Friday, March 28, 2008

When good shows go bad: Beauty and the Geek!

All right, show. I won't un-season pass you yet, but it was this close.

If they hadn't done away with Beauty vs. the Geek and paired the girls and guys up, this would have been my last episode. It was just so bad. We get the vs dynamic in real life, why did we need it on this show, who's strength is taking two people from very different worlds, pairing them up, and helping them grow together. That's the show I think we all signed up for.

Watching the girls rub up against the guys in a hot tub so they could "weaken their enemies?" Ugh. The school-yard pick they used to form the teams (the girls picking, of course, because they won the challenge.) Also, ugh.

There certainly have been some mean-spirited contestants on this show before, but the show itself has never been mean. This season, it was.

But maybe that part is over now. Of course, Jillian, my favorite Beauty is gone, because of the really dumb third-challenge twist. But so is Amber, the nastiest Beauty since Season Three's Cece (still the worst reality show contestant of all time. When your partner throws the entire competition just so you don't win? It's a sign, kiddo).

But last night did have that adorable scene of Leticia waiting for Matt to return from the hospital alone on the stairs. And Amber feeling really, genuinely guilty for having accidentally breaking his shoulder during a game of flag football.

Maybe it'll return to form from here.

But it's still on probation.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Our Long National Nightmare is Over: Monica Seles off Dancing with the Stars

I kid, I kid. Kind of. I really felt bad about it, but watching poor Monica Seles lurch across the stage, dragged, propped up, kept in position by her unfortunate partner, Jonathan, was just not fun. I'm sorry, Monica. I know this was your chance to be a princess, but you really, really just ... and she seemed so nice, and was trying to hard, I couldn't even enjoy making fun of her.

Now that I've said that, I have to admit that if I were on Dancing with the Stars, my own experience would be much the same. I'm sure my partner, Kym (because that's my partner in the Dancing with the Stars show in my head) would have to put me on roller skates and drag me around the floor and pretend that roller disco was a ballroom category no matter what Len said about it. So I can relate. And really, I don't want to relate when I watch this show. I want celebrities to be either 1) good, or 2) a mockable train wreck. Monica certainly was a train wreck. But I felt bad mocking her.

So, hopefully, she can throw herself some princess parties and move on with her life. Penn, now, I was actually surprised to see go because he has a sizable fan base. And he was mockable. He seemed to be inviting it, so ... I guess I'm not too sad, but I was hoping it would be Cristian, fo whom I must ask the question, does anyone else think this guy is an asshole? Just me? Ok.

In our house, we're rooting for Kristi (of course), Marlbe, and Jason. Everyone else I'm meh on. Except for Marissa, who I think may be our next Monica. Right now her pep makes her entertaining (and yes, a little bit mockable) but she's showing signs of becoming pathetic in the classic sense of inviting pathos and that MUST. NOT. BE.

Priscilla scares me. She's like the botoxed bride of frankensteing, and there's something weird about her affect, like she's drugged up or something. I can't quite put my finger on it. But I am afraid.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Different Rules: Is Big Love the most moral series on television?

We don’t have HBO at our house, so I didn’t discover this series when it originally aired. I’d heard about it. At first the concept seemed like something that would appeal to me only slightly more than the cake decorating shows our local religious broadcaster would show in the early afternoons while I was growing up. Like most people, I found the whole idea of polygamy distasteful. I couldn’t imagine an entire TV series around the concept. Or, well, I could imagine it, and it was in my head like some mutant hybrid of Desperate Housewives and Last Man Standing. Not for me.

But then I started hearing about how good it was, how seriously it took the concept, how well-written and well-acted the characters. And then there was the presence of Amanda Seyfried, the late, lamented Lily Cane from late, lamented Veronica Mars. I was intrigued. So one weekend when I was home alone and looking for something to kill the boredom, I rented the first season DVD set. And then I knew exactly what they meant by the phrase Big Love.

The genius of this series is that it takes a concept most people are immediately repulsed by, and shows you the human and emotional layers underpinning it. You come to understand exactly how people can come to live this way, and in this story you find a connection with people who are in the middle of society, but are not part of that society. In its own way, and despite the immediate reaction most people have to its subject matter, Big Love may be the most moral series on television.

The concept of personal and sexual morality is not one given much real examination these days. A lot of series pay lip service to it, but that’s usually just so characters can feel bad as they’re breaking their own rules, followed usually by a bender where they feel so, so bad about what they’ve done before they go back to the way things were before. Rarely do we see a cast of characters who are so interesting because they stand up and resist, because they fight for what they believe, and fight as well to live up to it.

And that’s where the concept of polygamy becomes vital, because for that to really be examined, you have to take the story out of the realm of the familiar. These are people who live my different rules, but they are rules, and they are consistent, and seeing how they struggle can shed light on our own moral struggles. This might also be one of the best depictions of a family of faith I’ve ever seen. How many times have you seen the main characters in a modern series, when conflicted, or lost, or scared, or feeling gulty, literally getting down on their knees to pray for guidance? And receiving it. Most of the time this kind of thing is treated as a joke.

Yeah, there’s sex on this show. But it’s not casual and indiscriminate, It has consequences. And a context. And we may see our main family “living the principle” in a way that is moral, but we see the dark side of this practice as well. We see the compounds and cult leaders where young girls are made to marry 80-year-old men. We see the dichotomy that exists in this world. We see just how weird and twisted it can get. And in the second season, we feel for Bill, our main character, as he tries to have things both ways. He tries to “live the principle” but also walk in the mainstream world. And though he comes to some sort of stalemate with the forces against him, it is obviously something very temporary, and likely to have horrific consequences down the road.
I really do think this is the more moral show on TV right now. And I can’t wait to see how things work out for everyone next season, but I’m almost afraid of it too, because there’s some real badness on the horizon, I have a feeling, and I don’t want to see any of these people go down hard.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Go not gently into that good fridge: R.I.P. Bonnie Richmond

OK, I take back everything bad I said about Jericho. The last to episodes have been fantastic, as a truly evil enemy has reared its head, and the citizens of our plucky, home-spun little town has started to make the beginnings of a … dare I saw it … an insurgency. So, good job Jericho (and thanks for giving Heather a bigger role after distressingly leaving her out of the 2nd episode.

The real reason for this post though was to comment on the murder of Jericho’s resident little sister, Bonnie Richmond. My first reaction was … yikes…why her. But it made perfect sense, and the way it was done was first class. While the women in refrigerators charge is often invoked when a female character meets her death, I do not believe this is a case of a fridging.

Fridging occurs when a (usually)female character is offed to have some sort of effect on a male character, usually the protagonist. It is usually brutal, as this was, and is often presented in a sexualized way (though not always). Though they may have killed off Bonnie Richmond in a spectacular and ugly manner, she was not shoved in the fridge. In fact, Bonnie was given an exit befitting most male protagonists. Girls, usually young girls, don’t usually go out this way in things that aren’t written by Joss Whedon or Gail Simone. Her gender does give us added pathos, but as much of that comes from the fact that she was deaf. And I had a feeling she was a goner when they started leaning heavily on the “I’m going to Cheyenne to become a relief worker” plotline.

Bonnie died in a hail of bullets, wielding a shotgun in defense of her new big sis Mimi, who’d uncovered some “discrepancies” in the books of the military contractors given control of the town in post-wasteland America. She was fierce and brave and protective and became a serious threat to the Blackwater contracters storming her house. Yes, I mean “Ravenwood.”

And Jericho becomes the show it could be, its metaphor perhaps a little too on the nose, but intact and important. Bonnie’s death affects everyone, not just her big brother. (I had a feeling she was a goner when they started leaning heavily on the “I’m going to Cheyenne to become a relief worker” plotline.

Jericho has three episodes left. Watch them. They’re probably won’t be more, but now I know the creators can handle this.
And goodbye Bonnie. Your friends and family are going to nail someone’s ass to the wall.

5 things I'm obsessed with right now.

Chips ahoy candy bites (chocolate chip cookie variety) We’re doing the weight watchers points thing at my house, so chocolate is mostly off the menu. As are starbucks mochas and dark chocolate m&m’s. I am dying. I never realized how much candy I was popping or how much I was addicted to it until I had to write down the points of it and not go over freaking 25 (fortunately, exercise allows me to eat more). But these little 100-calorie snack packs are saving my life, keeping me from stopping at whatever convenience store I’m passing and diving into a full-on cherry coke and candy bar snack binge. Well, usually.

The Wait, Wait! Don’t tell me! Podcast. This NPR news quiz is a riot, sparing no one (not even Barack Obama!), taking no prisoners, and making passers-by look at me funny while I break-out laughing while I’m on my hikes through Sundial Bridge park. Listening to newsman Cark Cassell channel celebutards Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears during the “who’s Carl this time?” segment has been the only thing getting me through some really, really bad days. It’s available on their web site or you can get it through itunes as well. That’s what I do, since I’m lazy.

SpongeBob SquarePants Edition of Life. This game plays quickly, and has a plot. I can pay attention to it. Yes, you actually play Spongebob’s life, and who wouldn’t want that?
You choose between going to college (which allows you to become a fry cook) and going straight to work (which allows you to become an ince cream vendor for less money). You don’t get married, but you do adopt a pet. And watch out for the expense card. You don’t want to get stuck with the bill for Plankton’s latest plot.

Sheryl Crow’s Detours album. Yeah, she got sunny and treakly there for a while but a bout with cancer and a break-up with Lance Armstrong has brought her back to us. Her adoption of son Wyatt has preserved her wit as she writes and sings again about politics, love, loss, and above all else, hope. God Bless this Mess takes a listless look at modern American life and Out of Our Heads gives a prescription for the problems of the world. The music is intricate and stripped down to its acoustic roots at the same time, the lyrics harsh and loving, her voice raw and weathered, the way it was on her first three albums. It’s a great album. If only Melissa Etheridge’s post-cancer album had been as successful.

Barack Obama. Yes, I’m on board. I did not drink any kool-aid. I know he’s not the second coming, but he’s the first politician who’s come along in a long time that makes me think the system could still be changed from the inside. I know he’s inexperienced, but look where experience has gotten us. Obama 08!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hey, Random's in the name: The Dancing with the Stars Season 6 cast.

OK, the only thing I will say about this show in general is that I didn’t really want to start watching it, but my wife did, and I at first refused but over the course of Season 4 got sucked in. I was a big Apolo-Julianne Fan (thought Joey and Laila were awesome as well). I also thought that Scary Spice was robbed last season. ROBBED!

That said, I watch it because it is often on the level of an interesting train wreck. And I love, looove, love it when the judges are mean to them. And Tom Bergeron is often worth the time all by himself. I’ve been a big TB fan ever since he was on that weird Fox morning news show in the early 90’s. I can’t remember the name, but I think it involved puppets in some form or another. I may be delusional. Aside: is there a more worthless TV personality than Samatha Harris? Why is she even there?

I am sad to admit that we did watch that horrible Dance War show with Bruno and Carrie Ann. Seriously, it was almost as bad as Crowned. The only highlight was during the finale, when Kenny Mayne returned with Dance Center to name the next cast. (Kenny Mayne is teh awesome.!)

My reaction? I was underwhelmed. But that may be because I was really, really hoping that Donny Osmond was going to follow in the footsteps of his sister. Have you SEEN the White and Nerdy video? That would have been spectacular. But no.

Most of the people actually on the show? Meh. There could be something interesting happen, but the cast itself is actually kind of blah. I do have a few thoughts on the teams, however.

They are obviously paring Julianne Hough with Adam Carolla in an attempt to break her streak. Either that, or they have so much confidence in her skills that they think she cand pull out another win. Maybe it’s a final level boss scenario? This will be her greatest challenge. Whatever. She’s still off-the-scale hot and nothing Adam can do will take that away from us. Actually, that's not true, is it? f he screws up and gets her eliminated, she'll be off the show. Someone replace Adam Carolla with a dancing robot right now!

Can I be forgiven for the fact that when I saw the name Monica Seles I immediately thought about how her stab wound was going to affect things? And then I wondered if she was going to grunt every time she completed an intricate move. That could mess up the timing. I was also really hoping they were going to pair her with Maks, but he isn’t even on the show this year, which is a shame. I liked his attitude.

Shannon Elizabeth and Derek Hough? It’s just going to be a pretty-off, isn’t it? Maybe she was the only one who’d make him look like a real, grown-up boy, since Jennie Garth certainly couldn’t do it.

After the Wayne Newton Fiasco, producers make it up to Cheryl Burke by giving her a hottie latin actor. This could backfire. See also : Albert Reed.

They’ve paired Karina with another Mario. Someone has a sense of humor.

Penn Gillette gets Kym, who’s always solid but never makes it all the way. I don’t think it’s been her. I mean, she took Joey to the finale. For some reason, however, I think Penn is going to be this year’s so-awful-it’s-entertaining contestant and will, thus, make it pretty far. He’s also got a fan base. See also: Billy Ray Cyrus.

Then we have Mrs. Elvis, herself. I don’t even know how to react to this one. She’s been off the radar for so long that I don’t know if there’s a fan base to vote for her. The upshot is that the fan base is likely to be old, and a lot of the people who watch this show are old (yes, all right, case in point) so that may work in her favor. It’s probably what kept Jane Seymour in the competition way, waay, waaay past the time she should gave gone (to be fair, a dead mom and food poisoning played a role here as well). So, Priscilla probably needs to off one of her relatives or have a stroke halfway through the competition just to play it safe.

Marlee Matlin might be a spoiler. She may be deaf, but has danced before. Remember her as The Dancing Bandit on Picket Fences? I know deaf people can feel music even if they can't hear it (thanks, very special episode of Quantum Leap!) so she'll be better than people assume. Her partner is new to the show, I think, so who knows what will happen there. Maks would have been awesome.

I don’t even have opinions on the rest of the cast, really. Jason Taylor could be a contender, as could Broadway’s Tracy Turnblad, who may be a sentimental favorite in our house depending on the personality. My wife is geeking out over Kristi Yamaguchi (don’t ask) but really …. I really wish Donny Osmond would have signed on.

And Steve Fucking Guttenberg? Yikes. I haven’t even been able to look at pictures of him since he played the child-molesting mayor on Veronica Mars. Derek Hough better watch out backstage.