2 Stars
Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 14 minutes
Click to Expand Credits:

In honor of Danica McKellar’s recent cameo on “The West Wing,” it’s only fair to look at this bitter satire of reality television. While hobnobbing with President Bartlett and company will certainly help the once-and-future Winnie Cooper’s career, this one-joke short certainly won’t.
The gag, which is repeated over and over again, is that reality television shows have become so popular that legitimate actors are having a tough time getting work. “Reality School” is a brief infomercial for a program that trains actors on how to be “real.” Here’s how John Sparano’s film breaks down textually: You’ve got actors, playing real people teaching actors playing actors to be real people. Get it? Don’t worry, nobody’s really convincing at anything.
With Tim Allen cementing his film star status with vehicles like Big Trouble, “Cletis Tout,” and Joe Somebody, it’s tempting to wonder, whatever happened to Allen’s “Tool Time” buddy Richard Karn. Well, here he is, playing Victor Cayanne, the artistic director and founder of Reality School. As Cayanne puts it, “I got bored with real people. I almost had to watch actors again.”
So at reality school, stilted actors are taught not just how to be real, but how to be better-than-real thanks to a number of exciting seminars. There’s the “’Big Brother’ Relationship Workshop,” in which actors (including the eternally adorable McKellar) are taught how to simulate intense in-house relationships in no time at all (anybody who’s seen “Real World: Las Vegas” knows that the cast members must have aced this seminar). There’s the “‘Survivor’ Rice Master Class” in which cooking expert Jeanne Benedict teaches actors to make edible rice. And then there’s a style expert who inspires future contestants to follow in the footsteps of the immortals like “Survivor 1”’s Kelly Wigglesworth.
Good satire shouldn’t be as transparent as it is in “Reality School,” which wears its resentment of reality shows much too close to the surface. There’s a hatred for the people who rise to fame by doing things like eating bull testicles, which is valid, but hardly enlightening. A rhetorical question: If John Sparano is so unhappy with reality programs, is it more productive for him to make a mockumentary that says nothing we don’t already know, or should he, heaven forbid, make a great short film based on his own originality and creativity? Would it be a better calling card for this filmmaker to do something fresh, or to essentially beat a dead horse for the thousandth time? Is there anybody out there who really loves the insta-celebrities spawned by reality shows? Of course not. So Sparano’s satire is just preaching to the choir, especially since the industry people who might see this film and advance his career probably aren’t the producers of “Fear Factor” and “Temptation Island.”
Certainly, there are moments of humor here. While the “Stealing From Other Cultures To Make You Sound Hip” seminar is painfully lame (fictional entertainment has been stealing from other cultures to seem hip for decades), the Bela Karolyi-esque acting instructor Lazslo “Ted” Wozceck is a hoot, especially in the “Survivor” audition class in which a fifty-something man is encouraged to be conservative and crotchety. Karn is a funny enough professional to make the most of any kind of sub-sitcom material. And boy is it great to see Danica McKellar.
But finally, “Reality School” is vastly too smug for its own good.

Posted on November 17, 2002 in Reviews by

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