“Candid Camera” is dead! Long live “Candid Camera!” Yes, Alan Funt’s ingenious reality TV prototype is long gone, as are several half-hearted attempts to bring it back from the television graveyard. That hasn’t stopped other film and video makers from trying to recapture that particular lightning in a bottle, however. This effort out of New York City is but one of many such efforts and it almost pulls it off.
What sets “The Willard and Marlene Show” apart from other similar attempts is that it’s actually a cross-pollination of skit comedy meets hidden camera shows. Willard (Jeffrey Klier), an uptight Buddy Holly lookalike who nearly always wears a conservative suit straight out of “The Blues Brothers,” and his gawky sometimes squeeze Marlene (Cathy Marks) usually launch the individual segments, although they receive an occasional assist from the mostly useless Rico (Tony Allen) and Peter (Roland Brown).
A typical bit will start with an introductory skit. In the case of the segment entitled “Sex Drug,” for instance, Willard arrives home from work too exhausted to respond to Marlene’s entreaties. When she makes them some drinks, slipping a powder conspicuously labelled “Sex Drug” into them, they’re soon mauling each other on the couch. This then segues into the “Candid Camera” portion, whereby they proceed to make out and grope each other extensively in public while a hidden camera catches the responses of bystanders.
One bit has them swiping food from sidewalk cafe tables and/or “vomiting” next to outdoor diners. Another has Willard loudly singing obscene rap lyrics on a subway while listening to a Walkman. “Merry F*****g Christmas” starts with Willard and Marlene arguing about an upcoming Christmas party…then continuing their argument very loudly and very publicly while shopping for Christmas trees or gifts. Yet another has Willard and Peter marching in a gay rights parade, with Peter holding up a sign saying, “We’re here, we’re queer, now suck my dick!” That stunt probably set gay-straight relations back about fifty years.
There are two major problems with “The Willard and Marlene Show.” For one thing, the program desperately needs an editor. There’s potential for some of this stuff to be very funny, but the lackadaisical editing badly waters down much of the humor. The second, more insidious problem is that for a show that relies on bystander response, there just isn’t much, it being New York and all.
Still, if this bizarre video hybrid isn’t being aired on New York public access television, it should be. Yes, it features all the shoddy production values one would expect to find on access TV: washed out video exacerbated by flat or nonexistent lighting, a tinny on-camera microphone which picks up lots of ambient noise, copyrighted music, crude deck-to-deck editing complete with rainbow squiggles on the cuts, etc.
Yet, it also has a certain in-your-face charm about it. “The Willard and Marlene Show” has got a good schtick; a novel twist on a classic idea. I’m sure the late Mr. Funt would like to see its grasp equal its reach.