Welcome to the Freakshow

Normal is relative on AMC’s new reality show

In the year 2012, the circus sideshow is largely an anachronism – except on the Venice Beach Boardwalk and, now, in the world of reality TV. Last night, AMC launched its newest unscripted series, Freakshow, which stars a real-life cabinet of human curiosities. There probably hasn’t been a portrayal of circus performers this intriguing since Tod Browning’s 1932 cult classic, Freaks.

In Freakshow, no one is biting the heads off chickens but there is a bearded lady, a fire-eater, and enough sword-swallowing to make your esophagus clench. Like any unscripted drama worth its salt, the nexus of the show is family, whether biological or chosen. In this case it’s both.

Opened in 2006, the Venice Beach Freakshow is run by former music producer Todd Ray and his wife, Danielle. His daughter April is a contortionist who also has a fire-eating act; his teenage son Phoenix collects admission and helps run the business. Ray has also assembled an extended family of oddball performers.

There’s 3’5″ “Amazing Ali” Chapman and 7’8″ George Bell, a former Harlem Globetrotter and North Carolina sheriff who was initially wary of Ray’s enterprise. He decided to join up after meeting the other performers and realizing the show is meant to instill pride, even in its title, which aims to transform “freak” from pejorative to badge of honor. Brianna chews light bulbs while Morgue is one of the world’s leading experts in controlled regurgitation. The most fearsome looking character is perhaps the most tender hearted. Tattooed from head to toe and pierced with countless rings, studs, and spikes, Marcus “The Creature” is soft-spoken and gentle, often wearing fuzzy pink boots, pink hot pants and a pink backpack, lest children be scared of him. His lifestyle has made his relationship with his family, including his two young children, difficult, and he tears up just mentioning about it.

The half-hour show will air on AMC on Thursdays at 9 p.m., but Angelenos can see the real thing at 909 Ocean Front Walk. The Venice Beach Freakshow is open seven days a week. Walk in and for only $5 you’ll get to see all sorts of curiosities like a live, five-legged Chihuahua, a two-headed baby pig preserved in a jar, and a guy who hammers nails into his nose.