No, but, really: I think Norman Reedus really needs our help. He needs an intervention from someone, at least. Because something has gone horribly wrong. Earlier this summer, AMC decided to air six one-hour long episodes of Ride with Norman Reedus as part of their Sunday night line-up, immediately following their new ‘prestige’ drama Preacher. The show nominally “follows The Walking Dead star and motorcycle enthusiast Norman Reedus where he and a guest of the week travel across a different destination on a motorcycle while exploring the city’s biker culture and checking out various locales” per Wikipedia.
Instead, it is a disturbing window into the increasingly tormented life of Norman Reedus, as he descends into a drug-induced stupor. Norman Reedus intones his voice-overs with the enthusiasm of Ben Stein on quaaludes while the producers scramble to piece together enough footage to trick people into thinking that A) Norman Reedus knows how to ride a motorcycle, B) Norman Reedus is capable of interacting with other human beings, and C) Norman Reedus is sober.
Take, for example, the 4th episode of the show, in which Norman Reedus invites us to watch Norman Reedus ride his motorcycle in Texas and hang out with Robert Rodriguez (though, from the tone of their interaction, it isn’t at all clear to me that Norman Reedus knew who Robert Rodriguez was before filming began). You can (don’t) watch the whole thing online here (but, really, don’t – in part because the only versions I can find online have been bizarrely re-edited to try and dodge copyright lawyers, though at times it makes the episode more watchable than the version I have inexplicably saved on my DVR). I originally intended to write a running diary of the episode to catalog every inch of how ridiculous it is, but realized after only a few minutes that simply attempting to understand and wrap my brain around what was happening was having the same effect on me as the protagonist in an H.P. Lovecraft story discovering Cthulhu. To maintain both my sanity and the collective sanity of mankind, I must restrain myself from diving too deeply.
So, instead, here I present the top 5 questions raised by Ride with Norman Reedus Episode 4, “Texas: Twisted Sisters” (to my disappointment, this has nothing to do with the band Twisted Sister). I will occasionally refer to a specific scene in the episode, which I annotate with the timestamp (MM:SS) at which you can find it in the YouTube video linked above (though, again, I apologize that the YouTube version has been butchered and not all of the scenes I reference are preserved coherently).
1) Does Norman Reedus know how to ride a motorcycle?
Before watching this show, I was pretty sure Norman Reedus liked motorcycles. He rides a motorcycle in his most (only) famous role. He comports himself in interviews like the kind of guy who would like motorcycles. He convinced AMC to let him make a reality TV show about motorcycles. So I was surprised to find that by the end of the show, I found myself questioning whether or not Norman Reedus had ever really ridden a motorcycle before.
Throughout the episode, usually during one of Norman Reedus’s excitatory voice-overs, we are shown montages of two people riding motorcycles. We are led to believe that one of these people is Norman Reedus, and that the other person is someone named Jake Lamagno, who is supposedly a New York-based artist but looks more like Jared Leto’s stunt double in Requiem for a Dream. Here he is posing inside of a shark jaw he spray-painted gold.
We will get back to him in question 3.
Anyway, we rarely, if ever, actually see their faces during some of the riding shots. And the few times we do see them unambiguously on the bikes, they aren’t doing too well. At least 3 times during the course of the episode, one of them stalls out or falls (e.g. 29:36). During the scenes of them awkwardly interviewing local motorcycle mechanics, they both seem either confused by or disinterested in the conversation. Further, if you watch carefully, you will notice they keep recycling the same clips again and again, and that they pad the montages out by constantly recutting the same scene of them driving down the same stretch of road.
Norman Reedus probably only road a motorcycle for about 5 total minutes during the several days it took them to film the episode. And all of that on a road that, you can see, has been completely closed to traffic by police cars, with three dummy cars driving behind them to make it look like the road is open. You know they are dummy cars because they are the only other cars you ever see actually driving, while everyone else is parked or pulled over. They barely make the effort of switching out the dummy cars, so the show is just as much about Norman Reedus on a motorcycle as it is about a production assistant driving a red SUV behind Norman Reedus on a motorcycle.
2) Has Norman Reedus ever interacted with another human being?
All of Norman Reedus’s social interactions in this show are awkward. They all resemble what I imagine to be the interaction he has between takes with the zombie extras on The Walking Dead, right before he fake skewers their neck with a knife for the 26th time. And the whole time Jake Lamagno lurks in the background, pale and grinning.
Norman Reedus compliments a man’s laugh after asking to feel his dreadlocks (26:52). Norman Reedus, ever eloquent, asks someone, “Austin’s Texas but it’s like it’s own little thing … explain that to me,” with a look of naive earnestness (7:40). Norman Reedus introduces himself (unfortunately only as “Norman”) to a man he’d already been talking to for a couple of minutes, only after interrupting the other man by jumping off the couch and hurrying to another part of the room like a lunatic (23:52). Norman Reedus, Norman Reedus, Norman Reedus.
3) But, seriously, just how fucked up was Norman Reedus while they were filming this?
The show is pretty explicit in showing how much Norman Reedus drinks, even if they gloss over how much time elapses between those drinks and the next shot of him on a motorcycle. He and Lamagno chain smoke cigarettes in almost every scene that isn’t indoors. At one point, Lamagno is rather obviously smoking a joint (35:20). Any extracurriculars are, naturally, left unsaid, but … well, let’s just say they are both awfully pale and twitchy the whole episode.
The effects of the intoxication are pretty plain to see, especially as the episode progresses (i.e. declines into a Fear and Loathing style bender) from the scene where he and Lamagno become transfixed by a taxidermist’s sign (28:45), to the manic fervor of their impromptu spray-painting session (31:30), and all the way to chickenshit bingo (39:00). But nothing encapsulates this more than the scene at the shooting gallery. And, oh, my Science, the shooting gallery. Who ever thought it was a good idea to give these guys guns? While the producers do their gamest to hide everything through quick camera cuts, careful editing, and unconventional angles, there are still some alarming signs slipping through. They had to move the targets to within one meter of Norman Reedus and Lamagno (35:02). At one point, Norman Reedus leans forward, the barrel of the shotgun about 1-2 feet away from the target … AND MISSES WIDE LEFT.
And, of course, if there was ever any doubt, there is Jake Lamagno. Always lurking. At one point he eats gold and says, “The Egyptians ate it … lived forever” (3:55). Less than ten seconds later, the conversation ends with Lamagno uttering a stream of slurred gibberish that I can’t parse despite rewatching at least 8 times. Later, he mutters, “I honestly feel like at some point I am going to see a zebra” (25:45). Even Robert Rodriguez looked extremely uncomfortable that he was there and had to shake his hand on camera (11:15).
4) Why did AMC give this show the green light?
The show is, by any realistic standards, a hot mess, even if the magnitude of its terribleness is largely washed out by the low signal-to-noise ratio that makes up the general background noise of the reality TV landscape. Still, even by the standards of reality TV, the mere existence of Ride with Norman Reedus is puzzling. Even short-lived and unpopular reality shows pump out around around 12 episodes in a season. Finding Bigfoot has been able to wring a herculean 72 episodes out of a premise best described as “morons fail to find mythological beast; are loud”. There are 6 episodes of Ride with Norman Reedus. My surprise isn’t that they weren’t able to fill out more episodes of the show, but rather (from a cost-benefit perspective) why on Earth they would approve a reality show for which they could barely fill out 6 episodes worth of air-time (and during which the producers by all appearances had to do their best just to keep the host alive)?
Did Norman Reedus, using his powers as both Norman Reedus and arguably the most popular character on the show, hold The Walking Dead hostage to force AMC to let him do this? I don’t know why I’m the one that has to bring this to everyone’s attention. Shouldn’t the producers have put a stop to this? AMC? The FCC? The DEA? Bueller?
5) Now, finally, we, as a country and as a people, must ask ourselves: what happened to Norman Reedus?
Maybe all the time he has spent the past few years pulverizing corn syrup-oozing latex zombie heads with two-by-fours finally got to him. Maybe weed really is a gateway drug, and we can blame Pete Davidson for everything that has happened since that SNL sketch (suspiciously filmed just a few months before filming of Ride with Norman Reedus began). Or, maybe, this was just the culmination of the process that began when Norman Reedus played a journalist with the totally-not-stupid-and-fake name Lax Morales in a movie about school shootings (in fairness, despite making back only $8,437 of its estimated $1.5 million budget and a fetid 13% Tomatometer score from critics, the audience approval rating is 71%, demonstrating that neither basic economic reality nor the experts can refute the animal appeal of Norman Reedus).
There’s one last option. It was Hideo Kojima that sent Norman Reedus over the edge, with whatever the hell this is: