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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Putting the "Real" in Reality

With the announcement of the new cast of "Dancing with the Stars" (Wendy Williams - how YOU doin'??) and the introduction of yet another set of plump-lipped, tacky tarts clawing at each other in the "Real Housewives" franchise, it's clear that the Spring 2011 Reality TV season is upon us. And, like the award season that has just ended, capped by last week's Academy Awards, there will be some clear winners and losers in some of the more anticipated contests - will Ne Ne reign down blows on Star Jones in "Celebrity Apprentice?" And which of the returning baddies will be the last one standing on Survivor: Redemption Island?" But there's one reality show that tops them all and it stars Charlie Sheen, his Goddesses, his ex-wife, and his two adorable sons.

Perhaps you've seen it - on "Extra", or "Entertainment Tonight", or E!News or "The Today Show", ad nauseum and ad infinitum! The Charlie Sheen show is the hottest ticket in town, it seems, and everyone in the media has a finger in this poison pie. From his off-kilter Tweets to his intimate and sprawling 2-part interview with "The Today Show", Sheen has put the "real" back into Reality TV, with the reporters happily joining in for their 15 minutes! The interviews on "The Today Show" were some of the worst, with the reporter treating this like high camp, instead of a person's mental illness on public display. Sheen himself seemed to be in on the joke, too, smirking and grimacing with perfect comedic timing. Every now and again he'd put on the "reasonable man" voice, you know, the one you use in a sitcom when you're about to reveal something serious and weighty, only to be followed by a zinger that sends the studio audience into fits of laughter - and scene!

Only, this isn't a sitcom, where, in the span of 24 minutes, problems will be solved and then the credits roll. A line has been crossed. Hell, I wouldn't be the first to accuse an actor of being delusional, of making a character that he plays a part of his actual identity. And some actors will readily admit that they share lots of qualities with their on-screen alter-egos. Friends of the late Heath Ledger spoke of the extreme emotional demands that he faced when he portrayed the maniacal, murderous Joker in "The Dark Night".  It seemed that the fragile line between real and unreal eroded to a point that it caused distress in the late actor.

So what does that mean for the Sheen Machine? Well, it could mean that he's taken on the persona of the glib, womanizing man he portrays on "Two and a Half Men" in some sort of Vulcan mind-meld. He has, literally, become the character. But some would argue that the character he plays on television is loosely based on the reality of Sheen's own indiscreet past.  So, then, which Charlie Sheen is the REAL Charlie Sheen? Wow, I'm having one of those Absurdist Ionesco moments, again! I'm just saying:)

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