Last December, I participated in this MTV panel/focus group/thing I’m now bragging about. Its main intention was to pick the brains of males between 18-25, and figure out what we wanted to watch. Us telling them if they were on the right track. Us being self-deprecating enough to make it seem like we didn’t really give a shit, even though that couldn’t be further from the truth. Us talking amongst ourselves, referring to musicians that we liked solely by their first names, as if we were important enough to actually know them on an insider super-posse basis.
As a network who built themselves up by being “cool,” MTV basically acknowledged they’re now on the outside looking in--the whole panel played very much like a now-successful hedge fund guy (MTV) trying to use his cash to gain some cred with the popular kid group he was always excluded from in high school. This is a better analogy than you think, because while shows like Teen Mom and Jersey Shore have been paying the bills and then some, it’s doesn’t seem to be enough for them--judging by how many times Girls and Workaholics were referenced in a 3 hour span, it was pretty clear that they really cared about matterig again. About joining the elite ranks of shit on television that’s for whatever reason, deemed “important.”
If you read this site, you probably know of, or have at least heard the name Bo Burnham--a dude who gained viral internet popularity for writing a bunch of songs during YouTube’s early days, which he’s proceeded to parlay into what’s thus far been an extremely successful career in comedy. Burnham became the youngest homie to record a special for Comedy Central, is currently touring a bunch of new shit, and on an overall level, has established himself as a big-time presence in the “big screenplay” world most postgrads would kill to #makeit in.
For the purposes of making this article flow nicely, all of this success has culminated in a half-hour sitcom created by Burnham--airing now, called Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous.
The series, now two episodes in, stars Burnham as Zach Stone, a recent high school graduate whose only mission in life is to attain widespread fame and notoriety. So instead of attending college, he used his life savings to hire a camera crew, intended to document his life as a “pre-celebrity.”
The premise is as idiotic as it sounds. Which is exactly why it works beautifully.
At its very core, Zach Stone is an MTV show completely shitting on MTV shows. Or more specifically, its a series that shits on the values people have gleaned from watching MTV-type programming. And Zach, Burnham’s protagonist, is the epicenter of the entire thing. He’s obnoxiously self-centered, has little regard for the world around him, and overall needs to do significantly less. He’s shitty to his parents, he’s constantly ditching the girl who cares about him for an unspeakably dumb hot girl (who didn’t know he existed prior to the cameras, and would probably be a great candidate for that show Next) and in terms of actionable skills, he’s just about as directionless as your stubborn father who just smashed the GPS in frustration.
The hilarious thing is that whether or not we're willing to admit it, there’s a bit of Zach in all of us. Which sounds like a bad thing, but I think its just a thing. The world we live in (read: the internet) demands us to express ourselves in ways that could easily be decoded as egotistical and self-important, even if that's never our intention. Looking at our collective selves in the mirror is often pretty hilarious--we do it on Facebook every day. In a way its created a world full of anti-heroes, sort like Zach. Anti-heroes that are tough to pull off in the television world, but work wonderfully when they do because of that second part--in order to work, they've gotta have a little bit of hero in them. Meaning, we have to understand where they're coming from. And in Zach's case, we’ve seen glimpses of his “potential” at the end of each episode--coming to mini-conclusions, and (sorta) realizing that while we may live in a world hellbent on individual glory through gaining millions of twitter followers, what we actually crave is one or two strong personal connections.
Early on in the second episode, Zach says something like “these cameras are gonna catch everything. the good, the bad, the ugly. nothing is off-limits.” Very cheesy, but a.) so are we, and b.) there’s a tremendous degree of truth to this. We live in a world where you have no choice but to be “on” all the time--overexposure, in many ways has deemed parody and reality one in the same. This is a show that’s satirizing the fact that our lives have become a never-ending performance--predicated on who you’re choosing to talk to, what you’re saying, what you’re NOT saying...and you can either take this incredibly seriously and let it drive you crazy, or you could treat the whole thing as one giant joke. Burnham is smart enough to have chosen the latter to express the former.
Burnham has been tweeting the show hasn’t been doing well--indicating that while the first season is all filmed, edited, and will be aired, we won’t see more unless the ratings go up big time (on that note, it's on Thursdays at 10:30. Or the internet, anytime). To be honest, Zach Stone is probably too abrasive to ever dominate the ratings--it’s is a show you really have to “get,” which means the barrier for enjoyment is a lot higher than one may initially think. But it’d be a shame if it ended before it really got started. Ratings are of course a real thing, but given the way we watch TV nowadays it’s arguably way, way too early to use them as a real barometer for success. MTV has been awesome enough to go through with this prolonged roasting, its a pretty cool experiment, and its already going places that every show about young people hasn’t been able to touch. They should keep going.
Because if saying something is the purpose of this whole thing, we should let Zach continue to never shut the fuck up.