Your Weekly Summer Reality TV Roundup – 07/06/07

Your Weekly Summer Reality TV Roundup – 07/06/07

With a light week due to Independence Day–thanks a lot, America!–I'll take a moment to run through the reality shows that I'm not covering in this weekly roundup, and why.

Big Brother: Riding a post-Survivor high, I watched the first few episodes of this show's first season, and was bored out of my mind with the persistent nothingness. I understand that in subsequent seasons the producers have added twists and challenges that make it more than just" The Real World plus surveillance cameras," but at its core, Big Brother is still the kind of reality show I hate: more narcissism than skill.

America's Got Talent: I almost made it through the full first season of this show before I got tired of seeing the same acts week after week, and seeing fish compared to fowl, and seeing genuinely talented people lose to adorable moppets. I understand that this season has been more entertaining–at the least, it's wildly popular–but I can't get a handle on how to determine the winner of a contest when the only criteria is "talent." It's like trying to figure out who has the best smile.

So You Think You Can Dance: Of all the reality contests I don't watch, this is the one that my wife misses most. We followed the first season together, and then I bailed before the end while she soldiered on without me. She likes to watch dancing–which is why I gave in and started recording Dancing With The Stars again this past spring–and I like to watch dancing too, when it's in the context of big production numbers with masses of people moving in unison. Dancers alone or in pairs I find less thrilling, especially when they're reduced to short routines followed by unhelpfully bizarre judges' comments. Plus, unlike singing competitions, where I can only half pay attention, I actually have to watch dancing. And who's got time to actually watch TV?

Shaq's Big Challenge: I thought redemption via public humiliation went out with Queen For A Day, but apparently not. I don't watch Extreme Home Makeover or Supernanny, so why would I watch this?

Now on to the more acceptable forms of humiliation:

Hell's Kitchen
A quick vote: How many HK-watchers believe that the contestants this week were cooking for an actual wedding reception, as opposed to some kind of mock wedding? The case for: The church, the minister, the bride, the groom and the guests all looked plausibly real. The case against: The wedding planner was overplaying his part to an absurd degree, right up to the point where maitre d' JP sent him over to get yelled at Chef Ramsay. (Also, would anyone really entrust the happiest day of their lives to the HK crew?) The other major mystery of the week is what the hell happened to Melissa, who'd been merely bossy over the first few episodes but this week went full-on nutzoid, with her frizzy hair (accented by the strange, goatee-like scrape under her lower lip), and her sudden insistence on controlling everything and everybody in the kitchen. Melissa's attempt to prepare a full tasting menu more or less by herself led to the priceless moment where the women's team presented a dry, overcooked, unsauced slab of poultry to the bride and groom, announcing sheepishly, "We have a duck breast." Melissa clearly should've been sent home this week, but Ramsay claimed to want to give her a second chance–a second chance that really opened up when Aaron dropped out for health reasons a couple of weeks ago. (No queasy Asian cowboy is going to deny Fox their full run of Hell's Kitchen episodes.) The best part of the Melissa non-elimination was the shot at the end of Ramsay almost impaling her jacket on a hook and then pulling back at the last second. Psych!
Line Of The Week:: "Just put the mints in the mesh."

On The Lot
Wouldn't it be cool if On The Lot were like a reality show version of The Five Obstructions, with the contestants forced to work around impossible obstacles to make something striking and soulful? Instead their only real limitation is time–and this week, genre. Asked to whip up a short horror film, the six contestants still found ways to get cutesy, with stinger punchlines that, once again, wouldn't be out of place in a TV commercial. (I need to come up with some kind of shorthand to indicate the persistent commercial-ness of this shows' films. Something like SSDD.) Nevertheless, it was kind of interesting to see what "horror" means to young filmmakers today, and it was surprising that so few of them edged toward J-horror creepiness or outright torture porn. True, the latter likely wouldn't have gotten past the Fox censors–though "Profile," the most interesting film of the night, did dare to be off-puttingly horrific. I wouldn't call "Profile" a success–not with its confusingly "pointed" ending–but in an attempt to marry horror conventions to images of police brutality, "Profile" came closest to doing something interesting with the assignment. (I was reminded me of the potential direction for horror films that I brought up in Crosstalk with Scott last year.) Too bad that splat-packer Eli Roth didn't show much of an eye for daring in his stint as a guest judge, preferring to praise the most conventional efforts and to show off by tossing out a bunch of directors' names. ("You did kind of a John Carpenter meets George Romero thing there. Nice.") I wonder if it ever occurred to Roth that no matter how low-rated On The Lot is, the nature of television viewership is such that this week's mini-horror films were probably seen by more people than paid to see Hostel Part II?
Line Of The Week:: "The part that I liked was that you didn't use a lot of Gore. Although I do like Al Gore."

Pirate Master
I don't know whether this is a flaw in the reality TV genre or an example of how it can illuminate social ills, but I find it interesting how on Survivor and Pirate Master, the women almost always seem to fall into subservient role, letting the men decide who the leaders should be and what the alliances should do. On Pirate Master, that's led to an interesting competitive dynamic, as Captain Azmyth and his two male officers have now assured that they'll hold a size and strength advantage in every challenge, until they get deposed. Knowing this, Louie and Joe Don–the two men not in Azmyth's circle of power–have talked the remaining women into keeping them around in order to maintain some muscle for a potential coup. Despite this, Joe Don made what would seem to be a dumb move this week, spending an exorbitant sum on a pardon he knew he wouldn't need. Except that the money he spent on the pardon went to his girlfriend Nessa, who's now got the sufficient sums to buy the pardon back from Joe Don next week. So long as Joe Don can keep the women on his side, he and Nessa can continue selling the pardon back and forth, since it's going to be a while before anyone else makes enough money to match their price. But they can probably only make that move once or twice more, since the other women are going to want their chance at the pardon too. The next time Nessa is "on the spot" without a pardon, she's probably gone. (That's the other thing about reality contests: the strategy gets more interesting as the ranks dwindle.) Of course there's always a chance that Azmyth will either lose a challenge or lose the confidence of his crew, who are already grumbling that he's "sketchy." (Or as Joe Don said, "He's kind of a sketch with me.") Part of that sketchiness includes Azmyth's abandonment of his "everyone shares the treasure equally" ideals. A few days ago he was all about communalism and fairness. This episode he actually said, "60/40…that's an amazing split!"
Line Of The Week::"(Azmyth is) a super freak in a blue coat"

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