Every month, reality TV sinks lower and lower with such WONDERFUL selections as “Playing It Straight”, on Fox, where college student Jackie has to figure out who’s straight and who’s gay among fourteen men. Yeah, that’s a real remote grabber.
However, it could get much worse, as writer/director Kris Lefcoe suggests in “Public Domain”, where contestants don’t even know they’re contestants. The producers of this “reality show” must really count on these people not to be big couch potatoes. Contestants are randomly chosen by the producers of the show and monitored to see if they fit the criteria that the program seeks. The criteria include heartache, misery, emptiness, woe, betrayal and other words that fit nicely into a miserable life. Once approved, cameras are placed in the house by whatever b*****s the show has working for them, and those cameras are in such appliances as a radio and even behind book stacks, and pretty much wherever else you can imagine. Take a good look around your house, apartment, or cardboard box and just imagine where they could wire those cameras.
Then the fun begins for viewers and for the smug, snide hosts (Don McKellar plays one of them) who periodically comment on the situations at hand. This is reality TV at its most unpleasant, with such personalities as Peter (Mike Beaver) who, as an agoraphobic, hasn’t left his house in eight years. His house is stacked in spots with newspapers, and he gets groceries delivered to his house, though he has no success in trying to get the mailman to drop the mail off at the door.
Bonnie (Nicole DeBoer) lives in the ultimate past, the ‘80s, obsessed with the music that blared from radios back then. Her gay friend Don (Salvatore Migliore) hangs out at her place and she’s certainly no help to her 11-year old son Ian (Jamie Johnston), who’s completely ignored by his mother. And we certainly can’t forget Terry (Nadia Litz) who’s not above whoring out her friends in order to pay her drug bills.
With these people in place, this also brings into play the object of “Public Domain”. For the viewers, they vote on who has the most pathetic life and one by one, people are eliminated straight down the line. If you’ve found happiness or achieved something that gets you out of your rut, then you’re out. An example of this is Laurie, whose highly abusive husband constantly berates her, and she’s soon eliminated from the game because she upped and left him.
The commentary by the hosts is both surprising and shocking. When Peter tries to make an effort to get out of his house, they comment on this happening as if he was the groundhog, slowly coming out of its hole. Both of these men must have sold their souls somewhere on down the line to participate in a reality show such as this and with the way they act and look, I wouldn’t be surprised. They’re quite calm and collected and devoid of emotion since that’s probably one of the requirements to be host of this.
Lefcoe, throughout the 77 minutes, makes an excellent point as to where reality TV might be heading. The cast she has assembled completely understands what she’s going for and is shockingly game for it, turning in performances that are astonishing, the standout being Nadia Litz, who will be viewed through disbelieving eyes, surprised that any character could be like this. This is not pleasant by any means, but shows great skill in its ideas and message. It ends up being one of those films where there are laughs to be had, but also makes you wonder whether it’s right to laugh at what transpires here. While reality TV has already gone through the bottoms of several hundred barrels, I only hope that it pulls back further on the stick before it crashes into an idea like this. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if a few anonymous TV executives watch this, slap their foreheads and exclaim, “Why the hell didn’t I think of that?”