Thanks to a generation of lazy television executives, it’s hard to tell what the term “reality” really means. We have reality shows (“The Osbournes”), reality competition shows (“American Idol”), docu-reality shows (“Deadliest Catch”) and uncategorizable, clearly scripted crapola that masquerades as reality (“The Hills”). All of which just begs the question: “What is real?”
It’s not a question I’d expect to bring up on the vaunted History Channel. But the addition of the archaeology-based reality show “Chasing Mummies” has got me thinking. And I’m ready to call shenanigans.
“Chasing Mummies” introduces us to renowned Egyptologist, noted anti-Semite and raging egotist Dr. Zahi Hawass. Hawass is the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt. He’s written a lot of books, gets his face on TV all the time and pretty much unearths some groundbreaking historic find every time he stick a shovel in the sand. Of course, there are those who say Hawass is a self-serving self-promoter who takes a lot of credit for other people’s work. “Chasing Mummies” isn’t likely to change that idea.
Basically, Hawass comes across as a total jerk-ass in “Chasing Mummies.” A suspiciously large History Channel documentary crew is assigned to follow him around “24/7” as he verbally abuses a bunch of college-age interns, basks in his global fame, risks the lives of plenty of people and generally acts as obnoxious as possible. History Channel seems to be taking a cue from networks like E! (“Pretty Wild”) in thinking that bad behavior equals high ratings.
So what if Hawass is the asshole version of Indiana Jones? That could make for good television, couldn’t it? Possibly, if I were inclined to believe a single frame of “Chasing Mummies.” Which I’m not.
The show is overflowing like a backed-up toilet with manufactured drama. In the opening seconds of the first episode, Hawass is whisked away from a fancy book signing to rescue an intern trapped in a pyramid. Oh, my gosh! It’s a race against time! Fortunately, that intern is also trapped with a cameraman, who documents her terror Blair Witch-style. The whole affair might be slightly believable if the “dialogue” were written with the slightest ear for real speech and the “actors” were the least bit convincing. (Dig into the cast bios on historychannel.com, and the network quietly admits that wide-eyed “intern” Zoë D’Amato “has worked as an actress.”)
The setup for Zoë getting lost in the pyramid is laughable. But it’s not the show’s only glaring gaff. Archaeologists bust into ancient pyramids sealed for centuries, only to find cameramen helpfully waiting inside for them. Hawass rages around the show’s set, doing his best Simon Cowell-meets-Gordon Ramsay imitation. Collapsing walls and other deadly dangers are so common you expect Hawass to outrace a giant rolling boulder any second. You’re an educational network, History Channel. Do you really think your viewers are this gullible? Shenanigans, I tell you.