“The Troubles of SYTYCD Season 6”
December 15th, 2009
When FOX announced that So You Think You Can Dance would be returning mere weeks after its fifth season concluded for a fall season, designed to help bridge the programming gap that always plagues the network before American Idol arrives in January, I was moderately excited. At the end of a season, a show like SYTYCD is at the height of its excitement, and the idea of that excitement returning sooner than you expected seems a great one…at the time.
And then you realize that the Fall is not the same as the Summer, and more importantly that Season Six is not the same as Season Five. Nigel Lythgoe was in the unfortunate position wherein the show was changing seasons at the same time as they made a number of changes to the show’s formula (both aesthetic and organizational) which have severely weakened the series’ appeal. So just as I found myself feeling like I didn’t have time to follow along with these dancers and their journey, the show was giving me even more reasons to disengage, even more reasons to feel as if the show was losing its appeal.
It’s a perfect storm of problems that have made Season Six the unquestionable black sheep of the So You Think You Can Dance legacy, and righting the ship in Season Seven is going to be an interesting task in discerning which problems were caused by the change in season and which were mistakes irregardless of the colour of the leaves.
Inanity, Intrigue and Inigo Montoya
November 20th, 2009
In the promos for the season finale of Season Six of Project Runway, Lifetime uses dramatic music and a deep-voiced announcer to try to build suspense for the big reveal. However, in their language, they have something wrong: they create anticipation for the reveal of who is “the next big name in fashion,” and my immediate response is “who cares?”
See, what works about Project Runway is that it transfers the aesthetics of the fashion industry into terms that are unrelated to the fashion industry. I know nothing about fashion, but I know a lot about what Nina Garcia likes to see in fashion, or what the series values in terms of creativity. It’s created an audience that, even if they have no knowledge of the fashion industry, have gained knowledge of what Project Runway considers fashion. As such, rather than caring about what these young designers do in the context of the fashion industry, we care about how they situate themselves within the show’s cast of characters from seasons past. For a viewer like me, Bryant Park is the setting of the finale of Project Runway, not a global fashion event, which is why Lifetime language is demonstrative of the season’s failures: I don’t care if they’re a big name in fashion, I want them to be a big name for Project Runway.
And I can confirm that Irina, Althea and Carol Hannah will not be names to remember, a fact which has more to do with the way the show treated them than it does with their individual personalities and talent. And while we’ll never know if this season would have been more interesting if it were in New York, and if the production company hadn’t changed, what we do know is that Season Six failed to provide both the next big name in fashion and a single memorable name for this franchise.
[A few more thoughts on Project Runway, and then some thoughts on both Top Chef and Survivor, with spoilers after the jump…]
Curse or Blessing? Predictability in Reality TV
November 6th, 2009
It’s been a while since I’ve stopped in with a Reality Roundup, which is symptomatic of the fact that my opinions about these three shows haven’t really changed. Survivor has been dominated by a single team to the point of proving downright uninteresting, Top Chef is still being dominated by the same four chefs, and Project Runway is something I didn’t even bother watching for a few weeks, choosing to read recaps instead. This hasn’t been a great season for any of the three shows on the level of really surprising me: in fact, they’ve all to different degrees become predictable (whether in which team will win, which chefs will dominate, and whether the show will be boring, respectively).
All three shows, however, feel ready to confront that sense of predictability in this week’s episodes, as Survivor rushes into a merge and Top Chef present a “volatile” Reunion special in an effort to shake things up a bit. And while Top Chef’s reunion show is predictably dramatic, Survivor’s merge episode is perhaps one of its best ever, unpredictable to the point of having no idea who is going home in the end.
And yet this leaves Project Runway, which has been predictably boring but almost entirely unpredictable in terms of the lack of consistent judging. As such, while the uncertainty of Survivor’s finale is downright exciting, the uncertainty surrounding who will be going to Bryant Park is actually problematic, and the end result dissatisfying if not necessarily wrong.
“Season Six – Top 20”
October 27th, 2009
The season started out with such promise: the Top 20 was touted as one of their best ever, and the network even gave them an hour of primetime to prove it last night when the dancers got to showcase their own personal styles in a series of group numbers. It made for a really engaging bit of television, a celebration of the individual dancers that Americans would be voting on.
However, as tonight’s performance show demonstrated, this season has very much been taken out of America’s hands, not in any substantial way but through a series of unfortunate circumstances. Just as viewers may have started falling in love with Billy Bell illness pulled him from the competition, and Noelle suffered a knee injury that seems likely to pull her from the competition considering the huge honkin’ brace she was sporting during tonight’s performance show. And to top it all off, with the World Series dominating Fox’s airwaves, America didn’t even get to vote for their favourites, meaning that two dancers were sent home without ever using their fingers to make numbers in front of millions of Americans.
It was an unfortunate turn of events because it takes a show that more than any other democratizes reality competition programming, emphasizing the America and Favourite in “America’s Favourite Dancer” with gusto, and turns it into a charade that this talented group of contestants doesn’t particularly deserve.
The Game vs. The Players
A Cultural Learnings Reality Roundup
In our weekly glimpse into the world of Survivor: Samoa, Top Chef, and Project Runway, it’s important to distinguish between the game and the players of that game. Every episode of all three shows is essentially about the way the producers construct the game (the challenges, the conditions, the time limits, even the casting itself), and the players are forced to interpret and operate within that game as they see fit. So when you find yourself frustrated with a fairly boring season of Project Runway, or impatient with a season of Top Chef, or find Survivor’s villains too much to handle, you need to ask yourself if this it the result of the game or the people who are playing it.
In all three episodes of these three shows this week, we saw situations where the game took control of the players, and where their sewing, their cooking and their scheming felt so clearly defined by the game that I was simultaneously interested and bored. It’s the ultimate test of any group of reality contestants, though, to be forced into a situation the producers have designed: do they strike out on a unique course, indicating that they’re a real rebel, or whether they fall right in with the expectations put in front of them.
It’s a process which makes me doubt Runway, trust Top Chef, and change my mind about a few Survivor players.
Trust in Reality TV: A Four-Letter Word?
A Cultural Learnings Reality Roundup
[Since I find blogging about shows like Top Chef, Project Runway and Survivor: Samoa individually somewhat inconvenient, but often nonetheless have things to say about them, I figure we’d lump the three mid-week reality shows together in what we shall now refer to as Cultural Learnings’ Reality Roundup. Enjoy!]
Trust is perhaps the central tenet of reality television.
I don’t mean so much within the game itself, although clearly in a game like Survivor (whose 19th season, Survivor: Samoa, started this week) there is an element of trust between individual players. Rather, I speak of the trust relationship between the show and the viewer. Viewers hope that they can trust the judges on Top Chef and Project Runway to make the right decisions, and they hope they can trust the losing Survivor tribe to vote out the person who is making the new season nigh on unwatchable.
It is a highly tenuous sense of trust, of course: half of the dramatic value of reality television is having that trust violated, and the growing frustration as villains or talentless individuals remain while others go home instead. And, of course, that trust is forever complicated by the existence of editors, learning that the trust you want to experience is being manipulated at every turn.
So, what I find fascinating about this week’s trio of reality shows is that in each instance we are reminded of this trust relationship, and that the “worst Survivor villain of all time” is in fact perhaps the most trustworthy reality character (from a viewer/series perspective) the show has ever seen.