Who the Man?

Two new talk shows strip Nineties manhood down to its soiled skivvies

I presume The Man Show is supposed to be "authentic," like that sudden raft of slacker commercials for VW in which Male Misdirection Syndrome can somehow be accessorized with a hot new car. Kimmel has been quoted as claiming the show was too real for ABC, citing Jameson's nipples as the kind of gutsy programming that made execs weak in the knees. But who's the show for? Maybe the time slot is the best clue to its intended audience: Not the twentysomethings in live attendance, but little brothers who've had their ids stoked on South Park and need tutoring in how to party. Yet where its lead-in is sweet-natured, this show mocks its audience with a corrosive cruelty that looks down on everything and everyone. Shouldn't caveman ethics at least be fun? Yet The Man Show boils with adolescent resentment, like a boy who gets rejected by that cute girl in algebra class and then scribbles lies about her all over the bathroom stall. This show should come stamped with a Parental Advisory: Nobody under 18 allowed.

 

The older-targeted X Show apes the women's forum The View in its earnest lapel-grabbing approach. For variety you get four guys sprawling on couches in a rec room stuffed with manly bric-a-brac: Derick Alexander, a black former college-football player; comic Mark DeCarlo, once host of the legendary hormone-fest Studs; Justin Walker, a boy-band cutie who was Alicia Silverstone's love object in Clueless; and, for diversity, John Webber, who's both the only married guy and the only non-sports fan--"a bona fide representative of the couch potato," claims his biography. Like The View (the producers advertised for "talent able to be both humorous and informative in a conversational manner"), this show mixes chatter (a segment called "Gettin' It" diagrams various methods of joining the Mile-High Club or summarizes the latest women's magazines); guy stuff (dating and poker tips, testicular self-examination); and guest celebrities (sports agent Leigh Steinberg). It washes this down with a kegful of T&A (women in men's underwear is a recurring feature). The net effect is, if nicer than that of its rival, oddly dispiriting. Every time serious discussion threatens, the show's hosts again and again resort to seventh-grade punches in the arm.

Frat party + Springer  =  The Man Show : Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel, avec "Juggies"
Frat party + Springer = The Man Show : Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel, avec "Juggies"

Who, then, is this new man, this Nineties American? Mostly, he's the Fifties guy tricked out in retro shirts and retro sensibilities. Broads? Screw 'em. And yet these shows are so caught up in cultivating attitudes and striking poses that nothing in them is remotely as accurate, not to mention as compassionate, as the first five minutes of American Pie, which get the smeary desperation of (teen-)male desire exactly right.

In this televised world, being a man demands the humiliation of anyone who lets his armor crack even for a second. "Never pass out in front of a bunch of drunk guys," warns Adam Carolla, regaling us with tales of puking and penises scrawled in magic marker. So terrified about revealing their humanity that they can't fully enjoy their own adolescent debauchery, these shows want to have their cheesecake and eat it too.

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