Web Junk 20
Regular airtime: Fridays, 11:30pm ET (VH1)
Cast: Patrice O’Neal
PopMatters Film and TV Columns Editor
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There are two competing conceits at the heart of VH1’s hit viral video clip show Web Junk 20. On the one hand, you have that can’t-miss premise that entertainment titans like Candid Camera and America’s Funniest Home Videos have milked for more than five decades: nothing is more hilarious than bloopers, especially, as Homer Simpson puts it, when you don’t know the victims involved. It’s a chance to laugh at our fellow losers as life’s little pitfalls cause them to trip, skip and fall.
On the flip side is the amazingly talented Patrice O’Neal, who’s been looking for an outlet for his hilarious outrage for the almost a decade. A onetime professional wrestling writer (he contributed arcs for the WWF/WWE from 2000-2002), he’s also worked on several failed shows (Shorties Watchin’ Shorties, Colin Quinn’s Tough Crowd), he’s still looking for a breakout success.
Recently, he showed up as part of I Love the ‘70s/‘80s/‘90s. Cutting through the bullshit to dispel the romance of old school rap, beanie babies, and Hootie and the Blowfish, O’Neal was a lone voice of reason in a pool of fame whores. Whenever he came on screen, the censor was sure to have his finger ready on the bleep button, as O’Neal used all manner of expletives to get his well-considered points across.
Still, he seems an odd choice for Web Junk 20, which is geared primarily toward Internet geeks. What does a comic who regularly trades in rants about ethnicity and ethics (as he did with Quinn and his fellow stand-ups on Crowd) have to say about skateboarders smashing their nut sacks, a Japanese boy/man band in fig leaf thongs, or that athletically challenged Star Wars kid who cant seem to differentiate between reality and his fat-ass fantasy fighting moves? The answer, not surprisingly, is a very mixed bag.
O’Neal is the only reason to sit through Web Junk 20. You might use it as a model for your own creations, as sites like YouTube provide rudimentary versions of the necessary pieces. Much like Mystery Science Theater 3000, Web Junk 20 is most entertaining as pop culture criticism. O’Neal typically takes aim at the easiest targets (nerds never get dates, Asians are kinky), but sometimes he makes an appropriately irreverent and incisive point about current culture.
For example, the 16 June episode featured a North Carolina traffic reporter deliver her morning gridlock guide in one of the worst examples of white girl rap ever attempted. O’Neal went right for the source. “As you can see, she ran this idea past someone,” he said. “So I say, let [her] keep her job, and fire the motherfucker who said ‘Yes.’”
O’Neal is refreshingly confrontational but not hysterical; he doesn’t deride his targets for the sake of a joke. Sure, he resorts to stereotypes (when commenting on low-riders, he adopts a “Mexican” accent) and can’t resist ridiculing Caucasians who risk life and limb for the sake of something stupid (when a kid battles a drain pipe and the pipe wins). And the video segments are often shocking, sometimes resorting to slapstick to win us over. Images of George Bush flipping off the camera in preparation for a pre-election publicity piece are initially intriguing. But without our comedic guide, they’d be disposable, and in the end, dull.
During Season One of Web Junk, O’Neal’s language walked the PG-13/R rating tightrope, as he tried to keep the f-bombs to a minimum. But now the series, flush with success, takes something closer to a no-holds-barred approach. A typical 60- to 90-second segment can contain as many as seven to eight edits, and O’Neal never holds back.
VH1 has expanded its demographic appeal to include angry white males, offering a regular segment to one-time clipmaster Michael Caracciolo, a.k.a. the Kid from Brooklyn. A Sopranos-loving stereotype, he rants about bottled water, travel, and going to the movies, marking a sharp, stupid contrast with O’Neal’s slam-dunk satire.
This two-pronged approach detracts from what’s most effective about Web Junk 20. O’Neal’s comments counteract the ridiculousness of the designated junk, sometimes seeming to draw humor out of air. O’Neal is almost never not funny, but his takes can fall flat, especially when he’s responding to items like a two-legged dog. Web Junk 20 would be just another showcase for goofballs without him.
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