‘The Buried Life’ Makes Dreams Come True

by | January 22, 2010 at 3:49 PM | TV News

The Buried Life (MTV)

The Buried Life (MTV)

By ALICIA RANCILIO
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK — MTV is doing a 180 from the fist-pumping, tanning-bed shenanigans of ‘Jersey Shore‘ to its new documentary series, ‘The Buried Life.’

Cameras follow four guys – Duncan Penn and his brother Jonnie Penn, Ben Nemtin and Dave Lingwood – from British Columbia, Canada, who made a list of goals they hoped to complete within their lifetime. For every item they cross off their list, they help a stranger complete one of his or her own.

Goals on ‘The Buried Life’ (10 p.m. EST, Mondays, MTV) range from the simple (grow a mustache) to lofty (play basketball with President Obama).

The show is somewhat tamer programming for the MTV of stripper poles, hot-tub brawls and ‘Jackass‘-type humor.

“It’s entertaining to watch these guys try to pull off something that frankly seems impossible,” says Brent Haynes, senior vice president of series development at MTV. “It has a great mix of entertainment and poignancy.”

The group came up with the idea in 2006 when some of them were getting ready to graduate from high school.

“We thought, ‘What are we going to do with our lives?’” recalls Jonnie Penn, now 23.

They decided to take an unconventional road by coming up with goals and turning those pipe dreams into reality, calling their project ‘The Buried Life.’ The title refers to a poem written in 1852 by British poet Matthew Arnold, who says day-to-day activities end up burying the life a person really wants to live.

Here’s how it works: The Penns, Nemtin and Lingwood travel on a 1968 transit bus they’ve named Penelope (it had 3 million miles on it when they bought it and breaks down regularly.) They hit the road attacking their list and encourage other people to think about their own dreams. If a task costs money, they take spontaneous jobs to help cover the expense and often make public appeals for assistance.

The list has about 100 items. Things are constantly being taken off, revised or replaced.

When it comes to approaching strangers, Jonnie Penn says they’ve heard it all: “We’ve heard every answer you can imagine. ‘I want to make Jurassic Park. I want to go to space.’”

They usually don’t tell strangers of their plan to help until they’re confident they can really do it.

“We usually don’t tell them. We get their contact information and go see if we can make it happen. Usually it involves enlisting other people in the community to help,” says Nemtin, 26.

Each member contributes a specific strength: Nemtin works the phones; Jonnie Penn hatches the plans; Lingwood is the people person; Duncan Penn sees the big picture, keeps everything on track and keeps the bus rolling.

They’re up to goal number 53 on the show. They were first approached to do a show in 2007 but turned down the deal because they’d need to give up control. They ended up with the production company Reveille, which allows them to edit the show themselves.

Executive Producer Howard T. Owens met with the group at an airport sushi restaurant for five hours and knew ‘The Buried Life’ would be great TV. “It’s not fabricated. There’s nothing fake,” said Owens.

The show’s first episode followed the men as they tried to sneak into the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles in a birthday cake. In return, they became street performers to raise money to get a computer for an elementary school teacher’s classroom.

On another episode, they help reunite Sam Fuller of Dallas with his 19-year-old son, Laben, whom he hadn’t seen in 17 years.

“I could never thank them enough,” Fuller says. “What they’ve done for me is as close to a miracle as you can get because … I couldn’t get this on my own.”

Other tasks in the first season range from telling a joke on late-night TV to delivering a baby, which wasn’t easy, Lingwood says.

“I was so nervous the whole time,” he recalls.

“It’s funny, ” Jonnie Penn says. “Dave’s items on the list are like ride a bull, jump off a waterfall, all these crazy things. The only time I’ve seen him scared was when he had to (help) deliver a baby, which was number 59 on the list.”

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