Reviews

Meet the Marks

Michael Abernethy

The label 'sitcom' is a misrepresentation. 'Meet the Marks' lacks comedy.


Meet the Marks

Airtime: Wednesdays, 8:30pm ET
Cast: Joe O'Connor, Cathy Shambley, Kaitlin Olson, Patrick Cavanaugh, Tara Nulty
Display Artist: Vin Di Bona, Jeff Eastin
Network: Fox
Creator: Jeff Eastin
Amazon

During World War II, the Army assigned Allen Funt to tape messages for soldiers to send home to their families. He found that the men sounded at ease during rehearsals, but turned tongue-tied once recording started. He solved this problem by secretly taping their rehearsals and using those recordings as the final product. It was from this experience that Funt developed the idea of Candid Camera. The genre of voyeuristic television was born.

Candid Camera has remained in production for most of the past 54 years. During its long run, dozens of rip-offs have come along, currently including NBC's Spy TV and Fox's The Jamie Kennedy Experiment. All have imitated Funt's formula of secretly taping people confronted by unusual circumstances. Now Fox gives us Meet the Marks, another hidden camera-innocent victim program that Fox is promoting as a sitcom with a difference -- an average Joe is thrown into a lengthy, prewritten scene and asked to play along. After only one episode, it's clear that the label "sitcom" is a misrepresentation. Meet the Marks lacks comedy.

Each of the series' pranks features the same five "sitcom" players, a fictional family consisting of a middle-aged couple, Joe and Cathy (Joe O'Connor and Cathy Shambley), their two grown children, Kaitlin and Patrick (Kaitlin Olson and Patrick Cavanaugh), and Joe's assistant at his unnamed vocation, Tara (Tara Nulty). Their mission is to guide the "mark," the poor sucker being duped, not knowing he or she has walked into a "sitcom." They move him or her from situation to situation and from room to room within the house.

The first episode featured two situations that clearly made the marks uncomfortable and forced them to make moral decisions regarding appropriate behavior under extraordinary pressure. In the first prank, Darrell, a hairdresser, is called to the house to do Kaitlin's hair before her wedding. While she is in the restroom, he stumbles across the groom making out with Tara in the kitchen. This puts him in a difficult situation as he works on Kaitlin's hair, and he gently questions the bride-to-be to determine the solidity of her relationship with her fianci. Eventually, Darrell decides to say nothing. As if that's not enough torture for the man, he is invited to stay for the wedding, where Kaitlin announces in mid-ceremony that she has fallen for Darrell and wants to call off the wedding. She then turns to the stunned man and proposes. After he squirms a little more, the cast lets him in on the joke.

Darrell had it easy compared to the next mark, a computer technician, Kevin, called to the house to fix Cathy's PC. She has arranged for a neighbor to let the technician into the house, as she has been detained elsewhere. Once inside, he is confronted by a cavorting Joe and Tara, half-dressed and covered with whipped cream. As Cathy pulls into the driveway, Joe dashes upstairs and Tara literally jumps on the confused man, pleading with him to pretend to be her boyfriend. Tara then introduces the man to Cathy as "Steve," her podiatrist boyfriend. He sheepishly plays along. Again, this isn't enough. Another neighbor drops in and asks the "podiatrist" for medical advice and then a new man shows up claiming to be the real Steve. All eyes focus on the mark as Cathy demands an explanation from him, and then the joke is revealed.

Obviously, the show owes more to Allen Funt's legacy than any sitcom. But it diverges from Candid Camera in a crucial way: its pranks go on and on, while Funt's lasted a few minutes at most and required no deep thought on the part of the victim. A mechanic goes to check the oil under the hood of a car only to find there is no engine. Three people enter an elevator with an unsuspecting foil and all stand facing the wall. Another person puts an envelope in a corner mailbox and is thanked by a voice from within.

Meet the Marks involves more detailed set-ups and demands more from the cast. Fox calls the five regulars "masters of improv," and it is indeed clear that they are making up the dialogue as they go along. Too bad it's not very entertaining. In the first prank, cast members occupied the mark's time by confessing their inner feelings about one another ("I know [the groom] doesn't love Kaitlin; he wants to be with me"). The second prank had the cast grilling the mark ("So, Steve, what were you and Tara doing in my living room?"). With the cast full of "straight men," that leaves it up to the mark to provide the punch-line, his or her supposedly hilarious reaction to the set-up.

Here the lengths of the pranks become problematic, since it is apparent within the first few minutes how the "mark" will react. The flamboyant Darrell was all bulging eyes, gaping mouth, and flailing arms, while Kevin reacted more demurely, blushing, lowering his head, and mumbling when unsure what to say. Two minutes of Darrell's "Oh my God!" and Kevin's "Oh gee!" expressions were more than sufficient; ten minutes were boring.

Funt's format allowed numerous responses to the same set-up. A teenaged boy, middle-aged businessman, and elderly grandmother will react differently to a talking mailbox: if one doesn't make you laugh, the next one might. The makers of Meet the Marks also tape several marks for each scheme, but only one is featured in the show. This approach effectively paints the show into a corner -- if the highlighted mark isn't amusing (the case in the premiere episode), then watching the show is only uncomfortable.

The first episode included brief clips of some of the other marks, a few intended victims who quickly figured out they were on some sort of gag tv show. I found myself wondering about the marks who didn't make the final cut while watching the protracted pain of the full "skits." Simply put: a successful tv show doesn't inspire viewers to contemplate what could have been shown, but wasn't.

Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone can undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Music

Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".

Film

The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.

Music

July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.

Music

With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.

Film

Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.

Music

MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.

Books

Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.

Film

Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.

Music

John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Books

'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

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.