Yeah, I know it’s been literally a week since the last episode of The Casino aired, but in that time, we’ve had the season premieres of Big Brother and Amazing Race, not to mention our normal slate of Real World, Road Rules, and Simple Life. Toss a second Big Brother episode on top of that and a weekend trip to the Northeast and understandably newbie The Casino got the short thrift. Now maybe if the show could provide slightly more compelling content, it might get bumped up on my TVgasm commentary list. Unfortunately, while the stories it tells are enjoyable enough, the show has become increasingly staged, and I’m finding it harder and harder to disavow those critics who refuse to watch it because of all the phoniness.I can deal with some staging. Every good reality show relies on the gentle prompting and finesses of seasoned producers who know how to tell a good story. Mark Burnett occassionally crosses the line – that episode of The Restaurant that had Rocco DiSpirito crying outside his bistro was a bit much – but usually, the characters and scenarios are compelling enough that the producers can sit back and watch the pieces fall. The Casino, however, doesn’t seem to have faith in its subject because the producers (Mark Burnett and company, again) force these characters and situations onto us that feel completely staged. What’s the point of seeing a reality show about a casino if it’s not even organic reality? We might as well watch Las Vegas.
For those not convinced that Mark Burnett has overstepped his bounds, take a look at last week’s episode. It started off with an oh-so-spontaneous bet between Tim and Tom. Whoever could get to work fastest would win $5,000. How convenient that Mark Burnett decided on that very morning to have a helicopter hovering just over casa del TimTom. We were treated to a random and over edited sequence as the two burnt rubber to get to the Golden Nugget. Tim, the more swaggering of the two, of course arrived first, ostentatiously skidding into the valet area. Viewers were left to wonder what the hell was that while the two casino owners trotted into their kingdom.
Truth is that I’m sure the bet actually did take place, but the cameras probably missed it all, so they had to recreate it. That’s not necessarily a despicable technique. Reshoots have been part of the documentary genre since Nanook of the North (seriously), but there’s something so blatantly stagey about this show lately that it’s getting harder and harder to overlook these transgressions.
Take the case of Eulisha and her friend Joan. Riding into town in a glossy Porshe, Eulisha stated that she wanted to win some money so she could pay off her car. It was a decent premise, especially since not even Mark Burnett could rig the odds to favor this happy Mo’Nique doppleganger. Only moments after checking in, however, Eulisha and Joan decided not to hit the casino floor but instead work their booties off in the gym. On the treadmills they found psychic Justine who got along just swimmingly with these women and lo and behold, an impromptu fortune telling session was suddenly taking place right there in the middle of the spa. Now why is this curious? Well, when Joan and Eulisha walked into the gym, Justine was the only one on the treadmills, and even though there were many others to choose from, our two gals decided to take the machines to the immediate right and left of the psychic. Now, if you hit the treadmills with a buddy, do you ever split up so a stranger can run between you? If anything, you take the two machines that are the farthest from the next person. But not on The Casino. Apparently everyone flanks random people in the gym. Unless… it was staged! Actually, the more damning evidence was Joan’s lame attempt at acting surprised to find a psychic. The scene was clunkier than one of Reno 911!’s fake public service announcements.
I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but later in the episode, Eulisha kept hitting the numbers Justine had predicted for her. I couldn’t help wondering if the psychic intervention was filmed after the roulette shenanigans. Adding more fuel to the fire was the convenient appearance at the roulette table of said psychic along with the Lorentz family, who were in Vegas to win some money for a trip to Disney World. Hmmm… what are the chances that five of the major guest characters we’ve been following would all wind up at this roulette table? Funny how the Golden Nugget brings people together.
After winning some cashola, Eulisha went to Zax to watch Matt Dusk croon away. Why does everyone go to Zax? Oh yeah, that’s right. Mark Burnett pays them to. Well, Eulisha completely fell in love with Matt, and he was so flattered that he invited her on stage to sing Amazing Grace. Savvy viewers will remember that this guy is the type that hates bringing people on stage. I wonder why he changed his tune? Could it beee… satan? Or just the insistence of producers?
Elsewhere in the Golden Nugget, our jolly croupier, Tommy, continued to reach for the stars in hopes of one day being a casino host. His first internly duty was to babysit a local cowboy (the same rowdy ne’erdowell from the prostitution episode). Amazingly, this guy was a handfull – not that the presence of cameras had anything to do with that… Later, when Tommy’s one-time sexual partner came to play blackjack, he landed in hot water for dealing to her. He insisted that she wasn’t even his girlfriend, although he had “tagged her” a few times. Tagged? Does this mean she’s available at your local grocery store?
Unfortunately for Tommy, it’s illegal to deal to relatives or friends or associates. Oops. Luckily Tommy’s ornery boss, Monique, used her eagle eyes to rat out her little minion. Mark Burnett tried to have us believe this was because she felt insecure about Tommy potentially leapfrogging her in the casino foodchain by becoming a host. I personally think it’s because Tommy did something ILLEGAL. Well, the parade of obviously pre-planned scenes continued as a mustacioed bigwig acted like a tough guy and said he was thiiiis close to firing Tommy. He dropped a few f-bombs and told Tommy to stop chasing tail. This all would have been very convincing if the guy didn’t have a little smile on his face the whole time. It’s a bad sign when you can’t even get through the reenactment with a straight face.
Mark Burnett usually produces the best reality shows on television, and with a whole casino at his disposal, it disheartens me that he has to squeeze out these forced stories. For shame, Mark Burnett. You can do better.