It shouldn't be a surprise that The Michael Essany Show never made it on E!: Entertainment Television. This cute, good-hearted reality series just doesn't fit in with a network that's made its name on star-worshiping, Joan and Melissa Rivers, Red Carpet Countdowns and The Anna Nicole Show. 'Essany' is an underdog series fitting of its lead. It's a behind-the-scenes series like no other, taking us into the universe of Michael Essany as he prepares and performs in a self-titled cable access talk show in Valparaiso, Indiana (the show within the show, of the same name). With more shows like this on maybe the reality genera can't be so bad after all.
It is an interesting, and often slyly funny series, that follows someone who for once in the reality show craze is interesting enough to warrant a show after him. Essany wants to be a talk show host more than anything in the world. In pursuit of this dream he has commandeered the home he grew up in, his parents (who wear shirts labeling their significance) and any developing adult life in his whole-hearted dedication to "the show". For example, Essany attends Valparaiso University (don't say, you've never heard of it) but with the responsibilities of the show has never bothered to learn to drive, requiring his parents to chauffeur him and his guests around.
Essany's guests are another story. It's never clear how he's able to get people like Heidi Klum, Jerry O'Connell, Tom Green and "the guy from 'Ed'" to fly out to Valparaiso and be on his show. Sure, they aren't A-list stars, but to get them to come to your home is quite impressive. We only assume that the idea of doing it just seemed to irresistible to pass up. Watching them par take of mother Essany's cooking, take their shoes off as they come in the door, go shopping or go-cart racing with Essany or making fun of Essany's bump-on-a-log sidekick Mike Randazzo is an oddity to behold.
The show presents us with a kind-of double-edged sword. We both feel for Essany and his desire to achieve his dream and laugh lovingly at the kitsch of his show. I love the episode where Essany goes to the house of a group of guys to watch the show and he tries to imitate their teenage slang. It's at this point where we see the credits of The Michael Essany Show (within the show) and it's just Essany's name hilariously in every duty. Essany is like a living Max Fisher from Wes Anderson's 'Rushmore': old beyond his years, but emotionally stunted and bundled with an immense dedication and seemingly infinite resources to getting what he wants - even if it means turning his entire house into a TV studio. In a hyperbolically extreme way, he embodies the American dream and the ideal that if you work hard enough and want something bad enough that you can get it.
The irony here is that what makes Essany such a terrific local cable access talk show host (and star of this show) is exactly the same stuff that would make him a terrible real national talk show. I'm afraid that his act - which the show proves is always 'on' - is perfectly suited for this show about his show, but that's as far as it can go. In place of a real stage persona of his own Essany has grafted the acts of Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, David Letterman and a little Conan O'Brien into his shtick. Still, it's hard to watch the show and not love precocious, but tragically destined, Essany. Hey, I'd rather listen to him joke about not being able to get a date then Leno do one more 10 year old joke about OJ Simpson or the Menendez brothers any day.
The show's a gem. The show is more a novelty act that really substantive. But it's sweet, funny, a little kitschy and unique among TV.
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