Arts & Culture

The Ira Glass Man-Fatuation Post: P.I Moms

This week’s episode of This American Life was one of those episodes that represents the brilliance of the program better than most. Read More

By / September 28, 2011
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This week’s episode of This American Life was one of those episodes that represents the brilliance of the program better than most.  If you have a friend you’ve been trying to turn onto TAL, “The Incredible Case of the P.I Moms” is the episode to play for them.  It was the best of the season thus far and one of the best TAL episodes period.

On the surface you’ve got a Private Investigation Agency run by a larger-than-life, testosterone toting puppet master with dreams and aspirations beyond what you might expect.  At first, this week’s episode seemed like it was going to revolve around one small twist on normalcy, “Soccer mom  PI’s” or Charlie’s Angel’s with Mom’s,” or what have you, and Ira and team don’t even begin to reveal that deeper layers are lurking, until a ways into the story.  However, as the listener, you don’t find yourself asking, “Why are they doing an episode on this?  Their must be more.”  Once again on This American Life, they’ve uncovered a compelling story within a compelling story, twice over.

The realization that the PI mom stings are in fact choreographed street theater bits, is at first something of a disappointment.  As is, this story of a magazine writer following PI mom’s on their cheating husband stings, is more interesting if the stings are real.  It’s not until “The Candyman,” that the onion starts to take shape and this story turns into a Usual Suspects-style intrigue tale.  In the end, we learn that Chris Butler, the Dog The Bounty Hunter wannabe head of the agency is actually a hapless Dennis Hoff type character with diluted aspirations of becoming Kaiser Soze, as a reality TV star.

This week’s show reminded me a guilty pleasure I recently discovered on Hulu.  Sex Decoy: Love Stings is a reality series that takes place in Arizona about spurned Arizona mom named Sandra who runs a Investigative Agency aimed specifically at catching cheaters.  As bait, Sandra uses her three daughters, aptly named Kashmir, Jasmine and Xanadu to lure potential cheaters into sexual situations.  Much like the Bait Car episode of TAL, this show reeks of entrapment and so readily feeds the worst of TV viewing desires that it’s clear that something is terribly wrong with what these people are doing.  The subject of this week’s episode of TAL was similar.  When you entrap a college-age kid into selling a small quantity of ecstasy in order to mock arrest him and use the footage a treatment for a potential reality series, you are messing the fiber of reality, experience and entertainment.  Similarly, Cops is problematic.  One can’t help but feel bad for a crack addicted trans-gender hooker whose arrest is being used for ratings. Chris Butler, the man behind PI moms whose desire to become a reality star, found himself on  the opposite side of the law as a product of the world that produced Sex Decoys: Love Stings. The difference between TAL reporting on the PI Moms story, and the PI Mom’s Lifetime reality show that got squashed, is something that been hopelessly lost in the world of entertainment, and who knows if it will ever return.  Reality TV, unless the product of fame-famished half wits that are fully and wholly committed to becoming commodities, can be dangerous.