Back to the (Reality) Future: The Amazing Race and Survivor
February 20th, 2011
Watching the Survivor: Redemption Island premiere, I listened to Jeff Probst with a certain degree of skepticism. His argument was that Rob and Russell both had their own form of unfinished business, having played the game multiple times without ever having won. However, really, their presence is not about their story – they are there because Survivor needed a hook, and pitting two of its most infamous players against one another. While I think Russell probably believes that he is there to prove something, I think that Rob is just there to have fun, which for me makes him much more enjoyable to watch.
The fact is that seeing reality contestants try to “prove” something holds very little value for me. I appreciate a good reality storyline, and I think that every great reality show needs a great narrative or three in order to sustain itself. What is always difficult about all-star driven seasons, like both Redemption Island and The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business, is the way in which the narrative is defined for us: in the latter case, the teams are all introduced based on the reason they lost, and the season becomes more about them moving past that initial defeat than anything else.
I know my Amazing Race history, and so I remember almost all of these teams (like many others, Amanda and Kris were too short-lived and too generic to make an impression, but I did remember them eventually). There are also many stories here that I am inherently attached to: Zev and Justin’s early exit thanks to a lost passport and Mel and Mike’s charming father/son dynamic were two narratives that ended too early, and that I was excited to see more of. On the other hand, the idea of seeing more of Margie and Luke is somewhat terrifying, given the fairly odious behavior which characterized their more tense moments back in Season 14.
The difference between Redemption Island and Unfinished Business is simple: while the former has the ability to create new narratives early on, both based on the minimal all-star presence and the structure of the game, the latter is not built for the same type of instant narrative. This does not make it a failure, as the opening episode is filled with spectacle designed to highlight the switch to filming in HD, but it does mean that the season’s real value won’t be certain until we get a bit deeper into the race and see if any new narratives might be able to emerge.
Although there is evidence to suggest that the show is well aware that you can’t coast your way to the finals with just Unfinished Business.
March 28th, 2010
The Pacific spent its second episode demonstrating the horrors of the Pacific front, the death and destruction that soldiers endured and doled out in the midst of the conflict on Guadalcanal. The Marines who emerged from that island were bruised and broken, and so their long layover in Melbourne, Australia as the American naval forces were being reinforced in order to support another attack could be seen as a break from that conflict, an opportunity to relax and unwind.
But “Part Three” of the miniseries indicates that such breaks, such opportunities to avoid conflict, are in fact misleading, and while Melbourne may not have the chaos of Guadalcanal and America may be protected from the conflict, those locations are still overcome by the ramifications of these conflicts, signs of loss and complication which will do nothing to allow these soldiers to live their lives independent of the terror they’ve experienced. At times ethereal and at other times stark, this hour reminds us that there was no space untouched by the war, and even those spaces which seem like they offer some form of sanctuary are inevitably shattered by the harsh reality surrounding them.
Going Negative and Going Gold
February 14th, 2010
Earlier today, I was watching CTV’s Olympics coverage when they aired a video package surrounding Dale Begg-Smith, the defending Olympic champion in the Men’s Moguls competition. Begg-Smith, who skis for Austrailia, is of particular interest to CTV because he used to be Canadian, and used to compete for Canada as a teenager. However, like Darth Vader turning to the dark side, at a certain point he left Canada for Australia for reasons which are subject to a great deal of speculation. To give CTV some credit, they didn’t go too far into the circumstances involved, but if we trust Wikipedia (which we don’t, considering the “citation needed, “but for the sake of argument) this was the situation:
Begg-Smith was skiing for his native Canada as a teenager when his coaches told him he was spending too much time on his fledgling business, and not enough time in training. He subsequently quit the Canadian ski program because it clashed with his business interests and, along with his brother, moved to Australia at age 15. The brothers chose to ski for Australia because the country had a smaller ski program that offered them more attention and flexibility. This ensured that they could still successfully manage their business.
There’s a lot of other rumours surrounding just what his internet business (which has made him a millionaire) entails, and CTV isn’t interested in any of it (especially since it’s all conjecture). What the piece focused on was how Dale Begg-Smith has become a villain, how his lack of emotion on the podium in both victory and defeat makes him seem unapproachable, and how this could be seen as strange for someone who is the face of his sport. While they tried to seem disappointed that he refused an interview request, it only made the story that much more damaging, and anyone who watched the clip would be tuning in that night not only to see four Canadians take part in the Moguls competition, but also to see if anyone could unseat the cold-blooded turncoat who dared to spurn this country.
And, much to the delight of viewers across the country and CTV, Canada found its Luke Skywalker.
February 15th, 2009
It’s been a few weeks since I checked back in with Flight of the Conchords, and it’s really out of perpetual mild disappointment: it’s not that the show has become unfunny, but rather that part of its charm has more or less disappeared. The show has felt like it was reaching in order to recreate some of its comic highlights from the first season, with the expanded roles for Murray and Mel not being entirely unwelcome, but the charm of the show came less from the parts and more from how they came together into musically-themed episodes. The first few episodes of the season proved that the show was capable of surviving without the same kind of memorable songs, the same kind of thematic consistency to the episodes, but there was still something missing.
I think that “Unnatural Love” captures it, though: whether it was returning to the love life of our characters (a highlight for much of the show’s best material, including “If You’re Into It”), or the direction of Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, various fantastic music videos), this one just felt like it was operating on a different level. I actually think that some of the other episodes this season had some sharper comedy, but the songs were so much better here, and the comedy still in plentiful supply, that this is easily my favourite episode of the season thus far.