Is America’s Funniest Home Videos the greatest TV guilty pleasure? It is at least in a three-way tie at the bottom of the barrel, along with Cops and The Jerry Springer Show. This simple concept of a program began innocently as a special in 1989, before graduating into a full-blown series in ‘90. Bob Saget was the series’ first host, and was best known for giving video participants humorous voices as clips played out. Tom Bergeron has been the show’s presenter since 2001, and while he’s not the voice master Saget was, he has contributed a regular segment called “Tom’s Home Movies” where his super-sized head is superimposed onto videos. This is a program all about unwittingly looking stupid for the camera although it wasn’t until around 2000 that the reality TV phenomenon fully broke out and explored the lengths Americans would go to in order to make a buck. But to its credit, this show’s concept is about capturing accidents on video, instead of intentionally being an idiot for the almighty dollar. It deserves minor kudos for being a kinder, gentler reality show.
Even people who view Jon Stewart’s sophisticated The Daily Show to indulge in sardonic giggles may still chuckle at America’s Funnies Home Videos’ much lower-aimed humor. Be it a knock in the head or a kick in the crotch, such body shots always seem to happen on America’s Funniest Home Videos whenever kids and baseball bats, balls, or blindfolded children and piñatas are involved. The Three Stooges were our initial TV land teachers in such physical comedy, so for those who watched them as kids, this probably the first kind of humor we learned. Moe, Larry, Curly, and sometimes Shemp banged each other around like suitcases in the hands of thoughtless airport luggage handlers. Slapstick, though primitive, is a legitimate category in the overall comedy picture.
Laughing at another person’s pain is one thing, but voyeuristically watching week after week as poor slobs dance with death—like when drunken people boogie down on tables at weddings, simply asking for trouble with that table—may not be completely healthy. Nor is it always advisable to view folks turning near-death experiences into entertainment; such as when an off road vehicle flips over backwards while trying to make it up a hill. Yet week after week, these participants turn their humiliation into reality TV dollars, where winners get $10,000 for the episode’s top prize. But maybe it is just best to admit that loving this baser humor is a part of our makeup. While we may like to think of ourselves as having highbrow taste, it is simply impossible to not laugh at least once while this show is on. And that’s okay. So for those who can’t get enough of it, America’s Funniest Home Videos has made six DVDs available to purchase, play, and repeat as necessary: Nincompoops & Boneheads, Sports Spectacular, America’s Funniest Home Videos Looks At Kids & Animals, Home for the Holidays, Love & Marriage, and Battle of the Best.
Bob Saget, who shares Bergeron’s confused-by-it-all facial expression, was the early face of the show, but Tom Bergeron, who describes many clips in a whimsically droll way, has been master of ceremonies since 2001. This DVD six pack alternates between both hosts. Saget was sufficient at presenting clips, but Beregeron is far better at capturing the irony of this situational comedy. He is able to laugh at himself, the participants, and the program’s overall concept. It’s almost as if he’s apologizing to the viewers for what they’re about to see. (Deep inside, however, he’s probably laughing all the way to the bank).
Although one disc is ambitiously titled Battle of the Best, the actual best DVD is America’s Funniest Home Videos Looks At Kids & Animals. These animals are usually caught on camera doing something that makes their behavior look, well, nearly human. One video shows a dog race where a cute wiener dog runs over another even smaller mutt in a drive to the finish line. Unlike humans, however, pets don’t normally do anything intentionally stupid to get into trouble. Then there’s innocence kids’ behavior, as when a few offspring twists and spins his dad in the backyard hammock. Of course he dizzily falls flat on his face after this stunt is finished. But children are usually more concerned with the fun of the spin, rather than the fall at the end. But, in contrast, when one young boy is videotaped putting the contents of his nose into his sleeping brother’s mouth, there is no doubt he knows exactly what he’s doing. Patience runs thin when watching grownups behave ridiculously, however. Viewing “mature adults” swinging on ropes and flying into trees, like something out of George Of The Jungle, gets old fast.
The Battle of the Best may be a misnomer. How can the silly side of human nature even have a ‘best’ side? But this edition deserves credit for trying something new by adding celebrity judges into the equation. Martin Mull’s dry wit and Kathy Griffin’s humorous (but also honest) approaches give these videos-for-cash an even funnier perspective. One video finds a woman panicking while on a carnival ride, and Bergeron comments that this reminds him of Meg Ryan’s orgasmic moment in When Harry Met Sally. Her moans bother Griffin even more, she adds, “because I won’t ever have one of those moments”.
At the same time, Griffin isn’t afraid to show empathy for some of these poor, pained souls. There is a store scene where an employee cleans the windows so well customers accidentally walk into them. “That’s terrible”, she reacts, “They’re doing that on purpose”. Another time, when a woman tries to run down a sandy hill to the beach, but ends up tripping and falling into the water, Mull quips, “That reminds me a lot of my career”.
Rapper Coolio, however, is not nearly as funny as is his unique hairdo, which looks like wires sticking haphazardly out of his skull, and skier Picabo Street, a 1998 Olympic gold medalist, is way out of her league sans snow and skies, although she tries. After one segment where a woman is caught cheating on her diet by sneaking into the refrigerator at night, Street responds: “My grandmother always taught me not to laugh at other people, and I’ve had the hardest time doing that.” Her statement is likely true for all of us, but it’s not funny. “Sometimes you need two cameras”, says Mull about the very same clip. “I’d like to know what she was going for. My guess is that it was a gallon of rocky road ice cream.” Now that’s funny.
This two-hour special selects favorite clips from 12 programming years, then narrows them down to a mere few shorts. After each eight or so, one of the four celebrities is asked to select a finalist. The other judges can then lobby the selector, and these moments where celebrities debate stupid human tricks, like pundits do with politicians on Sunday morning programs, are some of the show’s brightest moments. Still, the fact that they’re arguing over the best of that selection’s stupid human tricks should be kept in mind. But at least they’re not discussing politics, a la Meet The Press. The grand prize winning clip, for those of you keeping score at home, is of a woman flat on her back, in bed, and looking up at the camera . . . while surrounded by a quartet of giggling babies. It’s silly, playful, and will make you giggle, too. At least in this video, no one gets hurt.
In addition to the predictable piñata and baseball bat clichés, there are a number of other thematic scenarios that show up time and time again. During Love & Marriage viewers get an eyeful of brides or grooms fainting at the altar. But once you’ve seen one ceremonial fainting, you’ve seen them all. Scenes where Christmas trees are pulled down by wayward children and rambunctious pets during Home for the Holidays also follow the law of diminishing returns. If there’s a decorated tree in the shot, you’re sure that baby’s coming down hard on somebody. One half dozen of America’s Funniest Home Videos might be best enjoyed in small doses.