Tag Archives: Reality TV

Season 4 of “The Voice” Just Couldn’t Hit the Right Notes

As compared to previous seasons, Season 4 of The Voice left much to be desired.

Shakira and Usher try their best to make this season special.

Shakira and Usher try their best to make this season special.

Replacing Cee-Lo and Christina Aquilera with Skakira and Usher introduced some new blood into the mix, but I’m not sure it was enough to help. I can only speak for myself, but I know I was getting bored with Cee-Lo’s “I’m weird and there’s a parrot on my shoulder, so that means I’m a unique coach” attitude and angered by Christina’s bitchy, “Your voice is okay but it will never be as great as mine” attitude. There were countless times last season when I wanted to punch the TV screen after she spewed some vain BS from mouth. So when NBC announced a line-up change, I was more than pleased and welcomed them with open arms. And as far as I’m concerned, they can stay.

Usher was intense and “in-your-face” with his coaching style and Shakira was nurturing yet tough with hers. However, I don’t think they were enough to help this season. The talent this season always left me wanting more. I had a few solid picks at the beginning (Midas Whale, Ryan Innes), but they were knocked out way too early for a couple of run-of-the-mill artists. And that’s how the rest of the season remained. Just a lot of run-of-the-mill artists with decent to mediocre performances, with the exception of The Swon Brothers, until the finale when the crowned another radio-ready winner. I’m not saying she wasn’t a talented singer, but she just wasn’t my first choice.

The Swon Brothers: funny and talented.

The Swon Brothers: funny and talented.

Last season ended in much the same say, although two of my choices from the beginning made it to the final three. But this season had no Terry McDermott or Nicholas David to capture and hold my attention with every performance. I found myself falling asleep or playing on my phone during most of the performances; nothing really grabbed me. It wasn’t until the season was almost over that The Swon Brothers hooked me, and I discovered how good they were. I was really wanting them to win, but alas, it was not meant to be. There just wasn’t a lot of variety; nothing that made me extremely excited for each episode. By the end, I was glad it was over and hoping that next season will be better.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

 

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The Fast Food Age Of Television

Recently I got a little nostalgic for 2005 era Grey’s Anatomy. I enjoyed the first three seasons while navigating the deluge of college flashbacks associated with the show. And then something weird started to happen. I found myself getting angry at Grey’s and its perennially dour cast of characters.

These eyes emote for no man.

These eyes emote for no man.

Now that I’m half way through season 5, I find my interest in the show again waning just as it did when I first watched. It could have something to do with the loss of all my favorite characters. Kate Walsh’s delicious Addison Montgomery made the transition to her own spin-off and Isaiah Washington’s Preston Burke proved to be a better person than the actor playing him. Against these fantastic actors, Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Grey seems bland and whiny. And at some point I realized I can’t remember anything that happened in more than the last three episodes. Not that it matters because whatever happened three episodes ago was like nine plot twists prior. Who can keep track of all that betrayal?

And I find myself agreeing with Soren Bowie. I’m an unapologetic viewer of The Vampire Diaries and a full ten-year veteran of Smallville. These shows, while delightful, resemble the kind of generic fast food-style processing we’ve come to expect from network television’s corniest modern dramas.

Like fast food, this kind of television is good for momentary elation with zero effort. And like the most delicious chain restaurant items (looking at you Arby’s #14 with large curly fries and a massive sweet tea) it makes me bloat… emotionally.

Let me be clear that while Grey’s Anatomy is taking the big hits today, I’m talking about character mysteries like Lost/Revolution, teen dramas a la Glee, police procedurals, medical dramas, all reality television, and everything on the CW.

Emotion As Consumer Product

Drama is what you get when characters you care about face challenges that can meaningfully change their lives. The operative words there are care and meaningful. Grey’s Anatomy, a show that I hate the idea of almost as much as I love watching, covered a single year in its first four seasons. In that time the doctors of Seattle Grace Hospital experienced an impossible amount of drama:

  • 4 Marriages ended
  • Titular character Meredith Grey died.
  • Titular character Meredith Grey came back to life.
  • Everyone got syphilis
  • Doctors Grey, Yang, Bailey, Weber and Burke received life-threatening/life-saving surgery
  • Both of Meredith’s mothers, George’s father, Izzie’s Fiance, Chief Weber’s niece and a million patients died
  • Seattle Grace Hospital experienced its first shooting
  • Seattle Grace Hospital was bombed
  • One character had a child
  • Every character failed at a stable relationship. Every one.

Those are the highlights of what had to be the hardest year in Seattle’s history… until the next year. At some point there’s a second hospital shooting and a plane crash, but I’m only in season 5 and all the characters I liked were smart enough to get out. My other favorite show, The Vampire Diaries (TVD), is the same way. The first two seasons cover a single year… which means everyone’s parents and relatives die in like an 18 month span.

These folks are the casualties of dramatic tension. Every episode of TVD is the most intense episode of the series. It’s like in Office Space when Peter tells his therapist that every day is the worst day of his life. It’s unnatural, wrong and like the therapist, we the attentive audience, have a heart attack over it.

A Distinct Lack Of Critical Acclaim

If you don't know why this is here, you need to pay better attention

If you don’t know why this guy is here, you need to pay better attention

Many of these shows will get nods, critical reception, and an Emmy here or there during their first or even second season. These kinds of shows generally have one trick; their gripping character conflicts and betrayals. And we eat that up for a while. But after a couple days eating the Arby’s Philly Ultimate Angus you realize you’re kind of a shitty person. During its first season Desperate Housewives won 6 Emmy’s, two Golden Globes, two Screen Actor’s Guild awards and was the 4th most popular show on television in 2004.

That’s as many Emmy’s as friends Keith Szarabajka‘s had killed by the Joker! That’s nine spots higher than Lost during its premier season, and we were obsessed with that shit! It’s seven spots higher than CBS’s freak-unkillable-juggernaut Two And A Half Men. And in spite of all of that, by the end of its 8 seasons it had lost more than half of its viewers.

To be fair, 8 seasons (or 9 in Grey’s case) is rough. Even the best shows experience attrition over time. Still, Bryan Cranston over at Breaking Bad is pulling down almost as many Emmy’s as seasons of his show. The dad from Malcolm In The Middle is the only man to ever win 3 in a row because his show has more than one gimmick. Also because it’s a fascinating deconstruction of becoming a villain. And he crushed it in Drive… but I’m sticking by the gimmick comment.

Immediate Satisfaction Without Long-term Nutrition

After 4 years of The Vampire Diaries, I can say that I have no idea what the story is. I know that it’s about vampires in Virginia, but the reversals, betrayals, and surprises happen with such frequency that I only have a vague sense of the the story. Above I mentioned that only one child had been born in Grey’s. That’s because, of the 5 seasons I’ve watched so far, no one has gotten married and stayed married. No one has decided to have kids (unless it turns out they are infertile, have HIV, they lose the baby, or it somehow threatens their life) because there are no stable home lives.

Nothing in these shows matter because it’s all going to be different in seemingly random ways 3-5 episodes later. And we (by which I mean me) are not in it for the story.

Sated But Never Satisfied

Anyone that has ever cooked an amazing meal and shared it with someone knows how supremely satisfying it is. Aside from using quality, non-pink-goo components for your dinner, there is a sense of accomplishment and pride. These are things we can’t get from fast food. Things that, based on my varied fast food career, not even the employees get from fast food. And while it’s true being sated but never satisfied aptly describes all of TVD’s characters, I’m talking about us.

Fast food does its job. You go from hungry to full in less time than you had to talk to the person who made it, but its a forgettable experience.

These shows are the most selfish endeavor. Not only because all the characters do the most selfish things in the name of love. Not because of the false expectations I fear these shows teach our youth about living relationships. Not because we probably deserve better for all the money we spend. It’s because, in the face of all of that, we can’t stop.

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The Reality TV Trap (or Why We Can’t Look Away From a Train Wreck)

Since The Real World first debuted on MTV back in 1992, reality TV has been a rash on the rear end of television that we can never seem to medicate enough to clear up. By this point, it’s become a full on plague that is beyond quarantine in need of some serious cleansing fire. But what is it about this viral infection of modern television that keeps so hooked on it that we never take our medicine?

I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that I’ve never watched reality TV. Many times I have found myself watching more reality TV than I should. There’s some that I’m not ashamed of (Battle for Ozzfest, King of the Nerds, Hardcore Pawn) and some I’m not proud of at all (Teen Mom 2, Honey Boo Boo, Real World). I would like to note that I’ve seen only one episode of Honey Boo Boo and that was enough for me. That show is the epitome of “train wreck television.”

For myself, as well as for many others, television is a form of escape. A way to take yourself out of your head and enter a whole new world and go on exciting new adventures but reality TV takes away the magic of it all. It takes you out of your normal, everyday life and puts you into a different person’s completely screwed up life while the show you why they’re screwed up week after week. All you can do is sit and watch in disbelief, thinking to yourself “How can one person be that messed up?” and never really leaving you with a definitive answer.

mtv-782705

Take for example any season of The Real World. MTV had the bright idea to put a bunch of strangers in a house together, all with different backgrounds and beliefs, add copious amounts of alcohol, and see what happened. What happened was a lot of sex, drama, and fighting, which is what sells on most, if not all, networks. Many others saw the potential of the format and followed suit. Survivor, The Bachelor, Big Brother, Jersey Shore, Rock of Love, Sister Wives, and hundreds more quickly crowded the airwaves and engrossed many unsuspecting viewers. Ratings soared, unwanted trends took hold of the population, and the quality of television sunk to a new low point.

Networks found it was easier to install cameras in a house and/or follow people around and film their “lives” than it was to hire actors, build sets, make costumes, write scripts, and do all the other things it takes to make a scripted television show. It was also cheaper, which meant if the show was a success and they could sell the hell out of it, they made a lot more money. But is it really worth it?

MTV is a perfect example of the real “cost” of reality TV. MTV was a groundbreaking network back in its day, the first to introduce music videos to the public. A new format for music artists to be seen as well as heard. Seasoned artists as well as up-and-comers used MTV to boost album sales and get their names, faces, and music out to more people than radio ever could. MTV was responsible for launching the careers of countless numbers of artists but nowadays, viewers struggle to find a music video on their channel and all because of reality TV. And by eliminating music videos from their programming and replacing them with reality TV shows, they’ve managed to alienate a large number of their viewers only to replace them with a new flock of younger viewers. Still the same name but not the same MTV.

Is this the solution we need?

Is this the solution we need?

TLC, Bravo, and many other networks have all started following MTV’s example and are quickly on their way to leaving behind the programming themes they began with in order to bring in higher ratings and rake in the bigger bucks. So what is it that draws people in and keeps them watching these shows? One reasons is the entertainment value, slight as it may be. Viewers get some form of enjoyment watching the subjects of the shows making complete fools of themselves in whatever they may do. The more of an idiot the subject appears to be, the more the viewers will watch. Another reason would be that the shows make the viewers feel better about themselves. No matter how screwed up the subject of the show is, the viewer feels that they are nowhere near as screwed up as them. It makes them feel as though their problems aren’t as bad as they thought they might be. In some cases, the viewer might even connect with the subjects of the shows. Depending on the topic of the show, the viewer may be able to form some sort of bond and that’s what keeps them hooked. So where scripted television can be an escape for viewers by taking them into a new, fantasy world that they aren’t accustom to, reality tv is more of a grounded escape that connects them to somewhat realistic people.

But is that slight sense of a connection worth the degradation of quality television? Personally, I say no. While I have found a few reality shows that are actually worth watching, I would much rather be watching scripted television. I enjoy the characters and their adventures and lives and the escape that comes with the show. I enjoy losing myself in the story of the show. I can’t do that with a reality show. Most of what I get is anger and frustration from seeing how stupid some of the subjects can be. More often than not common sense is lost on these people and that’s what frustrates me most. If networks were to cancel all reality tv tomorrow, I wouldn’t shed a tear and I think the quantity of quality scripted television would greatly improve. The world might end up being a slightly better place because of it.

What are you thoughts on reality tv?

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