[13 December 2005]
America. To some, the nation is a big brother to be imitated and idolized, while others view it as a self-indulgent houseguest who wasn’t invited and won’t leave. Still others, like British actress Daisy Donovan, fall somewhere in the middle, fascinated with the diversity of U.S. culture and amused by its oddities.
Donovan means to experience American life in Daisy Does America, half-reality show and half-sitcom. Each week, she tackles a new area. For the premiere episode, she worked as a bounty hunter, and previews for Week Two show Daisy dolled up as a Country Western queen, equal parts Minnie Pearl and Tammy Wynette. Daisy’s specialty is irreverence, and she is quick to point out that which is ridiculous. A graduate of Edinburgh University in Performing Arts and former student at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, she has performed in a range of productions, from Richard III to The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband.
However, she became a celebrity thanks to her Angel of Delight character on the BBC’s The 11 O’Clock Show, which also featured Sacha Cohen (“Ali G”), Daisy’s male counterpart. The Angel conducted interviews with well-known politicians, often on the street outside the House of Commons, asking seemingly serious questions that were filled with double meaning. (For instance, while discussing possible wrongdoing by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, she asked a female member of Parliament if she would ever “finger” Thatcher.) Following her stint as the Angel, she became the star of Daisy Daisy, in which she assumed various jobs in the United States, wedding planner, pimp, and staff member for a traveling evangelist among them.
In her new show, produced by Courteney Cox and David Arquette, Daisy adapts this format for a U.S. audience. This means her questions no longer have sexual undertones, although she still asks them with a nudge and a wink. While training in restraint and arrest procedures during her bounty hunter certification course, Daisy asked if she could spit on the suspect, lock him in the trunk (as it was roomier than the back seat), and handcuff him to a fence if she wanted to rest for a few minutes. The trainer handled her incessant questioning good-naturedly.
So did Donna, the bounty hunter with whom Daisy eventually landed a “job.” I would have been ready to bounce her ass out after about 10 minutes, but Donna played along. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Donna would have been as accommodating without cameras. Although Donna gave Daisy a big hug at the end of their day together, the expression on her face was relief to have the day over. No doubt editing made Daisy appear to be more insistent than she actually was, but she would be hard to take for any length of time.
Americans can be an egotistical lot, but are we so desperate for attention that we will endure ridicule for a chance to be on tv? Of course, and we have since tv began. From dressing in goofy costumes to be on Let’s Make a Deal to revealing sexual peculiarities on Jerry Springer, we are happy to look asinine for a few minutes of fame, and Daisy Does America taps into that.
It’s obvious that the people with whom Daisy speaks are the butt of her jokes, but they all put up with it. She mugged for the camera after Donna said her cough wasn’t a result of her smoking, and acted bewildered when first exposed to another bounty hunter’s slurred Southern drawl. During an interview with another agency, she blatantly lied, telling the interviewer she was the one who caught OJ after the Bronco chase and preferred to do surveillance with a helicopter.
Daisy had apparently done her homework, anticipating the interests of her vigilante hosts. The mere fact that the U.S. licenses middle-aged, overweight men to carry weapons and make arrests with no regard to a defendant’s Constitutional rights has got to seem strange to other countries, especially when these men are glamorized in the movies, played by macho kickboxers or studly ex-football players. After graduating from her training course, Daisy showed up looking like she’d tumbled out of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western. After her training, she knew the get-up was absurd, but the outfit helped her highlight the rough-and-ready stereotype.
Daisy also makes herself the butt of the joke. In the first episode, this was most evident when a crew of hunters took her along on a couple of busts. Initially, Daisy became nauseous when Donna mentioned there might be weapons, but realized she overreacted when both “skips” (people who jump bail) turned out to be relatively nice folks who gave themselves up to the hunters peacefully.
Even though much of the humor of Daisy Does America stems from her ability to deride, Donovan’s willingness to look like an even bigger ass than her hosts makes her comedy easier to take than that in Punk’d, which puts victims through hell just for a laugh. Still, like Ashton Kutcher, she does solicit viewers’ collusion. Usually when Daisy double-takes to the camera with a “Did you hear that?” look, it confirms for us what we were already thinking: “What a stupid thing to say.”
Most likely, Daisy’s series will play best outside of the United States, in countries where viewers love to see the American underbelly exposed. I did laugh a few times at Daisy’s antics and the characters she encountered, but I see such odd ducks every day. I don’t need Daisy Donovan to tell me we’re weird, that we behave irrationally. I hope Daisy learns a lot on her journey, but I already know where she’s going.