AMC's first foray into reality television is "Comic Book Men," a show about the New Jersey comic book shop that Kevin Smith and Jay Mewes opened in the 90s -- aptly named Jay And Silent Bob's Secret Stash -- and the men who work there. It's a place where some of the most knowledgeable comic book experts work, hang out, and has the added benefit of being "the only place in Red Bank I can smoke weed and not get busted," as Smith so gently put it.
The show is largely filmed inside of Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash (or just "The Stash," as devotees refer to it) but also incorporates some road trips (to the flea market, as shown in episode one) and footage of the men in their weekly podcast, "I Sell Comics." Smith is quick to acknowledge the difference between "Comic Book Men" and other reality shows in that they never "break the reality wall," as many reality shows do, with a "confessional" booth or direct interviews with castmates looking into the camera. Instead, AMC suggested they film their weekly podcast to help tie together the plot of the show.
While "Comic Book Men" is Kevin Smith's show, it should be noted that he's not involved in the everyday comings and goings at The Stash. He owns the place, but is known for only dropping by approximately once a month, or "every time I'm in town," Smith said. Thus, most of the show revolves around the actual dudes who run the shop: Walt, Michael, Bryan, and Ming.
Fun fact! Bryan is actually the real-life inspiration of Randall, from "Clerks" He's also completely to blame for Smith's love of both hockey and comic books: "He made it cool for me to get into [comics] and that's changed my life." Bryan, a "career slacker" who was hesitant to join the reality bandwagon at first, saying, "I don't want to be Snooki." He was eventually convinced by the money he'd make from the show, which would allow him to finally fix his bum knee. A guy without health insurance who hangs around a comic book shop all day long? Yep, definitely sounds like the inspiration for Randall.
The Inside Scoop
I attended AMC's Q&A press event at Caroline's On Broadway this past Tuesday and if I wasn't feeling like the series wasn't reaching out for viewers like me (girls who know nothing about comic books), I still left the event feeling refreshed and excited about the series.
After I got over my awe of seeing Kevin Smith, a man I've admired since I in the first of many viewings of "Mallrats" as a teenager, I realized how blatantly excited Smith felt about the show. He spoke highly of AMC, their credibility in producing great television dramas ("Mad Men," anyone?), and how many actors would die to get a role on any show on the network, so highly, actually, that he exclaimed, "I don't know whose dick I sucked but it worked!"
I should probably mention that Smith began the press conference by announcing "Sorry. I smoked a joint right before I got here." So perhaps his excitement was a bit, um, amplified but the sentiment remained the same. It seems he's most excited about the reliability of the show, saying, "The highest compliment you can be paid is 'You guys talk about the same shit my friends talk about.'"
But not everyone can relate to a group of older, nerdy guys talking about comics all day long. Does he worry about how he's portraying this world?
"In terms of presenting an [geeky] image, I got credibility in that world and I wouldn't wanna lose it, and I wouldn't fucking trade it for like, "here's a stereotypical picture of some geeks who can't get pussy!" No. I would much rather put a modest portrayal. I love that world. I'm a geek as well."
So that brings us to another question: who, exactly, will watch?
"If the audience is there, we'll make more [episodes], man. And if it's not, I get it. And if it's not … I would never bitch about this AMC thing because they put us after "The Walking Dead" -- and if we don't score there we won't score anywhere."
Before heading over to the event, I asked a friend of mine who writes for a science fiction if they'd be attending the same press conference as I and their response went something like this: "Hell no. That shit's sexist." Hmm, I thought, as it made sense why people might think that, but I wasn't sold. Inevitably, a reporter asked Smith if he thought his show was sexist at the press event. He explained that the show is ultimately about a "group of friends who have known each other for 25 years" who just happen to be men. In fact, after the pilot was finished, AMC asked that they put out a call for a geeky girl and reshoot the pilot with her included. It didn't end up working out.
"When we originally showed the idea to AMC, they said ‘It’s a sausage party,’ so we said all right, let’s bring in a chick. And for the presentation we brought in and shot a chick, and it was wonderful and great, but then AMC, god bless them, said 'Well, that's not the reality of the show."
He gave an apology of sorts about the lack of women in their lives:
"This is the reality: these dudes work here. Now, we could alter the reality of the show…but that would feel kind of weird. This is a snapshot of a store where these guys have worked for 20 years, and unfortunately it is a sausage fest."
I'm a woman and I didn't find any of what Smith said particularly offensive, but others remain unconvinced. I mean: would you like a network throwing a stranger into your mix of lifelong friends and asking you to pretend like it's the same? No, you wouldn't, regardless of their sex.
Besides, it's not like there aren't any women on the show -- they just don't happen to work at the store. For example, Marilyn Mansfield, the crazy doll-obsessed woman featured on TLC's "My Collection Obsession" shows up in an episode to try and sell her Chucky doll.
Spoiler alert: in the end, Marilyn can't bear to sell her "child" for such a low price. Oh, and speaking of spoiler alerts? Smith confirmed that Jay Mewes will appear in at least one episode of season one. Snoochie boochies!
Comic Book Men premires this Sunday night on AMC, right after "The Walking Dead."