or groundbreaking to the conversation. Much of the pilot episode is trite (mostly due to the shoddy topics) and rehashes basic eye-rolling (or rage-inducing) stereotypes: Women like to get expensive diamond rings! Halloween is a time for everyone to dress like a slut! It’s not about how to be a grown up, but how to retell every ’90s standup joke you’ve ever heard about grown ups.
Arguably the most interesting of the four, Friends of the People is the biggest departure from the previous (serious) programming that truTV was known for. It’s a sketch comedy series (featuring, among others, Jermaine Fowler and the Lucas Brothers) that combines sketches with on-the-street segments. It’s roughly paced and most of the sketches fail to deliver, even when they have OK premises. Then again, many don’t even have a great premise behind them, but just a skeleton of an idea like combining the names “Tracy Morgan Freeman” or “Larry David Simon.”
The main obstacle Friends of the People faces is that it doesn’t stand out. Sketch comedy has had a resurgence lately, especially due to Comedy Central, so a new sketch show has to try extra hard just to compete in the same weight class as Key & Peele or Inside Amy Schumer, let alone attempt to beat it. Friends of the People has some good names and a few cool ideas behind it — one standout is “Squabblin and Quarrelin with the Lucas Brothers,” in which the two calmly tackle tough and topical issues like Crash Bandicoot and cookies. It’s the perfect amount of weird quietness, rising above the more outlandish big segments, and is where the show should go if it wants to make a name for itself.