If game shows and lottery commercials have taught us anything, it's that everyone is just one big win away from true happiness. Imagine the freedom, unless of course you happen to win a washer-dryer set on The Price Is Right.
Sometimes it seems like everyone on television today wants the big bucks, whether it's banjo pickers and dog acts chasing the $1-million (U.S.) prize of America's Got Talent or the frothing contestants on Deal or No Deal, 1 vs 100 or Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader.
Even recent NBC arrival The Singing Bee is a hit. Game shows haven't been this hot in prime time since Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
At this point, it probably doesn't matter that most of the people obsessed with getting rich quick would probably spend the winnings on magic beans on their way home from the lottery office. Everyone still wants their taste of the good life.
The fantasy of financial independence plays out on a lowbrow scale tonight with the new series Set for Life (ABC, 8 p.m.). Hosted by late-night talk host Jimmy Kimmel, the weekly series offers contestants the opportunity to win a monthly paycheque for the rest of their lives. Bring on those golden years! Set for Life is a pretty sad affair; technically, it doesn't even qualify as a game show, since there's no trivia or skill-testing questions involved. Instead, contestants try to win a monthly stipend for as long as possible, anywhere from one month to one year to 10 years, right up to a maximum of 40 years.
Judging by brief clips of the show, the contestants on Set for Life are working-class stiffs and mothers with several kids and no daddy. Like the carefully screened contestants on Deal, they bring family members along for the ride.
Set for Life runs for seven weeks, but if the show clicks, and I have a feeling it might, expect it to be tacked onto ABC's fall schedule (the same way NBC did with The Singing Bee earlier this week). The best thing to be said about Set for Life is that it distributes money to poor Americans. If only they didn't need it so badly.
Also in the wish-fulfilment category tonight: Cereal Thriller (History Television, 8 p.m.) is a fine documentary from writer-director David McDonald. Like many others, McDonald took part in an innovative promotional campaign in 1955 sponsored by the Quaker Oats people that handed out land in the Great White North - in very tiny parcels.
It was a cute idea. Promoted as the Klondike Big Inch campaign, kids dreamed of gold strikes and wolfed down the cereal, and untold numbers sent away for the deeds, which were official-looking and apparently proved they owned one square inch of land in the Yukon.
McDonald has a good time with a light subject as, half-a-century later, he tracks down several of the dispossessed Big Inch claim-holders, including the late Good Morning America film critic Joel Siegel, who speaks eloquently on being a child landowner.
McDonald also tracks down two brothers, George and Michael, who return to their old home in Southern Ontario to dig up the deeds they buried in the backyard in 1956. The deeds are worthless today - the Big Inch land reverted to the Yukon government in the sixties - but the brothers are only looking for memories.
Over the weekend: Enigma (Saturday, Vision at 9 p.m.) airs one of the best entries in the curious series. Titled Jet-Propelled Antichrist: Jack Parsons, the program recalls an interesting fellow from the early fifties: By day, Parsons was a brilliant rocket scientist and one of the modern fathers of jet propulsion; by night, he was a devout occultist who wore black robes and was a disciple of renowned Satanist Aleister Crowley. A bizarre profile of a double life.
And nice to report there's still no evidence of dreams or ambition on the unassuming Canadian cartoon Odd Job Jack (Sunday, Comedy Network at 9:30 p.m.), which returns for a fifth season. Don McKellar still provides the voice for Jack, a twentysomething slacker with a degree in sociology who bounces from job to job each week. In the first new show, he becomes a croupier in a "snuff poker" establishment.
Odd Job Jack is still sharply written and crudely animated, which is part of its appeal. Be grateful some things remain resistant to change.
Check local listings.
John Doyle will return in August.