A Farewell to Harms
MTV could fuck up potato salad.
So this is how it ends. With the final stunt of Season Five completed, Viva La Bam reached a kind of comic closure. Bam Margera and Raab’s trip to Finland was a success and as Bam entered the family home, he dropped a bombshell. “Guess what, guys?” he screamed, “Raab’s [girlfriend]? She’s moving in with us!” Apparently, the Bam and the boys’ era was officially over. Enter a new, female-friendly version of the series… except, word has it, the show is not returning. MTV has ceased production, opting instead for an animated series featuring the seminal stunt brigade.
Viva La Bam is probably the best mockumentary every created, a combination of Margera’s CKY skateboarding videos and a surreal sitcom where Mom and Dad are raising a walking-and-talking Id. The premise comes straight from the show’s catchphrase: as Bam says, “I do whatever the fuck I want.” Some of it is obviously staged, much made up on the spot, and sometimes the execution can be far more entertaining than the intent. Like a Warner Brothers cartoon, the consequence of this mindless slapstick violence is not huge legal bills, but outrageous hilarity. Viva La Bam celebrates unbridled liberty and excess, all too rare in our uptight culture.
The “Un-Commentary” that plays over all the episodes on the Complete Seasons Four and Five DVD set suggests the cast’s ragged resolve. They all hate MTV’s mangling of their jokes. Master Margera complains about the edits (much of the deleted material is preserved for the bonus disc) and even Bam’s beleaguered mother, April, seems ready for a break. “Maybe it’d be better if we weren’t doing all of them in eight days” she sighs in response to a badly executed bit.
Her exhaustion speaks to the series’ focus: like Ozzie and Harriet on crystal meth, Viva La Bam is a postmodern measure of the American family. From questions of parental control (for the Margeras, there is none) to money’s effects (it’s easy to destroy a Hummer when you’ve got the cash to buy a couple dozen more), Bam and his buddies test their friendship while engineering lowbrow bedlam.
Viva La Bam was growing stale near the end of Season Three. Season Four sent the group away from their Pennsylvania home. The two-part trip to Europe, coinciding with April and Phil’s anniversary, was a chance for the cast to behave like truly ugly Americans. Additional travels to a ski resort, a Texarkana bayou, and a Mexican desert hovel were the stuff of surreal vacation nightmares. The meager motel near the gator-riddled bog, a shack in the middle of arid outlands surrounded by all manner of mangy wildlife, these were the premises upon which Margera’s manic magic was unleashed.
Season Five remains in the U.S. for the most part, relying on additional visitors (heavy metal horror band Gwar, pro skater Mike Vallely, motorcycle trick riders the Metal Mulisha) to fuel the funny. The interesting thing is that the shows focused on the family unit (a raft race to a local bar, a surprise birthday celebration for April) are the most memorable. Phil’s reactions to the hyperkinetic kids are a study in strained vicariousness. He obviously feels like one of the boys, he’s just too old—and far too fat—to partake in their crazy creations. Bam’s friends (Ryan Dunn, Rake Yarn, and Brandon “Nudie” Novak) seem drunk on both their capacity for acting out their impulses and the open bar at the Margera home. Like a foolhardy frat, this brotherhood defies public mores and social standard: they may be nuts, but they won a huge following and inflated bank account.
None of this lunacy would be so memorable without the unintelligible interjections of one Don Vito, Bam’s ulcerous uncle. One of the classic comedic creations in television history, this slovenly suet-ball, an amalgamation of injuries and obesity-based issues that no doctor could diagnose, Vito violates every law of etiquette, every maxim of human decency and tact, in the pursuit of beer, boobs, and a chance to beat the bejesus out of his nephew. Vito functions as the ballast between the norms of the real world and his kin’s zany zest for living. He’s a catalyst for some of Viva Lam Bam‘s best bits (usually revolving around the destruction of Vito’s private property). As long as there is a buck or a babe attached to it, he’ll take it in stride.
The show is premised on Bam’s “bad boy” image: he’s the rebellious rascal adolescents idolize and girls want to date. Pimping his rock band pals or dressing like a failed frontman, he makes Viva La Bam look like the ultimate middle finger to a society that thinks young white males are worthless losers. Bam and his cronies do the critics one better, proving how absolutely delightful such slovenly slackerdom can be. Decades from now, when scholars are looking for the moment when the new millennium found an icon to congratulate and castigate simultaneously, they will look at Viva La Bam. Of everything to come out of the Jackass realm of reality programming, the Margeras were the sole masterpiece.