“It Starts with an ‘F,” That’s All I’m Saying!”
November 29th, 2009
Do you know what word starts with F? Fail.
Before tonight’s episode of “The Amazing Race,” where a team had a Speed Bump that I thought would be erased by bunching within the first ten minutes, I expected to be writing thoughts on how annoying I found the manipulation of the race in terms of controlling competition.
However, through a strange and unthinkable series of circumstances, I am instead writing about how one of the racers was so convinced of this sort of producer intervention that they risked the entire race on being able to predict their next move.
They bet zig, the race zagged, and the final three was set in stone after only thirty five minutes of a frustrating, if fascinating, hour of television.
It’s an hour of television, though, that you won’t be able to find a review of here: I’m filling in for Dan Fienberg over at HitFix tonight, which means that my review can be found over at their fine establishment:
Recap: The Amazing Race — “It Starts with an ‘F,’ That’s All I’m Saying!” @ HitFix.com
“We’re Not Meant For the Swamp”
November 15th, 2009
When you’re down to five teams, all bets are off on The Amazing Race.
This is a sentiment that goes for the teams themselves, certainly, but also for the race producers. This is a stage in the competition where there are no more non-elimination legs, and where a single mistake will cost you the race, so the teams certainly need to be willing to play this game to the fullest. However, for the producers, this is when the creation of race-ending narratives becomes their true goal: now, the teams that go home are largely perfunctory, while the teams that stay are integral for building tension in the finale to come in only a few weeks.
This is why this week’s leg becomes more about what the producers want, and don’t want, us to see than what’s actually happen: the results of the leg are never particularly in doubt, as the producers are worried about viewers spotting something far more…indiscrete than the end of the episode.
“They Thought Godzilla was Walking Down the Street”
September 27th, 2009
There’s a point in the 15th Season Premiere of the 7-time Emmy winning The Amazing Race where Sam and Dan (the gay brothers) note that they have a problem: at various point in the race, both of them step up to be the leader and the result is a heated argument in Vietnam and a delayed arrival at the pit stop. At heart of that moment, and this episode, is the idea of leadership, of being able to find an individual dynamic that allows two teammates (who could be very similarly or very different) to trust one another to get to the mat in first place.
Leadership was the central theme in a premiere that challenges racers to herd large groups of both people and fowl, something that is challenging for one person when they don’t speak the language but which becomes even more difficult when you have two people who can’t decide who the leader is, or when you have one teammate completing a task while another yells at them from the nearby gazebo. The teams that succeed on the race are those who are able to establish a team, which operates in such a way that they each lead one another, and where splitting them apart or asking them to lead others sees them shifting roles to fit the situation.
This year’s premiere isn’t quite as emotional as last year’s, nor does it feature such an intense finish line dash, but over its two hours we get to see a good balance of tasks which test the fortitude of these teams, challenge their ability to handle both luck and the game’s contrivances, and perhaps most importantly answers the question of whether or not Phil Keoghan would make a good Japanese Game Show host (the answer? Of course he would.). It’s an enjoyable return for a show that I really enjoy, although one which is particularly tough to cover in the early going.
May 14th, 2009
When The Office ended its six-episode first season, it really didn’t have anything to wrap up or even celebrate: “Hot Girl,” the season finale, was noteworthy for its first real sense of Pam’s jealousy of Jim dating anyone, but it was just another episode of the series in a lot of ways. Since Parks and Recreation is not only from the same creative minds but is also getting exactly the same six-episode first season leading into a normal second one, it’s hard not to compare “Rock Show” to the finale that came before it.
I’d say that Greg Daniels and Michael Schur have learned some lessons since then, as this is without question a more suitable finale, but intelligently not one that pretends this was a normal season or that we really know these characters. While the party at the center of the episode was successful in its efforts to display some humorous sides to the show’s funniest characters, and the various musical interludes let us enjoy the hilarity of Chris Pratt’s Andy, for the most part the episode shed some light on the three people who are probably the closest to being real characters, giving them each an added touch of humanity that will serve the series really well as it moves forward.
It may have taken six episodes to get there, but I think we’re to the point where Parks and Recreation has put its cards on the table, and earned its spot in NBC’s fall schedule on its own merit as opposed to that of its big brother.
“Alright Guys, We’re At War!”
March 22nd, 2009
The worst kind of Amazing Race leg are the ones where nothing happens: the good teams are good, the annoying teams are annoying, and everything goes according to plan with the weak teams lagging behind and the strong teams rocketing forward. On the surface, this could seem like one of those episodes, where the leading teams don’t really change and where the outcome is one we could have predicted before the leg began.
But there’s been some subtle changes that have made this a better race to watch, and this leg continued that trend: teams that seemed to fade into the background before are becoming more distinct, while a team that was once impossible to watch has become more charmingly than frustratingly annoying. It’s not that the poverty and chaos of India immediately makes teams more likeable, and there’s a few instances of Ugly Americanism, but something about these teams are making them a really competitive and interesting group to watch.
So, despite nothing major going down, a building leg for the race.
“My Nose is On Fire”
November 9th, 2008
I’ve heard a few people noting that there has been a disconnect this year between viewers and the racers who are running around the world this season on The Amazing Race. And I think it’s not wrong: I’m enjoying it, and the challenges have been good, but there’s been a few barriers to entry so to speak.
And this episode was very aware of that, because its real stars were the various locals who dominated the proceedings. Whether it was the guy at the sewing machine who pushes people away and gives thumbs down, or the festival revelers who threw paint and water at the racers during the roadblock, or the genius that was the Pit Stop Greeter running back to water the grounds as soon as he has said hello to the team in question.
It makes for an episode that actually featured some really interesting gameplay shifts and the continued proof that, eventually, poor racing is going to catch up with you. That’s a solid lesson for the show, and it’s been a season where, with five teams left, the teams who are performing the worst are the ones who are going home.
So if it isn’t lighting a fire, so to speak, I’d argue that the show is right within its wheelhouse nonetheless.
“Please Hold While I Singe My Skull”
November 2nd, 2008
Returning from the grave we hoped he had stayed in, tonight’s sixth leg of The Amazing Race saw the return of obnoxious, demanding, and in many ways downright unreasonable Terence. In a season where villains are luckily in short supply, it is very clear that he is the one exception, his bullying of Sarah reaching some new lows tonight.
And I don’t think he’s an awful human being by any stretch of the imagination: I just think that these two are in a new relationship, have very different personalities, and are discovering that this race is not meant for his demeanor in particular. As he fights to get Sarah to do exactly what he wants at a well-planned roadblock, at no point do we get the desired moment of self-realization: instead, he only shuts up when Sarah asks him to, and only for a few moments.
It’s a relationship that is being tested to the limits by this race, and even if it makes me cross my fingers for them to be absent from the finale it does demonstrate that the human qualities of this race are still in full effect.