Life isn’t always a bed of roses at the Venice Beach Freakshow. Sometimes it’s a bed of nails. The second season of “Freakshow” debuted on AMC Tuesday night with two new dramatic episodes. Some of the drama felt a little manufactured, but some of it was very real.
Todd Ray’s seaside business is booming like never before. The show has gone dark while it expands into the space next door. Ray has added a bearded lady to his roster of performers and is holding auditions for a hot, fresh act to beef up the re-opening his freakshow. Prospective new cast members include performers who had to have been on Ray’s radar long before now, like a Little Person who is smaller than the Amazing Ali, in addition to people who are merely weird.
The drama begins. Dangerous stunt performer Morgue thinks a performer who does painful things to himself is simply doing “Jackass”-type stunts. Pretty Asia Ray thinks that a Snake Lady is relying solely on sex to sell her act. Ali voices a fear that patrons will want their pictures made with the smaller performer, leaving her out in the cold. Ali’s comment hits the nail on the head. These new performers ARE similar to the old performers, although the old performers certainly have style and skills. So I wasn’t particularly bothered by the disconnect between the “We Are Family” attitude of the show and the jealousy and fear the performers displayed in the form of being hypercritical of the auditioning hopefuls. They are in show business, where there is little job security. While it’s highly unlikely that any of the “Freakshow” family will lose their jobs, they could certainly be pushed off of center stage by new flavors of the month.
The Snake Lady is Todd’s pick for new cast member, and his daughter, Asia, is not happy. In addition to having a goofy world view and a trampy act, the Snake Lady doesn’t seem to be very good with her own snake. The snake bites her. She doesn’t seem to care when the snake falls and bumps its head on a metal railing. In spite of Asia’s objections, the Snake Lady isn’t off the mark, to me. I imagine she is fairly representative of the Snake Lady breed. She isn’t a scientist. She isn’t an animal rights advocate. Her job is to be a barely clad woman who gyrates around with a phallic snake, and that’s what she does. Throughout the history of the sideshow, Snake Ladies have always been about audiences seeing something sexual without having to take the potentially embarrassing or difficult step of actually paying to see something sexual. Wife won’t let you see the cooch show? There’s always the Snake Lady. It’s a dated concept, these days, and every Snake Lady I’ve seen has pretty much done the same thing, but the Snake Lady at the Venice Beach Sideshow is doing what she was hired to do. I’m sure this tension between Asia and the Snake Lady will play out in future episodes, however.
The real drama of the first two episodes of the second season hits when Ali is forced to undergo hip replacement surgery. Little People often have orthopedic problems, and Ali has bad hips that have deteriorated to the point where she is in constant pain. With the support of her mother, her Freakshow family, and her husband, Matt McCarthy, Ali sails through her surgery.
Last season, Ali and Matt were married on the show in an re-enactment of Tom Thumb’s famous wedding. Tom Thumb’s marriage to Lavinia Warren was possibly a publicity stunt drummed up by P.T. Barnum, but Ali Chapman’s marriage is certainly real, and her husband’s fear for her and devotion to her is very touching. Ali and Matt are the stars of these first two episodes, even eclipsing Boobzilla, who has turned the minus of having extremely large breasts into a can crushing plus, and Garry Stretch, who has a condition that allows him to cover his mouth with the skin of his neck.
I’m looking forward to future episodes. Long live the Venice Beach Freakshow!