By Danny Hooley
“The most fun reality series about a star’s family since season one of MTV’s The Osbournes.”
“Cho finally has her day, her say, and don’t forget, “her gay.” She makes the most of this opportunity, and so should we.”
The dramatic hook of comedian Margaret Cho’s new VH1 reality series “The Cho Show” is that she finally gets to right the wrongs of “All American Girl,” her failed 1994 sitcom that left her struggling with cultural and body-image issues for a long time.
ABC executives pressured her to lose weight for the series, and a panicky starvation diet resulted in serious illness. To make matters worse, the network suits also complained that she was not coming off as “Asian enough,” while the Asian community slammed the family sitcom for stereotyping. The show was quickly canceled because of poor ratings.
“For years, I yo-yoed between skinny and fat as the Hollywood game tried to play me,” she says over the opening sequence of “The Cho Show,” which depicts her current happy life in L.A., surrounded by her loyal Glam Squad (“Every dog has his day, and every diva needs her gay,” she reminds us). She’s also joined by her 3-foot-10 “assistant” Selene Luna and, best of all, Mr. and Mrs. Cho, the parents oft cited in Margaret’s riotous standup act.
As it turns out, Margaret’s well-known, hilarious impression of her mom’s Korean accent is pretty spot-on. And as expected, the elder Chos just don’t get some things about their daughter, in that way that all parents don’t. But their supportive, sweet, often unintentionally funny presence on “The Cho Show” contributes to making it the most fun reality series about a star’s family since season one of MTV’s “The Osbournes.”
It’s not that “The Cho Show” is terribly groundbreaking. Visually, it’s not snazzily new, like E! channel’s new Pamela Anderson series “Pam: Girl on the Loose.” Awkward moments on “The Cho Show” are underscored by the bassy boom of a drum, and quick shots of people looking squirrely. It’s a device straight out of Reality Show 101.
And some scenes feel like setups, such as when Margaret needs a dress for her acceptance speech at a Korean of the Year awards dinner. One of her Glam Squad boys has the bright idea of painting a Chinese-style dress on her nude body, which, of course, they preview for the parents. As a contrived “shock” moment, it doesn’t work anyway — after 39 years with Margaret, the Chos don’t shock easily. Leave it to Margaret to save the scene by riffing off mom’s main complaint that the painted-on dress looks too Chinese.
The magic comes from the bonding moments between Margaret, her parents and the extended family. In one touching, funny scene, Mr. and Mrs. Cho take Selene out shopping, and it dawns on everybody that they treat her like the grandchild they’ll likely never have. Ribbing aside, Margaret’s parents actually do “get” their daughter more often than not, which works in the show’s favor — it cuts down the contrivances a bit and gives Margaret room to be herself. So when she mockingly proclaims “I will put you in a home!” after Dad asks her to cover her tattoos for the awards dinner, the parents laugh, which frees Margaret to riff some more.
She’s good at it, which lightens things up refreshingly when a scene starts to get too heavy, or the star begins to act too “Hollywood.” After 13 years of regretting her shattered TV dream, Cho finally has her day, her say, and don’t forget, “her gay.” She makes the most of this opportunity, and so should we.
By Danny Hooley