"Shatner, I'd fight William Shatner."
- Ed Norton, Fight Club
Last night was the two hour finale of one of the funniest things I've ever seen in my life, Invasion Iowa. It was fabulous, not just because they punked an entire town, but because it was touching, bad, evil, funny, redemptive and just plain weird. And you know I love when all those things can be rolled in together. For those of you who don't want to know specific details and "spoilers" to this (ie: if you're waiting to see it when SpikeTV rebroadcasts it, if they do) skip this entry. For those who missed it, or haven't heard anything about it, or want to read -- here's the synopsis and my detailed thoughts about what went down in Riverside Iowa, Population 928.
William Shatner brings a movie crew, actors and a script to a small town in Iowa. This small town is the fictional future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise, so of course it is a fabulous place to film a Shatner outer space alien invasion themed movie.
The movie, titled "Invasion Iowa" concerns a man sent back in time to stop the impregnation of a local young lady. The young lady is to become the mother of a race of Human/Gerclon monsters who bring on the end of the universe, and the ultimate death of Earth. Shatner's character, Shane, must stop this from happening -- he's the only survivor from the future.
That groundwork having been set, they audition locals for roles in the cast and production crew. And the filming begins.
What happens over the next 10 days is short of miraculous. Shatner and his wacky Hollywood "crew" of supporters are taken in fully by the people of the town. This little midwestern burgh embraces the open and blatant weirdness (Steve the Spiritual Avisor "Sympathetic" especially) and makes them a part of their daily lives. Even when the cast, crew, and Shatner request things that most folks (like me) would outright walk away from, laugh at, or question, these folks join right in and say "yes."
And it is more than "These are famous Hollywood people so they know what they're doing so okay!" kind of attitudes. These Iowans are genuinely interested, and want to help and participate because they LIKE the people they are dealing with.
The most amazing and poignant part of this program was the relationship that developed between Shatner and a local elderly man, Don Rath. Each day, Shatner would start his day with coffee at the local Kwik n EZ. Don Rath really reaches into the heart of Shatner, and ends up taking him out to his wife's grave to "meet her." And this sassy old man, stands at her gravesite while William Shatner kneels down by her tombstone, and says something along the lines of "Ma, I'd like you to meet Bill Shatner." And they cry together, and it is just... crazy painful and sad and beautiful. It shows Shatner not as some big celebrity, but a friend to this old codger who "blesses" people with his racoon penis (yes, I said racoon penis) which he carries in his pocket. It shows this amazing bridge between levels in American culture. And keep in mind -- this is when Shatner and his crew aren't "acting." This is real.
Conversely, when Shatner is "acting" his part he pushes it too far with the local Catholic priest. He wants to film a scene in the church that will require blowing out one of the priceless stained glass windows. That went over like a lead balloon with the priest and you could see that this kind and gentle man, who genuinely was willing to help out (and totally not "acting") to provide whatever the cast and crew needed or wanted, was genuinely put off. Shatner's character's shallow philosophy of "it's just a material thing and you shouldn't be attached to material things now should you?" really shows the very real vapid nature some people have in respecting the faith and philosphy of others. The exchange between the two (followed up by another equally painful exchange between the Priest and Shatner's Spiritual Advisor) showed the chasm between different factions in America when it comes to faith and value. The 'Traditional' versus the 'Hollywood' philosophy.
The truth in the experiment is mostly found when Shatner and others are not "acting" very hard. When they are sitting down, face to face with people, talking and engaged in relationship. But they are playing two roles, and the townsfolk are playing just one -- themselves.
The days pass and it becomes more obvious that this is going to hurt more than they thought it would. There are many fearful meetings where they know they have to confess the truth - come clean, be honest and let the town know they've been "had."
In the end, it goes over better than I expected. Partly because Shatner is incredibly sweet and honest and no one does it MTV Generation-Kutchter Punk'd style jumping up and down while pointing, screaming and laughing in the faces of the foils. Shatner sits everyone down to a beautiful dinner in the backyard of one of the assistant to his assistant, Scotty Riggan, and lets people know. Only one person in the town's "inner" circle, Wayne, takes it badly and leaves.
Another reason why the town isn't as pissed at Shatner and Friends as they should be is that they aren't left empty handed after the joke. Shatner gives each of the local members of the team a monetary gift. Having gotten to know them very well, he gives them gifts to benefit their exact needs, dreams, and desires. Brooke, his leading lady, has a horse that she can't afford to keep boarding any longer. Shatner tells her that he wants her to use the money to board the horse. Scotty Riggan has always wanted to go to Hawaii. In the winter when Iowa is unbearable. Shatner cries, and very eloquently and poetically wishes for Scotty and his family a beautiful escape to the warmth of the islands when the winds and dark of the hometown are too much to bear. And they all cry. And it is beautiful, sweet, and money certainly aids forgiveness.
I think these folks would have forgiven the hoax without the money. They seemed genuinely okay with the trickery on the face value of things. But one cast member was really ticked, Wayne Simon, local farmer. He leaves the dinner and it is questioned as to whether or not he will return for the 'reveal' later on. But he's there. He forgives.
One of Wayne's big fears is that Shatner and his Hollywood Pranksters will portray them as dumb bumpkins, yokels, and idiots when this makes it to air, as if saying -- "Look at these poor dumb dimwits! They fell for it! We're awesome! They're suckers!"
But Shatner wants to do nothing of that, and from the outset he makes it clear to us, the audience, that it is not his intent. He stands up in front of everyone and states that is not his goal -- he isn't there to play them for fools and hold them up to the rest of the world as easy marks... quite the opposite. He wants to show them as the fabulous and loving people he got to know. And when they 'reveal' the truth to the entire town, most of the town laughs and is okay with it. The gift of $100,000 is a nice bandaid on any hurt they may feel.
The crew of the show took up a seperate collection and raised $12,000 to give to the local elementary school book project, which shows how the ancillary members of the project were so into these people -- and that was extra touching.
The greatest part of the reveal was when Shatner called out his friend Don Rath, thanked him for the racoon penis blessings, and let him know they'd be placing a park bench in town dedicated to the memory of his lovely wife Nita, so that "all can enjoy the beautiful Iowa landscape."
Overall, this was one of the most fun and amazing pieces of "reality TV" I have ever seen in my life. I loved this town, and the people in it. Everyone came across as having such willing and giving souls and hearts, even when they were confused as to why they were doing something. Only one person involved in the process figured things out, Bill Blank, one of the town "punks" who is actually an actor from another town. And in the long and short of it, I think it sums up what is really nice about this country. People, kindness, happiness, fun, forgiveness and friendship.
And that's my official "Love Bomb" for the show.