The Jamie Kennedy Experiment:(Paramount Home Entertainment, 1.25.2005)
The Complete Third Season
Somewhere in the middle of season two, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment reached an amazing zenith that suggested it might break new ground in the ultimate guilty pleasure of TV genres: the hidden camera show. I'm thinking specifically of an episode about a fictional game show with ridiculously complicated rules. Struggling to make sense out of these rules, the victim of this prank (or "mark," as the show calls them) goes into a panic and watches as his winnings are unexplainably stolen by his opponents.
The absurd, irrational nature of this sketch (and sketches like it) is the key to the show's success. The jokes aren't obvious and mean-spirited -- like so many sitcoms -- they're weird, embarrassing, inventive, and best of all, they feature real human behavior, a forgotten commodity in TV comedy. But isn't it just a re-hash of Candid Camera and countless other shows of its kind? I don't think so. The scenarios on JKX are so elaborate, so clearly "written," it's difficult to think of any predecessor that captures quite the same manic, screwball energy.
Chances are, anybody thinking about the third and final season of The Jamie Kennedy Experiment is already familiar with the first two seasons. In that context, it's a bit of a disappointment and a rare opportunity to see a terrific show crumble before your eyes. For one, the show's tried-and-true format is different: Kennedy takes the show on the road and is surrounded by rent-a-skanks, instead of a studio audience, an approach that totally discredits the heavily used laugh-track that punctuates the show.
The guest star choices (ie. Pauly Shore, Nicky Hilton) also leave something to be desired, particularly in light of the show's puzzling reverence toward them. How can Kathie Lee Gifford star in a bit and not be ridiculed? Admittedly, part of the show's appeal is that Kennedy is likeable and good-natured -- unlike Punk'd copycat Ashton Kutcher -- but that's no reason to take Kathie Lee seriously.
While the show never had any real street cred, the incessant plugs for other WB shows and Jamie Kennedy's various JKX-related products -- his autobiography, DVDs of season 1 and Malibu's Most Wanted -- undermine the proceedings and invite unflattering charges of "sell-out."
In previous seasons, the show's writing was one of its great strengths. In season three, the writers got lazy. Many of the bits go nowhere and have no real conclusion. As a result, several "you've been X-ed" moments fall surprisingly flat.
There's really just an overall sense of creative fatigue and budget cuts in season three. Throughout the season, they re-use sets, ideas, and entire bits. For example, Kennedy performs exactly the same abusive parent, "don't tell me how to raise my kid" routine in 3 separate episodes (on pro baseball, hockey, and football players). It makes perfect sense, then, that the final episode in the history of JKX is made up of alternate takes from previous episodes: the show clearly had nowhere to go.
But the reasons for the show's demise are more complicated than simply a decline in quality. Ironically, as the show's profile rose and it grew more popular, it also lost its secret weapon: the element of surprise. Kennedy became a recognizable celebrity, even while disguised. In one bit, toward the end of season three, 3 different marks recognize Kennedy before the bit even starts. It gets so bad that, in order to continue, he has to place a paper bag over his head.
Still, the material is better than your average sitcom and, no matter how bad JKX gets, it's always watchable. After the "Extreme News" bit -- which everyone should see at least once -- the highlight of the final season is a fictitious show that JKX creates (and, of course, re-uses several times, throughout the season), in which friends and family are interviewed about Kennedy's past.
The deadpan host grills his guests with questions about allegations Kennedy made in "a still unpublished TIME magazine interview." His parents' response is particularly wild when the interviewer suggests that: a) they are cousins, b) they encouraged pot use in their house, c) Jamie was a male prostitute for a short time, and d) they were anally probed.
Totaling 42 minutes, the only feature on this 3-disc set is a series of 6 alternate takes, each with an introduction by Kennedy. These mildly amusing bits are inferior to the takes chosen for the show but they're worth a look, anyway.
At his best, Kennedy is a master of low-brow, comic improv and, while JKX was obviously running out of steam in season three, there's enough inspired comedy to at least warrant a rental. Best thing about JKX on DVD? You can skip the boring parts. -- Jonathan Doyle