Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Summer better than others 2

Last week I wrote about a couple of scripted series that air fresh episodes in the summer. But we all know there’s one genre that’s responsible for the success and proliferation of summer TV series (and summer TV is equally responsible for the success and proliferation of the genre) and that is Reality TV. So here’s my very brief takes on the reality series I’m watching this summer:

The Joe Schmo Show 2 (Now on Mondays at 11:05 pm on Spike TV): The second season of this meta-reality show has faced an uphill battle much like that of the second installment of Survivor: How to follow up a perfect, brilliant and revolutionary first season [if you missed the groundbreaking first seasons of either Survivor or The Joe Schmo Show they are finally available on DVD and they really are required viewing]? There’s no way Joe Schmo 2 could possibly live up to the impossibly high standards of hilarity established last year, but they’re still trying their damndest and it is still one of the funniest shows on TV.

Their biggest flaw has been the casting of their Joe and Jane Schmo – Tim and Ingrid. He’s too much of an unlikable jerk and she’s too savvy for this show. But the parodies of and references to obscure, mostly-forgotten reality shows like Mr. Personality and Meet My Folks have been spot-on as has Ralph Garman’s inspired performance as “The Pompous Host.” And if you don’t crack up at the mere mention of the name “Montecore,” then I pity the sadness that is your "life."

Last Comic Standing (Tuesdays at 9pm on NBC; Saturdays at 8pm on Comedy Central): The problem with this series as a “talent search” ala American Idol, America’s Next Top Model or The Apprentice is that the producers want to have it both ways by crossing the “talent search” with the more dramatic “elimination type” shows like Survivor and Big Brother. While this does make the show more dramatic, it also means that the last comic standing isn’t necessarily the funniest (not that the voting on Idol or Next Top Model insures the best will actually win, but it seems slightly more based on talent as it applies to the given field).

But there are still some funny people on the show (Jay Mohr not being one of them), and I’m fascinated by the world of stand up comics, so I’ll keep watching (though if you too are fascinated by this industry, you’ll get a more insightful real-life view from the documentary Comedian featuring Jerry Seinfeld).

The Casino (Mondays at 9pm on Fox): I don’t know why nobody seems to be liking/watching this show. I find it very likeable/watchable. It’s a fun look at Vegas and the denizens who inhabit it, and since it’s mostly non-serial, there’s no reason you can’t start tuning in now.

The Simple Life 2 (Wednesdays at 9pm on Fox): At first I thought Paris and Nicole were just naïve, a little dim and spoiled. Now I think they’re brilliant, evil and spoiled. They come up with ways out of working that I could never even think up, let alone execute. They are horrible people. But they’re limitless fun to watch. And if you’re into drinking games: Take a swig every time Paris says “That’s hot” or Nicole says “You’re sexy.”

The Amazing Race 5 (Tuesdays at 10pm on CBS): For some reason, I’ve always missed a couple of the early episodes in each of The Amazing Race seasons and then I’ve thought it would be too late to join in midstream. But now I get the impression that even though it’s serial, each episode is a mostly self-contained adventure. And it gets pretty exciting, even if you don’t know every thing about the contestants. Tonight’s premiere episode was full of tense reversals and I’ll be back next week. I’m beginning to see why this is one of the most critically acclaimed reality series (and no, that’s not an oxymoron).

Big Brother 5 (Tuesdays and Saturdays at 9pm; Thursdays at 8pm on CBS): Definitely a guilty pleasure among reality shows. Nothing much happens (certainly not enough to fill three hours each week) and the contestants are rarely interesting people. The competitions and rewards are ridiculously silly (Julie Chen deserves a special Emmy merely for reciting the lines they give her as though they were deathly important). Yet, for the past two summers I haven’t been able to miss an episode, and I think this summer will make three in a row (I’ve yet to be suckered in by the 24/7 live feed, but you can bet that if I had money to burn and high speed internet I would so be there).

So far, this cast seems even more ply-wood than usual, with the exception of my new favorite houseguest: Holly. She makes Cammy from Joe Schmo 2 look like a subtle understatement. But there’s something about her that got me instantly hooked (and no, it’s not her looks). She’s a real trip and a half, and I only hope she’s savvy enough (yeah right!) to stick around for many, many weeks.

Oh, and as for the “Project DNA” twists (another drinking game: take a sip every time Julie Chen explains that “DNA” stands for “Do Not Assume”) – they are desperate, even by Big Brother standards (now that’s an oxymoron). The part where Michael was fishing for clues about his long-lost father from his here-to-fore unheard-of half-sister Jennifer (or whatever she calls herself) was possibly the most uncomfortable moment in a genre defined by uncomfortable moments. I felt kind of like I was watching a snuff film or a film by Michael Moore, and I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. And I’ll be watching Thursday night to see what happens next!

I think that’s all the reality I’m experiencing this summer (I hope I’m not forgetting any shows). And it’s not reality, but you should also be watching the new season of Reno 911! Very funny stuff.


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