PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Average Joe: The Joes Strike Back

Leigh H. Edwards

Now, there are no average Joes. Only Joes who haven't had facelifts yet.


Average Joe

Airtime: Tuesdays, 8pm ET
Subtitle: The Joes Strike Back
Network: NBC
Amazon

NBC's Average Joe franchise is a notorious bottom feeder. Not because of the poor schlubs competing for a date, but because of the show's basic manipulation, exploitation, and sensationalism -- even more spectacular than other, similar shows. In the first two seasons, "average" men vied for the attention of a supermodel type, with the twist being the arrival of "handsome" jocks midway through, to throw off the game. The third season had a loser Joe from a previous season choosing from average gals, later joined by beautiful women.

Last season, the winning hunk dumped model Larissa Meek when he found out she had previously dated Fabio (he apparently thought this made him look cheesy by association). Though the series scripts "shocking surprises," like this dumping, all of them are predictable, turning on cultural stereotypes -- mostly about appearances and gendered dating behaviors, often the idea that women prefer confident, handsome bad boys.

This season returns to the original format: 26-year-old Anna, a model and entrepreneur with a business degree, dates a crop of unremarkable guys. And once again, the Joes have reason to worry: both previous women have chosen a hottie over the nice guys in the end. This season's beefcake invasion is staged especially outrageously: each drives his own red Ferrari convertible, appearing over the desert horizon like the Magnificent Seven, shirtless and sweating prettily.

This fourth season offers a twist on that twist: each week, one of the rejected Joes gets an extreme makeover, including liposuction, eyebrow waxing, teeth whitening, confidence-building and dating instruction sessions, a nutrition and workout plan, and a very expensive haircut. He's then reinserted into the game where it appears that the magic of plastic surgery and life coaching turns the Joe into an ideal date. It's The Bachelorette meets Extreme Makeover. (At least introductions to the makeover segments display a sense of humor, playing The Six Million Dollar Man theme music over a graphic of a computer-drawn body changing from pudgy to buff.)

But the makeovers pose a particular problem for this show. Though the girls usually choose hunks, we're supposed to be rooting for the Joes. A voiceover at the beginning of Episode One claims, "Their personalities will start to win her heart," while Anna gets misty over a love letter from one of them. But the makeover feature changes all that, suggesting instead that average men don't have to be average anymore. They can remake themselves to compete with the big boys. Now, there are no average Joes. Only Joes who haven't had facelifts yet.

In the initial episode, Anna eliminates Nick, a 22-year-old magician, in her first cut. At the cocktail party meet-and-greet, he creeps out the other Joes when he keeps showing Anna magic tricks, talking about magic, staring at her, and then repeating the cycle. He's young but already balding, he's odd, he doesn't stand a chance. But the show's "panel of experts," a kind of reality TV fairy godmother counsel, picks him for a life change. He gets alterations in his eyebrows, hair, and teeth, a chin lift, and liposuction. (We see tidbits of said improvements in gory montage.) His "life coach" shows him the tape of his awkward interactions with Anna and briefly instructs him on how to improve his game: stop talking about magic, stop raising your eyebrows because it looks weird, let your personality shine through, feel good about your haircut. In his new skin and duds, he proclaims himself a "changed man." He will return in a future episode, previews implying he's now a stronger competitor.

Still, it's easy to pull for the underdogs, as their awkwardness and sincerity can be compelling. In Episode One, Art, a 36-year-old medical sales rep and divorcé, claims, "My looks are not a tool, my mouth is, I have the gift of gab." In the second episode, he gets a dinner date with Anna and discusses his love of the Rat Pack and karaoke; it turns out she adores Sinatra and piano bars too. They share a romantic dinner and kisses by the pool. She likes that he's "old school" and "he knows how to treat a lady."

Moments after he's left the date, Art is already tearfully proclaiming his love for the confessional camera. In fact, such a rush to desire is not unusual: the men are living in tight quarters, competing for the same woman. But she also seems genuinely nice and concerned about them. She goes so far as to assert she hasn't seen much reality TV because she's been taking night classes for the past two years. Though the editing frames her as naïve about the genre's manipulations, it's still a hard sell.

Her performance isn't so annoying as the program's, however: it makes a fuss out of rooting for average men, but it's also kicking them in the head. One Joe, Damian, a 36-year-old professional fundraiser who describes himself as a member of Mensa, looks at his peers and says, "There's something unnatural about having a beautiful lady have to pick from this bunch of guys. Somewhere Charles Darwin is rolling in his grave." Actually, social Darwinists might like this show. Even if a Joe does manage to get picked in the end, Average Joes' overriding message is that all of us should "look our best" in order to compete in the world, and that means norming stereotypes about beauty and traditional gender roles. Keep up or get cut. One hottie, Josh, observes, "You know, beautiful people like to surround theirself [sic] with beautiful people," and another, Rocky, says, "I didn't create this. This is the way the world is." While the editing makes fun of their arrogance and implies these statements are too extreme, the message here is to go pump iron. And botox.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.