Los Angeles Times, April 12, 1997
Stylish 'Zoo TV' Blurs Fact and Fiction
By Steve Hochman
When you see a TV show open with a guy removing his prosthetic nose, you know you've got something different from the usual fare. It's a great attention-getter for the second installment of "Zoo TV," the three-week magazine-style series airing on MTV beginning Sunday, and it is the crux of the program. Metaphorically speaking, the series takes off its false nose (in the second episode). Normally on TV, the show asks, can you tell when something is fake?
Or, as the Firesign Theatre so succinctly put it in its '60s media satires: What is reality?
Spun by creator Roger Trilling out of the media-saturation themes of U2's 1992-93 concert tour of the same name--and with the blessing, partial financing and score music (but not appearances) from the Irish band -- the series consciously attempts to blur the distinctions between truth and fiction. And it comes close to succeeding in several instances.
Did hip-hop really start at a late-'70s suburban pool party where a white kid "discovered" record-scratching while trying to wipe a spilled meatball off of an Abba record? Of course not, but that's no more "unreal" than many factual things shown in other segments of these shows.
Sure, we've seen that sort of thing before. The fake segments and commercials could have come from vintage "Saturday Night Live" or "The Groove Tube." But it's done with entertaining flair.
What takes this series -- with episodes addressing television, the body and the concept of "alternative" -- into its own space is a dark current of Orwellian paranoia. Hosted by 11-year-old Nataliya Abramovitch, a Wednesday Addams variant speaking to us from a desolate landscape (representing TV's vast wasteland, no doubt), "Zoo TV" follows the premise that we are all targets of mass marketing. Everything we say or do is merely research fodder for multinational overlords to use in keeping us happy consumers. You can't even go underground, because that's been mass marketed too.
That message is presented in compelling, stylish packages. But it's also done without much humor or hope. Where, for example, Michael Moore's "TV Nation" used the reality TV format to inspire vigilance in the face of tyranny, "Zoo TV"--whatever the intent--leaves the feeling there's little choice but to surrender.
"Zoo TV" premieres Sunday at 11:30 p.m. on MTV.
Copyright Â© 1997 Los Angeles Times. All rights reserved.
I saw this show, very randomly, back when it aired. I didn't really know what it was, but I was enthralled by it. I've wondered about it since then. I can't seem to find any other mention of it anywhere on the internet. Does anyone know where I can get a copy of it or see it on the internet?