REVIEW: Doing Therapy

By: Tiffany Apan, Rogue Cinema

Call me 'dark and morose,' but I've never been one for romantic comedies. Mainly because I normally find "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" to be more realistic than the over-the-top sappiness found in many of the over-produced, formulaic 'rom-coms.' But every once in a while, I will come across one I actually find entertaining and enjoyable (for example, last month when I gave "A Fairy Tale" a well-deserved positive review). But for the most part, I feel as though I need to be carrying my teeth in a bag due to the saccharine that is so laden throughout many of the bonafide 'chick flicks.' I will say that for this reason, I was a little apprehensive at first when first skimmed the synopsis of "Doing Therapy." But, I like to give things a chance and I always try to approach these reviews in as unbiased a manner as possible. I found "Doing Therapy" to be a rather unique film and not your typical romantic comedy. In fact, I'm not sure I would even completely classify it as a romantic-comedy as it seems to be made up of a couple different genre elements. It is sort of a drama mixed in with romantic comedy and a touch of a suspense thriller…

"Doing Therapy" tells the story of a successful, Hollywood actress named Diane Rischard (Barbara Winters) and her need to find a cure for her recent bouts with on-camera anxiety for the sake of her livelihood and career. At her uncle’s recommendation, she flies from Hollywood to Pittsburgh (and I will say that there are MANY Pittsburgh references in the film) to see a therapist by the name of Dr. Joe Giacobello (portrayed by Joe Giacobello) in order to help Diane get to the source of her anxiety. We immediately are introduced to the fact that the two characters are as different as night and day and the challenge presented to them in learning to co-exist with one another. Despite his success as a therapist, Joe's living conditions hardly reflect that. It is also obvious that Diane is used to living in luxury and needs to adjust to living in a bachelor's pad for a month. As the story unfolds, we see the relationship of these two individuals develop. It is also revealed that both Diane and Joe have fears each one must face in order to be able to move forward in their lives. The story also has a twist when we are introduced to an obsessed stalker (David Dietz) who is threatening Diane.

"Doing Therapy" is an overall light-hearted piece with a few darker twists. Like many romantic comedies, the story can be a bit predictable but I will say that I found myself wanting to see it through to the end (and not just because I had to review it). The movie does have some rather touching moments. Examples of this would be Joe recalling the death of his fiancee, Diane discovering an old letter Joe wrote to his fiancee, and Diane's stalker looking back at his childhood with an abusive mother. The scenes with the stalker give the film a little added "punch" and keep it from being just another typical romantic comedy. The acting is overall pretty well done on everyone's part, although there are times when some of the actors seemed a little over the top. The performances that really stood out for me were David Dietz as the Crazed Stalker (there are times he's just downright scary) and Joe Giacobello's role as Dr. Giacobello. From the moment Giacobello is on screen, he comes across as very likeable and you want him to succeed at not only 'getting the girl' but also with conquering his own demons. In fact, you want every character you are introduced to succeeding in their life paths. The characters and their development seemed to be very well thought out. The cinematography fluctuates. At times, the film has a very professional look and quality while other times the camera was a tad bit shaky. But, they did make excellent use of various camera angles and I liked many of the choices in their locations. I did, at first, have a slight issue with the way the ending of the movie played out. I don’t want to give too much of it away, but one of my initial reactions were "a Hollywood movie set with no security???" This especially struck me as odd since Diane has a stalker after her. But when I looked up the "Doing Therapy" IMDb page, it is explained that the film is also meant to have the sort of simplicity found in many 1950s melodramas. The more I looked into the film and what Giacobello (who, by the way, also wrote, directed, and produced the film in addition to starring in it) was going for with this film, the more such an ending actually started to make sense to me. Perhaps I was just overanalyzing it instead of just enjoying it for what it was.

Overall, I will say that "Doing Therapy" is a very enjoyable film. It's another I ended up watching a few times (and that's coming from someone who typically isn't a fan of romantic comedies). Joe Giacobello could have taken the easy way out and just made a typical, rot your teeth, romantic comedy. But he took some risks with this one and I always like that in a filmmaker. Taking risks that you probably wouldn't find in a typical Hollywood produced romantic comedy. I will give "Doing Therapy" the green light and say that it is worth checking out. You can find out more about Joe Giacobello and his production company (along with picking this movie up on DVD), Bello Films, the official website




By: Tiffany Apan, Rogue Cinema

Love it or hate it, reality shows dominate our TV programming on a daily basis. So what better subject for a feature film than one about a reality show? Joe Giacobello and Bello Productions does just that in his film, "Ultimate Reality."

"Ultimate Reality" the story of Joe Morris (portrayed by Giacobello), a man who is tired of his mundane life and ordinary job. He and a co-worker decide to inject some excitement into their lives by creating the 'ultimate reality tv contest' designed to really push contestants to their limits. Morris gets the idea for the show after having listened to a report on the news about a serial killer being imprisoned for life. He wonders how would your everyday person would be able to handle being isolated in a small room with only the most basic essentials and no human contact what-so-ever. The idea eventually gets picked up by a TV station and Joe Morris couldn't be more thrilled. He immediately launches a search for contestants, all of whom include a suburban housewife (Barbara Winters), a radio dj (Erik Shark), and an ex-con posing as a priest (David Dietz). As the bizarre story unfolds, Joe Morris comes to wonder if he's bitten off more than he can chew. He also finds himself becoming attracted to the suburban housewife, Katherine Thomas (Winters) as the relationship with his current girlfriend, Tammy (Stacy Bartlebaugh-Gmys) begins to fall apart.

I will say flat out that I really liked this film. I was immediately drawn in by the setting and cinematography of the film (rather off-setting, dark, and dingy) followed by the unraveling plot/storyline, the way the characters were written, and how many of them were portrayed. I don't know if this was done on purpose, but while the cinematography is of an overall good quality, there are times when it is reminiscent of films like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Entity. Given the subject matter of the film, I would say that such a thing entwined into the production is appropriate. The cast projects some pretty strong performances for the most part and there is a good variety of the type of quirky characters you would find in a typical reality show.

The movie is labeled on IMDb as a drama and comedy. I would add thriller into that equation as well. This is another film where Joe Giacobello wore many hats (actor, director, producer, cinematographer, editor, and sound department). Last month, Giacobello succeeded in getting me to actually enjoy a romantic comedy (not an easy feat) with his film, "Doing Therapy." I certainly hope that "Doing Therapy" and "Ultimate Reality" will only be the beginning for him.

Find out more at Bello Productions and at their IMDb page:


In Pittsburgh
Lissa Brennan
January 6, 1999

Tuesday is one of the best nights of the week to park yourself in front of the tube if you’re a sitcom fan. ABC offers Home Improvement, The Hugleys, Spin City and Sports Night; NBC gives up their best with Third Rock from the Sun, News Radio, Just Shoot Me and Will and Grace, and Fox even follows—and improves on—the formula with the brilliant King of the Hill.

But by 11 p.m., the major networks have given themselves over to the primarily unfunny news broadcasts (though local anchors’ mispronunciations of Third World countries can occasionally bring a chuckle). Apart from reruns of the hyper-annoying Buchmans of Mad About You or the severely dated and never really that entertaining to begin with M*A*S*H, the magic box becomes a humor wasteland.

That could change. As of earlier this week, public access cable station PCTV now fills its eleventh hour slot with Mr. G., a new half-hour production veering away from their standard fare of Christian praise and shoddy rock videos.

Joe Giacobello stars as Mr. G., and also as the show’s writer, producer, director and founder. The series will air weekly, with a new episode each month. January, February and March are already shot and ready to go, and production will begin on the April episode next month.

The thirtyish Giacobello, who with his conservative short dark haircut, ordinary dress and quiet manner more closely resembles a banker than a comedian, moved to Pittsburgh two years ago from Erie, where he did a lot of community theater—"always the comic roles," he says. He also worked in improv and stand-up.

When he moved to town, he dropped out of performing for a while, only taking the stage for a few weeks during amateur night at the Funny Bone. "I never really excelled at stand-up," he says. "You start dying and you just go down."

That was it for his comedy career, until "all of a sudden it came into my head—why not try this?" He developed a concept for a sitcom and started working on scripts.

Having worked as an English teacher before joining the communications department of Fisher Scientific, he felt his former occupation would provide good comic fodder. He invented Mr. G., a character that builds on the actor’s own experiences.

Though both men share a last initial and stumble upon similar roadblocks along the dating highway, the show, as Giacobello says repeatedly, "is not autobiographical."

Before he realized there was a venue for his writing, the actor’s nephew asked why he didn’t try working with the local community access channel. Giacobello, who remained unfamiliar with the concept even after a second Wayne’s World, looked into PCTV.

He went through the station’s orientation process, learned how to operate the equipment, placed casting notices in local papers and got to work.

"I don’t even really watch that much TV, believe it or not," he says. Oh, come on. "I watch Seinfeld. I like movies a lot."

Yeah, okay. So with so little time spent basking in the pixilated glow, how does one come up with a premise and style for a sitcom of one’s own?

"I think I was picturing every sitcom I’ve ever watched, then taking experiences I’ve had and exaggerating the hell out of them," he says. "I thought that maybe I could create something so bad it’s good, maybe so ludicrous that people would watch, say ‘This is so dumb,’ and keep watching because it was making them laugh."

Which, if you think about it, is the basis of every successful sitcom. Since the Dick Van Dyke Show went off the air, television comedy has made a mint appealing to the lowest common denominator. Occasionally shows with a little bit of savvy somehow manage to snag some faithful viewers, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. And if you polled steady viewers of Frasier, you’d find a lot more people who watch it for the cute dog than the quips that reference 18th-centurey Russian literature.

But for every Frasier or Drew Carey Show, there are a few dozen cookie-cutter turnouts like Gilligan’s Island or Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place. Giacobello hopes to make Mr. G. exceptional in its unpredictability.

"In a typical sitcom, the audience can take the first episode and pretty much predict where the entire series will be going," he says. "With this, I want everything to take a different turn each time you watch it."

Mr. G. is a high school teacher, and you’ve seen the type before—zany, wacky, constantly in trouble with the higher-ups for the unorthodox teaching style he’s developed as the best way to reach the kids. Along with cataloging the trials and tribulations of his academic life, the show focuses on his adventures in the '90s dating scene as well.

This is not new, as anyone who’s seen TV or a movie in the past few decades can tell you. But instead of trying to pass off the tried-and-true blueprint as new invention, Giacobello has stuck to the basic structure and added a few twists. Getting specific would give too much away, but his goal of taking the audience unaware in each new scene has definitely been fulfilled thus far.

The first scene of episode one, which begins with an extended shot of Mr. G. as the show’s suitably hokey theme song plays, takes place in a reasonable facsimile of a principal’s office, where Mr. G. is being chastised for his outlandish classroom antics. The sympathetic but befuddled principal warns Mr. G. to get it together while a truly hilarious laugh track guffaws along.

Scene two takes us to his apartment, where we meet his roommate and his roommate’s girlfriend, while Joe (Mr. G.) agonizes over the lack of response to his personal ad and his persistent bachelorhood.

When friends ask, "Have you tried church?", Mr. G. counters with, "Do you think I could meet a woman that way?" She responses, "No, to pray." Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

Ouch, yeah, but you’d probably keep watching.

Scene three finds Mr. G. visiting a church not for divine intervention but to attend a support group for separated and divorced Catholics (Mr. G. is neither the first nor the second, and doesn’t seem to be the third to try to meet women.) Instead he meets a sundry assortment of wallowing divorcees, which quickly deteriorates into full-blown misery, and ringleader Sister Laurie, played by noteworthy stage actress Sara Gaille.

The acting is inspired—which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s what would ordinarily be described as good, and it would hardly hold up in any other format. But as far as sitcoms go, it’s perfectly appropriate—over the top, to be sure, melodramatic, and even crossing blessedly into camp at moments.

But in this case it works. The original soundtrack by Love Bubble adds to the ambiance, as does the atrocious laugh track.

"I want to keep that cheap atmosphere," says Giacobello. "I don’t want it to look too polished." Rehearsals are kept to a minimum in order to achieve this, and while the end result is definitely not burnished to a perfect sheen, it’s high-spirited rather than amateurish.

New episodes will proceed until July, as per PCTV’s mandatory six-month season. Then Joe Giacobello will rest, regroup, and prepare for another season next January.

"I’d like to learn the technical end of it more," he says of the taping, which is currently handled by PCTV technicians. Along with that, he’ll work on his writing in the hope of making Mr. G. exactly what he wants it to be.

"I want to keep it simple," he says. "Something that’s perfect for late at night when you’re in a weird mode, a little spaced out. I want something that you can turn it on and it puts you into a weird frame of mind."



Erie Daily Times
Kevin Cuneo
May 20, 1999

t’s not enough that everyone in Pittsburgh laughs at Joe Giacobello. Now Joe wants everyone in Erie, his hometown, to laugh at him, too. Giacobello, 32, is neither clown nor masochist, though he says the laughter warms him to the core.

"When I started this project a year ago, I hoped for exactly this kind of reaction," Giacobello said.

The project is "Mr. G," a four-part situation-comedy TV mini-series. "Yes, there is such a thing," Joe said.

In January, it began running on PCTV, Pittsburgh’s community access television station, turning Giacobello into something of a celebrity. Now, the show is coming to Erie, where Joe hopes it will begin playing next month on the city’s community-access station.

"I’m bringing the film up Memorial Day weekend, so I guess it’ll start next month," he said during a recent phone interview.

Not only does Giacobello write, produce, direct, and star in "Mr. G," he also builds the sets and, if required, drives to the next city to drop off tapes of the show. The dark-haired, serious-looking Giacobello, born and raised in Erie, has always loved comedy. During the years he acted here, primarily at the Roadhouse Theater and Erie Playhouse, he preferred work with a comic flair. He even briefly tried his hand at standup comedy, and had some success.

"What’s bad about standup is that everything can go south in a hurry," Giacobello said. As a performer, he’s more comfortable with a script.

During a visit home last year, Joe told his family of his dream to create a sitcom.

"My nephew, Jamie Pietras, suggested that I approach a community-access station in Pittsburgh, which is what led me to PCTV," he said.

The directors of the station, always searching for fresh, original, interesting programming, were impressed by Giacobello. He’s a bright, charming young guy. A former school teacher who taught locally for several years, Joe moved to Pittsburgh in 1997 to work as a technical writer for Fisher Scientific, a large distributor of hospital equipment.

"I write catalog copy by day," Giacobello said. At night, he turns into Carl Reiner.

The backbone of Giacobello’s stage and TV work is the writing. When he went through the orientation process at PCTV, the instructors spotted his skill immediately. It’s why he was admitted to the second workshop at the station, where he learned to become a television producer.

After he completed that part of his education, PCTV gave Giacobello the go-ahead to make his sitcom.

"Right away, I placed ads in the Pittsburgh newspapers for actors and actresses," he said.

Scores of performers responded, some of whom were angry to learn that Bello Productions was a one-man operation. Others were turned off by Joe’s rehearsal studio, which is approximately half of his single-bedroom apartment in Greentree.

"A lot of actors asked me what I was paying, which, of course, is nothing," Giacobello said, still sounding suspicious of the materialistic nature of some performers. "The people I ended up with were a lot like me—actors from community theater used to working for the experience, the exposure, or just for the fun of it.”

The show itself, set in modern-day Pittsburgh, centers around the life of Joe Giacomelli, a completely non-conventional school teacher.

"It follows Joe’s adventures in the classroom, as well as his frustrations as a lonely single guy in the nineties dating scene," he said.

Lest we think that the material is autobiographical, Joe immediately punctures the myth.

"Oh, no, no," he said. "Yes, the names are similar, and yes, I was a teacher, and yes, I am constantly searching for a mate. But other than that, we’re nothing alike."

Giacobello has a funny, understated sense of humor. It registered with his cast, all of whom were serious about their work in "Mr. G," but were also able to chuckle at themselves.

When the troupe finally graduated form Joe’s living room to the studio at PCTV last January, Giacobello’s players were battle-tested veterans. Even the three actors age 17 and younger.

"Originally, we committed to one show per month from January through June," Joe said. "It requires a ton of work, which we knew, but I think it went well," he said.

Eventually, they ceased production after four programs, which is why it’s now billed as a comic mini-series.

The technicians at the studio, impressed by Joe’s preparation and high level of professionalism, quickly became caught up in his enthusiasm.

"We’d film on Saturdays, and let me tell you, it was intense," he said.

First, Giacobello and his crew built the sets. "We limited the shows to just three scenes, because making the sets took so much time," Joe said. They tried to simplify where they could, without sacrificing too much quality.

"At this level, you have to keep things simple, but the filming always went well, I thought," he said. "It took about five full hours every Saturday, which is a long time.

The first "Mr. G." premiered five months ago, earning a near-rave review from "In Pittsburgh" magazine, which ran a flattering three-page profile on Giacobello. The writer, Lissa Brennan, praised "Mr. G." for its innovative humor and originality. She said the show made her laugh out loud.

When "Mr. G" ran at 11 p.m. on Tuesday night, it created something of a buzz on Pittsburgh-area college campuses.

The television critic from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, whose secretary inquired about the reason for my call, has yet to get back to me about "Mr. G." Giacobello admits they received better notices from media that "was not quite in the mainstream."

The consensus is that the show brought a smile to the faces of most viewers.

"I challenge anyone to sit and watch it and not laugh," Giacobello said, dropping his bemused tone and sounding more like Hulk Hogan.

When I asked Joe if he’d received any calls or letters from the major networks, he said in an urgent voice, "No. Why do you ask? Have you heard anything?"

No, I hadn’t, except from the people at PCTV, who loved the show. They’re used to a steady diet of fishing and cooking programs (but not necessarily cooking fish programs) and were charmed by Giacobello’s wit and the dedication of his troupe.

As for "Mr. G," Joe describes it as an "odd-ball comedy with a dark side." The dark side allows him to take liberties with some of the show’s main characters that viewers wouldn’t see on a typical network sitcom.

Giacobello’s experience with the show has taught him to constantly keep his eye out for new talent.

"At Fisher Scientific, I work with a person named Tom Interval, who’s really a funny guy," Joe said. "In his spare time, he’s a professional magician, so he’s experienced at performing in front of large audiences."

Joe cast Interval in the role of Mr. Woody, stuffy principal of the high school.

Asked what his friends at work say about "Mr. G," Giacobello said that, since many of the employees live in suburbs of Pittsburgh, most haven’t had a chance to see it. "I’m making tapes of it for them," he said.

Meanwhile, the theme song for "Mr. G," which was produced by a close friend of Joe’s in New York City, has become a popular tune in Pittsburgh.

"We have a good laugh track, too," Joe said.

He should know. It’s music to his ears.

Doing Therapy

Ultimate Reality