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Extreme Cheapskates: TV Review

Extreme Cheapskates - H 2012

The Bottom Line

Fans of TLC’s other series examining unusual behavior will not be left disappointed by this latest spectacle.

Airdate

10 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16 (TLC)

Executive Producer 

Stephen David

 

The series is not frugal when it comes to showcasing the queasy horrors of extreme behavior.

The first thing that should be mentioned about TLC’s Extreme Cheapskates, the network’s latest offering in their dogged commitment as purveyors of Victorian Sideshow, is that it is not for weak stomachs. Over the course of six half-hour episodes, the series introduces viewers to nine "thrifty" individuals who cut costs (or eliminate them all together) by dumpster diving, not flushing toilets, reusing dental floss and other such habits that most people would not consider adopting unless absolutely required to for survival.

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For some, though, like Kate Hashimoto, who appears in the series’ premiere episode, it’s all routine. Despite having a job as a CPA in Manhattan and owning a condo, Kate speaks matter-of-factly about how she hasn’t bought underwear since 1998, has been eating food exclusively from the trash of upscale groceries for two years (it’s interesting to note that Kate finds it important to mention that the groceries are upscale, noting a hierarchy of trash) and keeps a watchful eye on opportunities for sales and free samples.

Like many TLC series of this nature, the featured extreme cheapskates (the "extreme" title is completely warranted) are presented without comment on judgment; the camera passively follows them and lets them tell their own story.  But it’s also completely one-sided. At no point does Kate mention anything negative about her lifestyle, about whether (or how often) she has gotten ill from her trash food or whether her frugal ways have affected her job or relationships at all. It just is.

Kate does have friends, and we meet one of them (Matt, plus his girlfriend Rose) whom Kate invites over for dinner. The two are exceptionally polite though visibly disturbed by Kate’s living situation, and Rose excuses herself twice, once to cool off in the hallway (Kate does not have air conditioning) and a second time once it is revealed that their stale dinner is from the dumpster. Rose goes into the bathroom where we have been told there is no toilet paper (Kate uses a water bottle and a small piece of soap as a makeshift bidet), but we don’t actually find out whether Rose is justifiably horrified by this revelation or not  In fact, Rose and Matt seem more interested with how small the condo was, which, given everything else that is going on within it, seems an unusual point of focus.

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In future weeks the series will showcase others who fall into the same mold as Kate — people who eat roadkill, never replace clothes and pay for almost nothing  — in other words, people who make Scrooge seem like a reckless spender. But, at least as of the pilot episode, there’s no larger comment here about waste or value for money, because the emphasis is, unsurprisingly, on the horror factor of having, say, a bed made from discarded yoga mats or heating up expired turkey meatloaf, by people for whom this is not a practical necessity.

TLC aired a one-off trial episode on the subject last year that was so popular the network decided to expand it to a full series. Extreme Cheapskates probably owes most of its general audience to the house that A&E’s Hoarders built, and for fans of that and similar series, Extreme Cheapskates will bring all of the uncomfortable cringing one could hope for. Queasy viewers, on the other hand, may want to keep it at an extreme arm’s length.

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