Reality Binge

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Airdate: 7-8 p.m. Thursday, July 10 (Fox Reality Channel)

Ah yes, reality television. It's sort of like calling those packaged fruit snacks "fruit," or marriage "bliss."

Making fun of reality shows the way "Mystery Science Theater 3000" made fun of bad sci-fi movies can be more entertaining than the shows themselves, which is, naturally, to damn them with faint praise. The E! staple "The Soup" has discovered this fact in a successful and most amusing way, particularly since the charismatic and talented Joel McHale took the controls as host of what had previously been "Talk Soup" in 2004. It's generally hard to miss when poking fun at talk and reality, which really do have quite the propensity to devolve into self-parody. Yet "Reality Binge" almost accomplishes the impossible by going overboard on the goofiness in its zest to become a virtual DNA match of "The Soup."

It isn't just that this new Fox Reaity series is trying to emulate "The Soup." This actually is closer to attempted identity theft. I think there must be a law on the books somewhere prohibiting this. But until it's enforced, we'll get the deliriously dopey Eric Toms mugging and chewing his surroundings with tireless abandon in an attempt to be the destitute man's McHale. Part of it, of course, is the material he's given, which essentially is a collection of setups designed to chuckle derisively and arch his eyebrows. Sometimes it's cute; other times, you just want to take Toms out back and give him a sound whoopin'. He may indeed be the whitest man on the planet, which in truth probably is a badge of sorts.

In the weekly "Reality Binge," Toms takes us through an assortment of ridiculous, outrageous and/or insipid reality show nuggets that serve solely as fodder for wisecracks both going in and coming out. The reason McHale is so good on "The Soup" is that he's mastered the art of subtlety, adding just a dash of wit rather than trying to make it all about him. It's a lesson that Toms and his staff of writers (oops, sorry, I mean "story producers") have yet to learn. But then, this is only Week 1, so perhaps we ought to cut them some slack. It's just that here in the world of television criticism, we look at the idea of giving slack the way some view giving a kidney when the other one isn't functioning all that well.

With time, Toms hopefully will settle down and become slightly less cloying because the show itself moves along nicely and looks good in HD. And if there's anything we critics can appreciate, it's clips of farcical unscripted programming that look magnificent.

Production: Weller/Grossman Prods. Host: Eric Toms. Executive producers: Robb Weller, Gary Grossman. Co-executive producers: Barbara Wellner, Peter Carlin. Story producers: Jennifer Vally, Scott Sonneborn, Chad Gervich, Adam Malamut. Senior producer: Laura Chambers. Production designer: Ronen Lasky. Editors: Tudor Applen, Howard Lamden, Jorge Suarez, Josh Fuss, Samantha Bode. Casting: Debbie Supnik.

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