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November 19th, 2003 WW Screen Staff | DVD & TV
 

Real Reality TV: Faking It

     
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Contrary as it sounds, reality TV's most genuine moments of humanity occur on a show called Faking It, which begins a second series on BBC America this Sunday at 8 pm (the episode replays Thursday at 9 pm, along with some late-night slots). Whilst modern television's wretched depiction of "real" people has become the unofficial barometer of society's decline, this original British show is a rousing testament to the indefatigable human spirit.

The format is simple: Participants are plucked from their everyday lives and given just four weeks to fool a panel of expert judges into thinking they are an experienced pro in another, altogether different job. Every effort is made to make this swap a sharp juxtaposition that challenges stereotypes and social schooling. The season begins with a clean-cut, mommy's-boy insurance agent, who becomes a death-defying stuntman, and Episode 3 sees a working-class punk singer conduct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Central to Faking It's appeal is the relationship between the fakers and their mentors. Participants spend each of the 28 days training with their teachers, vastly experienced professionals from their specialized field, and live with them, too. These relationships often begin with hard lessons for the fakers. Lifetime dedicates of unusual vocations take a while to warm to cocky upstarts, who think they can learn it all in a month. However, in most cases participant and teacher form an incredible and affecting bond. Camaraderie and mutual respect blossom in many intense hours of practice that are often characterized by the faker's astoundingly fervent commitment.

Faking It is great television for essentially two reasons. First, it appeals to the Walter Mitty in all of us, willfully encouraging that unexpressed egotism that tells us we could do anything, given the chance. It indulges the fantasies untapped since childhood, of being something spectacular when we grow up. Second, each and every episode tells a great story, providing a beginning, middle and end to rival anything at the movies. Fakers suffer through nerves, physical exhaustion and even demoralization before arriving at an invariably suspenseful trial by fire. Even the most cynical, apathetic viewer can not fail to become caught up in this flux of emotions. Many fakers have had the course of their lives permanently altered by the experience, and the history of the show is dotted with personal revelations and epiphanies--faking it, it seems, can be the making of some people.

 
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