Four Canadians want to give MTV a social conscience with Buried Life

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - Three and a half years ago, four guys from Victoria hit the road in a rundown RV, armed with a video camera and a list titled "100 things to do before I die."

While the list was mostly composed of fluffy frivolity - stuff like "kiss Rachel McAdams," "destroy a computer" and "host a lemonade stand" - those items were balanced by the crew's mission to help strangers achieve goals on their own bucket lists.
In the years since, Dave Lingwood, Ben Nemtin and brothers Jonnie and Duncan Penn have helped a homeless artist in Dallas reconnect with a son he hadn't seen in more than 15 years, took eight cancer-stricken Idaho kids on a shopping spree at a toy store and let a blind man relive a childhood memory and ride a horse.
On Monday, they'll cross off No. 53 - start a television show - when "The Buried Life" premieres on MTV in the U.S. and Canada.
The show is being touted in some corners as an indication of the network's move toward socially conscious programming (in a front-page story, the New York Times called it "MTV for the era of Obama.")
It's a mantle the "Buried Life" guys accept proudly, though they don't see their show as being at odds with the network's more glossy lifestyle fare.
"I don't think we consider ourselves going head to head with 'The Hills' because it's a totally different show," 23-year-old Jonnie Penn told The Canadian Press during a recent promotional stop in Toronto.
"We don't really know what to call (our show), because it's not reality TV - reality TV is produced and scripted. I think people will enjoy the show. We made it for our friends and we made it so that we would like it. We went after some pretty crazy stuff."
Yep, for all the talk of positive social messages, this is still the network of "Jackass," and the men behind "The Buried Life" are as handy with guerilla hijinks as Oprah-style do-goodism.
In the show's premiere episode, the guys try to accomplish goal No. 66 by crashing a party at the Playboy Mansion.
They came up with two almost equally improbable plots for gaining entry - disguising Nemtin as Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo and having Lingwood and Jonnie Penn hide in a prop cake.
"Thing is, we don't get any help with any of this," said Duncan Penn, 25. "How can four very regular guys accomplish seemingly impossible tasks? We don't have connections, we don't have money, anything. We've got to get very creative in how we accomplish these things.
"And that sometimes means making a Trojan cake to try to break into the fortress that is the Playboy Mansion."
As it turned out, getting the episode to air proved even more difficult. Playboy initially refused to let the group use the footage and threatened to sue, Lingwood said.
But they found a way around the problem.
"We basically wrote a handwritten letter and showed Hugh Hefner the episode and it was him that said: 'Yeah, you guys can show it,' " Duncan Penn said.
"That was huge. Hugh Hefner saved the day."
Of course, by laying themselves on the line so regularly with kooky stunts, the guys have suffered through their share of humiliating moments.
One example? Lingwood, 25, once thought he had an opportunity to achieve item No. 22 - "approach the most beautiful girl you've ever seen and kiss her."
"Dave saw a girl on a subway in New York and fell in love with her," said Nemtin, 23.
Lingwood approached her "very earnestly" on camera.
"He said, 'We're doing this project, this is the list item,' " Nemtin recalled. "He laid it all on the line. He said: 'Can I have a kiss?'
"She said no and left."
After spending countless hours together on the road in their bus - nicknamed Penelope - the guys agree that being able to mock one another is important.
In fact, that bus is, in a way, the fifth star of the show - an oversized, diesel-powered purple eyesore with four bunk beds crammed inside and "three million miles" on the odometer. Jonnie Penn claims they bought it from a nudist who had it decked out with a mirror on the ceiling and purple velvet lining the walls.
When asked for a ballpark figure on how much time they've spent packed into a bus together, Lingwood replies: "More time than we'd like to talk about."
But they get breaks from each other every once in a while.
"We're all in and out of jail, so that gives us some time apart," Jonnie Penn said with a laugh.

Organizations: New York Times, Canadian Press

Geographic location: TORONTO, Victoria, Dallas Idaho U.S. Canada New York

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