Reality-TV packager’s crisis of conscience drives murder plot in a comic’s debut novel.
Trent, newly promoted VP of Nova, which hawks reality-show concepts to the networks and cable, got where he is by never underestimating viewers’ hunger for programs like Pregnant Hookers and Extreme Animal Lovers (a show about bestiality). So when Stewart Dyson, his boss P.T. Beauregard’s Vietnam comrade-in-arms and archrival, tries to recruit Trent to help reform Reality’s venality, he’s all ears. P.T., who has taken telegenic sleaze to the level of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, gloats over Dyson’s sudden, suspicious death, which happened while Dyson phoned Trent to warn him that his own life was in danger. Dyson’s plan to seed the market with socially responsible programs, in which he’d enlisted Trent’s surreptitious complicity, is scuttled. P.T. is now hell-bent on removing the final barrier to Nova’s hijacking of the airwaves, censorious FCC Chairman Ronald Armsburger. Trent is convinced that his volatile boss’s shadowy past conceals mob ties, so he enlists coworkers Max and Rachel to help thwart what he is certain is a planned hit on Armsburger during the latter’s L.A. visit. Max and Rachel, Trent’s bombastic lover, are also in on Trent’s last-ditch ploy to save American minds from further erosion by soulless reality shows: He’s going to kill P.T., take over Nova and launch his pet project, Samaritans, a kind of Pay It Forward with no payday. The fact that American minds aren’t exactly clamoring for more gravitas in their entertainment is lost on Trent, even as his best friend, Adam, finally succeeds in gainfully selling out with a screenplay chockablock with gratuitous violence and ersatz gangsta-speak. Although it stretches credulity that Trent would harbor such illusions without a background in public television, or that he’s desperate enough to murder, the final twist is a thoroughly credible surprise.
Although lacking Bruce Wagner’s rapier bons mots and mordant sarcasm, a pleasant slow roast of Hollywood’s studied inanity, complete with laugh-out-loud reality-show pitches.