It is fairly safe to say that MTV has been in somewhat of a decline of late. When they were young and full of that nervous energy that a Big Idea can create in a generation and an audience, it was most excellent to watch their tittering VJs sit in a low-budget soundstage and introduce your favorite bands live into your living room. Over the years, the quantity and quality of artists and videos on the channel have decreased as the station has used its newfound status as the primary mass media connection to the youth to add in original programming focused on these groups. Most of this has come in the form of reality TV, beginning with the grandfather of them all, "Real World."
Since then, a number of shows on MTV based on real life have sprung up, ranging from dating ("Dismissed"), fantasies realized ("Made"), and (somewhat disturbingly) celebrity look-alike surgery ("I Want A Famous Face"). At the same time, the major networks and an unseemly large number of cable channels picked up on the reality bent of television, creating game shows, contests, and entire series based on real people interacting with each other. More often than not, these shows are based on the premise of people being snarky and competing against each other for one exclusive prize (with the prize occasionally being another person's love, though the metaphysics of such a contest is well beyond this author's philosophical grasp.) These shows often devolve into simple hate, cheating, greed, and manipulation as one contestant or another tries to claw their way to the top: capitalism at its blaring best.
Which is exactly what makes "Pimp My Ride" such a fabulous exception to the reality show.
Hosted by rapper Xzibit, the show has a notoriously simple premise and production. A random teenager complains to the show about his or her crappy automobile. The producers then send the car over to West Coast Customs, a custom auto detailer in California. With Xzibit presiding over the affair, the team re-engineers the car from scratch, and adds in numerous goodies to the car. Finally, the car is presented to the teenager, and much love is passed all around.
No, seriously, folks. We're talking pure altruistic ride-pimping here.
I've only watched two episodes so far, and I'm hooked. I'm not one who is particularly attached to cars; certainly I'm not interested in having my own car pimped out, but then again, neither are these kids. The cars they offer to the show are about three orders of magnitude below "pathetic": missing hubcaps, broken grilles and windows, duct tape over the broken cassette deck, holes in the dashboard and flooring, the works. These kids aren't upper-middies trying to get their 97 Accord back into primo condition. These are some of the sorriest rides around.
The work that the crew does is outstanding. Besides giving the car a good internal overhaul, replacing valves, transmissions, tires, and spark plugs with vigor, they do custom paint jobs, upholstery, rims (the ultimate sign of pimpage), and stereo systems. They've added DVD players, ping pong tables, full makeup compartments, touch screen MP3 players, fish tanks, and widescreen TVs to these automobiles, to the point that their owner barely recognizes them in it.
Meanwhile, the real selling point of the show isn't the car (though you can frequently drool at their work), but the interaction between XZibit, the owner of the car, and the camera. Xzibit, great rapper though he may be, is a dynamo when he's onscreen, winking, laughing, singing old school R&B, and more often than not participating in the car's phoenician rebirth. He cracks wise all the time, and genuinely seems to enjoy everyone around him. This especially comes in handy when the car owner sees his ride. On one recent episode, a kid brought in his beaten-up truck. When he finally opened his eyes to his brand-new automobile, he completely ignored the awesome DVD player, stellar paint job, new rims, and impressive new V8 engine. Instead, he gasped, with an almost painfully contorted smile of pure glee on his face: "I have a tailgate!" Such charm is hard to reproduce with other nasty reality shows.
But the real treat was at the very end of the show. You can't help but feel good as the kid is simply staring profoundly at his new ride. And then Xzibit walks over and says to him, "Remember how you said it was almost better to skate than to drive this thing?" The kid answers, "Yeah ...?" and Xzibit says, "Well, I called some friends up, and they told me that this was the best skateboard around, and I want you to have it, from me to you, for being such a good sport about us pimping your ride, and so you can skate OR ride wherever you want." Uh oh.. The kid takes the skateboard in shocked reverence. There's a lump in your throat ... "Oh my god, thank you so much!" the kid gushes. Please don't ... Xzibit and the kid hug briefly. HERE COME THE WATERWORKS! Scenes like this just get you right here, you know?
Part of MTV's famous "Ten Spot" lineup on Sundays, I hope "Pimp My Ride" sticks around awhile. Let the good times roll, baby!