If you had asked me how I felt about this show during the first scene or two, man oh man, was I ready to walk out. I sat there thinking, “Oh god, what have I gotten myself into?” Luckily, the show began to redeem itself with its clever one-liners and quirky self-awareness. I gotta say, that’s hard to do – reversing a first impression and bringing me back from the brink is impressive.
Here’s the basic premise: Jeff, a philosophy graduate student, auditions for a reality show dating competition called “Nobody Loves You” to try to get his ex-girlfriend back. Don’t worry, his reasoning makes sense: it’s a musical! He is also ready to prove to his ex (who’s a big fan of the show) and the world how reality TV is manufactured and fake, and no one makes any real connections. You can probably guess how things pan out, but it’s definitely entertaining along the way. If you’re looking for bubblegum fun, this is the place to be.
The tight-knit ensemble cast stays super busy for 90 minutes singing pop tunes and jumping around playing multiple roles. My personal favorite is Heath Calvert as Byron, the charming-as-he-is-dumb host of the competition. Stand-outs also include Leslie Kritzer as Nina, the hilarious, ball-busting Executive Producer, and Rory O’Malley (The Book of Mormon’s Turn It Off star) as super fan Evan, who provides an excellent way to watch the show within a show from the outside in.
Another nice surprise was Aleque Reid as Jenny, the equally-annoyed-as-Jeff backstage assistant to the show. Amidst all of the heightened “reality,” Jenny’s character keeps things grounded. Not to mention she reminded me so much of Elizabeth Mitchell that I went home and fell into a YouTube wormhole watching LOST Juliet clips (spoiler alert in that link, if you still want to watch the series one day).
I did think, however, that the main character was problematic. Jeff just wasn’t likable in my book. I’m stumped as to whether this was due to the actor, the writing, the directing, or a combination. Granted it’s a tough sell to get you on his side; he has to be a Negative Nancy for most of the show, and it opens with him being kind of a jackass. But he could be a lovable jackass, right? Nonetheless, I didn’t care about him, which leads me to my main issue with the show.
Since these characters are all archetypes and spoofs of themselves, not to mention that the show is one major mockery of reality television, it’s hard to care for them on a deeper level. The show is definitely fun and the campiness hilarious, but when it tries to get “real,” the script falters. I don’t watch reality TV; I dislike it almost as much as Jeff does. I prefer the spoofs like Burning Love or Baby Bachelor. In that vein, Nobody Loves You is actually quite a smart commentary on reality shows, and musicalizing it works. But in the end, it is about reality television, so it never really gets beneath the surface. Leaving me to ask: is that the underlying flaw of the show or the point?
Nobody Loves You
Written by Itamar Moses and Gaby Alter, Directed by Michelle Tattenbaum
Second Stage Theatre
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Heath Calvert (right) and the cast of Nobody Loves You