A select few TV shows leave you needing to take a cold shower. A squalid few others—e.g., Rock of Love Bus With Bret Michaels (VH1)—may trigger a sudden desire to give yourself a high-pressure hosing with sanitizing solution. Rarest of all are the likes of Parking Wars (A&E, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET), a comedic reality series about parking violations. It sets the viewer racing to draw a nice, warm bath. Never has a program so frivolous strained the nerves so tightly. Each 30-minute episode is a condensation of the mundane turmoil of city life. There is bureaucracy and discourtesy and proud jackassery. There are hassles, hassles, hassles—more agitation than a wash cycle.
The ticket, the tow truck, the impound lot—there’s not a lot of room for variation here, but the dramatic possibilities are obvious. The core conflict is between the state, here represented by normal people working a thankless job, and the individual, represented by a bunch of freaking clowns. The normal people give good shtick. Consider the officer nicknamed “the Blonde Hammer.” Her friends claim that “she’d ticket her own car if she had to.” Like many of her colleagues, the Hammer is a life-long resident of working-class Philadelphia and thus gives the viewer a great opportunity to study the correct usage of the pronoun youse.
And the clowns? The thing about clowns is that they’re here to amuse you. Thus do many would-be tough guys, objecting that they’d left their cars in the bus zone just for two minutes, get all up in many impassive faces. Thus does one obnoxious citizen, frustrated by the heat of the summer and the unavailability of free soda at the impound facility, mash up a new word to express his feelings. “This is balarkey,” he brays. “I can’t spell it, but I know what it is.” I caught only one sad clown in the half-dozen episodes I screened. The time had run out on his meter in more than one sense. “I’m tired of bein’ raped,” he vented to the ticketing officer, going on about litter, property taxes, various other wrongs. … “I’m sorry to dump on ya,” he apologized before proceeding to dump some more. Is it possible that parking-enforcement officers, in their capacity as targets of verbal abuse, serve an important societal function as a sort of pressure-release valve? Where else would all that hot air go?
Next Monday, Parking Wars gets a brawny cousin on basic cable in the form of All Worked Up (truTV, 10 p.m. ET). Formerly known as Court TV, truTV traffics in the kind of loud and trashy reality programming that Fox perfected in the ‘90s. TruTV’s slogan is, “Not reality. Actuality.” That’s quite a mouthful unless if you pronounce the last word in an affected high-class way—auktuality—and that doesn’t quite comport with the character of a network devoting so much airtime to spring-break drinking busts.
In any event, All Worked Up traces its lineage to Cops. It finds repo men, process servers, and zoning-code enforcement officers just trying to do their jobs, which means scuffling with lowlifes. The producers’ eye for talent is matched only by their ear for dialogue. Ron, the beefy and buzz-cut repo man featured in the pilot, works in Lizard Lick, N.C., and speaks in similes that may have been ghostwritten by Dan Rather: “He’s gonna be hotter than a goat’s butt in a jalapeño-pepper patch.” We get to see Ron pull off “the fattest repossession in the annals of repossession,” seizing a tow truck. Later, confronted by the deadbeat, Ron gets the man to back down by brandishing a blunt object. (I believe that it would most appropriately be termed a “whuppin’ stick,” but the writing on the side says “Tweety Bird.”) Meanwhile, the process server, Byron, talks like a Samuel L. Jackson character: “We’re gonna swoop down on him like the Lord’s fury and attempt to effect service.” Here is a man who can get you excited about finding entertainment in the misfortune of others. You’ve been served.