"You're fired," where is thy sting? CBS has taken the doomsday catchphrase Donald Trump grumps on NBC's "The Apprentice" and made it the punch line of a joke. Contestants on the new reality game show "Fire Me . . . Please" actually want to hear it levied at them because it means they've won the competition and the 25,000 smackers that go with it.
Yes, the object of the game, snicker-snicker, is to be so obnoxious, annoying and nerve-rattling that you get fired by 3 p.m. on the first day of a new job. The rascally producers have managed to rig the places of employment, mostly small stores of some kind, with enough hidden cameras to capture the fun, the embarrassment and the horror, the horror!
As a light summer bonbon (French for "goodgood") with limited ambitions, the program -- premiering at 9 tonight on Channel 9 -- is moderately amusing and seemingly harmless. No serious hopes are dashed or humiliations inflicted on any of those involved, assuming they don't mind being laughed at for a little while on television. TV is so overrun with real people starring in alleged reality romps that one more show, especially one as lightweight and goofy as this, is unlikely to become the dread tipping point that makes cultural apocalypse inevitable.
But just how real is this reality? You do have to wonder how all those cameras were installed without the store's manager and employees being aware of it, but we are told upfront that they don't know they'll be part of the game and that they are not aware the new employee is a ringer who is actually trying to be discharged.
Two matches, each with two contestants battling for the 25 G's, make up each episode (the show is too long at an hour, but then the reality is that the hour is only 44 minutes of programming). In the first segment on tonight's premiere, a likable young man named Kurt tries to get bounced from a coffeehouse by being as dislikable as possible, while his cute opponent, Katie, is driving everyone batty at a clothing shop.
Assisted in advance, perhaps, by professional writers, the contestants do display an endearing inventiveness when it comes to being pains in the neck. Katie insists on warming her hands in a co-worker's armpits for a few minutes, then later turns a cartwheel or two to prove her prowess as a gymnast. The co-workers are horrified, mainly because they think they have a genuine lunatic in their midst.
Resourceful Kurt, meanwhile, screams piercingly that the coffee on sale is too hot, tells co-worker Molly that from now on she's to be known around the shop as "Pistol," and insults a male customer by saying, "That's a nice shirt. Do they make 'em for guys?" As the deadline nears, he gets more demonstrative, at one point screaming, "I don't care about the customers!"
In the second half of the show, a very pretty young woman tries to get fired from a hat store by running around in her stocking feet, among other gambits, while her rival, working at a "feminine boutique," drives everyone to distraction by clomping about in loud-soled shoes, whistling an unhappy tune after everyone has asked her to stop, and announcing she has to "go potty."
It's interesting to see how relatively easy it is to alarm supposedly normal people and make them think you suffer from a serious mental disorder, because the contestants are never truly oppressive in their looniness; it suggests we are becoming increasingly uptight and fussbudgety as a people -- for whatever reasons. Poor Kurt even gets the cops called on him (contestants are told they cannot do anything illegal in pursuit of being discharged) merely for larking it up a bit.
There ought to be consolation prizes for the contestants who come in second -- that is, to be cold about it, the "losers" -- because they work hard and put on good shows, at least in the premiere. But the producers are too cheap to cough up a little more scratch. Easily as annoying as the contestants try to be is emcee Dave Holmes, who makes with such corny sportscaster remarks as "We got ourselves a game, people!"
But do we got ourselves a show? "Fired" could get tired very quickly, and it doesn't help that the program is a sloppy mess of tape edits, silly "swoosh" sound effects and confusing cuts back and forth between the two stores in each segment. It's hard to hear what people are saying, too, because the laughter has been electronically sweetened so as to nearly drown out all other sounds.
Though the opening credits call it "Fire Me Please!," a CBS spokesman in Los Angeles confirmed yesterday that the title is punctuated thus: "Fire Me . . . Please." We have to check on these things, you know. Besides, it's a lousy title anyway. If they were really scrupulous about truth-in-labeling at CBS, the show would be called "That's Almost Entertainment," but then there are so many network programs that cry out for a title like that.
Fire Me . . . Please (one hour) airs at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays on Channel 9.