Thursday, September 8, 2011

Weeds: Taking jumping the shark to a whole new level

I have been watching Weeds for a couple years now. I started around the third season and have been following ever since. When I started watching what pulled me in was the dichotomy between Nancy the housewife/drug dealer living in the picture perfect cookie cutter town. This juxtaposition is what held my attention. It is what drew in the initial audience.

So when Nancy and the rest of the Botwins moved to San Diego in the fifth season, I continued to watch because the core themes were carried over into the new setting. Then the season got out of control. Mexican drug lords, tunnels under pregnant women fashion stores, and coked up Cecilia.

When that season ended I had no idea where the series was going to go. Apparently a road trip was needed. So the Botwins took to the American roads on a Jesus mobile RV. More nonsense ensued. Nancy started growing hash in the washing machine in the RV. It was like my parents' forced motorhome roadtrips but on crack. Similar to my parents' roadtrips, their adventure ended in metro-Detroit.

I don't know if you could call what Weeds is doing "jumping the shark" but it sure is getting close. The season ended as expected, no spoiler alerts here, but the season finale didn't really open up much room for story development after the final scene.

Queue seventh season. Three years later, and now the Botwins are living in New York City, living the city life. I won't lie, I am enjoying the latest season, but much of it just seems contrived. Everything is working out way too well for the drug dealing family from Agrestic. With only a couple more episodes left, I expect shit to hit the fan real soon. There will probably be some kind of explosion, houses set on fire, something to get the Botwins so close to "jumping that inevitable shark" but hold back a little longer to make room for another ridiculous ninth season.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Zooey Deschanel does TV

"The New Girl" is a refreshing take on the female/male friendship. Especially in a current cultural obsession with "friends with benefits", The New Girl shows that males and females can still have genuine friends that don't include sleeping with each other.

Zooey Deschanel as the main character Jess is the obvious vehicle that moves the show. Most of the comedic parts are centered on her. The storyline is about her rebound from her cheating boyfriend. This isn't surprising seeing as she is the reason why most people, especially guys will tune in to the show. Although strong male characters would be nice.

Yes, it is just the pilot episode, but asking for atypical guy characters isn't asking for a lot. We have the recently dumped 'i don't care about the world' bartender. The 'I can't talk to women' personal trainer. And finally the corporate financial douchebag. It is like the writers were given a formula for what characters needed to be added to the series. A similar thing was done on the most recent take on the male/female friendship on "My Boys". I may have been the only person that watched that show, but the male characters brought something to the story. So far, these male characters are just props for Jess' story.

Jess is a strong character. She is quirky, nerdy, everything that any guy obsessed with Zooey Deschanel is going to want when choosing to watch the show. It works though. Jess can create her own theme song and it is believable. She can walk up to a stranger at the bar and say 'hey sailor' and no one thinks it is contrived. Jess is able to walk the fine line of pretty girl playing "ugly" but still leaving room for potential character growth. But do the male characters have the same potential?

By the end of the episode, the friendship between Jess and the boys starts to build. They start to care about her and want to help her get over her ex-boyfriend. The corny but still endearing "Time of Your Life" rendition at the restaurant shows that these secondary characters aren't the focus for character development; the friendship is.

That is what I expect from the coming episodes of "The New Girl". The only thing I can hope for is that the writers don't create a storyline where one of the guys falls for Jess. Although, this seems somewhat inevitable. Until then, I will just enjoy Jess' random singing outbursts because hey, I do it too... a lot.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hey MTV, I actually like Awkward!

Awkward is by far my new favorite show. At first I tried to compare it to every other American teenage melodrama. I described it to be as a cross between My So-Called Life and Daria. The Daria part only lasted for an episode. Yes, she was an outcast like Daria with strong wit, but unlike Daria, she wanted to fit in.

That is what makes Awkward such a strong show. It doesn't have amazing writing, even though it is quite witty and intriguing. It doesn't have amazing acting, even though Ashley Rickards brings out the quirky yet endearing character of Jenna. It doesn't even have a great premise. What Awkward does that separates it from the rest of the scripted shows on MTV, is that it brings together all of these features and blends them beautifully.
In a cable television age where half hour comedies are a thing of the past, Awkward is able to tell a compelling story in the 20 or so minutes it's on the air. MTV doesn't even fall into its usual trap of giving away too much of the story in its excessive amounts of preview commercials before the episode airs.

Awkward doesn't bring anything new to the table that wasn't already established before with other teenage shows. It just carries on a tradition for success that will always pull in an audience. It won't be the answer to the early ending of My So-Called Life, but it does rely on a lot of the features that make My So-Called Life so memorable. Awkward is like if My So-Called Life got a witty comedic second chance. Hey, they even gives an homage to MSCL's Tino, but constantly referring to a never seen but important character Ricky Schwartz.

As the first half of the season ends, I am excited to see what the second half brings.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Are you gonna tell me what's going on? It's like a fucking episode of the OC in here!

This title is not The Event

Ok. I admit it. I am excited for The Event. It is a burning need to find out what ‘the event’ is. I don’t even really understand the trailers, or the tv spots, or even the ads. The plot gives me a bit of an insight, but really I am still lost. The Event is pulling me like my constant need to see where the final season of Lost was going. It wasn’t a great season. Really the only episode that I significantly enjoyed was “Happily Ever After”, but I needed to see what the season was going to bring just like I need to see what ‘the event’ is.

I know, I know. This show is being marketed like Lost. It is a long form drama where every episode builds off the previous. You hope that at the end of the episode, or season, or series you are going to have all of your questions answered. I watched Lost for six seasons and never really got the answers I wanted. So Why do I want to see it when I know that The Event isn’t going to tell me what ‘the event’ is in the first couple episodes, let alone the first season?

It’s the pull. The desire to be attracted to another television universe complete with new mythology, history, characters, and stories. That is how I see The Event. I am not drawn to it because of its advertising gimmicks or it lack of information. I am drawn to it just like I am drawn to every other dramatic television series. Being excited for The Event is why I love television; because it means I get to ignore my mundane life and be introduced to something new and possibly exciting.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Because Slate is awesome and so is The Wire

This Will Be on the Midterm. You Feel Me?Why so many colleges are teaching The Wire.

The Wire.Among the police officers and drug dealers and stickup men and politicians and dockworkers and human smugglers and teachers and students and junkies and lawyers and journalists who populate the late, great HBO series The Wire, there is one academic. His name is David Parenti and he teaches social work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He is not a major character, but he appears throughout the show's fourth season—an earnest, well-meaning man defined in part by his naïveté about the inner-city kids whose lives he wants to improve. As for Johns Hopkins, Baltimore's best-known university, it only comes up as a place where the show's police officers can get cushy campus security jobs after they retire. Academia, in other words, is not a culture that the show's creators, David Simon and Ed Burns, betray much interest in exploring.

Interestingly, the classes aren't just in film studies or media studies departments; they're turning up in social science disciplines as well, places where the preferred method of inquiry is the field study or the survey, not the HBO series, even one that is routinely called the best television show ever. Some sociologists and social anthropologists, it turns out, believe The Wire has something to teach their students about poverty, class, bureaucracy, and the social ramifications of economic change.Academics, on the other hand, can't seem to get enough ofThe Wire. Barely two years after the show's final episode aired—and with Simon's new show, Treme, premiering next month on HBO—there have already been academic conferences, essay anthologies, and special issues of journals dedicated to the series. Not content to write about it and discuss it among themselves, academics are starting to teach it, as well. Professors at Harvard, U.C.—Berkeley, Duke, and Middlebury are now offering courses on the show.

Wilson's class, a seminar, will require students to watch selected episodes of the show, three or more a week, he says. Some seasons, like the fourth, with its portrayal of the way the public school system fails poor children, will get more time than others. Students will also read works of sociology: two books by Wilson, as well as Elijah Anderson's Code of the Street, Sandra Susan Smith's Lone Pursuit, Bruce Western's Punishment and Inequality in America, and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh's Off the Books, works that explore poverty, incarceration, unemployment, and the underground economy.

Asked why he was teaching a class around a TV drama, Wilson said the show makes the concerns of sociologists immediate in a way no work of sociology he knows of ever has. "Although The Wire is fiction, not a documentary, its depiction of [the] systemic urban inequality that constrains the lives of the urban poor is more poignant and compelling [than] that of any published study, including my own," he wrote in an e-mail.

For Wilson, the unique power of the show comes from the way it takes fiction's ability to create fully realized inner lives for its characters and combines that with qualities rare in a piece of entertainment: an acuity about the structural conditions that constrain human choices (whether it's bureaucratic inertia, institutional racism, or economic decay) and an unparalleled scrupulousness about accurately portraying them. Wilson describes the show's characters almost as a set of case studies, remarkable for the vividness with which they embody a set of arguments about the American inner city. "What I'm concentrating on is how this series so brilliantly illustrates theories and processes that social scientists have been writing about for years," he said in an interview.

Anne-Maria Makhulu, a social anthropologist at Duke teaching a course there on The Wire this spring, makes a similar point about the show's power as a social document. She finds that, for many of her largely upper-middle-class students, issues like poverty and urban deindustrialization are remote from their daily lives, and simply reading about them does little to bridge that gap. The Wire puts faces and stories to those forces—Stringer Bell, the gang leader with the heart of a CFO; Bubbles, the wry, entrepreneurial junkie; "Bunny" Colvin, the police major who grows so disenchanted by the war on drugs that he tries legalizing them in his district.

"There's this question of how you appeal to young people who feel—not all of them but many of them—far removed from the type of people who are the major characters in The Wire," Makhulu says.

The media scholars offering courses on The Wire treat the show differently. They're quick to point out the show's impressive verisimilitude, and they're happy, they say, to see the show being studied across academic disciplines. But to these thinkers, treating the show simply as a look into the intricacies of the American inner city is incomplete.

The first two courses on The Wire were offered last spring. One was taught by Jason Mittell, a media scholar at Middlebury, the other by Linda Williams, a film studies scholar in Berkeley's rhetoric department. Of the courses currently being offered, Mittell's is the only one in which the students watch the entire series. In fact, since they screen it in class, watching the 60-hour run is much of what the course actually consists of—five hours a week, with two hours a week of class left for discussion.

That interests Mittell and Williams is the fact that The Wireworks despite its subject matter. As a popular entertainment, the series is starting from two rather significant disadvantages: its grim subject matter and the fatalistic worldview of David Simon. Simon has said that the show is meant to be Greek tragedy but with institutions like the police department or the school system taking the place of the gods: the immortal forces that toy with and blithely destroy the mortals below.

Berkeley's Williams argues that the greatness of the show stems from the way it interweaves realism and Simon's tragic vision with the sort of melodramatic elements that television demands: the brotherly bond between Stringer Bell and the gang leader Avon Barksdale, Bubbles' long battle with addiction, the detective Jimmy McNulty's attempts to rein in his self-destructive impulses, the use of foreshadowing and irony throughout. "It's not a simple matter of, 'Oh, it's so real,' " she says. "There's something about the structure, the use of seriality, and obviously the writing."

Much of Williams' course is concerned with exploring how those strands tie together. The assigned reading includes "Respecting the Middle: The Wire's Omar Little as Neoliberal Subjectivity," an essay that brings the work of postmodern theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari to bear on Omar, the show's swashbuckling gay stickup man. Other assigned essays, like "The Wire and the Art of the Credit Sequence" parse the show's craft down to its seemingly most peripheral elements.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

How much of TV is green screen?

As interesting as it is to see how what we see on television is created, this sort of ruined the illusion of realness that it creates for me. I wonder how many shows still use real backdrops anymore. Have we entered into an age of television where perception is key to enjoyment?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of the 2000s: or how I learned to stop worrying and love televison

Since we are in the final day of the decade, I figured I couldn't let it end without some recognition of the period of time that made me love the medium of television. The 2000s weren't just a year of doctors, lawyers, and cops, but a decade of imagination and creativity. Ignoring the likes of Survivor, American Idol, and the other reality shows that have blinded much of culture from acknowledging the greatness of television in the decade, the 2000s reminded us that television can be as good as the films that are being produced and as inventive as it hadn't been before. Science Fiction was no longer bravados of machismo environments. Comedy evolved to no longer needing a laugh track to inform viewers that what they were watching they should be laughing at. With the prevalence of viewing television at your own pace and at your own time, with DVRs and internet streaming, long serial dramas were able to become something that they had never been before. This is my list of the best tv shows of the decade.

10. Dexter
Early in the oughts CSI ruled the screen with plot twists and intriguing scientists like we had never seen before, but the show never seemed to pierce the surface and attain the mindset of a serial killer like "Dexter" did. Showtime presented "Dexter" as a show about a serial killer who is also a crime scene investigator. Being on Showtime, "Dexter" was able to delve deeper into a character than FCC regulations would forbid any network station. We learned about why Dexter killed and what made him kill, something CSI never came close to.

9. The Sopranos
The 90s were filled with family dramas and comedies about the typical domestic life of suburban America. "The Sopranos" did that too, but this time that suburban life included organized crime. "The Sopranos" allowed the viewer to learn about a mob boss, his family, and how they don't live much different from the rest of America. Yea at the end of the day, my father doesn't kill anybody, but Tony went to a psychiatrist.

8. West Wing
In a decade of terrorism, conservative politics, and antagonistic attitudes, "The West Wing" created a utopia of a presidential office. The perfect presidents meets the imperfect world. At times President Bartlett seemed a little too quick witted, intelligent, and well perfect, but this allowed the series to focus on the staff that dealt weekly with the same issues that the viewer saw on the news.

7. 30 Rock
I was debating between "The Office" and "30 Rock" as to which one should be on this list. I do like both a lot. "The Office" was one of the first successful at creating single-camera non-laugh track series, but it's concept wasn't original. "30 Rock" creativity and ingenuity is great. It is hilarious and brings the viewer into the not so glamorous world of television sketch comedy show writing. Also, it doesn't hurt that pretty much every week a new A-list celebrity is guest starring and doing an amazing job at it too.

6. Veronica Mars
Teen dramas need a twist. Something that separates them from "The OC"s and the "One Tree Hills"s. "Veronica Mars" separates itself from the rest of its WB friends with an excellent film noir style and its intelligent witty script. You didn't tune in every week to see whether Veronica was finally going to get back together with Duncan, but you tuned in to see whether Veronica was going to solve Lily, her best friend's murder.

5. Firefly
Space Western. What? Space Western. Science Fiction can do that and with Joss Whedon it did it well. With "Firefly", Whedon created interesting characters and an amazing universe that wasn't beyond the viewer to understand. Yes, maybe because it was advertised as a space western was the reason for its single season, but it's popularity, cult status, and even feature film signifies that it was one of the best tv shows of the decade.

4. Lost
Creativity is what has kept Lost going for so long. Character driven plots of usually made shows fail. Network science fiction shows typically fail. Long story arc plots especially on network television fail. Lost didn't. It came at a time where viewers could by DVDs of tv show seasons, watch missed episodes online, and record past episodes to view again later. Lost would not have made it in the 90s. The plot is too intricate and its universe too deep, but online streaming, DVR, and other mediums have allowed Lost to stay alive and remain an amazing and thrilling experience.

3. Arrested Development
Oh yea, single-camera non-laugh track series, "Arrested Development was the forerunner. Yea it ran for only three seasons (which was only because of it's critical acclaim and awards success and not its ratings), but its originally is what makes it the best comedy of the decade. It broke from the Seinfeld sitcom model and created a new model that "The Office" and "30 Rock" used to create their present success.

2. The Wire
Long, plot driven, character driven, subject driven, intense writing. That is how you would describe the monumental, but mostly overlooked amazing series that was "The Wire". Each season delved into a different area of Baltimore life. From the school system, to the media, "The Wire" proved that television doesn't need to adapt to their viewers, but that viewers should evolve to accept great material like "The Wire". Even though it wasn't successful like its brother shows on HBO, it is superior in its ingenuity, creativity, and brilliant writing.

1. Battlestar Galactica
What is one show that made science fiction a cheap thrill and corny? Well that would be the original "Battlestar Galactica", but the revision of that show is amazing. It is the perfect example of viewers evolving to understand that science fiction isn't just cheap thrills, but allegories for our lives. "Battlestar Galactica" dealt with issues from genocide and racism, to understanding the mindset of someone in positions of power. It didn't shy from making you hate your favorite character or dislike a plot line. It had a purpose and even at the end, it had a goal to make sure viewers saw something more in science fiction television.

Honorable Mentions:
Friday Night Lights, Big Love, Six Feet Under, How I Met Your Mother

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What if God was one of Oz?

When thinking about possible Halloween costumes, just remember sometimes simplicity is the best option.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

So it is October and I haven't been on in a while so I thought I would bring back the Halloween theme profile and enjoy the month. New entries to come that will be awesomely Halloween themed.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Hung, a better review from someone who has seen couple of episodes

After True Blood last night I decided to watch HBO's new show Hung, which is sadly not a show about the slightly autistic Asian American Idol contestant turned international mockery, but about a guy with a big penis (love the high concept there. I should have sent that to IFC's podcast). It was slow moving in the first 20 minutes, so I wasn't very disappointed when I had to leave, cutting my television watching short. I knew I wanted to come back to it though because the pilot was directed by Alexander Payne and I love me some Alexander Payne ( ala Election). I ended up doing so and I liked the series. I was going to write a review on it for today, when I came across a better review (surprise, surprise) from AV Club. One of the major reasons why this is a better review is because the person who wrote it actually has seen the first 4 episodes, so when he gives you hope to keep watching, it has more grounding than my ramblings you could be reading right now.

Hung "Pilot"

Hung debuts tonight on HBO at 9 p.m. CDT.

There’s maybe no TV creator better at charting America’s uneasy relationship with its money than Dmitry Lipkin. His shows almost always have over-obvious elements or brutally stereotypical characters, but they’re uniquely tuned in to the way Americans feel about the cash they do or don’t bring home. His The Riches, which lasted two seasons on FX, was yet another suburban satire, anchored by two great performances from Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver, and as a suburban satire, it was a little cliché. But as an examination of just how fake all of the money that piled up in the real estate bubble of the mid-aughts was and just how terrified everyone involved was to lose that money, it worked terrifically. Lipkin tried to push things too far toward broader, over-arching satire on that show, but on his new series, HBO’s Hung, he grounds his commentary on American society in a much more pressing economic reality – the long, seemingly empire-ending slide into bankruptcy we find ourselves in now.

Hung is set in Detroit, one of the ground zeroes of our economic catastrophe, and its opening shots feature a stadium being torn down, abandoned factories, utter desolation. These all play under a monologue from gym teacher-turned-manwhore Ray Drecker (don’t worry; this all comes up in the first five minutes … and the advertisements) about how the country his parents loved has turned into a cesspool. It’s the sort of pragmatic, ever-so-slightly self-centered economic conservatism (what’s up with all the taxes?, basically) that drove much of Tony Soprano’s rage at the emasculation of the American male (though Tony had other things driving his rage, granted), and it’s perfectly contextualized here as the driving force behind a man who seems to have lost himself from his storied youth. From there, Ray loses his house to a fire and his kids to his ex-wife, and as he slowly finds himself slipping farther and farther off the economic radar, he has to turn to desperate measures.

The best thing here, surprisingly, is Thomas Jane, one of those movie stars who never happened, now turning to TV parts. Jane’s low-key charisma never quite worked on the big screen, where current male lead parts require someone with a bit more spark, but as a TV everyman, he’s surprisingly charismatic, turning Ray’s every word and move into what feel like last-ditch options, the things someone would do when backed into a corner. Jane’s easy-going nature and the brutal sense of disappointment he projects as the character makes the idea that Ray would come to the idea of becoming a prostitute so easily work almost better than it should. Ray’s such a good-natured guy that you get the sense he thinks sharing his gift with the world is something he’d jump to fairly quickly.

Ray, you see, has a big penis. (And thank God I don’t have to write for an outlet that makes me write around the show’s central premise and the reason for its title.) And that big penis is known for giving women a good time in the sack, as evidenced by his ex-wife and a one-night stand who found him especially invigorating. When he goes to a session designed to help people pull themselves up by their bootstraps and is asked to find his special gift (or, as the seminar leader puts it, his “tool”), he realizes that the only thing he has going for him is that penis. So, of course, prostitution.

I realize as I write this that this all sounds a little too TV-y, so to speak. It’s definitely a high-ish concept, not as high concept as, like, Ray discovering he’s a secret sex robot or something, but also not so low concept as to never sell to a major network. Even if the idea of Ray becoming a prostitute is the necessary evil Lipkin must indulge in to get this show on the air, though, most things about his journey in the pilot are shot through with the kind of observational skill Lipkin brought to much of The Riches. That seminar Ray attends is one of the simultaneously saddest and funniest things I’ve seen on TV in a while, bouncing between the desperation of a bunch of people who’ve watched their dreams dry up, their absolutely awful ideas for how to pull themselves out of the holes they find themselves in and the genuine humor in those ideas. Ray’s friend and former sexual conquest Tanya , for example, wants to create a loaf of bread with poetry at its center (like a fortune cookie), and in the hands of character actress Jane Adams and from Lipkin’s script, this idea veers between funny and depressing so quickly that it almost sells the entire pilot.

Similarly, the first gigolo job Ray gets called out on ends unexpectedly, in a terrifically shot and edited little sequence where a hotel peephole becomes both another character and a silent commentator on the action. Alexander Payne, of Sideways and Election fame, directed the pilot, and his deceptively flat style is a good match for the desolation that surrounds Ray at every moment and the wry tone of the script. He also gets great performances from Jane and Adams, whose duo forms the central axis point the series will revolve around (without spoiling too much).

Hung is far from perfect, it should be said, just like The Riches was. In the pilot, at least, Ray’s ex-wife Jessica is played by Anne Heche at her Anne Heche-iest, though the script does her no favors by making Jessica the kind of emasculating witch that too many ex-wives on TV are. Lipkin gives Jessica some choice lines (“I’m only shallow because I CHOOSE to be!”), but the whole idea of the ex-wife who’s a constant, nagging premise at the edges of her ex-husband’s life is so lifeless and dull at this point, that I don’t need to ever see it again. There’s also stuff within the premise that feels a little too forced (like the idea of Ray living in a tent while he repairs his house that burned down), as though Lipkin wants to remind us at all times that we’re watching a comedy, not a drama with comedic elements. The music, in addition, is often a bit too twee, as if trying to remind us at all times to smile. And, yeah, the story in the pilot is a little shaggy, even if I liked the structure of how the pilot got Ray back to the point where he started the pilot.

But I’d recommend you start watching Hung. Like most HBO shows before it, it’s a bit of a slow builder, but it’s trying to chart out a very particular world. In this case, though, that world feels so immediate because it’s the world that you and I and everyone else in this country is living in right now. Hung has some rough edges, but at its center is a very good show.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

And then Buffy actually staked Edward

As a fan of movie mash-ups, this one might move to the top of the list. It may even be higher than the Brokeback to the Future amazing mashing of greatest. Rebellious Pixels have created a mash-up of Twilight and Buffy in which Buffy brings to light all the crazy stalkerish and creepy things that apparently all of the starstruck teenage girls don't realize. What completes and makes this mash-up awesome is when Edward says "You're like my own personal brand of heroin", Buffy responds with "What are you, 12?". Not romantic Edward. Bella should have dusted you at that point.

Yea, yea, she sorta dusts Cedric Diggory, but really, doesn't matter. Too bad Edward doesn't get all wrinkly face, but that would ruin his prestige as a sparkly vampire...ha. I do have to admit that Twilight does have an awesome soundtrack. So question, if Buffy staked Edward, then does that mean no New Moon? We can only hope...wait a second. Did Edward Cullen just get hit by a taxi cab? There is a God!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why do I let these things get me addicted?

I wanted to write an entry on the Real World/ Road Rules Challenge because every season I get sucked in and addiction prevails, but I was scrolling through Slate and one the writers did a great article on how she is also addicted to the show, along with ESPN's Bill Simmons who dedicated an entire podcast to MTV show.

The Real World/Road Rules ChallengeIt's been on for 17 seasons. Why I can't stop watching.

Real World Road Rules Challenge: The Duel 2. Click image to expand.Here's a fun little wakeup call: The Real World/Road Rules Challenge is wrapping up its 17th season tomorrow night. That's right, 17: still too young to drink but plenty old enough to drive. It's just one season behind the most durable reality challenge series, Survivor, and three ahead of Emmy magnet The Amazing Race. It shows up twice a year, as predictably as Memorial and Labor Day, and it's just been renewed for four more seasons.

It's also the only reality challenge series that never gets old. In a genre that has made a fetish of sticking to formula, the Real World/Road Rules Challenge freshens up the franchise every season. Even the title sequences change each time around—and for this season, The Duel 2, it's a doozy. In an homage to host country New Zealand, the contestants stomp and flail and grimace and flap their tongues in an excruciating approximation of the Maori dance known as the Haka. You want to look away … and you just can't.

Now I'm the first to admit it: I'm too old for this show. At least, I should be. It's about a bunch of self-absorbed twentysomethings, for heaven's sake—the spawn of an incestuous liaison between the absurdly tenacious (and increasingly sleazy) The Real World and its own spinoff, the now-defunct Road Rules. But by rolling a soap opera, a reality show, and a sports event into one energetic, artfully edited bundle, it transcends its tawdry origins. The sleeper hit of MTV, RW/RR: The Duel 2 has been winning its time slot among its 12-to-34 target demographic on cable and broadcast, with its audience growing season to season (unlike The Hills, which has seen its numbers drop).

Each season, around two dozen cast members from the two parent shows—equal numbers male and female—are jetted to an exotic locale and bunked up together in a Real World-style luxury pad. All the requisite reality TV stereotypes are present and accounted for, often in multiples: the psycho, the good guy, the gay, the lesbian, the bisexual, the minority, the meathead, the drunk, the asshole, the bitch, the sweetheart, the floozy—even the cancer survivor. The usual frat-house shenanigans ensue—everyone parties, vomits, fights, hooks up, and behaves as badly as humanly possible.

So far, so formulaic. The twist is that each morning, hangovers be damned, these players have to make the unlikely transformation from party animal to warrior. Each one is either a repeat player—a "veteran"—or drafted onto the show from the most recent Real World installment—a "rookie." Different themes are rotated from season to season—Battle of the Sexes, the Inferno, the Gauntlet, the Duel—each determining the mode of combat and team formats, which vary from men vs. women; "Good Guys" vs. "Bad Asses"; veterans vs. rookies; or, as in this season's The Duel 2, no teams at all. Players compete in a series of extreme challenges that result in elimination playoffs so brutal, they'd make an American Gladiator weep.

Elimination rules also get switched up season to season. (It gets confusing, but you quickly learn to just go with the flow.) These changes work to shake up the natural patterns of dominance—veterans ganging up on rookies, males picking off females, meatheads freezing out the gays. One game-changing maneuver was Season 12's Fresh Meat challenge, when veterans were forced to partner up with complete newcomers, throwing off alliance patterns carried over from previous challenges.

Each season RW/RR amps up the intensity of the challenges as well. For the first few years, the series had a distinct Survivor meets Fear Factor vibe—there was jousting on slippery poles, suspension in slop-filled tanks, wrestling with muddy pigs, puzzles. But somewhere along the way, RW/RR turned into the Thunderdome. Challenges began involving harnesses and helmets and ropes and straps and chains and platforms suspended hundreds of feet in the air—all of them requiring Herculean levels of endurance and fearlessness. The one-on-one elimination rounds became as fierce as MMA. Ankles get sprained, shoulders dislocated, kneecaps busted. One guy even got a hernia. But nothing stops these players—they pummel and kick and slam one another when they're in battle and connive, cheat, and backstab when they're not. All this for a $300,000 prize that gets split between maybe half a dozen people. It's deliciously barbaric.

To keep up with the game's constant evolution, veterans show up a little more enhanced each time. Guys who were merely built in previous challenges return as pumped as Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. The girls beef up too—breast implants are now practically de rigueur. They'd all be right at home in the WWE. (In fact, one former RW/RR player is—Mike "The Miz" Mizanin, from The Real World: Back to New York. He recently graduated from the ECW to Raw.) In 11 years, RW/RR has managed to create its very own monster breed of reality star.

RW/RR's hard-core arena-style athleticism hasn't gone unnoticed in the sports world. ESPN's Bill Simmons frequently writes and chats about RW/RR. He recently devoted the full hour of his B.S. Report podcast to deconstructing The Duel 2's first episode with ESPN producer Dave Jacoby, another die-hard RW/RR fan, ruminating on everything from the prowess of the players and the intensity of the challenges to the sheer size of the guys. "I really feel like The Duel II should replace the NHL as our fourth professional sport," Simmons declared. "It's more interesting, it's easier to follow, it gets higher ratings. … What are we waiting for?"

It's indisputable that the train-wreck factor is a huge part of RW/RR's appeal. These kids are Real World and Road Rules alumni. They're professional narcissists with rock-star attitudes, ready and willing to do anything it takes to stand out from the pack. They're A-listers in their own personal blockbuster movies, headliners in the Madison Square Gardens of their minds. Between seasons, many of them get hired as hosts on the party circuit. (Two cast members are already confirmed for StudentCity's Ultimate Spring Break Experience in 2010.) They all hang out together off-screen, and relationships of every stripe come and go. All that drama gets brought back into the game: Players drag all the grudges and hookups and betrayals and broken hearts that prevail in this incestuous, hermetically sealed little world right along with them into each new season.

Because you get to know everyone's foibles, you're given the luxury to form relationships with the characters and anticipate what's going to happen—that C.T. (the psycho) will get in a fight the very first night and get eliminated, again; that Paula (the floozy) will latch onto one of the alpha males; that Evan (the asshole) will screw somebody over to get ahead; that Evelyn (the lesbian) will keep getting voted into the elimination round and keep winning; and that Diem (the cancer survivor) will manage to coast on the sympathy vote but never quite make the final cut. Yet there's also always a new twist. The only predictable thing about the show is the way host T.J. Lavin praises players by saying "You killed it" in his skater-dude monotone, week in and week out. But I'd rather hear that than Survivor's "I'll go tally the votes" any day.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How can Bravo make Real Housewives of New Jersey better?

I had high hopes for Real Housewives of New Jersey. Big hair, big House, big Wallets I thought would be money for big drama, right. Well drama New Jersey has, but addictiveness and entertainment value comparable to its Real Housewife cousins it does not. So I thought to myself, what could make Real Housewives of New Jersey better? After acknowledging that scrounging up an entirely new cast was out of the question, I realized that the show really does have potential.
1. Find a Jill, Nene, or Vicki. I watched Real Housewives of New York to watch Jill mock everyone which made me laugh. I watched Real Housewives of Hotlanta to watch Nene insult everyone which made me laugh. I watched Real Housewives of the GOP to watch Vicki make a fool of herself while drunk which made me laugh. But no one, absolutely no one purposely makes me laugh on Real Housewives of New Jersey. Yea, Teresa's obsession with her mosquito bite bubbies is occasionally funny, but there is no comedic note to that show. There has to be some mafia welding Jill leaving amongst the gates of that gaudy community they live in.

2. Make the housewives less incestuous. Pretty much everyone on that show is related. I know that you were trying to go for the "mafia" family mentality, but really it isn't working. I watch Real Housewives for constant bitching amongst middle aged rich women, but there can't really be bitching when over half the cast is related.

3. Get rid of boring, spineless Jacqueline. First, she isn't funny. Second, she doesn't bring drama. Third, she can't stand up to her sisters-in- law. Fourth, she has no personality. The only reason why you have her is because you were expecting that she would bring drama because she is related to Caroline and Dina, but besties with Danielle. Yea, I understand that in most cases this would yield drama, but in the case of Jacqueline who can't even stand up to her 18 year old daughter, all you have is an empty space.

4. Keep Dina. Dina is the best part of that show. She doesn't care that what she says will hurt someone. She is always causing drama. And she is crazy, just like when she was on My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding. She always knows when to start things with other housewives. Her and Jill (NYC) and Nene (ATL) would have fun together.

We can only hope something great comes from the last supper.

I'm a Celebri-Wannabe... Please let me Stay!

Yea, I know, I haven't posted in a while but it is because I have been busy. Ya know, with appendix bursting issues and watching way too much reality television. Reality television like I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here. Oh this show is effing amazing. It isn't amazing because of an unique jungle setting (umm remember Survivor) or its new idea of having a collection of celebri-wannabes (wait a second, wasn't that the Surreal Life). It couldn't even come up with an original challenge idea (didn't there used to be a show where people ate disgusting bugs and testicles like every episode...FEAR FACTOR!). What makes I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here amazingly addictive is well, just watching it.

The cast!
Yes, the cast is diverse, actually known, and still wanting the attention and the publicity that being on a celeb-reality show will give. First there is Heidi and Spencer, whom I guess people are calling Spiedi now. Being too rich and famous for the show because you know, they are on the lucrative and critically acclaimed career maker called The Hills, Spiedi were on the show, then threatened to leave the show, then decided they would stay on the show, then left the show, oh and then spent the night in a cabin with like 2 spiders, and decided to come back to the show. Between being bipolar and talking to God, Spiedi have pretty much made the show. Sadly they left the show because Heidi had a stomach ache. They aren't the only ones though. There is Sanjaya who looks like he has smallpox which go nicely with his awesome mohawk, Janice Dickenson who looks like someone punched her in the face, Patty Blagojevich who actually tried to sell her spot but no one bothered to bid for it, Two Baldwins whom for years I just thought were the same person, John Sealy who I sorta remember playing basketball before becoming Tom Arnold's bitch, Lou Diamond Phillips who is actually still looking for his career (here's a clue, it's still in the 80's) and there are some other people too who don't really matter. Now put them in a jungle and let them tear labels off of dry shampoo and widdle trees!

The Ninth Cast Member
God. At times I feel like I am watching Jesus Camp, the movie that gave me nightmares for weeks. I have a question first. When did Stephen Baldwin become John the Baptist? Seriously, Stephen Baldwin baptized Spencer Pratt. If that doesn't make for a good television show then what does? (good writing, good acting, interesting plots, actual celebrities) Not only were there baptisms, but Heidi prayed her way through the spider-infested cabin and Spencer told about his life touching moment of praying for a double date with Miley Cyrus and it coming true. If only someone could mock them... like Janice Dickenson.

I hate my life too, but seriously Patty, shut the fuck up about your husband. Wait, that is why you are on the show. To give sympathy for your husband. Well don't worry because Spencer has your back. He even said that as soon as the show is done he is going to go to Chicago and stage a rally and let everyone know the truth: that Rob Blagojevich actually offered him the senate seat but Spencer is just too rich and famous to be surrounded by those people in the senate. The Hills have seriously done wonders for his career as... I have no idea, the Hills never told me what Spencer does.

One word--Crazy. He actually made a broom to sweep the dirt because the campsite was just so dirty. I would like to remind the body that the entire show takes place outside, in a jungle.

Besides over playing it (NBC is currently airing this show 5 nights a week and at times for 2 hours), I don't know what they could do to make this awesome concept better. I know, get rid of that dumb TRL host that no one remembered the name of because he wasn't Carson Daily.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day- "The Power is Yours!"

"Looting and polluting is not the way. Hear what Captain Planet has to say!"

Yea Geordie....I mean LaVar Burton!

Shows You Aren't Watching, but Probably Should: Kings

Sometimes network television forgets to tell us about great new shows that they have been airing, other times we don't realize that these shows exist until they win an Emmy or our hip best friend tells us about their greatness. Couple shows come to mind like Arrested Development and Firefly, but Kings is think is a bit different. Major difference between those shows is that most people won't remember Kings once its inevitable cancellation occurs, like Firefly, and also its not going to last long enough to get nominated for an Emmy to save its demise, like Arrested Development.
What is Kings about? Well it is a revisionist story of the bible, yes a bible story, of David and King Saul. It takes place in a time where kingdoms still reign, like the main kingdom Gilboa, that resembles the US a lot, governed by King Silas. The story begins during Gilboa's war with Gath, which is kinda like the Iraq War. The storyline pretty much follows the David-Saul storyline with David, the main character, getting the attention of King Silas by taking down Goliath, not a giant but a tank. Then David is invited into King Silas' kingdom and becomes a military advisor.
What makes the show different from most on television right now is its style of writing and acting. Kings is written like it is for the stage. The acting a is a bit vorbose, but it is expecting for the other the top, but appropriate writing style. At times it seems as if you are watching a Shakespeare play and not an hour drama on a Sunday night. But as the show progresses, the writing style becomes less pretentious and more in line with the story in which the series is portraying. What adds to the uniqueness of the show is the acting, with Ian McShane, who made Deadwood into the great series that it was, as King Silas. Michael Green, the creator of Kings, even claimed that when he was writing the original draft of the series, he had McShane in mind for the role of King Silas the entire time.

The other reason why you should probably be watching Kings is because it won't be on the air much longer. Who knows if this is because of the unique writing style that tends to be a bit pretentious, or because NBC's lack of advertising. My current favorite is NBC's inability to keep Kings on a consistent night, first being on Sunday when it initially aired, then moving it to Saturday night, and now moving it to the Summer. This show will probably be forgotten once it is cancelled, but in the mean time, check it out. You might like it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

For Your Viewing Pleasure: Top Gear Season 10

Yes, I am reviewing Top Gear Season 10, or as they say across the pond Series 10. Since it is being realized today to the public for viewing on your television after you buy it at a lovely large retail chain, I wanted to admit that this season was pretty kick ass. Being one who watched many of the episodes because one Travis made me and also because I secretly was watching them on my own. What happened during Season 10? Well two of my fav Top Gear moments.

First we have motorhome racing. Being a child of parents who didn't realize they weren't 70 years old and dragged me around the country to motorhome rallies and taught me all about the differences between Newmar and Country Coach (yea, you don't knwo what that is), I appreciated this challenge. Richard Hammond figured that since most drivers use motorhomes as their vehicles transportation and then the drivers sleeping accommodations, life would be much easier for the driver if you just made a motorhome that could double as the accommodations and also the racecar. With this innovative idea, the guys then raced motorhomes, which really might sound like a great idea, but in the end, would a racecar driver really want to race a large home on wheels even if it does have a bathroom.
Of course, the second fav was the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment with David Tennent, I mean the Doctor, I mean the old doctor? Whatev, still lost to Billie Piper, aka Rose, aka the Doctors former companion, even if Billie cut the hammerhead corner in her episode. Maybe you should have worn a black see through top David. If only he had the TARDIS...wait a second!:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Suit It up for St. Patty's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day from Ted and Barney!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"He's gonna leave, he's gonna leave!"

I love this effing commercial

I want to hang out with that kid. He is awesome.