As the obviously set-up race argument on the first season of The Real World showed us, “reality” has never been important to reality shows. But MTV has made fake reality shows into a brisk business—it’s aired roughly 342 different “reality” shows in the last five years (that’s a crude estimation). New “reality” stars like Bam Margera, Heidi and Spencer, the Italian guy fromShot of Love and others have become the network’s real stars—the pop stars that 25 years ago would have dominated programming relegated to an hour or so block every morning.
With the exception of The Hills (which is at least superficially ground in the producers’ perceptions of “reality”), the reality shows on MTV only need to be partially real—does Bam Margera pester his parents by putting their cars on their back patio when cameras aren’t around? I highly doubt it. Is the Italian guy even remotely attractive to the women he’s courting when he’s bussing their tables? Nope.
But the MTV series Rob & Big is a special case—none of it even seems remotely real, and even when it does broach “real” topics, it still seems like a lark (more on this later). The relationship between the two titular men started at a casting call when Rob (Dyrdek, a skateboarder) was looking for someone to play a security guard that protects him from security guards in a video he was making for one of his sponsors. This search led him to Big (real name Christopher Boykins, who goes by Big Black), and the two decided to move in together a la The Odd Couple to film a show with Jackass producer Jeff Tremaine.
Invariably, the episodes of Rob & Big start with Rob hatching an insane plan (involving things like time travel, talking to ghosts, using sacred geometry, breaking every record for skateboarding buying a mini horse), and Big playing the straight man to the shenanigans. This is how it goes on the third season of the show, released recently on DVD (in a set with a bunch of commentaries and deleted scenes that were cut for obvious reasons, principally, being unfunny). But as the series comes to a close, something strange creeps into the typical set-up (which is tired by mid-season after two previous seasons); adulthood and reality.
Season three opens with an insidious act—it seems someone took a dump in Rob’s pool. Rob lives in a huge house in the Hollywood hills with Big, his cousin and assistant Drama, a bulldog named Meaty, and a mini-horse lovingly dubbed “mini-horse”. Rob goes on the warpath to determine who left the loaf in the pool, and after Big informs him his dump “wouldn’t float,” Rob decides Drama is the culprit. Drama then passes a polygraph test, leaving Rob to drain his pool, install security cameras, and buy a gun that shoots a net to catch any future crappers.
The real culprit is never found—and therein lays the problem. Issues that are used as jumping off points for poop jokes, hilarity, hi-jinks, and essentially each episode’s plot are never really resolved—they are just allowed to dissipate from the viewer’s mind. I really don’t care who left a dookie in Rob’s pool—but the episode tells me in the first two minutes that it is the singular topic in the episode. Same goes for episodes that find Rob trying to date women other than “dirty girls” (who seem to be, under Big’s definition, any girl who wears lace underwear and will sleep with Rob), whether or not their house is haunted, an episode about holistic healing, and an episode where Rob lives a day as a “big man” by wearing a fat suit and pogo shoes to be tall and overweight (It’s hard out here for a blimp).
Many of the remaining episodes seem ripped straight from the Viva La Bam playbook—Rob and Big go on sojourns to Cancun, Las Vegas, donate time to charity, and spend one episode terrorizing Rob’s visiting parents. But that changes with the series finale.
The series finale opens with Rob entering Big’s bedroom to find him reading a “daddy-to-be” book. Big breaks Rob the news that his girl has a kid on the way, and he needs to move out. Even Rob can’t believe this development—you mean you have a “real” life outside of this “reality” series?—he gets angry at Big for not telling him sooner, as Big’s girl is six months pregnant. Big seems pretty prescient about the whole affair—he says, “I feel like we’re 18 and I’m telling you my college dreams are shattered” he says to a discombobulated Rob. It all seems fake; there’s no way that the show, which in the previous episode found our heroes thinking the house was haunted, could become a show about having a kid.
Then the episode takes a surprising turn—Big gets serious. He takes Rob on a trip to a baby store, they start thinking of names, and Rob is present in the waiting room when Big comes out with his daughter. The colliding purposes of these two characters become evident in that moment: Rob wants to be the stunted teenager he’s been since he’s gone pro, and wants Big to continue their show, while Big obviously has other concerns.
The series ends with a scene in front of Rob’s house where Big is packing up his things, moving on to adulthood, leaving Rob and Meaty to continue getting into canned hi-jinks. This was the realest fake moment in MTV history—the show was completely about being irresponsible and child-like, and then, like adulthood for the teenagers who are watching Rob & Big, responsibility was sprung upon one half of the dynamic duo. That single episode doesn’t entirely wash away the triviality and banality of the series’ previous 31 episodes, but it does distinguish Rob & Big as the “realest” of MTV’s “reality shows”.