In The Briefcase, CBS's newest reality show, one poverty-stricken family is given a briefcase with $100,000 dollars in it, but then (twist!) they're told about another family, in a similarly desperate situation, and given the option to share a portion of their prize with these other unfortunate souls. Over the next 72 hours, they're drip-fed information about the other family and slowly guilted into sharing the money -- all the while not knowing that (double twist!) the other family also has $100,000, and is in the exact same situation. The fun part of the show is, obviously, seeing the impoverished and debt-ridden struggle between their own needs and the inherent human urge to help others, exacerbating the severe, endemic psychological stress that comes from poverty and debt while simultaneously filling up CBS executives' wallets. It's a win-win.
But I'm not here to tell you that this show is dooming America, or even that it's hilariously evil. There are plenty of other articles to do that for me. I'm not an artist, I'm a businessman, and I know that human beings aren't human beings when they're on TV, they're just objects to be tortured for our amusement, like insects or puppies.
Prepare the doom maze!
So where others see a tragic decline in our national conscience and integrity, I see opportunity. Which is why I'm pitching the following ideas to CBS.
Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images/CBS
Seven sexy homeless people compete against each other with such enticing immunity challenges as "making it to the homeless shelter before it fills to capacity for the night" or "not freezing to death during the relentless New York City winter" or "trying to clean themselves up enough so they're not embarrassed when they visit their families."
Once a winner establishes his or herself, we'll take them out for the nicest Chipotle dinner we can afford on whatever's left of our budget. See? It's not torture-porn, because we were planning on being nice all along. That makes it inspirational.
First off, one quarter of our cast is going to be children, and I'm not 100% on the laws about that kind of thing. It seems kind of heartless to put kids through the stuff we normally put Reality Show contestants through so maybe we'll figure out some other special circumstances for them? Like, it's one thing to induce so much stress into a woman that she vomits on the side of the road, like in the first episode of The Briefcase, but I'm not 100% sure that audiences are ready to actually watch a little kid starve to death on TV.
Lastly, I know some of you may be worried that some homeless folks may be too haggard and worn to be easily made "TV ugly," but frankly I think that concern is misplaced. Compared to the ugliness in the human soul we're exposing, these guys will look like Scarlett Jo-Fucking-Hanson.
Eight single moms battle it out to see who can give their kid the stablest childhood, endure the most workplace discrimination, and give up the most sleep while trying to keep a household together and responsibly raise a tiny human being that they single-wombedly built from nothing.
There's a great scene in The Briefcase where a man is crying because on the one hand, he wants to keep the $100,000 so that he can provide for his family, but on the other hand, he wants to be kind and charitable so that his daughters can be proud of him. If you thought that was enthralling, just wait until you see a woman crying because of the sexual harassment she endured at work today, and because we're not even giving her $100,000 dollars.
And in the end when one mom emerges as the mom-est of all of them, we will reward her with a man of her very own to do with as she pleases.
Well I think giving a human being to another human being might actually be illegal, but more importantly, it's damn near impossible to artificially complicate a single parents' life, because they're so used to dealing with the utter insanity that is single-parenthood. Like what're we going to do, steal their kid?
Wait, shit, I just had another great idea...
After our producers hung around seven different playgrounds and chloroformed seven different kids, seven sets of parents are asked what they wouldn't give up to get their kids back. But what they don't know is that their kids have been asked the exact same question! Each sides have 72 hours to decide what they'd be willing to sacrifice, what they'd be willing to pay to return to their families -- and once they find out that we're just a TV show and can't actually murder anyone, they'll be relieved, overjoyed, and maybe just learn a little something about family. We are but gods, and these peasants are putty in our hands.
The obvious issue is that we can't let them know the premise of our show without spoiling the twist ending, but the fact that they're on TV is going to be more-or-less spoiled by the presence of our camera crew. But I figure we can get around that with some clever wording: See, when contestants for The Briefcase sign up, they think they're just agreeing to be part of a documentary about how they manage their finances, so the moral-torture-twist comes out of goddamn nowhere, like a one-two punch of imposed guilt. So I figure we can probably get away with something similar? "We're here to do a documentary about parents who love their kids so, so much. Just sign here. Speaking of which, where is the little guy? My God, a ransom note! What a horrifying coincidence! Well, we may as well keep filming."
Buena Vista Pictures
This exciting new reality show takes the classic movie trope of "fun teacher with unorthodox teaching method is able to engage troublemaker students and ends up changing their lives forever," and makes it happen in the real world. How would students actually react to Michelle Pfeiffer doing karate at them instead of answering their questions? Or Robin Williams telling them to "seize the day" and telling jokes instead of teaching them anything actually about poetry? We'll find out! Whichever celebrity manages to provide the best education will get to keep the child he or she educated, to raise however they see fit.
Best of all, when these kids graduate, the ramifications of our having played god with their education will follow them. Their chances at a fulfilling and prosperous life will have been damaged. They'll be more likely to live in poverty, and because of that, be more likely to appear on one of our shows. This is an investment in our future.
We're basically taking a bunch of kids and using their entire futures and emotional development as a trophy. Everything that we film, everything that happens because of our choices, will have a lasting negative effect both on these children and everyone they interact with for the rest of their lives. Our work would be an evil that defies measure or accountability. If there is justice in this world or the next, not even the sweet release of death will ever give us peace.
Seven families. Seven kids about to turn 16. How far will these parents go to give their kids a good birthday -- just once, for god's sake, just one real birthday for them to remember -- even though they *record scratch* are on food stamps?
Whoever puts together the fanciest life, we'll give them just enough money to get off food stamps for a year. But not one goddamn penny more.
America hates people on food stamps more than bed bugs, herpes, and Toyota Prius drivers combined, so we're really going to have our work cut out for ourselves making them look sympathetic. Maybe if we break one kneecap per contestant? This may warrant focus testing.
The title says it all, I guess. All that's left to decide is if we should make these people jump through hoops by asking them questions, or go full-on Japanese Game Show and make them jump through actual hoops.
My nose started bleeding when I came up with this idea and it hasn't stopped and it's been days. I don't know what's happening to me and I'm scared.
I've got a lot of pool cues and power tools down there, guys. And it'd only take a couple of days to set up the cameras. We'll even save money on release forms, since we'll only need a signature from one of them.
None that I can foresee. In fact, I'm fairly certain that nothing can stop my plan now. AHAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAHAHA!
I'll see you all in hell.
JF Sargent is an editor and columnist for Cracked up until one of these ideas gets picked up, then he's fucking out of here. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook to follow his new career in TV production.
For more from Sarge, check out 5 Lessons All Movies Should Learn From 'Mad Max' and 5 Ways Kids' Toys Are Shockingly Good At Teaching Sexism.
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