Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Spring TV Wrap-Up, Part 1

So I fell behind in my TV again this spring, and it's been quite the wacky season. The Explorer 8000 Home Entertainment Server has been working overtime, and now that I'm not working overtime, I'm finally caught up. So much crap, so little time. This post is way late (the Friends finale is so two weeks ago!), but you know I'm never one to miss an opportunity to share my opinions, so here are my random thoughts on the spring season that couldn't end soon enough.

It's been far too long since there's been a good disaster movie, and even longer since there's been a truly dreadful one on TV during sweeps. So I was terribly excited about 10.5. It didn't disappoint. It had all the classic elements: Absurd foreshadowing through sports metaphors ("You always go for the long shot when you're desperate"); improbable casting of doctors, scientists and presidents (this means you, Ivan Sergei and Beau Bridges); vaguely familiar actors who aren't really famous but drive you nuts while you try to figure out where you know them from (this means you, Ivan Sergei and Beau Bridges); ridiculous establishing scenes of exes, hotshots, and couples trying to have babies that tell you right off who's going to die; and my personal favorite, an impossible-to-figure-out timeline.

If anything made it clear that it wasn't the 80s anymore, it was that the effects were actually pretty good, especially the collapse of the Space Needle, and the San Francisco sequence. Of course, advancements in technology can't be applied to writing. I particularly liked the train tracks that were built directly over a fault line, and the quake that stopped the moment it had achieved its plot purpose of swallowing the train on them. I also liked the requisite teenager's requisite asthma attack, which of course meant bad news when her car got sucked underground with her inhaler inside...except for the way she never had an attack again. Oh and let's not forget evacuating all of southern California because it's about to fall into the ocean, and then building the refugee camp on top of the San Andreas Fault. Congratulations, you're run for your lives!

Also true to tradition were the bumpers on either end of each commercial break that killed pretty much any element of surprise. You know when the mayor looks in a mirror that that mirror is about to break. You know when the "doctors" start doing surgery in the camp that all hell's going to break loose. These things are predictable enough, why do they have to show us all the good stuff ahead of time?

Still, I wasn't disappointed. Well, I was, but that's kinda the point. 10.5 got me totally excited for a summer of crap. Bring on The Day After Tomorrow!

Moving from crappy miniseries to crappy regular series, I got strangely hooked on High School Reunion, even though it bugged the hell out of me. As trashy as last year's show was, that cast seemed, well, more "real" than most reality TV casts. Or at least more likeable. These folks came off, by and large, as astonishingly dumb and emotionally stunted, especially in the follow-up show they absurdly dubbed, "The Aftermath" (I really wanted them to call it "High School Reunion Reunion"). Knowing what I do about "reality" editing I certainly won't hold that against them too much, but the editors pissed me off. They were so insistent on creating a plot, they focused excessively (in my opinion) on the couples. As much as I enjoyed the cute blonde boy in the hot tub, there were several people I was very interested in (such as "The Teen Mom" and "The Wallflower") who got no screen time at all. I think I kept watching partly just to see if they'd show up. Well, and to see when crazy Denise would crack.

I'd like to say I won't watch it again next season, but come on, who are we kidding?

Meanwhile, in more current reality-land...I know I've said before that I like my reality TV lowbrow and sadistic, but there are just so many things wrong with The WB's Superstar USA (starting with the annoying use of "The WB's" in the title. That's even worse than their new thing of referring to new episodes of shows as "fresh."). Of course, I'm watching it anyway, and I just don't know what to make of it. During the first round of Idol auditions, I felt really bad for a lot of the contestants, and the way they'd been deluded by the producers into believing they had talent only to be shot down by the judges. This entire show is basically that on a grand scale. And yet I find it hopelessly compelling. Maybe it's because most of these people are so bad that it's truly shocking. These are not, for the most part, just average singers, or good ones who've had the misfortune of blowing an audition (as all performers will from time to time) on national television. No, these are people with negative talent, and I'm fascinated by what makes them think they have any business singing in public at all, because I can't imagine that anyone has ever encouraged them. There's the boy who looks and sounds like a girl, and dresses like neither. There's the flaming little boy who's neither a good singer nor a good dancer, and who somehow thought that his bizarre gyrations to Faith Hill were (never mind good) appropriate for the song. There's the woman who writes lyrics on her hand. But at least she then gets the words right, unlike my favorite, the girl who'd be unintelligible even without her accent, who thinks the words to "So Emotional" are "'s Hollywood love can do." Huh?

So I don't it okay to be cruel when the victim deserves it? Because I do feel bad for a couple of the finalists who don't seem to belong there. Boy and I have a favorite (that's actual favorite, as opposed to mock favorite), John-Michael, who's no pop star but is reasonably attractive and a decent singer. He just, like so many Idol contestants, makes bad song choices. Here's a hint, everyone: don't ever sing "War" at an audition. The judges seemed to be mocking his insane enthusiasm, but I found it kind of charming. It just doesn't seem fair.

But speaking of the judges, they're the entire reason the show works. I suspect the show is being judiciously edited and half the things we see them say at their table are actually being said without any contestants in the room. Even so, these guys are brilliant. They're masters of snark, and they'd be massively entertaining even without the bad singers. They deserve Emmys for keeping straight faces. American Idol needs these guys. The show's sort of created character is Briggs, who is meant to be the Simon but who says the most astonishingly inappropriate things. If there's not a ton of editing involved, then they're not only out to find the worst singer in America, but also the dumbest. Of the other two judges, Tone Loc seems out of his element and a little unsure of what he's doing there, but Vitamin C (whom I vaguely remember making a mini-splash with an album a couple of years ago, before vanishing back into obscurity) has found her true calling. She has mastered the art of making these people feel good without lying -- "That was unbelievable;" "You really put your own spin on that song;" "I don't know how you hit some of those notes;" -- and she's catching up to Briggs in the what the fuck department, like this week when she asked a contestant who'd just done a mean (as in cruel) Tina Turner if she'd ever been to an actual Thunderdome. "Because it's a lot like the music business." But my favorite moment of the series so far was when a singer forgot the words to "Born to Be Wild," and she fed him the next line without a trace of sarcasm, encouraging the hideous singing to continue. And let's not forget the host, Bryan McSeacrest, who's far less annoying than his non-spoofy counterpart (though the real coup would have been if they'd snagged Dunkleman). All of these people, despite being in on the horrible joke, seem to have a strange affection for their victims, which also mitigates the cruelty somehow. And curiously, it comes off as more genuine than Paula's gushing or Simon's cold indifference.

Now that it's getting further along, I'm not really sure what the show is going for. In the first week they kept John-Michael, who really doesn't deserve to be there (there were far worse in the first round), but booted Frank (queenie dancing Britney boy) and Ross (androgynous Hello Kitty). (One side-note, this show is far worse for the image of homosexuals than Playing it Straight and Boy Meets Boy combined.) I've seen some speculation online that Frank may have been catching on to the twist and therefore had to be eliminated, which brings me back to my original question about these contestants -- how can they not know?? There's no audience (though there will be for the final reveal), and they don't get to hear each other sing...but that should be a tip-off right there. And they can see each other, for god's sake! Could they all be actors? It seems unlikely, but maybe the whole thing is a hoax on the audience, not the participants. Maybe even on the judges. Maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better for liking this all so much.

Well, this has turned into a much longer post than I expected, so I'm going to put it up now and finish later. Like all good Very Special Episodes (or the series finales I've yet to review), this post is a two-parter. No more new shows to go embarrassingly in-depth with, so it seems like a good place to break.

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