So, I haven't posted anything about this season's American Idol, because despite its few tweaks -- a supposedly shorter run of try-out episodes; extra Hollywood Week; and the new judge* -- it's been fairly dull.
* Last season I argued for new judges, specifically to bring in smart, sharp-tongued, interesting folks to liven up the three-person panel that might as well be staffed by androids at this point. (Randy-Bot: "Dawg, that rawked'; Paula-Bot: "Your voice, your feeling, what you do when you there there and here with us, really ..."; Simon-Bot: "I have no idea what Paula said. But, if I'm being honest, that was simply dreadful.") But the new judge, Kara, has seemed to be a weird amalgam of the existing three: Randy's occasional industry-speak, mixed with Paula's mooniness (and décolletage), and lightly salted with Simon's truth-telling. For me, a wash.
What has been buzz-worthy this season is AI's head-smackingly dreadful time-management. Each week has been marked with leisurely openings, only to end in frantically rushed comments and Ryan's breathless panting of the voting numbers.
Last week's show ran eight -- eight! -- minutes over. In network-TV time, that's astounding! Not only did it wipe out a big chunk of the next show (Fringe) but lots of people DVR this show (the better the fast forward through the non-performance inanities) and all those folks (myself included) didn't see the last performance at all. Which was, ironically, the show's fave and brightest spot, Adam Lambert, snugly berthed by the producers in the coveted, last-to-go pimp spot.
And yet, and yet -- last night, despite the fact that there were only seven performers, and that last week's cock-up was acknowledged, and that we had to suffer a pointless only-two-judges-per song system, the show still ran over! This isn't a sports game or news event; it's a highly choreographed formula show, in its 8th season!
Allow me to make some suggestions: Keep the theme nights, but drop the mentors and the pointless footage of them saying virtually the exact same thing to each contestant. Last night was a great example of misusing both time and talent: When Quentin Tarantino was a judge in a previous season, he made sharp, funny observation about the performances we had all just seen. Last night, he was a mentor and just gave vague, softball comments about how he thought a singer might do.
Cut Ryan's opening patter -- we know what show we're watching, who the judges are, who the contestants are. The show wastes so much time ahead of the performances, when the meat is after: We want to know what all the judges think (it's absurd to silence Simon on half the songs, when he's acknowledged to be the only voice of reason and coherence), and we also like to hear some defense from the singers. I could care less why they chose a song (especially since the answer is almost always: it's one of my favorites).
Anyhow, what about the singers?
I was glad to see Scott wander off to his inevitable career in Christian contemporary. Godspeed, young man! And while I appreciated Megan's "quirkiness," she lost me way back when she picked "Rockin' Robin." (People who weren't born when certain songs came out often of no idea how truly dreadful they were -- and still are.) Plus that one arm of tattoos was messing with my desire for symmetry.
We're left with Lil, who is the judges' punching bag. I agree with them, but it's just painful to watch this. If they still hated her "failure," why'd they give her the pimp spot last night? Then, there's Anoop, who I don't get. He can sing, but I get no excitement, showmanship, X-factor from him. He's just the best singer in his frat house.
Danny has got plenty of stage vibe and a likable personality, but he likely doesn't stand a chance. He's another church-friendly singer, and I could see him doing very, very well in X-tian rock-pop, if he wanted to go that route. Plenty of cashola there.
Next, the two guys that I'm sure most of America has trouble keeping straight: Matt and Kris. They're cute, they can sing, but neither has found a good niche and their days are numbered.
Allison ... I simply cannot get past that Halloween punk-rock fright wig on her head. It easily adds 20 years to her look. She's got the pipes, etc etc, but yikes ... she's 16. She needs to be younger, somehow.
But, with a couple wise song choices in the next couple weeks, her bad hair could end up in the final two with the show's other hairdressing nightmare, Adam. From here, it's hard to imagine any scenario where Mr. Hot Topic doesn't win.
For the record: I hate his look; it's painfully calculated and I daresay, dated. In the plus column, he can sing, has stage presence to spare (too much I'd argue, I don't want to see anymore of that licking his lips while gazing into the camera), and in this dull season, at least he remains unpredictable.
I don't think I like him, but his is the only performance I look forward to: What will Adam spectacularly rearrange this week? And how?
Last night was this bizarre shrieky hard-rock take on "Born to Be Wild," that 1. did actually sound better speeded up, and 2. had me hollering "Rocky Horror" a full two minutes before Simon did. Oh, and after two weeks of relatively straightforward look, the guyliner was back. Dude, move on.
So, yeah, I think Adam's winning is a foregone conclusion, though I can't help wondering if his forte is not in the big wild world but actually being on this show. The show's format means he can change it up radically from week to week and amaze viewers with something new. It's surely not my problem, but in today's micro-niche record-selling biz, how do you package such a chameleon? Ask yourself: What exactly is an Adam Lambert record?
What the frak is goin' on at the fake Trump boardroom? This current season of Celebrity Apprentice is just bizarre! I can't decide if the producers are aiming for train-wreck -- in which case, well done! -- or whether they think all chaos this equals compelling entertainment.
Part of the problem (or wonderfulness, depending on your tolerance for reality-gone-loco) has been the decision to run two-hour episodes. (Here's another sign of how far network TV has fallen, that the bulk of NBC Sunday prime-time would be allotted to this low-rated dud.) With all this time to kill, viewers have been treated to excruciating detail of (1) pretty lame tasks; (2) extra-long boardroom sessions; and (3) the waning days of Dennis Rodman's celebrity status.
Rodman seemed like a useless jerk from the beginning, more likely to just wander off than to be helpful. Then, in the video-phone challenge, he threatened to bust the cowboy hat off Clint Black's head. Seriously, there's like a two-foot height difference between these men -- it was like watching a rooster stand down a grizzly.
Then, in last week's episode -- or Watching D-Listers Fake-Run a 5-Star Hotel -- Rodman went all-Dennis, all-the-time, ordering cocktails (two at a time), disrobing (ewww, flabby tattoos), disappearing with a "client" and babbling even more incoherently than usual.
But really, that drama was just the appetizer for the boardroom, where a freakin' intervention broke out. Rodman was pretty impassive as his teammates detailed how he had a drinking problem, was sad, needed help, how much they loved him, etc., etc. Trump clucked and fretted, while continuing to compliment Rodman's long-ago athletic skills. It was almost as awkward as if you were there, and I prayed for the door to open and a no-nonsense interventionists from A&E to step in and get everybody to "stop lovin' Dennis to death."
I wouldn't have thought much could top that episode for derailment, but this week's All video challenge was a double doozy, both in task execution and boardroom nuttiness.
It was an admittedly tough assignment to design a viral video to appeal to users of All detergent -- i.e. boring, middle-aged Midwestern women, because Madison Avenue doesn't believe anybody else in the year 2009 does laundry. None of the contestants could hear me suggesting funny cats, puppies, babies and other cuties that could hit "viral" and "moms." (See also: American's Funniest Home Videos.)
Instead both teams came up with ... midgets. Or little people. Nobody could decide what was OK to call them, and likewise, nobody processed that that concern might be a useful harbinger.
Clint Black led his team into deeply weird territory with a video based on a really stupid joke that equated laundry with sex, and had a masturbation punchline ("Small load, did it by hand"). After the little person he hired couldn't say one line right, Black took to lead role of frustrated husband, and we were forced to repeatedly contemplate the ever-hatted Black jerking off, maybe with All liquid detergent and its patented "fresh release essentials."
Later pop-up captions were added to video which made it even ickier. When a model dropped her robe to reveal sexy bra and panties, the bubble above Clint's head -- he's in bed reading Trump's book -- shows him wondering why she's wearing his underwear. WTF?
Meanwhile, the other team was rolling smoothly, having hired three little people to dress up as All laundry bottles and attack/clean Jesse James. Their video was kinda funny -- it was self-consciously stupid and sort of showed the product working. But, then the little people/laundry bottles went extra-viral, throwing the All bottle to the ground and letting loose a string of curses. Ohhhhhhhhhhh-kay.
As painful as all this was to watch get made, it was truly worth it to see the reaction totally uptight All executive lady. Yeah honey, that's what you get when you hired a bunch of has-beens to do your marketing heavy-lifting.
Needless to say, All execs hated both videos, though special third judge -- the ever-viral Perez Hilton beamed in from L.A. -- laughed heartily to the "Jesse James Dirty With Midgets" reel.
But wait -- that's not all. The boardroom was anything but a business session, with Trump going off his own rails. First, he wasted a lot of time drooling over the girl in Black's All video and asking the Playboy Bunny apprentice her "professional body" opinion on the other girl's figure. Yuck, dude -- rent a video.
Then, Trump fired the chick from TLC, after angrily querying her if she knew who "Bradford" was. (Bradford turned out to be some Apprentice contestant we'd all long forgotten about.) "Tionne, I love your voice ..." -- really? The Donald is down with TLC? -- "... but you're fired." Color Miz T stunned, and who can blame her? Her offense: being a team player. Pretty obvious here that that's a role Trump has never experienced.
But mostly I was flummoxed by the terrible PR that was Trump's stunning ignorance of his "handpicked" apprentices. I don't wholly buy the fantasy that Trump is choosing these folks or even that involved, but that's what assistants are for, so the star doesn't look like an idiot on national TV. He pretty much asked Clint Black, "What is it you do again?" -- and was stunned to learn Annie Poker Champ has four kids. ("You look fantastic, did you adopt?" Classy.)
And then he tore in Khloe Kardashian after he discovered that the "previous appointment" that had kept her off the hotel task had been her court-ordered DUI class. Trump went on a rant about how much he hates drunk driving, and how he'd never do it (as if -- this man has been chauffeured his whole life). Then he demanded to know what her charity was -- even though he'd already written a check for it a couple weeks back.
Mis K was justifiably perplexed that she was being berated for fulfilling her legal obligation, but alas -- Trump loves "those mothers who are against this." So, he fired Khloe for her DUI that occurred -- very publicly -- all the way back in November 2007.
Trump, America's new law-and-order paragon, should look up double jeopardy -- at least before next week's episode.
The self-absorbed, long-limbed wannabe-models are back, and just in time for us to start early fretting about revealing our blobbier-than-ever post-winter selves. Remember, their humiliation helps us feel better.
As a convenience to the never-say-die, reality-TV viewers like myself, we've got aspiring-model shows running back to back, albeit on two channels: The CW's America's Next Top Model is back for the 12th time (!!!), while Bravo's spools out season two of Make Me a Supermodel.
ANTM began with a pointless detour to Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, which at least provided a real-life matching cheesy backdrop to the show's female-gladiator/ sexy-toga framing device. (Anything would have been better than last season's alien invasion.)
As we hurtle through the try-outs, one thing is obvious: Tyra's talk-show half is emerging as the dominant force. These models are more picked-for-TV than ready-for-the-runway. It's enough to fill a week's worth of daytime-TV couches!
A burn victim; a girl who lived at the Port Authority bus station; an epileptic; a street-preacher; a conspiracy theorist ("300 families run the planet"); Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s ex-girlfriend -- plus the usual assortment of fresh-off-the-farm, single moms and walking hair-weave disasters. (Remember, we've already had the legally blind, the autistic girl, the circumcised gal, the she-male.) Oh, and what about the blood-looks-cool girl with a head like a lemur, who breathed "jealous," when Tyra talked about getting nosebleeds?
The epileptic girl got cut first, even though she survived walking the runway while strobe lights went off. (In a freaky bit of TV-universe synchronicity, those epileptic dogs attending their own benefit show over on HBO's Flight of the Conchords weren't so lucky. A backed-up DVR meant I watched both shows in one night.)
Thank heavens that the producers have re-tooled Make Me a Supermodel for this season. Gone is the tedious time-wasting process of America voting. America tuned out to be an idiot, usually voting for contestants that were simply hot, and not necessarily good models. Plus, doing the show live week-to-week to allow voting didn't let the producers craft decent character and story arcs. (Give us reality, but make it a good story first!)
Now we've got a panel of judges, including the indecipherable fashion designer Catherine Malandrino and former model Jenny Shimizu (who a couple weeks ago, while guest-judging on RuPaul's Drag Race, was making jokes about past cocaine use -- girl, bring the crazy!).
The wooden Niki Taylor from season 1 has been banished to the wilderness, and co-host Tyson has been re-assigned as a mentor for the boy models. The girls got some model -- Nicole Trunfio -- that I'd never heard of, though that may just be a reflection of my ignorance. She at least has a cute accent.
There are so many contestants right now that it's hard to sort out all the pouty people into raves and rants. A few eliminations and fight or two back at the model-house will help out. The early fave looks to be Sandhurst, who seems to be the total package of exotic background, gorgeous face and body, and a strong sense of self -- plus a classy/wacky name!
Some of the girls are less-than-bony, though I suspect the producers throw them in so they can 1. get credit for having other body types and 2. get maximum entertainment value harassing these poor girls for being "fat." (In fairness, what little I remember about last year's winner was that she wasn't super skinny.)
And speaking of last year's winner that I can't remember: Part of my amusement with these shows is the accepted delusion of both viewers and contestants that anything of note will happen to the winner. While some may indeed find work, certainly no winner has ascended to the promised heights whereby they become stars. These shows are really just make-work exercises to keep us amused, not to actually find and develop "super" or "top" models.
So, open up another bag of Fritos and get pumped for the underwear episodes.
What a perfect time to bring back Celebrity Apprentice! Oy, this economy! The glittery rich everywhere are tumbling and -- we hope -- reduced to doing yard work, dog walking or dishing out spuds in a cafeteria. If we can't see Bernie Madoff or the head of GM hawk crap on the streets, can't we at least have some clapped-out celebrities be their proxies? And for their boss: Who better than last century's hero, the unrepentant king of garish nouveau riche, Donald Trump?
Frankly, this year I don't know who half these so-called celebrities are -- really, being a briefcase-holder on Deal or No Deal makes you a celebrity? -- but whatever: We're all struggling, and network TV is free. All I needed to hear was Andrew Dice Clay was on board and I was there. Big-mouth-idiot + reality TV = lots of laughs.
The opening episode was a two-hour not-so-extravaganza that simply played up the least entertaining aspect of the Celebrity version of this show. It is not compelling television to film famous people calling other famous people to ask them to write checks.
We tune in to watch these has-beens get their hands dirty, get in squabbles and be humiliated. We want to see them have a workday that approximates our workday: Do something half-assed, then get yelled at by the boss, who's easily a bigger idiot. Blame somebody else, sulk and show up tomorrow to do it again.
The task for the celebrities was to make cupcakes and sell them for charity. Both teams managed to bollix up their cupcakes -- though with two professional chefs on hand, this was just mysterious. Cupcakes are pretty basic. Still, big-hearted celeb pals came through, writing four-figure checks for cupcakes made without sugar. That's what friends are for.
The other fun of the show is discovering which celebrities are huge tools, morons or smarter than you'd think. Last season's break-out was country singer Trace Adkins, who behind all his good-ol'-boy pone, was wickedly funny and smart about marketing. (I still say, "Wear 'em, share 'em," every time I see a pair of Crocs.)
The guys got off to a dumb start naming their team "KOTU" -- pronounced koh-TWO -- it stands for "Kings of the Universe." Yeah, maybe when you're 8.
It's early days yet, but making a good impression in the smarts category was the self-professed "working man" Jesse James, from one of those TV motorcycle shows. The lady poker champ has got some brains, but perhaps not the right team-player personality. Dennis Rodman is the shiftless, sulky has-been you'd expect (and doubly humorless), still trapped in his own bubble; Tom Green, the polite Canadian. I wasn't surprised to see Joan Rivers exhibit take-charge competency. She's been working for decades, and has made a lot of her own way in a tough biz.
Andrew Dice Clay. What is there to say? How pathetic it must be to be him. Either he is that deluded about his "fame" -- or he still trapped in that braggadocio shtick, decades after anybody cares. Either way, it's sad. But what can we expect from a "comic genius" whose every punchline was appending "...sucking my dick! Ho!" to random lines.
Anyway, he was the first casualty. No surprise -- his performance in the cupcake challenge was virtually nil -- but I thought the producers would keep him around, if only for the freak-show factor. Time for Rodman to step it up.
A throat-clearing of sorts, to catch up on the various realities:
Last Restaurant Standing: This British import continues to be entertaining as the wannabe restaurateurs fail to master the most basic principles of running a restaurant. One pair purposely underbooks so as not to get too frazzled; not only do they fare poorly at the till, but their few guests look miserable sitting in a cavernously empty venue. Last week's challenge was to use as much of a pig as possible and idiocies ranged from: serving oversized portions, charcoaling the tenderloin and frying up bits of brain, heart and lung and serving them unidentified atop lettuce as a "pork salad."
The pork-salad cook is a lurching, somewhat dim, affable sort, the Gomer Pyle of LRS. His mystery-meat twist landed in him the elimination challenge, where he cheerfully mismanaged a special dinner for an Oxford dining hall. His theme: "Sir Walter Riley" (he meant "Raleigh"); his goof: serving a 50-cent chicken leg to the "high table" of dons; and his gobsmacker: passing around tins of snuff to the students.
Over in pro-cook land, Top Chef New York wrapped up last night. A fairly engaging season, despite the lack of personal drama. Italian cook Fabio deserved that huge bottle of wine he won and then some for being a TV-perfect bight spot. Get this guy his own show, pronto. And please -- send that odious British judge packing. His comments were canned one-liners, and since when does New American cuisine need a snooty Brit to dump on it?
But the finale was a disappointment. The late-in-the-race rebound of Kooky Carla gave us all hope that somebody other than the insufferable baldies -- Stefan and Josea -- might win. But Carla shot herself in the sous vide and it looked like even the judges were struggling to reward either of the two dudes.
There doesn't seem to be a single soul to root for on Hell's Kitchen -- this is one inept bunch of overweight, vulgar, ignorant chain-smokers masquerading as cooks. Hilariously, the "big prize" this year has been severely downgraded: The winner gets a gig at some Atlantic City casino. And just in time for the recession!
Meanwhile in the Brazilian hinterlands, a bunch of genuinely annoying people battle it out in Survivor. So far, the long-running show has taken none of my suggestions (chief among them: adding more old people and dropping the run-puzzle challenges) and has just made a few tweaks to the tribal configurations and immunity idols. I watch mostly because I love the spectacle of people doing weird things in filthy underwear -- last week's water-polo match had the digital-scrambler dude up all night blurring out naughty bits -- and because despite the hoariness of the concept, there's often a pay-off down the road. I only pray that it's horrible and it befalls that fatuous "Coach."
Tweaks have also been made to The Amazing Race -- less airport drama, younger teams. We'll see how it pans out, but after two episodes, I'm still coasting on the Giant Wheels of Swiss Cheese challenge which made me laugh and laugh. I much prefer these challenges that really are challenges -- tricky, tough work that is mastered by applying brawns, brains and teamwork correctly -- rather than the gimmicky passive things like zip-lines and bungee-jumps which simply require getting strapped in.
American Idol did some revamping, but so far that hasn't breathed much new life into the singing competition. I tuned in haphazardly to the city auditions mostly to see how the new judge Kara was faring: more articulate that Randy, nicer than Simon and younger boobs than Paula -- but meh. The judges' table needs somebody fresh, not a combo of the three already there.
So I skimped through auditions and Hollywood week, but have settled in for this stage -- the three rounds of 12 singers, plus wild card. Giving these lucky 36 a chance at the big stage has resulted in a nearly complete trainwreck, with only one or two singers not crashing and burning. Song choice, dude, song choice.
Last week's go-throughs were dull; this week, we're likely to get that floppy-haired Hot Topic model who went all High School Musical on "Satisfaction"; the teen-age belter; and who knows? I can't help but root for Nick/Norman, whose send-up of Idol and its pompousness, was a breath of fresh air, even if it was four seasons too late. Vote him through -- he's no bigger joke than Soul Patrol, who we had to pretend to was a "serious" artist.
BBC America's slow-motion cooking reality show is back -- and marginally revamped.
The first thing I noticed was that they've livened up the various meeting and judgment rooms. Gone is that gloomy, fake-baronial hall where head judge and restaurateur Raymond Blanc issued his pronouncements. (One half expected the losers to be beheaded.) Now, all contestant-judge interaction takes place in a bright sunny room, with contemporary furnishings.
And with subtitles! Somebody complained, and now when Blanc's Gallic mumblings are too inscrutable, subtitles pop up.
Season two kicked off with the perennial cooking-contest opener: The nine couples vying to run trial restaurants were tasked to prepare and cook a signature dish. Right off the bat there were some amazing bad decisions including the use of frozen food (for a seasonal dish), an experimental cheesecake and a dessert that monkey could make: combine can of mango puree with cream, chill and serve.
One couple -- the mango people -- was eliminated and the remaining eight given keys to their restaurants, which seemed to be a nicer group of spaces than last season.
The fun of this show versus the pro-vs.-pro battle that Top Chef has become is that it rounds about a bunch of home cooks, dreamers, pub grillers and folks who just think running a restaurant would be fun and forces them to confront reality: the restaurant biz is brutal, from start to finish, from logo to wallpaper, from appetizer to dessert, from reservations to final bill.
Needless to say, the train wreck starts immediately. There's the Chinese-Welsh couple who want to open a Chinese-Welsh restaurant. The pair who want to highlight locally sourced food but who can't account for its provenance. (When a judge asks the wife what brand the pork is, she replies, "Pork belly.") Or the two air stewards who open Sorbets and Seasons (because they love the name) but serve neither sorbets nor seasonal food.
And my favorite: the painful clueless father-daughter team who apparently have never eaten out themselves. How else to explain the sheer lunacy of charging customers for their drinks, after these same patrons had pre-ordered their meals, waited two hours and still hadn't been served?! Dad explained to an incredulous Blanc that he felt he should get some money from these customers, so the whole evening wouldn't be a total financial loss.
After the second episode, this team plus two others were picked for the elimination round, which as old heads know, takes up a full episode. Bring it on the endlessly slow but still entertaining contest.
I can't wait to see what new bumbles and staggering insights await our flustered restaurateurs -- already the air stewards are grumbling that this isn't as fun as they thought it might be. And needless to say, I'm still totally unclear on Chinese-Welsh cuisine.
I recently complained to my cable provider about my ever-escalating bill and for my troubles wound up with more channels for less money. Among the new-to-me channels is the gay-oriented Logo -- and just in time for RuPaul's Drag Race!
I'm not sure that the maxim "there a reality show for everybody" has been coined yet, but the industry is well on its way to making that happen. If bariatric surgeons, dogs and truckers who drive on icy roads can get their own shows, then it's imperative that ever-camera-ready drag queens get theirs.
Has-been (no, please, let's be honest) disco diva and one-woman-band RuPaul hosts this fierce-fest that puts nine drag queens through the paces. The unworthy will be eliminated weekly, and the winner will receive mostly limited glory. (Seriously, the "big prize" is a photo shoot and $20,000. Honey, a good wig costs half that!)
We meet an assortment of gals: the booty-shaker, the fabbo-mutant, the lounge act, the Stepford wife, the tattoo-ed boy known as "Ongina," etc. Easy money is on the older, fatter girl to go first; this is a brutal beauty biz.
The first challenge seems 1. designed to test the girls' equanimity and 2. to give the folks at home something to shriek over. It's a photo shoot and the girls have to drape themselves over a hot car and two hot guys in shorty-shorts while being hosed down. Lemme repeat: while being hosed down.
Most took this in stride. It was the second challenge that drew claws, when the ladies were presented with some used clothes and boxes of junk from the dollar store and told to make a signature outfit. There was some sniffing about "$25,000 wardrobes" and ugly, cheap clothing but I applaud the challenge: Drag is from the inside out, attitude counts for a lot, and a real top queen will rock a plastic bag. If your best drag feature is a custom wig, for shame.
To wit, Ongina rocked the runway with a dress made from exploding loofahs, and Miz Flowers' 1980s-style couture-punk suit was sheer genius. Scary fierce!
While I was rooting for the older queen, Miss Thing's green dress was a hot mess and a half, and her lack of confidence in the look was obvious on the runway.
The bottom two contestants faced a final challenge -- "Lip synch for your life, and don't fuck it up," snapped RuPaul, and the two beautiful losers preened to "Supermodel." Both had problems, but Victoria -- Miss Plus-Plus-Size in Green -- seemed sad and lost.
She was told to "shantay" or "sashay" away -- I forget which was the drag code for "The tribe has spoken." There are judges, including Santino from Project Runway, but they are just on board to provide bitchy comments. (Santino to one bedraggled girl: "You look like you're about to give a $20 handjob.") Apparently RuPaul makes the decision, alone. Oh, how heavy is the head that wears the zircon crown.
Victoria -- bless her heart -- at least went out with class, all Southern charm, but undoubtedly shrieking fits of tears and the rending of chiffon await loyal viewers of future eliminations,
I'd be remiss not to note the freakiest thing about this show was the most "normal" aspect -- that is, RuPaul dressed as a man. With his skeletal bald head, snake-ish facial features and weirdly fluid motions, he resembled the evil villain-in-human-form from some comic-book movie. Look out, ladies! It's The Viper!
Network TV continues to plumb the reality-TV depths. On offer this week is ABC's True Beauty, another inane contest to see who is the hottest hottie, but with a twist.
There's the usual line up of totally plastic-looking "beautiful" gals and guys -- 10 in all -- but this show promises to judge not just the outer looks, but also inner beauty. Or to put it another way: Which self-absorbed, vain hottie is actually an honest, caring, considerate do-gooder at heart? Challenges will prove this!
This idiotic concept is the unholy love child of celebu-producers Tyra Banks (America's Next Top Model) and Ashton Kutcher (Punk'd) and not surprisingly it combines their two métiers: Tyra's pick-a-looker with Ashton's Candid Camera-style gotcha follies.
In the first episode we met the contestants, and frankly they struck me as the very worst people you went to high school with: the over-lacquered mean girls, the pec-flexing jocks, the mirror-worshippers and the deeply delusional ("I AM the most beautiful person").
They arrived inexplicably in fancy sports cars, and were greeted by a couple dozen out-of-work actors hired as ... beats me, greeters? As the gathered on the patio of Ye Olde Tacky L.A. Mansion, they began sizing each other up like a pack of dogs. That is -- dogs with eyelash extensions, blonde tips, stiletto heels and way too much eyeliner. Girls and guys were slathered in so much product, I wondered if, after all, inner beauty might not be more discernible?
Anyhow ... the contest begins. Our beauties are assessed by a L.A. doctor who take a bunch of measurements and ascertains how symmetrical folks' eyes are.
Meanwhile ... secret tests are underway to check for inner beauty, namely a bunch of set-ups that the judges watch to see how the contestants handle themselves. First, a clumsy waiter pours liquid chocolate all over them. Then, would the contestants, if left alone, do a little snooping in their competitors' files? And the Final Challenge, which tested the two up for elimination: Would they hold the door open for a dude laden with coffees?
The judges are a motley crew, really: a Miss Teen Something I've never heard of; 1970s model Cheryl Tiegs (billed here as the "first supermodel," take that, Janice!); and Nolé Marin, stylist and staple of reality shows, who looks like he's gonna be deliciously bitchy but always disappoints.
The final decision goes down in the "Hall of Beauty" -- and the first elimination proved entertaining. Miss Thing, La-Dee-Day-Yeah or whatever her name was, gave a lot of attitude and made that fatal reality-show mistake: denying that she'd done something. Honey, there are cameras everywhere.
When they showed her the incriminating footage of her shocking crime -- bustling past the coffee-cup dude without a kind gesture -- she immediately averred: "I'm a good person!" The judges shook their heads in pretend distress, and America had a little laugh, because it's fun watching stuck-up people get taken down a few pegs.
The final indignity: Two fat guys dressed like janitors came by with a wheelie bin and unceremoniously dumped the loser's portrait in the trash. Tonight, here's one less masterpiece in the Hall of Beauty.
Deliciously bad TV broke out of the gate early in 2009, literally as the ball was dropping in Times Square.
Inexplicably, CNN booked its increasingly shape-shifting pretty boy Anderson Cooper (who went from fluff to hard news and seems to be cycling back to fluff again, recently taking swims with Michael Phelps) for a special AC 360 to usher in the New Year. In a move best described as "Bravo-style programming," the "news" channel paired the Silver Fox with comedienne Kathy Griffin, pretty much locking in the older-gay-men-at-home-on-the-couch demographic.
And didn't they make an awkward pair?! Like a fixed-up date. Griffin clearly came loaded for bear, with a batch of questions designed to trip up the much-speculated-about Cooper. Her queries about Gossip Girl and who he was wearing had AC collapsing in nervous fits of giggles, and eventually calling her "honey," like two BFFs sipping pink cocktails and commiserating over worthless men.
But their cringe-y pas-de-deux was the show's bright spot, amid some of the lamest "coverage" I've ever seen -- and this from a marquee cable channel. Even though Times Square emptied out totally at 12:03 a.m., the cameras kept rolling while Kathy & Andy struggled to keep up the façade of unbridled fun. Behind them, trash blew across the forlorn neon jungle like tumbleweeds through Silver City, and the only people visible were guys with ladders dismantling the set.
As befitting its status as a wide-ranging news org, CNN reached deep into its coffers and outlaid about $50 to bring viewers the festivities from: Key West (where a single camera was trapped in the back of the crowd providing indecipherable shots of a drag queen doing something); New Orleans (where the ground correspondent angrily described the crowd as "belligerent" and fled, first to an empty restaurant, and then to the safety of a second-story balcony); the sidewalk outside Shrek the Musical; a 5K "fun" run in NYC (where the correspondent huffed through reporting exactly nothing and the only other joggers seemed to be furries -- two lobsters and a rabbit); Las Vegas (where a demented Coolio -- remind me again ...? -- rattled off greetings to his 29 kids); the fuzzed-out Grand Canyon ("sent from my BlackBerry," I think); and at 1 a.m., a badly edited round-up of sparkly things dropping in various Central Time Zone hot spots.
But viewers -- hopefully mellowed by booze -- who sat through this TV turd in its totality, were well rewarded right before 1 a.m., when CNN dropped its own ball, and failed to cut away promptly from Times Square to a commercial.
Lucky for us that's exactly when Griffin -- irked by the few stragglers in the streets who were heckling her and AC -- leaned over the well-brought-up Mr. Cooper to shriek: "Shut up! You know what -- screw you! I'm working! Why don't you get a job, buddy? I don't go to your job and knock the dicks out of your mouth!"
Oh no, she's didn't! Oh yes, she did. YouTube sees all. Happy New Year, and God bless you, live TV -- don't ever change.
So Survivor just ended, and Mark Burnett and the gang are going back to the well for the 18th time. The next series will take place in Brazil and is likely already underway, but that won't stop me offering some suggestions, should this show run on into infinity.
More old people. The ones that don't get voted out in the first couple of episodes generally fare fairly well. Experience does count -- whether it's a lifetime of acquiring useful skills or just simply knowing how to get along with people. And, nothing brings out the rallying fans like supporting the oldster underdog. (See also Rudy and Yau-Man.) This time, Bob overcame a seemingly double handicap of age and physique to win.
More chunky people. Seriously, after a month of not-eating, some of these contestants become alarmingly skinny. Look, you know folks are gonna drop a bunch of weight, so don't pick people who leave us at the final challenges rooting for who appear to be death-camp survivors.
More mean people. Yes, they appeared to be simply awful human beings, but admit it: Randy and Corrine were a blast to watch (and even more fun to watch get taken down hard.) This isn't the Hallmark Channel, and reality fare is low-rent by nature, so give us villains, not group hugs.
Different challenges. Seriously, if I see one more run/swim/crawl, collect puzzle pieces and assemble puzzle to raise flag challenge ... The challenges that work best involve tapping a less obvious skill (rather than just speed and strength), and include some mental element. At least this season, Survivor dropped the pro forma final challenge, which has always been some standing endurance test. Building a house of cards was a fresh idea, a tough challenge, and rendered surprising results -- Susie beat the physics instructor?! -- that changed up the whole game with only a day to go.
Immunity idols. Finally, this thing was actually employed, and cleverly. But the novelty of the immunity idol has worn off, and I hope Survivor 18 either ditches it or changes how it can be played. Best case scenario: The show dreams up some other concept to help or hinder individual immunity outside of challenges. Contestants are too savvy about the immunity idol as it stands now.
New tie-breaker. The tie-breaker has always been building a fire, and that's exactly why Bob won (he went and practiced) and exactly why it should be retired (he went and practiced). Here's hoping if we need a tie-breaker, it's a surprise to all.
New lines for Jeff. This poor man might as well be a pre-programmed robot: "Survivors ready?"; "Want to know what you're playing for?" "Drop your buffs"; etc. Let Jeff speak -- or at least program him with fresh lines.