If you haven’t heard, Kristen Wiig came out with a new film called Welcome to Me, where she plays a woman with borderline personality disorder who wins the lottery. And if that’s not enough to get you interested, Will Ferrell produced it. Your immediate thought might be that it’s a comedy. I definitely laughed throughout the film, but a dark comedy is probably a better description.
Not many people know about Welcome to Me, so I’ll provide a brief synopsis: A woman (Wiig) with borderline personality disorder is obsessed with The Oprah Winfrey Show. She is socially awkward, dresses as though it’s still 1980, and has a profoundly blunt personality. One day she wins $86.7 million in the lottery. She decides to go off her medicine and, after a series of events, ends up paying outright to create her own multi-million dollar talk show. When the producers asks her what she wants to talk about on the show she simply replies, “me.” And so they create the show titled Welcome to Me.
This film stood out to me not because it deals with BPD, but because of how honest it depicts talk shows. Shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The View and Dr. Phil were all created because someone said, “I want to have a show where I can talk about myself.”
As I sat in the dark theater watching Welcome to Me, I had this moment of clarity: Who thought that it would be entertaining to have celebrities talk about popular culture when average, unknown people do the same thing every day without being filmed, paid or promoted to do it? And that’s why I fell in love with Welcome to Me.
Our heroine, while mentally ill, is pure. She doesn’t sugarcoat her show with celebrities, popular culture or free gifts for the audience. She literally does exactly what she would do if she were in her own living room. She paints her toenails, talks to her mom on the phone and watches TV on a set made to look exactly like her living room. But then she also takes it to an extreme: She begins to neuter dogs on the show; she has actors play out scenarios from her childhood while she critiques them, and begins to make out with the guy she’s dating, all while being filmed on national television.
There are many different talk shows that are catered to all different kinds of audiences. But what makes a talk show is the host. From Bill O’Reilly to Jon Stewart there is an array of people and topics that are being discussed everyday. A host can make or break a show. Recently, a new wave of hosts have been taking over the shows that have been around for decades: Jimmy Fallon for Jay Leno, Stephen Colbert for David Letterman, and James Corden for Craig Ferguson. With each new host comes some new segment on the show. This is nothing new, but the level of honesty that each host shares with their audience is the same. Any deeper and it wouldn’t be aired. This is the type of honesty we’ve come to expect from television: superficial intimacy. And that’s why we watch these shows, not to feel depressed by the world but to view popular culture in the one-dimensional representation these hosts share with us. Because it’s entertaining.
This forces me to wonder what would happen if a show like Welcome to Me actually aired. Would it be forced off the air like it was in the movie? Or would be we be able to embrace it for the truth it shares?