"It was a bright, cool day in September, and the potato clock was striking thirteen. Josh, his head nuzzled into the couch, fell over drunk inside the 'Big Brother' house.
"The house smelt of gassy pug and rotten vegetables. On the door a colored poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a meter wide: the face of a man of about 45, with a heavy black mustache and ruggedly handsome features. It was one of those posters so contrived that the eyes follow you when you move. 'No One Is Watching Big Brother,' the caption beneath it ran."
That's the way George Orwell would have started to write about the penultimate episode chronicling life in the "Big Brother" house.
And then he would have quit for lack of material and gone on to write "Animal Farm 2: Snowball's Revenge."
Orwell died 50 years ago and was mercifully spared the appalling spectacle of reality television, and the accompanying appropriation of his most famous literary character.
In the book, we remind our younger readers, Big Brother was a powerful god, an immense jailer of the human mind and spirit and imagination.
In the TV show, he was somewhat differently scaled.
We think of him as a Keystone Kops-like character, a dithering, indecisive, incompetent, bullying jumble of fear and insecurity, someone very much like your average CBS TV programmer.
Sometimes, when we watch "Big Brother," we wish we were dead like Orwell.
Like tonight, when we watch Josh get drunker than a skunk again, and go Chippendales in front of a mock-horrified, secretly titillated Curtis and Eddie.
But we get ahead of ourselves.
The second to last show, with only three remaining shut-ins, starts back when Jamie was still in the house -- sometime before yesterday evening. All four are sitting at the kitchen table, having one of those conversations that Big Brother urges them to have: They're remembering the funniest moments in the house.
There follows a quintessential "Big Brother" conundrum: Maybe Big Brother is actually smarter than us. Maybe if we sit back and watch the clips that follow, our minds will indeed turn to mush.
We will accept that CBS is the very bestest network of all -- including even HBO! -- that Julie Chen is the very foundation of great American journalism and that Craig T. Nelson is just what the District of Columbia needs in a top cop.
We will finally, chillingly, accept that non-funny is funny.
The series of flashbacks that follow, assembled into a stand-up routine, couldn't open for Carrot Top in a small club outside Reno.
Not surprisingly, most of them are physical foibles. The funniest thing Eddie can remember is George tripping in the back yard.
A miraculous, high-tech video effect makes the scene dissolve in a transparent bubble, complete with a little chime sound, taking us outside, many months back.
It's amazing how far visual effects have come in the years since "I Dream of Jeannie."
Josh throws a football pass to George on the patio. George goes up to grab it. His feet get caught up in a recycling tub and he tumbles to the ground.
"That was pretty cool," says Eddie, sounding a lot like Beavis. "Huh-huh-huh."
Now, we admit that it's kind of funny to watch George hurt himself, but the fall wasn't that big of a deal. He tripped over a big tub and got up. Big deal.
Eddie continues to laugh like Beavis for an eternity and a day.
Because watching middle-aged, overweight men fall down is funny.
We think about how life in "1984" really didn't seem that bad.
Bubble back to the kitchen table. Remember the game of water basketball?
Bubble back out, to the pool, with every hamster caught in a swirling scrum. It's a segment that's only funny if you think about it in terms of what could have happened.
Like, wouldn't it be a riot if Big Brother had suddenly raised the sides of the pool, heated it to boiling, dumped in a 10 pounds of salt and a big bag of paprika and called it the soup challenge?
Bubble back in. "George fighting the hose," says Eddie.
Bubble back out. George is outside, spraying down a rug with a hose. The hose, apparently, isn't cooperating; George starts to shake it left and right. It's not doing what he wants it to do so he swings it around and then drops it on the ground.
If this is comedy by CBS standards, we can't wait for "Bette."
Bubble in. Curtis thinks Eddie falling on his ass was pretty funny.
Bubble out: Eddie is shaving in the bathroom. He hops over to the stall where Josh is taking a shower to ask him what he should do with his Abe Lincoln beard. When he hits the wet floor in front of the shower he slips. As we're happy to point out for the second time in two weeks, watching a one-legged guy fall down is funny.
Bubble in. Curtis remembers walking in on Brittany in the toilet.
Bubble out: Josh admires his freshly shaven face in the mirror. Curtis walks past him.
"Oh shit," says Curtis, off camera.
"You have to knock," shouts Brittany, also off camera. It's clear that he's just opened the door to the toilet without knocking, with Brittany inside.
"It totally didn't occur to me," says Curtis. You can see his reasoning. Why on earth would a toilet stall with a closed door be occupied?
"I am changing my tampon, you little shit," shouts Brittany.
Both Josh and Curtis keel over in laughter and fall to the floor. Because invading someone's privacy is funny.
"I didn't know that's what you were doing," says Curtis. "Why did you have to tell me?"
"Now I can't even pee," says Brittany. "I'm nervous."
In a three-month string of gross moments in the Realm of the Clueless Hamsters, it strikes us that this might be one of the worst.
Curtis calls it a highlight. We wonder what the bad part was.
Bubble in. Jamie says she thought it was pretty funny when George tried to blast off in the shower stall and a two-liter bottle of tonic water blew up in his face and then he fell flat on his ass.
We're starting to see a pattern here. Watching middle-aged, overweight men fall down is funny.
Bubble out. An overhead camera watches George, wearing his ridiculous spaceman costume, inside the shower stall. He lets loose a couple of bottles of shaken tonic water. They careen all over the stall, soaking him. He laughs. He steps out. He falls on the floor.
Finally, a commercial!
Unfortunately, when we come back, the segment continues.
Jamie remembers the time Cassandra made a funny noise while peeling an eggplant.
Bubble in. Josh remembers the first night, when Mr. Cucumber met Mr. Corn.
Bubble out. Curtis and Josh are sitting at the kitchen table, very early on in the ordeal. They hold vegetables in their hands and talk in accented voices.
The only thing funny about this segment is imaging the "Big Brother" producers at the time trying to explain to the CBS execs that -- promise! -- things are going to get much, much better:
Really! The dull frat boys are history. Wait till the end, when the sexy stripper, the zany Brittany, the goofy George and that contentious black guy are the only ones left in the house!
Finally, we're out of the funniest moments of "Big Brother." We're confident that Jerry Springer's "Too Hot For TV" videos face no competition.
We've moved on to another Big Brother-prompted conversation. Now, Josh, Eddie and Curtis talk about who they thought would win at the start of their stay.
Josh thought it would be Karen, George and Eddie.
Curtis thought Josh, Jordan and Karen or George would win, because they're like an all-American family. He even thought Mega had a chance because viewers would like his outspoken behavior.
Eddie thought Karen, George and Brittany would win. He figured that younger viewers would dig Brit's dyed hair and pierced nose, which makes him sound about 20 years older than he is.
To put a point on how lame the previous conversation has been, Eddie asks, "How 'bout them Mets?"
The lead-in to the commercial break reminds us that Eddie, Curtis or Josh will walk with the $500,000 prize. We notice that the video card asks who should win, which is a change from all of the earlier votes, meaning that instead of voting for the person they would like to see go, now people are expected to vote for the person they would like to see win.
If we had any energy left, we would point out to change the voting procedure now is radically unfair to a bland guy like Curtis, who has made it through several banishments because he was the least offensive person in the house.
With the new system, he's all but certain to take home third prize.
The three boys are still sitting in the bedroom.
They've decided, to our horror, to talk about chicks.
Fortunately, the hamster's extreme concern about saying anything that would seem disrespectful and consequently affect their odds of winning is in full effect.
Eddie reminds them that he's in love with his girlfriend. Further, he wasn't attracted to any of the women, personality-wise. He thought Jamie was attractive, but not on his level. Brittany, on the other hand, he came to know as a little sister.
Then he says that Brittany is the type of girl he would chat up in a bar, which makes us glad that we aren't Eddie's little sister.
Curtis, king of low expectations, says that he came into the house knowing that there was no way he was going to start up a relationship. "You wouldn't want anything to happen in here because it's sort of like one of those 'last two people on earth' situations," he says.
We figured Curtis would like those odds.
But he did think Jamie was pretty. And he thought Jordan was hot and came to appreciate Brittany in time. Funny: We watched her as long as he did and never came to that appreciation.
Josh, who has a lot to answer for, says that he expected to hook up with someone -- anyone. (If you remember, he brought a box of condoms into the house.) He says he was attracted to Jordan but thought that they were "from opposite ends of the spectrum." We doubt this has stopped him in the past.
Then he thought that Jamie was "traditionally pretty," but realized that they "had totally different personalities. It wouldn't work."
On Brittany: "In the beginning, all I saw was colorful hair, colorful personality, hilarious, funny. Probably didn't think twice about romantic possibility. Never kissed, but we came very, very close. Given another week we probably would have."
Brittany left just in time, we think -- for our sake, not hers.
"Our time was cut short," he says.
We think that Brittany will be getting booty calls starting tomorrow night.
The boys don't even mention Cassandra or Karen.
Next comes the dreaded drunken scene. The three fellas are sitting around getting plastered on the couches. The table is virtually covered with empty bottles. Curtis asks for music. The German version of the "Big Brother" theme song comes over the speakers.
"That's French, man," says Eddie.
Eddie tells Josh to dance for "her." We assume that he means the female voice of "Big Brother," whom we don't hear.
We like the idea of Josh being Eddie's bitch.
But Josh, horrifyingly, does us one better, and complies.
He already has his shirt off. He jumps up, beer bottle still in hand, and straddles a couch, sort of grinding into thin air. He moves across the room, takes off his belt and loops it around his neck.
He's so drunk he has a fixed "I'm so goofy" expression on his face. He looks like complete moron and can't dance, but his moves are so practiced that we've got a feeling both a lot of mirrors and a lot of frat parties have seen this routine before.
We wanted to turn off the television at this point.
Curtis taps his foot to the beat.
It gets worse. Josh takes off his pants. He's wearing black boxer-briefs -- and white socks.
"Put your pants back on," Curtis says, for the record.
Josh picks up a hand broom and starts sweeping the floor in the kitchen to a beat.
"Idiot!" cries Eddie.
Josh does some lame moonwalking, and then drops his pants for Eddie and Curtis. At this point, we wanted to destroy our television.
Eddie and Curtis continue to howl unconvincingly.
If it's possible, the soused expression on Josh's face is more offensive than the dance itself.
He bends over, picks up the hand broom, and sweeps it across his butt as he wiggles his ass.
You know, we've speculated about this for a long time, but we're absolutely certain now: Josh is so gay.
Eddie and Curtis howl.
Josh stuffs a lemon down the front of his undies. More howling.
And then the song ends.
"You sick fuck!" shouts Eddie, who's all revved up with no place to go.
Is this what Curtis meant by the last two people on earth factor?
"Don't ever do that again," says Curtis, still unconvincingly.
Josh is snortingly drunk.
How drunk? Drunk enough that he asks Curtis to get out the blue hair dye. Curtis says that the color will make him more attractive to Brittany.
"Brittany will like me," grunts Josh.
But with fixed, fatuous grin, his chiseled physique and savage tan, when Curtis is done gooping his locks blue, Josh looks like somebody just gave him a twirly in a bowl full of Vanish.
He dances around the room rubbing blue dye on the walls. He has his shirt off and a look on his face that says, "I'm prepared to say tomorrow that I got so drunk last night I don't remember what happened."
He looks like Fuck Me Smurf.
Is this a man who should walk away with a half a million dollars?