Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
3 out of 5 stars
Hi! Carolyn Klarecki here for Daily Arts to tell you about Discovery Channel’s latest show, “Pitchmen!”
Billy Mays’s signature catchphrase — “Hi! Billy Mays here for (insert product)” — has made him a national icon. He has managed to convince millions of people they absolutely need bizarre items like OxiClean, the Bedazzler and Mighty Putty. Of course, the next logical step for the world’s most famous infomercial tycoon is his very own TV show, where he can yell at vulnerable consumers for a full hour — not bad for a guy who first starred in two-minute commercials.
Mays and lesser-known British pitchman Anthony “Sully” Sullivan help hopeful inventors and entrepreneurs make a fortune by offering their salesman services to help promote new products. “Pitchmen” shows how they decide what products to endorse and what goes into making obnoxious commercials.
The biggest selling point of “Pitchmen” is Mays himself. Everyone can recognize his big black beard and booming voice, but this show gives a glimpse of the man behind the products. And there’s little question he’s very entertaining.
Mays and Sullivan are constantly at odds. Sullivan, the organized one, tries to get Mays to prepare for a shoot, but Mays is too busy greeting fans. Mays is something of a diva, attributing Sullivan’s frustrations to his jealousy of Mays’s own celebrity status. An annoyed Sullivan claims Mays is the worst producer he has ever worked with and when Mays overhears, sparks fly.
But wait, there’s more! When Mays is too afraid to let a three-ton car drive over his hand for a demonstration on the shock absorbency of the insoles he’s endorsing, Sullivan steps in as a stunt double. With stunt doubling and petty fighting, the hosts of “Pitchmen” are almost as amusing as actual celebrities.
There might be a perception that these guys are no better than the slime on Wall Street — that is, they only care about getting rich quick off some crazy money-making scheme. With the state of the economy and America’s problem with over-consumption, it’s hard not to wonder if this “industry” is merely taking advantage of naive people. In “Pitchmen,” however, Mays and Sullivan do their best to refute that notion by emphasizing how their products improve lives, which they do by showing the people behind the inventions.
It’s hard not to root for the inventor of the GPS Pal, an old Texan who lives alone. Though his product doesn’t sell well, he’s happy with his current life and insists that — even if he were a millionaire — he’d never move out of his trailer park.
Discovery knows that infomercials have a dirty reputation and turns up the pathos to hide the fact that these commercials trick people into paying $19.99 for a worthless piece of junk. Though a noble effort is made to conceal the truth, it’s often easy to see right through their rotten tactics.
Infomercial products and their endorsers have somehow become a staple in pop culture. Further, Mays has become the center of an odd American fixation. YouTube is full of infomercial parodies and videos of him doing everything from ordering breakfast at a drive-thru window to simply falling down. With this bizarre fascination, “Pitchmen” is sure to satisfy curiosity — and it’s absolutely free!