April 26th, 2011
In principle, The Voice is about something grand and meaningful. By having the show’s judges be unable to see the singers they are judging, the show purports to finally have a singing competition in which physical attractiveness and age are no longer a driving factor. In a music competition space in which Steven Tyler objectifies young female contestants and Paula Abdul’s most lasting impression on the pop cultural space is the predication of every American Idol comment with “You look beautiful,” The Voice seeks to focus solely on the eponymous instrument.
However, The Voice is not “important.” Showing that a pretty girl with a solid voice would get noticed even when she can’t be seen, or showing that even an American Idol reject with a controversial past can still get attention, does absolutely nothing to impact society’s obsession with looks or their opinion of people who choose to sell their bodies; The Voice is not going to change America in any way shape or form, and that part of the show is somewhat cloying at the end of the day.
And yet, lest you consider me cynical, I actually found The Voice quite refreshing in that it managed this sentimentality while maintaining a sense of fun. This is not a show that will change America, but it is a show that demonstrates the value of chemistry between “judges” and which in its central conceit creates an endless stream of “television moments” that channel the series’ central altruism in ways I found charming if not as life-changing as NBC would like us to believe.
When Art Meets Structure: Stacey Tookey’s Carefully Designed “Mad World”
July 29th, 2010
I’ve spent a lot of time during So You Think You Can Dance’s seventh season discussing the non-dancing parts of the show, primarily in terms of the producers’ decisions in regards to the changes to the series’ format. I think this is ultimately because I don’t actually know anything more about dancing than what the show tells me, and because this season has (for better or for worse) been defined my competition elements other than dancing – injuries, All-Stars and choreographer conflict have been key topics of discussion, and frankly all of that takes away from the fact that I actually think there are four legitimate contenders for this year’s title of “America’s Favorite Dancer.”
This week, it’s tempting to go down the same path: we have Adam Shankman dropping a “Balls Out,” we’ve got Nigel Lythgoe showing just how much attention he’s paying to this competition as he accidentally drops an “American Idol” in there (which he chalks up to his mind being elsewhere, as he’s returning to Idol as its executive producer for Season 10), and you’ve even got yet another injury, with Lauren being attended to by the medics following her Foxtrot with Adechike (and making for a woeful final sendoff where Cat Deeley has to inform America that the judges, minutes after cheering about the lack of injuries, that they had jinxed it.
And yet, for once I want to focus on the dancing, and one dance in particular. Stacey Tookey’s societal piece with Billy and Ade was perhaps not the most emotional dance of the season, but it by far (for me) the most impressive conceptually. And while I think that part of this has to do with its artistic value, which I don’t entirely feel comfortable discussing what I do want to briefly analyze is how the dance is the perfect mediation of the choreographer’s artistic image and this season’s structural challenges, delivering something which is capable of standing as a piece of art while also being something which seems to absolutely capture not just the vague “spirit of dance” but instead the show’s competitive elements.
When I sat down to watch Masterchef, it was largely out of curiosity: I knew of the format internationally, and was curious to see how Gordon Ramsay was translating it into his television oeuvre. The basic premise of the show, taking “amateur” chefs and turning them into culinary professionals, is not without its merit, and it puts Ramsay in his only tolerable mode for me personally. I loathe Hell’s Kitchen because Ramsay’s antagonism is an end in itself: he yells and screams and swears to manufactured a hyper-competitive environment, and his personality overpowers the show’s potential as a cooking competition (which is underdeveloped, since that’s clearly not why people are watching). However, I find Kitchen Nightmares to be quite watchable because Ramsay’s yelling and swearing, while certainly heightened for the American version, eventually gives way to his effort to actually help people, and work towards some sort of meaningful conclusion.
Masterchef is unquestionably that more meaningful Ramsay, but unfortunately I have to say that the series is thus far a pretty big waste of time. I think there’s probably a show in here somewhere, but this opening episode was so poorly designed that I don’t know if I can tough it out for any amount of time. I actually like many of the elements of the series, but the fact of the matter is that we don’t actually get to see anyone actually cook in this week’s episode, which is so focused on personalities and yet ends up making the actual cooking process seem inert and lifeless in 99% of examples. By focusing on these auditions, to the point where they’re being stretched out over two weeks of episodes, the series kills any momentum it could possibly achieve by failing to define its own personality while trying to lay the groundwork for each of the carefully selected chefs who are being allowed into the competition.
And while I may appreciate a good cooking show, I spent more time laughing at the over-the-top production of the show than I did connecting with any of the contestants, which I would consider a bit of a reality television disaster.
Reality Bites: Survivor’s Fall from Grace with Emmy Voters
July 10th, 2010
Anyone who watches Survivor could tell you that this year was its best in a very long time: blindsides became standard, immunity idols became common currency, and Russell (for better or for worse) introduced an entirely new way of playing the game. For fans of the show, it was everything you could hope for, combining the twist and turns of the best seasons with some of the players from those seasons with the “Heroes vs. Villains” structure of the Spring season. Overall, the year was definitive evidence that the Survivor formula is still capable of surprising us, and that twenty seasons into its run Survivor is still a viable reality series.
And so it may seem strange that, after experiencing one of its best years ever, Survivor was shut out of the Reality Competition series category at the Emmy Awards (although Jeff Probst is nominated again in the Host category, which he has won twice). This isn’t a huge surprise, really: after all, The Amazing Race has won this category for seven straight years, so it’s not as if one can expect a great deal of turnaround in terms of the nominees. However, Survivor hasn’t been nominated for the award since 2006, and I think the fact that it’s yet to be nominated again reveals something very interesting about the Emmy voters.
Primarily, it reveals that they don’t actually like reality television.
Turning Over the Keys: Musical Guests in Reality Competition Programming
July 9th, 2010
LeBron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat in the fall isn’t half as interesting as his choice (nay, demand) to announce this decision on live television after twenty-eight minutes of hilariously awful build-up in which television sports journalism lost a great deal of credibility. Frankly put, ESPN had no idea how to string together a show around such a crass act of self-promotion, which to their credit isn’t a particularly easy task: this was an hour-long special built around a ten second announcement, taking what could have been some interesting pre-decision and post-decision analysis and blanketing it with hyperbole about how this will forever change the game of basketball. This wasn’t ESPN covering LeBron James (which has become nauseous in and of itself), but ESPN turning itself over to LeBron James, which at the very least will have media scholars talking for a long time (or, about as long as it took Jim Gray to actually ask LeBron the question of the night).
And in what is the most shameless segue you’re likely to see all week, this same problem of “turning one’s self over” plagues reality competition programming (oh yes, I went there). For shows like American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and So You Think You Can Dance, it’s necessary for time purposes to turn over part of their results shows to a musical guest or some other type of performer who kills some time, promotes their record/show, and moves on with their life. These performances can occasionally be quite interesting, but the fact remains that there’s a tension between the narrative unfolding (the elimination of a contestant, in most instances) and the musical performance, and watching tonight’s So You Think You Can Dance (which, in my defence, I watched immediately after tuning out from “The Decision” at the half-hour mark) a few thoughts came to mind about how shows work to keep these musical performances from seeming disconnected from the series itself.
Fox 2009-2010 Fall Schedule
May 18th, 2009
FOX has always performed well in the Spring, but this year they managed to do something they hadn’t in the past: they were smart with their scheduling in the Fall, used House as a lead-in as opposed to a lead-out, and managed to put together two shows (fall debut Fringe and midseason Lie to Me) that were stable enough to earn a spot on their 2009-2010 schedule. They did it with the help of both House and American Idol as lead-ins, of course, but they were intelligent in the way they used those spots, and their Fall Schedule feels more stable as a result.
The question now, of course, is whether they can maintain that momentum, which they will try to do with a highly aggressive schedule that demonstrates that FOX is willing to compete in the Fall…at the risk of running one of its franchises into the ground, throwing one of its new shows out into the wild on its own, and holding its new offerings until midseason.
So even when you think they’ve got the hang of things, FOX has to go and shake things up to prove that, no matter how consistent they may seem at times, they’re always going to pull out a new trick or two.
The full schedule, with my analysis, after the jump – if you’re looking for all the official images and press releases plus plenty of analysis, I suggest you head over to Televisionary where Jace has it all covered.
January 20th, 2009
When it takes four people to write an episode of television, it is easy to become suspicious: there is nothing about “Bound” that screams as if it needs to have so many cooks in the kitchen, and the show has enough trouble keeping a consistent tone as it is without having so many independent voices in the writer’s room.
But this is a huge episode for Fringe: it is the first to air behind American Idol, the biggest lead-in in television and, as a result, a real test of the show’s ability to draw in new viewers. As a result, I can see why four writers had enough of a hand in this episode: it has to introduce potentially new viewers to the universe while at the same time dealing with the fall finale of sorts which left Olivia Dunham in the hands of some dangerous people.
What “Bound” becomes is a prime example of why these types of mid-season reboots for the purpose of drawing in new viewers are inherently dangerous, if not why they are an entirely bad idea: the episode is not a complete disaster by any means, and its back to basics approach will probably help it draw in some of the post-Idol audience for a few weeks at the very least.
But the problem lies in the fact that they bring to head a long gestating question of double agency in an episode where they are treading carefully with serialized elements: it’s hard to feel the sense of finality or build-up we should have felt when everything felt too clean due to the episode’s lack of time to really get dirty. There was something about the episode that just felt a bit too clean, mouth slugs be damned, and while I get the reasoning I can’t help but feel it’s nonetheless a step back in terms of momentum.