Don't be fooled by my sensitive, wussy exterior. Just beneath the surface there lurks a monster with a near-bottomless hunger to see humans get hurt and humiliated. When Johnny Knoxville gets hit in the nuts by school kids with plastic bats? I hoot like an ape. When a bunch of toned blondes choke down hog eyeballs on Fear Factor? Well, they're usually such jerks that I just kind of figure they had it coming. When some anonymous idiot on Real TV stumbles in the middle of a skateboarding trick and ends up in a shivering heap on the concrete? So long as there's no permanent injury, I'm cool with it. When Benny Hill slaps that poor little old bald guy over and over again on the top of the head? A-OK with me.
You can serve up some pretty vile, sadistic stuff on TV before my inner monster chokes on it, but the creators of Comedy Central's I'm With Busey have come up with something so completely evil that I'm still getting a bilious aftertaste days after I screened the premiere episode. No shit, folks; this thing is wrong.
The premise: a snarky young feller (Adam de la Peña, a sometime writer for Comedy Central's Crank Yankers, a show my inner monster likes just fine) and noted character actor Gary Busey (The Buddy Holly Story, Point Break) drive around LA having adventures. Perhaps it sounds dull if you don't know Busey, or if you don't know the Busey of the last few years, but the result is as fascinating as it is tragic as it is terrifying. A pretty intense fellow to start with, after years of drugs, a tumor in his sinus cavity and a bad motorcycle accident that conked his head hard against a curb and rattled his brains but good, Busey has apparently emerged without the ability to censor himself. A danger to himself and others, Busey is a bull, and all of Los Angeles is his china shop. There's never any predicting what the hell is going to come out of Busey's mouth, but while much of it is pure gibberish, some it does posses a certain mad poetry (observing a sunset, he sighs, "Great things like this only happen for the first time once"). De la Peña attempts to handle Busey with a certain ironic detachment, but it's simply not possible to play it cool when Busey snarls "shut up" at him, as Busey frequently does, or when the former Oscar nominee starts chasing de la Peña around a campfire with a flaming stick.
There are times when Busey is so clearly out of control that even de la Peña will take pity and attempt to step forward and salvage whatever may be left of Busey's dignity. In the series premiere, de la Peña asked Busey for advice about women and the actor responded by getting dolled up in drag and hauling the younger man out to a bar for a night of dancing. It was a scene of weirdness beyond David Lynch's most fevered imaginings, and de la Peña could only squirm along with the audience; the spectacle of the hulking Busey shimmying around like Herman Munster in a dress, apparently convinced that he was ravishing, was simply too heartbreaking to bear, let alone laugh at. But there are other times when Busey's out of earshot and de la Peña will turn to the camera and make some nasty jokes to the effect that Busey sure is crazy, a move that makes us wish Busey was a little quicker with that flaming stick.
Some will take I'm With Busey as just another lowest common denominator reality show, but I believe that there's something more sinister at work here and a dangerous line has been crossed. I'm honestly not sure that Busey is of sound mind; without somebody to take care of him, he might just wander off into the night and end up living in a cardboard box under a bridge someplace. Maybe he plays up his eccentricity for the cameras—maybe he's really just kind of crazy and he knows how to put on a good show. But if this is actually the state of the man's mind, Comedy Central is doing something rotten putting him at the center of a TV series that makes a joke of his lowly state.
Johnny Knoxville is a cogent adult who has made the decision to take a plastic bat to the nuts for our entertainment, and I'm glad to watch him do so. Gary Busey is also getting beaten up for our kicks, but the poor guy may be too numb to feel the bat.
I'm With Busey is on TV, and if you're really determined to see it you can go look up when it's on by yourself.