It’s hard to find reality TV that won’t make you feel dirty. Right now two new comedies feature such good parodies, you won’t need housewives to get your fix. Kroll Show and Burning Love hold mirrors up to the people we hate to love and hit on the tropes of this genre so smartly that you can enjoy all of the trash without the brain cell hangover.
Kroll Show is the Comedy Central sketch vehicle for comedian Nick Kroll, known for his characters like Fabrice Fabrice, flamboyant caterer to the stars. The show, in its first season, is like watching TV from a parallel universe. Programming includes Ghost Bouncers with Jersey Shore reject Bobby Bottleservice, Degrassi send-up Wheels, Ontario, and the pitch-perfect Bravo-esque pubLIZity.
PubLIZity, a show that follows best friends and public relations mavens Liz and Liz (played by Kroll in drag and Bored To Death’s Jenny Slate) nails the small details. Liz and Liz are never seen without a coffee or a juice in hand. They speak in superficial girl lilt that usually ends in a question mark? (And is frequently unintelligible.) Most on-point, however, are the layers of spin-offs pubLIZity generates.
The first episode of pubLIZity revolves around an event for animal plastic surgeon Dr. Armond, played by Kroll. Dr. Armond then gets his own show within the show, featuring his trophy wife and rebellious teenage son, Roman (Andy Milonakis), called Armond of The House. Art imitates life in this case and reality TV marriages are fleeting, so Dr. Armond’s inevitable divorce is followed by Armond About Town. Then his son Roman gets his own show, Roman’s Empire, in which he’s torn between his hot mom and gangster-wannabe best friend C-Czar, who eventually have sex. Finally, C-Czar takes over the Armond house in C-Czar’s Palace.
It might seem extreme, but often the most ridiculous elements of parody are the closest to the truth. That’s the case with Burning Love, the Yahoo! Screen web series in its second season of skewering The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise. The thirteen-minute episodes follow sixteen men competing to win the heart of Julie (June Diane Raphael), a dental hygienist and former contestant from season one. Every contestant has an easily summarizable backstory he brings up over and over: Leo (Martin Starr) was born two months early, Wally (Michael Cera) is allergic to nuts, and Khris (Nick Kroll) just broke up with his girlfriend and is drunk.
“That’s why I’m here,” Julie says in one of her interviews with sympathetic host Bill Tundle (Michael Ian Black). “To make multiple guys fall in love with me.” Rest assured, everyone is “really starting to fall for” each other on this show. What Burning Love really does best, however, is shine a light on all the idiotic laughter in dating shows. When Julie talks to Bill, appears at a challenge, or even says goodbye to a contestant, her words are punctuated with meaningless good-natured laughter. It’s totally creepy and totally true to the genre.
Reality TV is not a new subject for comedy, of course. Parks And Recreation and The Office are both presented as documentary series, with the latter becoming increasingly meta in its final season as members of the film crew are revealed. 30 Rock created a Bravo show we’d all watch in "Queen of Jordan," and Saturday Night Live followed suit with “The Real Housewives of Disney.” The Lonely Island tapped into The Hills with their web series “The ‘Bu,” and Delocated just wrapped three seasons of its faux-reality show about a family in the witness protection program (they all wear ski masks and have modulated voices).
Still, Kroll Show and “Burning Love” are unique in that they mock the genre to near mimicry. There’s something about watching people make fun of reality TV that makes it okay to enjoy the clichés. Yet, the enjoyment of reference is something one can only reach after consuming hours of terrible television. Which is to say: sometimes culture trickles up. Whatever. They're just goddamn funny.