Tag Archives: Kelly

Jimmy Johnson vs. Survivor: Notoreity and Narrative in Nicaragua

“Young At Heart”

September 15th, 2010

The biggest challenge for a reality series like Survivor is finding a way to make things interesting in the beginning. The show so heavily relies on characters and their interaction with one another that those early moments are almost always less interesting simply because they are not yet characters: at best the castaways are caricatures, limited to their first impressions (which are encouraged and extrapolated by the producers within the opening “No one is allowed to talk” journey to the first locale).

However, with Survivor: Nicaragua there is no room for subtlety in terms of getting to know the contestants: the contestants are divided based on their ages, a key component in first impressions within the series, and two of the contestants are simply unable to remain anonymous for any length of time. What emerges, then, is a focus on the importance of honesty and perception within this game, key themes that emerge within every season of Survivor.

This time around, though, the producers decided to introduce them as early as possible, mostly in order to ensure that these two notable contestants can be successfully integrated into the series’ narrative in future weeks.

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Too Much On the Plate: The Bitter Taste of Top Chef Season 7

Too Much on the Plate: The Bitter Taste of Top Chef Season 7

July 22nd, 2010

Based on the first six episodes of Top Chef’s seventh season, I’m not convinced that the Magical Elves (the show’s producers) were watching the same show that I was last year.

Top Chef’s sixth season was, by all accounts, a triumph: four chefs went into the semi-finals cooking some absolutely stellar food, each in a position where they would have deserved to win the competition, and each representing a different style of cooking. The challenges were solid, the Las Vegas setting was put to solid use, and outside of some justifiable complaints about Toby Young the judging was pretty spot on. It was a season without any major controversies, and which seemed to verify my conclusion I had come to after watching the first four seasons in a marathon last summer: Top Chef, like The Amazing Race before it, is a solid foundation which will vary each year depending on the caliber of chefs within the competition.

And yet, it seems that the Magical Elves felt that there was some magic missing: either because they were concerned with the caliber of chefs they had assembled, or because they felt that viewers were no longer responding to the series in the same fashion, the show’s production team has gone out of their way to mess with a good thing this year. Now, on the surface, you may expect me to call them out for deliberately breeding conflict between the chefs, something which has happened more naturally in past seasons and which is one of my least favourite parts of the series when it isn’t pre-existing (as it was between brothers Michael and Bryan last year).

However, the bigger problem is that the show’s production is undermining several cardinal rules of reality competition programming, rules which Top Chef used to follow with expert proficiency. While it has been possible for good chefs to be sent home before weak ones in the past, this year’s challenges seem explicitly designed to remove any opportunity the judges would have to give a chef a second chance, to allow them to bounce back as opposed to sending a chef who will remain mediocre throughout the rest of the competition. Instead, the producers have seized control of the competition in the most backwards of fashions, in that they actually cede any semblance of control when it really matters most to the rule and logic of a series once based on the food rather than the folly.

It’s a season that feels as if it’s been designed by the Elves who make cookies rather than those who make reality television, and it’s managing to take what might otherwise have been a perfectly solid season and turning it into something the series has never been before: a reality series uncertain of its own identity.

Which used to be about food.

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Getting Some Feedback: A Top Chef Failure and a Work of Art Worry

Getting Some Feedback: A Top Chef Failure and a Work of Art Worry

July 8th, 2010

I have yet to blog about this year’s season of Top Chef’s seventh season, and I really wish that I wasn’t doing so under these particular circumstances, but “Room Service” was such a failure that I have a few thoughts on where precisely it went wrong (although Scott Tobias has a more complete rundown of the episode at The A.V. Club). The notion of introducing a tournament-style competition in order to send two chefs home isn’t the worst idea, as they’re trying to create competition between the chefs (especially after the hyper-competitive elements last season) and this forces Kenny and Angelo’s rivalry to the forefront and draws further tension from the various chefs. However, the way in which that competition was actually executed failed to actually highlight the weakest chefs, instead punishing good chefs for small mistakes while rewarding weaker chefs for a single quality dish in what was an otherwise disastrous performance.

And while I want to highlight a few problems, one thing I want to focus on specifically is a lack of feedback within the process, which was also central to part of last night’s episode of Work of Art, which I want to discuss briefly as well.

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The Office – “Body Language”

“Body Language”

April 29th, 2010

In my piece for Jive TV this week, I took a brief look at what Steve Carell potentially leaving The Office means for the series. Ultimately, I think that the show could evolve creatively to fill his absence, but the question is whether anyone would keep watching. The show is suffering from some pretty serious backlash as of late, and Carell’s departure might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for a large number of unhappy viewers.

However, when I voiced some displeasure with “Body Language,” which I despised, on Twitter, Alisa Perrin rightfully called me out on it: I’m still watching the show, so how bad can it really be? Ultimately, I would make the argument that the reasons “Body Language” almost entirely failed have more to do with problems the show has had since the very beginning and happened to be the focus of this particular episode, but it has to be said that many of the people who complain the most about the show are the same ones who might never stop watching. Is it such a habit that people will never give up on it, sticking around to play the “Viewer who cried Jumping Shark” for a few more seasons?

As a critic and as a viewer, I keep watching because there are parts of this show that I really enjoy, and that are occasionally not quite as buried beneath as much humourless material was they were here.

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The Office – “Blood Drive”


“Blood Drive”

March 5th, 2009

I don’t know if the Super Bowl plans or just some weird scheduling resulted in the situation we find ourselves in here, but it’s Valentine’s Day in the world of The Office, which means that the single people are sad, and the couples are feeling particularly smug about their happy futures. And on that note, “Blood Drive” investigates the state of romance in the Office through a very subtle, perhaps too subtle, lens.

With Michael Scott leading the charge for the single people, organizing amongst other things a singles mixer and a support group for bad relationships, and with Phyllis inviting Jim and Pam along on a one-joke lunch double date, there was something about the entire episode that felt really lightweight, which it shouldn’t considering that we left Michael buoyed by hope regarding Holly in the last episode. And yet there’s not even a mention of her letter, and for him to go back to “Woe is me because Holly left” like this doesn’t feel right.

It’s not that I wanted the series to deliver a highly dramatic episode, but this was the first time they’ve confronted a couple of relationship issues (in particular the season’s central love triangle) and it felt like the episode’s subtle approach at times was more of a tease than a real parallel or comparison. I think I liked the episode, especially as it relates to some of the more subtle things, but there was so many notes the show tried to deal with here that you couldn’t help but feel it was missing that one moment of either really effective comedy or emotional resonance, and it never came for me.

Oh, there was lots of innuendo too, by the way.

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