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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Posted By on Wed, Dec 17, 2008 at 1:26 PM

OK, let's just stipulate that everything we see on NBC's new 10 p.m.-hole filler Momma's Boys is true. My gut says no, and even my mind smells way too much set-up and too many too-perfect lines, but for the sake of argument -- and entertainment -- let's buy in.

Momma's Boys -- in case you're too good for the worst sort of TV -- is a dating reality show, yet another iteration on The Bachelor. This show's gimmick is simple: three eligible bachelors interact with 32 hand-chosen prospects with their mothers in tow. The men (or should I say, "men"?) live off-site but the moms bunk down with their potential daughters-in-law.

It's a show designed to elicit the most basic form of satisfaction: Am I ever better than these people!

Start with the "dreamy" bachelors. They're of reasonable handsomeness, and are gainfully employed. So why do they still live at home with mom, in bland suburban bedrooms with baseballs hats for décor? Most people would say because they're lazy, immature, scared, too attached to mom, spoiled, functionless and so on. Employed guys in the mid-20s that live with mom: Big Red Flag. Besides the aforementioned flaws, at best, you're gonna hook a guy who expects his betrothed to replace mom, who seem defined here as an unconditionally adoring, full-time housekeepers.

The gals -- who can seriously keep track of 32, half of whom seem to be the exact same trashy-looking bleached blonde? -- are a purposefully mixed lot. They are a variety of ethnicities; heights; weights (though as far as I could see this equaled one girl that was extra bony and one girl that was extra fleshy); personalities (you got giggly, outspoken, teary, bitchy); and occupations. Some seemed "ideal" given our preconception of good wife material -- school teachers and nurses; others, well, let's be honest: Only the producer of a low-rent TV reality show would stack the deck with not one, but two, nude models. (One posed for Playboy, the other for Penthouse -- and discussions of distinction are occurring all over America now.)

The inevitable spatting between the girls hasn't kicked in yet, I'm guessing, because for the first episode, the men were mostly absent, and thus: who to fight over? There was one mini-meltdown, the sort of thing that gives all women a bad name -- one girl cried when the heel of her shoe broke, and another girl yelled at her for crying, causing, naturally, more tears.

And then, there are the moms, the enablers of these pathetic man-child situations. ("I can't help it" was their common refrain, explaining their "devotion" and the buying of their sons' underpants. Uh, yes, you can.) The show offers three distinct archetypes: "fun" buddy-mom; smothering Jewish mom; and hot-headed racist mom.

The last mom -- a Catholic of Iraqi background with a Polish surname from the greater Detroit area -- in her introductory video gave an impassioned defense that her son needed to marry a white girl. No blacks, no Asians, no Jews, no non-Catholics, no Muslims, no gals from divorced families, no "fat butts" -- in sum, "no mixing."

Imagine the "fun" when the 32 girls watched this tape. (NBC sure isn't afraid to disregard the new warm-and-fuzzy, post-racial, post-election vibe and purposefully stir the pot with decades-old race-baiting gimmicks. For entertainment.

To their credit -- or per the producers' instructions -- the girls were properly outraged. One girl commented later than the racist mom was so awful that "even the dumb girls" were upset by her.

Of course, all this was prelude to the first water-cooler-ready act of the episode, when racist mom came to the house. After seeing the tape, some of the not-white girls had formulated a stealth plan, whereby they would be sweet-as-pie to mom, but then to get revenge, would mack hard on her son.

But this quickly crumbled when a cuss-filled screaming match broke out between one of the black contestants and racist mom (who despite her long laundry list of 1950s-era qualifications for a perfect daughter-in-law seemed quite comfortable shrieking her own f-bombs at strangers and on TV). All very expected -- you could probably write most of the back-and-forth screaming yourself -- girl demands apology, mom avers she isn't racist.

But, this shameful scene (I can't look away!) did deliver the show's first great take-away line, when racist mom, trying to prove she had much love in her heart for black people, hollered by way of defense: "I know half the Detroit Lions!"

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 2008 at 3:13 PM

I've been diligently watching fall's reality-TV stalwarts, those shows that have managed to make it to double-digit seasons, and more than once I've asked: Could these shows get any duller? Am even I ready to throw in the reality-TV towel?

The formulas are etched in stone, few players seem fresh and I can repeat most of the filler in my sleep: "Six beautiful women stand before ... Want to know what you're playing for? ... A roadblock is a task that only one member of the team may perform ..."

But as a couple of these shows near the season's end, suddenly -- some life!

An exception is America Next Top Model (Season 11), which trudges on. Even the addition of a transgendered model didn't deliver, and the "exciting" final episodes in Amsterdam couldn't be duller. Even a boozy party didn't go anywhere. (And old-timers will remember Season 2, when a booze-up with a Euro boy caused some real Melrose Place-style bed-hopping drama.)

Honestly, I might care more if any one of these 10 earlier winners had ever become a "top model."

But Amazing Race (Season 13) found its groove when the wheels came off the teams where they so often do -- in the chaotic streets in a massive Indian city. It isn't just the colossally bad traffic that undoes players, but also the culture's charming quirk of politely agreeing, regardless. Frantic team member: "Is this the right way to such-and-such?" Local nods helpfully, and repeats team member's gesture. So it's an affirmative ... or is it?

Amusingly, natives in last week's confuse-a-rama country of Kazakhstan ignored most team member's requests for direction and information, leading the oh-so-hapless Arizona frat boys to liken them to "zombies."

Over on Survivor, despite the gorgeous West African setting, the drama has been more petty than compelling. The first half of the season (number 17!!) found one team constantly losing -- which makes for dreadful TV. But the last three episodes have seen a fake merge, a real merge, three blindsides at tribal council, a power shift to the "loser" tribe now seemingly in control of nerd-boy Kenny, and the creation of an impressive fake immunity idol. (I stand by my assertion that these hidden immunity idols don't deliver on their promise of game-changing, but a fake idol has a lot more potential for fun.)

Also in Survivor's wind-down favor: The most obnoxious players -- Randy and Corinne -- are still on board and mad as wet hens.

And just in time for the winter bunking-down days is Top Chef: New York which started up last week on Bravo. Last season, set in Chicago, failed to ignite much drama -- though I still love the challenges and dream of eating the food. It's fingers-crossed for me and the new season.

The opening was a quick gut-punch as the contestants lined up literally off the boat for a quick-fire challenge that would send one chef home pronto. And, it was humiliating -- especially since the rounds 1 and 2 of the challenge involved basic knife skills and apples.

The main challenge was a good use of the city, and the competing chefs' on-the-fly skills, as each had to come up with an inventive dish rooted in the cuisine of one of NYC's ethnic neighborhoods (though the producers clearly did some fudging of NYC reality to shoehorn in several cuisines – "Little India"?).

My early favorite among the contestants is the little tattooed guy from Hawaii, former-dishwasher Gene. Dude got freaky-lucky, making what he thought was a Mediterranean dish to cover his utter lack of knowledge of Indian cuisine (sure, makes no sense), and through some miracle of culinary alchemy wowing Padma with a "perfect" Indian curds-and-rice side dish.

In reality shows, contestants can't necessarily win solely on luck, but unlike hidden immunity idols, luck can absolutely help one's progress. Now, if only the viewers can luck out on reality-TV getting a little mojo back..

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Posted By on Thu, Nov 13, 2008 at 11:46 AM

January is the typically the month that the cable channels pump up their coverage of weight-loss shows. The first month of the year coincides with both those extra pounds folks put on over the holidays and those New Year's resolutions.

But this week the Style Network rolled out Ruby, a reality series about a Savannah, Ga., woman, who at nearly 500 pounds, realizes she's got to lose weight or suffer serious health consequences.

Ruby is certainly TV-ready: She's a lively, ebullient redhead with a domestic set-up that seems ripped from a 1980s sitcom. She shares her modest ranch home with her best boy-bud from childhood, her home-schooled, teen-age nephew who adores her, and two tiny terriers, who wear cute little outfits. Nearby, Ruby's got a gang of friends, who all get together for awesomely delicious (bad-for-you) feasts of Southern comfort food.

Episode one takes care of introductions -- not just of Ruby and her makeshift family, but also her doctor who declares her "a metabolic timebomb" and a passel of professionals -- trainer, nutritionist, obesity doctor and shrink -- who will help Ruby (hopefully) get down to 150 pounds. (Presumably, the show is footing these not-insubstantial bills for these helpers; Ruby lives on disability.)

No surprises for guessing the upcoming narrative: Will Ruby lose the weight? Will her friends stop making her pecan cheesecake? What new problems will surface? (The first visit with the shrink suggests unresolved trauma in Ruby's early adolescence that -- tah dah! -- coincides with her rapid weight gain.) When and how will Ruby backslide? And, if she makes it, what new experiences and insights will open up for Ruby?

If you're a vet of your own weight-loss struggles and/or a regular watcher of such shows, you can likely write out most of the season yourself. But it's this familiarity that makes such shows watchable -- these are windows into very real realities, and whether any viewer gets inspired may be less important than simply seeing similar struggles presented sympathetically. (I wonder, though, how many folks wish they were on the show: If Ruby has any advantage over the stay-at-home viewer, it's that her weight-loss scheme is public. Knowing you're on TV and millions (or at least thousands) are watching is a powerful incentive to stay on track, as is the supporting cast of pricey professionals.)

And while Ruby is taking the old-school route -- diet and exercise -- I think my favorite weight-loss show is TLC's gastric-bypass celebration, Big Medicine. There's been two seasons, and undoubtedly a third is on its way.

What primarily attracts me to Big Medicine is its concept which, even after all these episodes, never fails to blow my tiny mind. In the decade since they've debuted, we've become so inured to reality shows that it's hard to stand back and see how bizarre the genre has become.

So imagine this pitch 10 years ago: We follow along with a father-son team of gastric-bypass surgeons in Houston, as they see patients, perform their signature operation -- together, while squabbling! -- and conduct follow-up oversight with a nearby plastic surgeon, whose job is to cut off huge flaps of excess skin from success stories.

But I also like this about Big Medicine: Given its subject matter and emphasis on unclothed obese folks, it's low on exploitation; father-son doctors Big D and Garth are the sorts of caring, yet no-nonsense physicians you'd hope to work with (crusty old Big D, formerly of South Africa, is also given to frequent rants against the bullshit state of American health insurance); and -- I know I'm in the minority here -- I do find the explicit surgical footage fascinating.

I support Ruby, her quest and Ruby's producers, but the entertainment edge likely goes to Big Medicine, if only because that bypass procedure seems better suited for TV: You get the genuine drama of the surgery (potentially risky), with all its attendant medical info; tidy back stories; and -- one can't discount this when laying out a TV season -- relatively quick and dramatic results.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Posted By on Tue, Nov 11, 2008 at 2:42 PM

click to enlarge It's Condom 101 for Jonah (Chris Lilley)
It's Condom 101 for Jonah (Chris Lilley)

Some people hate it, but I'm a fan of the newish Comedy of the Uncomfortable (The Office, The Comeback, Flight of the Conchords, the occasional film feature).

Anything is better than worn-out sit-com tropes (Two and Half Men causes me other sorts of pain), and let's face it: Pain is the root of comedy, not squishy take-aways about being friends.

I checked out the new cringe-and-chuckle offering debuting here this week -- an Australian import, now airing on HBO. Summer Heights High -- dispensed in half-hour doses -- is a mockumentary set in an ordinary high school. It's the brainchild of one-man-band Chris Lilley, who besides creating the show, also writes the scripts and portrays the three major characters.

The first episode was primarily set-up and it looks promising. Even the best high school experience is still a Petri dish for painful (yet funny) experiences.

We meet Lilley's three protagonists, including Jonah, a rambunctious Pacific Islander whose bullying and disruptive behavior is funny (he accuses a female teacher of farting near him, and, of course, her denials, however true, ring false) and sad (this kid has a boatload of proverbial issues). 

Then there's  Ja'mie (pronounced Jah-MAY), a self-absorbed exchange student from a posh all-girls high school. She waves far too much and already reminds me of somebody I know and find irritating. I sense her humiliating take-down is imminent.

Lastly, there's Mr. G, a "professional performer" who somehow has ended up being the assistant drama teacher at a provincial high school. Every other year, Mr. G writes an original play that the school performs; past extravaganzas -- his specialty -- have included "IKEA: The Musical" and "Tsunami-rama," a look at the 2004 tsunami set to the music of Bananarama.

These early character sketches all contain the broad aspects of typical caricature -- the self-deluded, nellie drama teacher is certainly popular comedic fall-back -- but previews suggest that upcoming plot developments will serve to stretch these conventional portrayals.

Also, I'm hoping that the mockumentray framework will help keep these characters grounded more in reality than parody. The best mockumentaries walk that fine line where all the wacky or off-kilter behavior they present still could be true. It's the "real" aspect that means more funny and/or more painful.

Lilley -- who I was previously unaware of, and a quick Google search suggests that's perfectly reasonable -- is a gifted physical comedian. (He also turns in three great accents.) The shape of his face means his teen-age Ja'mie looks a bit drag queen-ish, but he's extra fantastic as the hyper Jonah -- and really, when you process that one actor is performing these three disparate roles, it's all impressive.

I'll be checking back into class next week (new shows air on Sundays, with repeats during the week and shows archived OnDemand). If Lilley continues to make me cringe and laugh nervously, I'll consider myself well entertained.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Posted By on Fri, Nov 7, 2008 at 1:04 PM

VH-1 struck ratings gold a couple years back with its Behind the Music series, mini "documentaries" that told the ever-popular rags-to-riches-to-rehab-to-rebound dramas of various rock stars.

Let's be honest: Folks tune in for the train-wreck footage of wasted musicians collapsing on stage, or the lurid tales of their guitar heroes vis-à-vis sex, drugs, booze, fast cars, hotel rooms and cash.

But the Behind the Music tales are told in retrospect, often after said (once-) hugely popular band is now a nostalgic memory. Some bright mind must have thought: How can we get a few present-day train-wrecks on tape? And, by the way, look at the success of A&E's Intervention, the reality show that tracks ordinary folks during their final out-of-control days before rehab.

And so last year, VH-1 coughed up Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew. (Dr. Drew Pinksy has straddled pop culture and medicine since the 1980s when he began hosting a sex-advice show on Los Angeles radio; later, his "Loveline" was nationally syndicated.) Simple premise: Collect some boozy/druggie celebs, put them in a camera-ready treatment facility and film the six-week "process."

It's prurient to be sure, with a mitigating whiff of public-service message about it. (Kids: don't do drugs. If you must do drugs, don't do this many. If you do do this many, go to rehab. When you're in rehab, take it seriously. If you mess up rehab, come back.)

As real as these problems are -- both in general and for the show's participants -- this is a problematic "reality" show both in practice and in intended effect. Sure, "Dr. Drew" is really a doctor, but "celebrity" and rehab" are both up for debate.

Naturally, no A-lister, or even B-lister, nor their management, would be foolish enough to do "public" rehab; the stigma is all-too real. But is it fair to categorize Dr. Drew's hodge-podge of the needy as "celebrities"? People you may just recall if you're over 40 (long-faded actors such as Jeff Conaway and Gary Busey); people you may just barely know if you're under 20 (American Idol contestants); aging model-starlets-arm candy who were never really stars; that guy from that band, but not the famous one; fringe sports figures; and so on.

To my untrained eye, a lot of these folks seem to have a lot of their problems linked to their open desire for fame and attention, even if they don't particularly warrant it. Thus, referring to these people as "celebrities," which occurs endlessly and without irony during this show, would seem to only reinforce one key issue, which is acknowledging that the "celebrity" experience as different. Here, the state of celebrity for the addicts is presented as mitigating, or burdensome, or toxic, or whatever; the fact is it's assumed that "celebrity" bestows a special sort of status.

If we buy into the therapy-speak on this show -- the exhortations for the participants to confront the reality of who they really are -- it would seem to be that getting a lot of these folks to see that they are in fact NOT celebrities would be a great first step.

Season two, which is running now, has added two new classifications of "celebrity": son-of (Rod Stewart's kid is in the house) and "known by circumstance." Children of celebrities probably do live in some special kind of hell, but fame-by-association is a stretch to "celebrity."

And tossed in the mix this season is Rodney King -- a regular citizen (in)famous for his beating-by-cops that eventually proved a trigger for the 1992 riots in L.A. King's psychic burden must be great, and based on the little he has shared, he seems a sad figure. But, he never pursued his notoriety and this fact makes his presence amongst the video vixens, celebu-spawn party boys and clapped-out musicians jarring. Having unwanted fame thrust upon you is an entirely different animal from nakedly chasing "celebrity," and King's inclusion mostly serves as an awkward reminder that plenty of folks have very real problems beyond cellulite or poor record sales. And what hope for them without the validation of "celebrity"?

It's also this desire for attention makes us question "rehab," or more correctly, "rehab while the cameras run." It's hard for me to separate "performers" (and I include Dr. Drew here, too) from the act of performing, from the consciousness of "doing rehab" while cameras capture the "truth." The presence of cameras does affect how people behave -- folks do play to the camera, especially those whose job that is to do so -- and thus, it's hard to invest in the reputed "recovery process."

When the process of rehab is part of the narrative drama -- who can forget last season's running soap opera between Conaway and his crazy girlfriend? The Baldwin brother stomp-off? -- how does a reasonably informed viewer separate reality from "TV reality"?

There is nothing entertaining about addiction, but the show openly seeks to entertain -- by pimping out "celebrities," by creating story arcs, by running teasers filled with tears, tantrums and inappropriate behavior. (I can't lie: That's why I watch, and so, I'm sure, does everybody else.)

Of course, Dr. Drew is stern, issuing plenty of in-show reminders about the perils of addiction, as well as a running a bumper listing a number to call if viewers want to seek help. This is intended to keep Celebrity Rehab in the "serious and sober" column: See, it's about help, knowledge -- a warning for wannabes and an affirmation of recovery.

But really, doesn't context matter? This is a "reality" show (no viewer in 2008 wholly buys into the truth of reality TV) on a network that openly celebrates celebrity bad behavior.

VH-1 primed Season 2 of Rehab by re-running a recent four-hour docu series called The Drug Years, which, while newsy, made a lot of drug-taking look like fun, fun, fun.

Remember Behind the Music? Those clips of debauchery remind us more of how we do celebrate such behavior far more than we condemn it. "Rock and roll all night? Party every day?" Dude, that would so totally be awesome!

That sure makes me wonder how the sorry state of such Celebrity Rehab folk as Birgitte Neilsen (Mrs. Sly Stallone for a hot minute), porn star Mary Carey or that guy whose name I forget from one of those all-tattooed bands can ever counter the allure of real celebrities really partying. Because as VH-1 will tell you, that's what really pays the rent.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2008 at 5:57 PM

I have made a thousand promises that I will not do that tedious thing of comparing ABC's Americanized version of Life on Mars to its earlier British counterpart that ran last year on BBC America. Let's see how well I do.

Life on Mars is one of those new hybrid shows that trades on a number of genres simultaneously: cop-shop actioner; fish-out-of-water comedy; slow-boil romance; and sci-fi/metaphysical/time-travel brain-buster.

It's got -- I think -- a great premise: New York City cop Sam Tyler has an accident, wakes up as his 2008 self but in 1973. He reports to the 125th Precinct without much incident -- they're awaiting a new transfer. But other than keeping his job, Tyler is very much at sea. (He's not even old enough to have processed 1973 the first time.)

Obviously, there's much material to be mined form how different life -- and policing -- was 35 years ago, though this can quickly become the weakest crutch the show uses. (As Tyler gets used to 1973, so should we.)

But just what the beejeesus happened to Tyler; why does he seem to still be in semi-communication with 2008; and do the events of his new "now" in 1973 hold any meaning to his other "present" in 2008? Already, Tyler has had strange intersections of places, events and people -- even perhaps, catching sight of himself, as a small child. (Even weirder, the kid looked right at the grown-up version of himself.)

These overlapping mysteries will be enough to float this show over some of its rougher patches, which include an inauthentic cop-shop (it feels very TV-show-ish); too much gilding of 1970s wackiness; terribly written roles for the ladies (a "novelty" of policewoman, and a silly hippie-chick neighbor); and the miscasting of New York City.

OK, I gotta get this in. One of the reasons the British show worked well was that it was set not in big-city London with all its cosmopolitan, up-to-the-minute-ness but in Manchester, then a fading industrial provincial city, where if it was 1973, it might as well have been 1963. (We forget in today's world shrunk so effectively by technology, that sleepy cities out in the sticks really did operate differently, separated as they were from major centers.)  That distance, both geographic and psychic, made the English Sam Tyler's experience feel even more disconnected and surreal. It also made the modern-day policing techniques he brought to his 1973 colleague all the more strange to them; there was a two-way track of wonderment.

New York of 1973 is still too up-to-date, too throbbing with new life and variety to be that mystifying to a visitor from the future. Plus, the narrative relies a certain amount of coincidence, which is a contrivance harder to accept in such a huge sprawling place (already in three episodes we've hit a couple boroughs).

(Though using New York let the producers give the newly-arrived-in-1973 Tyler one definite sign that something was seriously off: He looks up and there are the Twin Towers.)

The British show worked itself out over two seasons of about 18 episodes or so. There was a definitive conclusion, which I found, if not the one I really wanted -- the show flirted with a number of explanations -- was at least still acceptable. 

The U.S. version could easily take a different tack. Already, some clues to the future-past interconnectivenes suggest there might a different resolution.

Life on Mars is by no means as intriguing as, say, the first season of Lost which piled puzzle upon puzzle. The cop-shop aspect means viewers get a neatly wrapped-up crime story every week which I find a bit retro. But, I'm happy to see any show that asks the viewer to pay attention over the course of a season toward a conclusion that may or may not pan out -- or pay off.

Of course, success means that this show will get dragged out well past its expiration date and get bogged down in meaninglessness (see also: Lost, Twin Peaks). On the other hand, an early cancellation could leave viewers hanging in mid-season, no closer to knowing what happened to Tyler or why.

Though that would be the perfect excuse to rent the DVDs of the British version.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Posted By on Tue, Oct 14, 2008 at 2:59 PM

I love my DVR but it leads to bad habits like lots of TV shows piling up in its recesses. (In the old days, you'd start to notice the tumbling stacks of videotapes.) Vacation, houseguests and breaking political news have all conspired to put me waaaay behind on new TV. I'm catching up slowly but here's some short grabs from what I've been able to get to:

 

A couple months back, I chided the modeling reality show She's Got the Look for not snapping up the tranny contestant before Tyra made that play. And sure enough: the "shocker" of this season of America's Next Top Model was Isis, the girl who was still a boy. In the end, the concept of Isis was more titillating than the poor girl, who seem to wilt more each week, and was recently sent packing.

ATNM -- now in season 11! -- is pretty much like that old sweater: comfy but not bringing much pizzazz. Apparently the two Jays are getting a spin-off, but history shows that outrageous characters are usually best in small doses.

 

I mistakenly thought that Bravo's Top Design had been tossed on the dust heap after its dull premiere season, but it popped back up -- and better than ever. Somebody heard my pleas to make the challenges interesting -- no more re-decorating the same white box! -- and the show has been a lot more fun.

Brain-busters for the would-be interior designers have included: a fall-out shelter for two; an eco-office; retail window displays (for former Project Runway designers, natch); and low-level bachelor pads. My only complaint this season is that judge Miz Margaret -- she of the LBJ-era molded 'do and Elle Décor magazine -- hasn't been as crazy uptight and mean this season. She actually seems happy, and I guess, I'm happy for her.

But I'm also sad, because last week, the kookiest contestant -- Wizit, the seriously off-kilter elf who seemed at times to be channel Klaus Nomi -- was sent home.

 

And a quick note about my favorite phony "documentary" series: BBC Reveals. It runs now and then on Sunday nights (with many repeats). It's pitched as a "documentary" program, but the topics are pure tabloid: two journalists who went on crash diets; women with too-big breasts; women with too-small breasts; a teen transsexual; body dysmorphia; boy anorexics; how to become a topless model; and the all-time-topper, "Britain's Worst Teeth."

It may have been one of the most horrifying things I've ever seen on TV. I didn't even know that teeth could get this rotted and messed up, and the four Britons profiled were in their 20s! And living in a country with socialized dental care! I gasped out loud several times and watched much of the show through my fingers, the dental procedures were that extreme.

This still doesn't count as "documentary" -- it's just more sensationalism -- but as a public-service announcement about dental hygiene, it was real gut-punch. You probably know somebody who needs to watch it.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Posted By on Fri, Oct 10, 2008 at 1:45 PM

It's yet another "race around the world" as the popular travel reality show Amazing Race lifted off from Los Angeles last week.

As always, this show takes a few weeks to get in its grove. At the outset, there are too many contestants to keep track of -- I find the attractive young couples to be the most interchangeable. This season it's the Carolina girls and the divorcees that are tripping me up.

Another drag on the early shows is that too much time is wasted by teams checking in to various tour spots, reading instructions, having the same expericnes on challenges. For instance, despite looking scary, that rope-ladder thingie in episode one created no compelling drama, but we watched team after team climb down it.

Plus, it takes a few episodes for the personalities to emerge, for viewers to find teams they want to root for and against.

At first, I was all for the kooky aging-hippie pair to persevere -- if only to see if they had brought any other clothing that wasn't tie-dyed -- but alas, they fell first. (On this show, the older players either go in the first episode or end up doing very well, perhaps benefiting from maturity.)

Now I'm leaning toward the nerdy, geek comic-book guys. All that game-playing may pay off in some of the more puzzling challenges, and I always like to see brains rewarded over brawn.

Early favorites for the meltdown team look to be Terence and Sarah, a classic co-dependent mess of demanding and accommodating. What about Terence's red-flag hyper-controlling demand of Sarah that she not speak to any other team!? There's already been tears.

Another couple I didn't care for -- Anthony and Stephanie, who were playing to win money to start a family – got eliminated. But not before learning one of those embarrassing, no-duh lessons that Race delivers for some clueless players. In this case, the whiners realized that a lot of people in the world really have a LOT less money than they do. But Anthony pointed out at the elimination stop, "I still have my looks." Doooode.

More than any other reality show I think about being on this one. I absolutely adore the idea of going on a month-long trip to I-don't-know-where. And I'm vicariously game for all the kooky challenges. But the sad truth is -- I'm the sort of person who likes to be at the airport two hours early, so right there, I wouldn't last one episode on this show. Just watching the contestants rush around airports trying to book a flight, or make a connection, gives me hives.

That's why my amazing race never leaves the confines of the couch. But good luck to all the brave teams: your humiliations, trials and emotional outbursts remind plenty of us why silly TV behavior should simply be watched, not done.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Posted By on Fri, Sep 12, 2008 at 4:33 PM

Miz Janice Dickinson is back, draggin' her crew of wannabe models along for the Ride Through Crazy, on her increasingly unbelievable show, The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, on Oxygen.

Because this happens every day in business, Janice decides to move her agency from its central location on some Los Angeles strip, to a ridiculous mansion hill in the hills, miles from the city. Not only does she make the models live there (presumably leaving their apartments a couple miles away elsewhere in L.A.), but this is where clients will come. Riiiggghhht.

So far, there's been one great scene of meeting with a client that took place virtually in the kitchen, another that had the models strutting their stuff in a cramped room, and a bizarre pop-in from a cosmetic dentist.

This tacky mansion is so My First Big Movie Paycheck hillbilly that there is a even motorboat taking up two-thirds of the pool, and nobody seems to mind.

Anyhow, continuing the fantasy (that is to say, the producers demands to make the show more like other models-in-the-house series), Janice moves in a selection of new and "pre-existing" (her term) models.

Keeping with Janice's much-trumpeted edge, the new fish include a Japanese girl who can't speak much English, a Russian gal who looks fake from head to toe like a Real Doll, a girl with a big butt (future fodder for Janice tantrums) and a deaf guy.

We also have to pretend that Janice is living there, in a special room redecorated for her by "Madonna's brother." He glams it up, and also builds a Dr. No-style room with closed-circuit TV so Janice can spy on her housemates. The decorator easily dropped five figures on this Janice suite, but then simply hung a plastic 69-cent "Keep Out" sign on her door?

So far the first three episodes have focused mostly on the house "dramas" – endless squabbling between the old and new models, and repeated exhortations from Janice and the models about how great Janice is.

The actual shoots have been rather dull -- a retro-style swimsuit company and a rugged jeans campaign. Where's the eye candy? I hope all those borderline soft-core underwear manufacturers and gay fetish designers haven't been nixed from the line-up. Who can forget last season's drunken, bondage-themed ass-less pants shoot? Now, that was some modeling.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Posted By on Wed, Sep 3, 2008 at 2:46 PM

I'm a pretty emotional TV watcher. Not that I cry or laugh excessively, but I get pretty attached pretty quickly to certain shows. Sometimes my infatuation lasts and other times, it wanes as soon as something even a little better comes along.

I had a brief infatuation with the NBC show Chuck and I'm really embarrassed to say, the Friends spin-off, Joey. But other loves have stayed. I still watch my DVDs of WKRP in Cincinnati and the Ken Wahl classic Wise Guy like they were still on every week.

There aren't that many current shows that keep me completely enthralled -- Lost, House, and the king of them all, The Shield. There's not a better-scripted, better-acted, more gripping show on television. And last night it all started to come to an end with the series finale.

I knew in the first 10 minutes of this series that I'd probably be hooked for as long as the FX show survived. And in the last 10 minutes of that episode -- when Michael Chiklis' character Vic Mackey raised his pistol and shot a fellow cop in the head to hide his criminal behavior -- there was no doubt I was in for the long haul.

And while I'm excited to see how this series will end, I can't seem to convince myself to get the train rolling. I didn't watch the first episode of the final season last night (it's a hard thing to watch before bed), so I got up early to check it out before work. But I couldn't do it. I knew once I pressed play in the DVR that I was bringing to an end what arguably could be called my favorite television show of all time.

That's what a great cast of characters -- Chiklis, Walt Goggins, Jay Karnes, Michael Jace, CCH Pounder, Benito Martinez, Catharine Dent and David Rees Snell -- will do. They suck you into their world. Over the years, the cast has been filled with top-notch actors with incredible performances by Forrest Whitaker, Glenn Close, Anthony Anderson and my favorite, former regular Kenny Johnson.

But that's it. Once I hit play some time this evening, there will be no more action, no more drama, no more chewed fingernails from walking the tightrope with Vic and the rest of the characters. I have to admit, I'm interested to see what happens: How it will all end. How do you dispense with characters that are likeable but also have to receive their comeuppance for all of the bad stuff they've done over the years?

Lucky for the viewer it was a lot of really bad stuff that made for really great television.

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