It's 11:30 p.m. Do you know where your soul is?
About every six weeks or so, mine gets caught and sucked away by a man named Joey Greco. Greco is the host of Cheaters, a show that makes Cops look like Frontline. As televised nutrition, it's like a Twinkie, a shot of Wild Turkey and a Marlboro Light all rolled into one speedball of human failing. Therefore, it is both repugnant and irresistible.
Fate rarely finds me simultaneously a) in front of the TV past 11 p.m. b) in possession of the remote control and c) sufficiently passive to continue flipping around between the recesses of the local evening newscasts like a sheep in a wolf's den. But when these three conditions do coincide, and I encounter that tell-tale grainy video with the tinny, maudlin piano music playing over it, I know I'm destined to spend the next 20-30 minutes wallowing in the emotional gutter of American humanity.
For those who have never seen the show, the general arc goes like this: sad person describes his or her relationship and suspicions in one-on-one interview; we follow Joey's team on an "investigation," where they surveil the "suspect"; Joey returns to the cuckolded person and gently but plainly reveals the damning video evidence, usually captured on dates or outside houses; Joey takes the betrayed to confront the cheater and third party in a denouement usually replete with blurred mouths, shoving and tears. Sometimes, Joey goes back after the confrontation to get the cheater's side, or run a post-mortem with the accuser.
The person who introduced me to Cheaters claims that there are episodes with happy endings, where suspicions of infidelity are proved wrong. I have never seen these mythical episodes. On my Cheaters, where there's suspicion, there's inevitably a cheap grope alongside an SUV in the suburbs.
The show has a slogan that could have been penned by Samuel Richardson: "Cheaters® reality tv is both dedicated to the faithful and presented to the falsehearted to encourage their renewal of temperance and virtue." The producers, natch, are adept at marketing products meant to further this pursuit of temperance and virtue, such as a dating service, live counseling, uncensored DVDs and Cheaters thongs.
Let me say here that Joey Greco is some kind of genius. I don't know how a person in his position has managed to stay watchable, much less alive, for this long (though he has been stabbed at least once). He's at his best in the third act of the show, when he and his crew present evidence of the cheating and then spring into action, swarming the cheaters' crime scene like a SWAT team. You know he's got to be all tingly and happy inside, but on the outside he appears unfailingly calm, firm and sympathetic.
Joey never smirks, rarely yells, and always wears black. The only other places Joey could possibly work are a funeral home or an abattoir.
I used to get my dose of human misery from the show Celebrity Fit Club. Foolishly, I thought that avoiding a cable subscription would prevent me from finding something else to hate myself for viewing. But I should have remembered that trading cable for affiliates just means lower-quality trash TV.
Every time the show's blues-guitar theme cues up and the credits roll on Cheaters, I rarely feel anything other than depressed: Depressed because people are betraying those who love them on a daily basis; depressed because people who have been betrayed then do further injury to themselves by exposing it all in a public forum; and depressed because, well, I don't even know if anything on Cheaters is even real. I mean, I want to believe that Joey and his guests aren't orchestrating anything, but... Joey, is there anything you want to tell me?