Can Joe Schmo: The Full Bounty live up to the original’s greatness?

After nearly a decade since the debut of its first season, The Joe Schmo Show returns for its third season on Spike tonight. The original introduced us to Kristen Wiig and to a format that simultaneously parodied the worst of reality television and embodied the best kind of reality TV—a high bar to reach.

While most everyone on the show is an actor improvising their way through scripted storylines, the show has a real person and real reactions at its core, which makes it a (slightly ironic) model of reality television. The best reality TV creates an artificial context—whether that’s simply being observed by cameras or interacting in an entirely constructed world—and watches what happens when real people interact and react.

I’ve seen the first two episodes, and I’m not quite sure of the answer to the question in the headline. But I will say this: I laughed out loud many times, mostly at things that are so absurd or blatantly offensive that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Attempting to discuss it with other critics, I started hyperventilating I was laughing so much. There’s just so much lunacy. For example, wait until you see the voting booth: a gigantic Lady Liberty who contestants ask permission to go inside, as in, “Can I enter you?” There are also farm animals and tasers and Lorenzo Lamas parodying himself and a lot more, some of which is revealed in the trailer below.

This year’s mark, Chase, isn’t quite a Matt Kennedy Gould—Chase is surprisingly competitive, and it should be interesting to see how he reacts as the stunts get crazier. That is, after all, the entire point of the elaborate set-up. (During the casting process, producers made sure that Chase had not seen the original series.)

Zoo Productions John Stevens, and original series writer J. Holland Moore, are now producing the series created by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Moore told TV critics on Saturday that reality TV’s evolution over the past decade made their job more difficult: “reality TV wasn’t as crazy back then. So it was easier to do crazier things. It’s gotten so crazy over the years. To go over the top on that, that was even more difficult as well.”

Host Ralph Garman returns, playing a sleeveless bounty hunter who has echoes of Dog the Bounty Hunter, though he initially wasn’t sure about reviving the concept. Garman told TV critics,

“I’m very protective of Joe Schmo, and I know the fans are really protective of it. And I didn’t want to do anything that would diminish their memories of it or their fondness for it. So I went in just out of respect for everybody involved to listen to what they had to say, and when they told me the premise and they told me what was going to happen, I said, ‘I have to do this.’”

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