Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

Desperate Times Call for Desperate TV December 20, 2008

Filed under: Movies,Television — Emily @ 5:22 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I am a bit of a tv snob. I pride myself on watching high-quality programming like Lost or 30 Rock. I like to think that I am a discerning viewer who doesn’t want to waste time with a show that is poorly written or acted. I avoid gossipy, celebrity-scandal driven shows (basically anything on E!) if at all possible. You get the idea.

So, imagine my surprise when I found myself watching the Lifetime Movie Network last night! This is a channel that I’ve always laughingly said was designed for middle-aged women. It’s always the same old story of a strong-willed woman who overcomes great adversity to rise above her situation. Every time I read a plot summary of one of these movies I roll my eyes and move on. Until now.

What is wrong with me?! Was this a momentary lapse in judgment, or a sign that I am going over to the dark side, or that I’m unknowingly moving closer to the ranks of middle-aged women? I’m only 30! It’s too soon for me to cross over to the next advertising category.

So why did I watch The House Next Door last night? The short answer is, it’s December. There are no new shows coming on, my DVR is nearly empty, and I don’t have anything from Netflix right now. Those still aren’t legitimate excuses, though. There’s no reason for me to be watching Lifetime Movie Network!

Despite my horror at my suddenly lax standards, I must say that I was entertained watching this movie. Not in the nodding my head and thinking, “This is a surprisingly good movie” way. More like a Mystery Science Theater “this movie is so bad I can’t stop watching” way. The acting, writing, and plot were all monumentally bad. Let me give an overview of this awful little movie:

The House Next Door (2006) – Starring Laura Flynn Boyle, Mark Paul Gosselaar, and Colin Ferguson

Summary from IMDB: “In The House Next Door, Col (Flynn Boyle) and her husband Walker (Ferguson) find their comfortable and suburban lifestyle suddenly interrupted when Kim (Gosselaar), an intense and ambitious architect, builds a stunning, modern house on the empty lot next to their quaint, charming home. While neighbors are thrilled to have such an upscale and exquisite addition to their street, Col and Walker begin to question the new house when strange and disturbing events begin to happen to those who live in the home. As Col and Walker watch their new neighbors come and go, it becomes clear that the beautiful home brings out the worst in all those that enter it, by amplifying their fears and frailties until it leads to disgrace, accidents, misfortunes and even death.”

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If it sounds like a rip-off of Amityville, that’s because it is. It’s an updated, even campier version of that old movie series. The acting was way over the top, particularly by most of the supporting cast. Laura Flynn Boyle, who I will always remember as Donna Hayward on Twin Peaks, was okay as the troubled heroine, but I was too distracted by her appearance to pay much attention to her acting. What happened to this woman? She used to be strikingly attractive, but now she is scary. At least she has gained a little weight since her emaciated-looking days on The Practice, but now her lips are the main problem. She’s had one too many collagen injections!

See what I mean?

She looked more like an older Liv Tyler than anything. But Laura Flynn Boyle shouldn’t look like Liv Tyler!

Colin Ferguson, who played her husband, has since moved on to bigger and better roles, like Jack Carter in Eureka, but he wasn’t too bad in this movie. That’s probably because he didn’t have much dialogue or screen time. As usual, this movie was more about the women. There was Col (what kind of name is that?) trying to get close enough to the truth of the house without falling prey to its evil. Then there were the neighborhood housewives, complete with gossip, infighting, jealousy, and distrust. And finally the unfortunate parade of ladies who moved into the evil house: a young pregnant woman worried that her lawyer husband would change because of his career, a seemingly happy woman who is mourning the loss of her son in Iraq, and a timid mother who lives under the iron fist of a controlling husband.

Mark Paul Gosselaar, of Saved by the Bell fame, was a headliner for the movie, but he didn’t have much screen time. At least I can give the casting department credit for choosing Gosselaar for the role of the confident, attractive, mysterious, “too good to be true” architect. This character, Kim (they couldn’t come up with a more masculine name?), was like a grown up version of Zack Morris. You know, like if Zack stayed cocky, annoying, and popular, but had a break from reality and came back a little crazy.

Perhaps the worst line of the whole movie came at the very end. A young couple is meeting with an architect and are unhappy with the house design ideas he has presented to them. They say they want something breathtaking. He pauses, then pulls out some plans that an architect he once worked with gave him (that would be Kim, and the plans are the ones from the evil house). They study the plans for a moment, and then the woman says breathlessly, “It’s magical. It’s like the house is alive…” Cue the music, roll the credits. And so I sat staring blankly at the screen, wondering why I had spent two hours watching this movie.

So there you have it. I watched a Lifetime movie, and my mother in law wasn’t even at my house controlling the remote. Ahhhh. I feel better after this confession. What movies or tv shows have you been ashamed to admit that you have watched? Go ahead. Get it off your chest in the comments section! I know there are more of you out there. After all, there’s not really anything good to watch for the next few weeks. I think in times such as these, it is okay to fall off the wagon from time to time and watch some truly bad television.

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Ten Reasons to Love Dr. Horrible December 18, 2008

I recently watched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog for the first time. Now I’m wondering why I waited so long! Here are ten reasons to love this surprisingly good, wildly popular, web original. It is in the running for the Hulu Award for Best Web Original, so if you agree with my assessment of Dr. Horrible, go to The Hulu Review and vote for it! I’ve done my best to write a spoiler-free analysis, so it should be safe for Dr. Horrible newcomers to proceed.

  1. The Title – I would have loved to be in the brainstorming session in which Whedon and his team tried to come up with an appropriate name for this odd, genre-defying show. They could have gone with something standard like “Dr. Horrible vs. Captain Hammer.” Or something epic sounding like Dr. Horrible: Evil Mastermind. I think their ultimate choice was brilliant! When you first hear the name “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” you’re not sure what to make of it. In fact, after watching it, I’m still not sure what to make of it, but it certainly has a nice ring to it. This title is befitting of a show that is both offbeat and epic in scope.
  2. Joss Whedon as writer, director, and producer – Has he ever gone wrong? I’ve loved just about everything he’s ever worked on (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly… even the 1992 Buffy movie with Kristy Swanson!). I know some people don’t like his writing style, particularly the clever, fast-paced, often sarcastic dialogue, but that is one of my favorite things about his shows. There’s certainly a lot of sarcasm and low key humor in Dr. Horrible. Thanks for another little gem to hold us over until Dollhouse premieres, Joss!
  3. Neil Patrick Harris – He has come so far since Doogie! I love him as Barney on How I Met Your Mother, and now he has won me over once again, this time as a lovesick, self-doubting, evil genius wannabe. He plays the dual role of Billy/Dr. Horrible with gusto! I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing it as well as he does. Some of my favorite moments are these: when he “just so happens” to have two ice creams at the laundromat (“what a crazy, random happenstance!”) and proceeds to have a shy and awkward conversation with Penny, when he appears very haggard and explains to viewers on his video blog that his heist didn’t go exactly as planned, and when he finally has enough of Captain Hammer and angrily plots his revenge during the song “Brand New Day.”
  4. Nathan Fillion – Fillion was perfect for the role of the completely self-centered, grand-standing, not-so-golden-hearted super hero. He is quite the go-to for Whedon, now having appeared in three very different roles in the Whedonverse: loyal captain Mal on Firefly, evil preacher Caleb on Buffy, and now, the arrogant and comical hero. I loved his grandiose entrance with the song “A Man’s Gotta Do,” along with every Captain Hammer moment after that. Captain Hammer standing on top of a moving van, his hair blowing in the wind. Captain Hammer saying egotistical things to the media. Captain Hammer stating the obvious to Dr. Horrible.
  5. The Supporting Cast – Felicia Day deserves a mention here for her turn as Penny. She plays the idealistic, soft spoken, and often clueless optimist very well. I must say, though, that I was slightly annoyed by her sing-song, airy vocals on her songs. But, I suppose that was in keeping with the character. My favorite supporting character was Moist, played by Simon Helberg of “The Big Bang Theory.” What a hilarious character! An evil henchman whose only “superpower” is the ability to produce lots of sweat. “Do you need anything moistened?” I loved how Helberg plays Moist as a very low key guy. Also worth mentioning are the Bad Horse Chorus and the members of the Evil League of Evil. Neither of these groups had much dialogue or screen time, but they are further proof of the unending creative juices in Whedon’s mind.
  6. Dr. Horrible’s lair and gadgets – These aspects of the show are very reminiscent of Buffy’s evil trio – Jonathan, Andrew, and Warren. Those guys were much more geeky and wimpy than the typical super villains, but they had a pretty impressive basement lair, and lots of interesting gadgets and gizmos. Same here, as Dr. Horrible, a.k.a. Billy, is more lovable than loathesome, so we find ourselves wanting him to succeed in his dastardly deeds, which involve a freeze ray and other mad scientist type gadgets. The scenes in his “evil” den/lab give us a different perspective on Dr. Horrible. Plus, they are just really fun.
  7. Captain Hammer’s speech – “Home is where the heart is, so your real home’s in your chest.” That’s just one of the absurd lines delivered by Captain Hammer during his speech at the dedication of the new homeless shelter. The song is called “Everyone’s a Hero,” and includes some other memorable lines: “Everyone’s a hero in their own way, you and you and mostly me and you,” “Don’t worry if it’s hard, If you’re not a friggin’ ‘tard you will prevail,” etc…
  8. Penny and Billy’s duet – One of the earliest songs is also one of my favorites. In “My Eyes,” Penny and Billy (Dr. Horrible) sing a surprisingly beautiful duet, and the editing is well done to show the contrast and commonalities in their respective, overlapping lyrics. While Billy sings “I cannot believe my eyes / How the world’s filled with filth and lies / But it’s plain to see / Evil inside of me is on the rise,” Penny sings quite the opposite about the same situations: “I cannot believe my eyes / Is the world finally growing wise / ‘Cause it seems to me / Some kind of harmony / Is on the rise.” The music, the lyrics, and the performances come together to make this one of the most memorable moments of Dr. Horrible.
  9. The Mix – Like every other Joss Whedon show, Dr. Horrible is an odd mix of comedy, tragedy, the mundane, and the grandiose. In this case, we have a guy falling in love with a girl at a laundromat while at the same time trying to prove himself worthy to join the Evil League of Evil. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the show) was, in my opinion, Whedon’s finest achievement. It dealt with serious themes while also entertaining us with action, suspense, horror, and comedy. Dr. Horrible gives us a small dose of the same thing. While on its surface this web original is more about quirky characters and silly songs, it also deals with love, loss, and ambition. I love this about it.
  10. The Songs – The music, the lyrics, and the performances are all top notch. If you are looking for trained voices, you’ll be disappointed. Like the Buffy episode “Once More, with Feeling,” most of the performers here lack impressive voices (Neil Patrick Harris is the best). That doesn’t matter, though, because part of the point is for these characters to seem pretty average, in the case of Penny and Billy, and buffoonish, in the case of Captain Hammer. Their singing voices match their characters well. The witty lyrics are perhaps the best thing about the whole show, but the music isn’t too shabby either. From the upbeat piano chords in “My Freeze Ray,” to the edgy sound of “Brand New Day,” to the mockingly regal trumpets of “Everyone’s a Hero,” the music constantly readjusts the tone and keeps viewers wondering what will happen next.

If you haven’t seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, I encourage you to take 45 minutes of your time to do so. You won’t regret it!

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Breaking Dawn: A Tidy Little Package to End the Twilight Series December 15, 2008

Yes, I finally finished reading the Twilight series. I am the only person on the planet who it took longer than two weeks to read the four books in this vampire/teenager saga. It took me nearly five months! That says less about the entertainment value of the books, and more about my lack of time to read. Overall, I was satisfied by this final installment. I’ll try to collect my thoughts in an organized fashion, which may be hard to do since I have to think back over the 6 weeks that it took me to read Breaking Dawn. And read on at your own risk: discussion of spoilerish plot points ahead!

Summary:

Part One of the story begins as Bella and Edward are preparing for their wedding, and Jacob is running endlessly through the woods of Canada in his wolf form – his coping technique for losing Bella to Edward for good. There is a good amount of hoopla surrounding the wedding, and Jacob even makes an appearance to make peace with the new Mr. and Mrs. Cullen. Then things get a little odd, as Bella and Edward go on their honeymoon to a remote island beach house, where they destroy a feather bed and a few other items in the process of making their union complete. In the tradition of books about sexually active teens, it isn’t long before Bella is ravenously hungry, tired, and a little nauseous, the result of being impregnated by a vampire. Bella is more excited about bringing this child into the world than Edward, and Part One of Breaking Dawn ends with her secretly calling Rosalie for help when she realizes Edward intends to take her home and have Carlisle “get rid of” the baby.

Part Two is narrated by Jacob. It takes us through the splitting of the wolf pack, Jacob’s new status as Alpha, Bella’s difficult pregnancy, and Renesmee’s gory birth.

Part Three is once again narrated by Bella and begins with a detailed account of her transformation into a vampire, followed by her process of adjusting to her newfound abilities and heightened senses. The whole family also gets to know and love Renesmee more. Things take a downturn when Alice has a troubling vision of the Volturi coming to Forks with the intent to destroy the Cullen clan. Suddenly Alice and Jasper leave town, and the others are left there to build an army of witnesses, in hopes that they can convince the Volturi of their innocence. The remainder of the book plays out like a League of Supervamps, as the Cullens and their friends and acquaintances prepare for the impending battle. In the end, everything works out in their favor and they live happily ever after.

As a series targeted at young adults/teens, I’m not too surprised that it ended so nice and neat. I would much rather there have been some serious consequences for the gang to deal with after all the buildup to their confrontation with the Volturi. Instead, we got a “Um, we changed our mind. See ya” from the creepy, cloaked ancient ones, and a group hug and sigh of relief from Bella and her “always on the verge of, but never really in danger” family of werewolves, vampires, and half breeds.

My Analysis

  • The Structure – I always enjoy a book that is split into parts, since it lends a greater air of closure and significance to events along the way. In this case, Bella’s pregnancy, and then Renesmee’s birth, were the pivotal plot points at the end of Book 1 and Book 2. In each case, we didn’t know where in the world things were headed. I must say, I enjoyed Jacob as narrator, especially because it gave me a break from Bella’s constant worrying about her life and future as a vampire, and incessant gushing about Edward’s beautiful face and perfect body. It was nice to have a different perspective on things. In looking at my summary of the book, it seems like not much happened in Book Two. I suppose its purpose was to create tension leading up to Bella’s transformation and the birth of the half human/half vampire child. It succeeded on both of those purposes, and it also showed the evolving relationship between the Cullens and the Pack. I enjoyed seeing Jacob and Edward’s relationship go from hostile to friendly to familial over the course of the book.
  • The Big Ticket – Bella becoming a vampire was the moment we had all been waiting for and wondering about since the first time she and Edward discussed it in Twilight. I think Stephenie Meyer did an admirable job of conveying the excruciating pain of the transformation, as Bella slipped in and out of consciousness and had to use mental control to deal with the unbearable sensations. Meyer did stretch a bit, though, when it came to the metaphors and analogies for the pain (there are only so many ways to say “the fire blazed hotter”). But I must say, I was fascinated by Bella’s recounting of the experience.
  • Bella as a Vampire – The book was a bit of a letdown in this department. Where was the period of adjustment? The uncontrollable blood lust? The time in solitary confinement so she wouldn’t kill Charlie or someone else she cared about? I guess Meyer decided that the book would be too long if she had to deal with all those pesky little things. So instead, we had Bella becoming a skilled hunter after one training session with Edward, and with only one little slip up when she smelled a human in the forest. Otherwise, she had a breezy adjustment to her eternal life as a vampire. In fact, other than her vampire abilities, her living conditions weren’t too different from when she was human. Her acquired vampire traits included heightened senses, a greater love and passion for Edward, a beautiful child, the ability to protect herself and others from harm, and super self control. Quite a convenient set of characteristics for a newborn, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. It’s a good thing that vampires aren’t real, though, because this book would have teenage girls lining up to get bitten so they, too, could have a perfect, blissful ever after of endless lovemaking and general merriment.
  • Jacob’s Happy Ending – I grew to like Jacob more and more as the series advanced, so I was happy that he wasn’t left wandering the forest, dejected by Bella. Instead, he imprinted on Renesmee, the child of his former supposed true love. That gets a little icky, but since the child ages so quickly and will stop aging when she reaches Jacob’s age, I suppose it’s all good. I missed the hints about Jacob imprinting on Nessie. I didn’t figure it out until way after I would have expected myself to. I was too hung up on the (incorrect) idea that Nessie had evil mind control powers like Jasmine on the tv show Angel. Thankfully I was wrong, since it would have been unsettling to see a child manipulate her family and set out on a path of destruction. I would have been happy with an ending that had Jacob and Renesmee being some of the only survivors of the confrontation with the Volturi. They could have left Forks and had a happy life in a new place. Strangely enough, I think Jacob would have been one of the most difficult characters to see die in the book. I’m glad he survived. He was a likable guy – surprising, after his annoying presence in Twilight and the first half of New Moon.
  • The Return of Alice and Jasper – I figured Alice and Jasper had left for some reason other than to save themselves, especially when we found out they had gone to South America, where Bella had planned to go to do research about Renesmee. So, it was a satisfying moment when they made their triumphant appearance in the field, with proof that Nessie wasn’t a threat to the vampire way of life. How interesting, that there were others like her. Alice and Jasper were two of the most interesting Cullens, along with Carlilse and Edward, of course, so it was nice to welcome them back.
  • The Anti-climatic Climax – I found the build up to the show down with the Volturi pretty riveting, but then there was a lot of talking, and the Volturi basically said “never mind” and headed back to Italy. When the book just ended all nice and neat, I just closed it and went, “huh.” There would have been a stronger, more lasting impression if there had been some madness and mayhem. There is more power in a story in which people have to lose something to gain something else. What if one of the Cullens, perhaps Carlilse, had sacrificed himself, to protect the rest of the family and their way of life. It would have been really sad, but the others’ survival would have meant more then. Some scenarios would have been taking it too far. For example, having Nessie die would have been too tragic. There would have been nothing for Bella, Edward, and Jacob to look forward to, and it would have meant total defeat at the hands of the Volturi. What if a battle had ensued, and the Cullens had won? That would still have been a happy ending, with vampires worldwide looking forward to a new existence free from the tyranny of this ancient group, but there would have been losses along the way. This would also have given Bella a true chance to shine as a warrior, truly showing her transformation from the clumsy, unconfident girl in Twilight, to the beautiful, coordinated, powerful woman in Breaking Dawn. She was still able to prove her worth as a defensive hero, using her shield to prevent the Volturi from gaining a pre-battle upper hand, but it lacked the punch that a full-fledged battle situation would have provided.
  • Overall Assessment – So, yes, I had a few complaints about Breaking Dawn. Overall, though, I would say that I liked the book. It felt more “grown up” than the other three, so I found less juvenile stuff to be annoyed by. Instead of dealing with themes like high school crushes, gossip, college and career choices, etc., Breaking Dawn delved into issues like a mother’s love for her child, a family’s unwavering loyalty to each other, standing up for what is right, etc. As for the issue of the uber-happy ending, what more should we have expected from a series for young adults? Can you imagine the universal uproar if one of the beloved Cullens had been killed, or the last page had left things on a somber note? No wonder Meyer chose the easy path, the nicely packaged “happily ever after” ending for Edward, Bella, and everyone else. Well, except for poor, unintentionally traitorous Irina, who was obliterated by the Volturi.
  • Ranking the Books – Thinking back on the entire series, here are the books in order from my favorite to least favorite: Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, Twilight, New Moon. So I guess the series ended on a high note for me. My main complaint about New Moon was that nothing happened. It, too, had an anticlimactic ending, with Bella’s trip to rescue Edward from the Volturi ending with another “nevermind” from that supposedly to be feared group. The difference in that book, though, was that nothing else really happened in the hundreds of pages before that, whereas in Breaking Dawn, there was plenty of action, excitement, intrigue, and suspense. Thanks for this interesting journey, Stephenie Meyer!

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Reality Bites: The Worst of Reality TV December 9, 2008

Filed under: Hulu,Hulu Awards,Television — Emily @ 12:52 pm
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America's Got Talent

The general consensus is that reality tv is the lowest form of television entertainment. But it is also true that there are some shows that redeem the genre (The Amazing Race, Biggest Loser, So You Think You Can Dance, etc.). What about the other end of the spectrum? When it comes to the lowest of the low, which reality shows stand at the bottom of the pit?

Before I answer that question, I will divide the worst of reality into three categories:

  1. The Premise – Some shows are bad from the moment the idea is born in the creator’s mind. The premise is simply too ridiculous or pointless to merit any attention, and the show thus sucks valuable brain cells out of its viewers.
  2. The Ethical/Moral Dilemma – Some shows just seem plain wrong. Maybe I don’t agree with what it stands for, or what it puts its contestants or cast through. Maybe it shows the worst sides of humanity. Maybe I think it sends the wrong kind of message to impressionable viewers. These are all reasons that this type of show shouldn’t remain on the air.
  3. The Pseudo-Celebrity – These shows are the ones that make me roll my eyes, and since there seems to always be a new “celebrity driven” reality show, I do a lot of eye rolling. Whether it’s a last ditch act of desperation to save a faltering career, or a ploy for attention from those riding on the coattails of their more famous family members, these shows have no redeeming value. Whatever happened to the value of privacy? And why should we encourage these people to continue their shenanigans? They need to go home, behind closed doors, and work out their issues.

    Now that I’ve laid out the categories of bad reality, I’ll move on to the contenders for Worst Reality Show. My choices were limited to the shows available to watch on Hulu. (This is one of the latest categories in the Hulu Awards.) I’ve whittled a list of more than 100 choices down to ten. I’ll list them below according to category:

    The Premise

    • Hole in the Wall – Maybe this idea could work as part of a more elaborate obstacle course game show. But as a stand-alone concept? Absurd! Not to mention, it humiliates the contestants. If I had to see the promo one more time of that obese woman shouting out in disbelief as the skinny person cut-out moved quickly towards her… This has to be the worst reality show concept ever.
    • The Real Housewives of Orange County/Atlanta/New York City (take your pick) – Why should we care what a bunch of materialistic, self-involved women spend their time doing? These shows are extremely staged and completely lacking in any worthwhile plot. Total waste of time.
    • America’s Got Talent – I wasn’t really sure which category to put this one in. It’s not really that a talent show is a bad idea. I (mostly) enjoy American Idol, and I grew up watching the original Star Search. The problems with America’s Got Talent began when the judges and host were selected. I can’t stand to watch this show because of its cheesy, manipulative tone, and its judges who seem to think they are uber-important. I can’t stand to listen to or even watch Sharon Osbourne, David Hasselhoff, and Piers Morgan as they react to the performers and offer their “critiques.” Jerry Springer, as the host, is equally annoying. So the casting of the judges/host, along with the shabby production values (mainly the editing and camera work), make this a big loser in my opinion.

    The Ethical/Moral Dilemma

    • Temptation Island – In our culture, people generally believe that it is a good thing to be committed to your significant other, and that you should avoid temptation. So then, why does this show encourage people to cheat, and turn the “will they/won’t they” into entertainment for the masses? This show is wrong in so many ways.
    • The Girls Next Door – According to the summary on Hulu, this show “takes viewers beyond the gates of the world-famous Playboy Mansion and into the lives of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends, Holly, Bridget and Kendra. Through the eyes of these gorgeous gals, you’ll see this fantasy land come to life like never before.” Okay, so this show is voyeuristic, giving viewers an inside look at an exotic fantasy land. And it condones Hugh Hefner’s polygamous lifestyle. Most people would agree that this is not a healthy form of relationship, and I also think that this show and the Playboy culture it portrays are demeaning to women. Some people would probably tell me to loosen up, but I don’t think a show like this adds anything positive to our society. I should add that I also find The Bachelor/Bachelorette series offensive, in the way they turn selecting a partner into something akin to a meat market.
    • Battle of the Bods – Hulu describes this as “a steamy reality show in which five sexy girls rank themselves in order of attractiveness and try to match the rankings of a panel of male judges, for a cash prize.” I don’t think I can imagine a more horrid premise. Strange, then, that this isn’t too dissimilar to the concept of beauty pageants, which I’m also not a fan of. Battle of the Bods is another show that objectifies women. In this case, these women knew what they were getting themselves into, but that doesn’t mean we as viewers should encourage them to continue in their current mindset. Rather than starring in a show that has them competing to be the sexiest, they should be guests on a talk show that has them delving into their issues of self image, self worth, etc. I just don’t know what would drive someone to participate in something like this. How much money is it really worth?
    • The Moment of Truth – This show “puts contestants to the test – the lie detector test – to reveal whether or not they are willing to tell the truth for a chance to win half a million dollars.” That description alone doesn’t sound too bad; it’s the way that Fox produces the show, and the content of the questions, that makes this an awful show. Some things just shouldn’t be played out on national television. These people need to air their dirty laundry in their own homes, not in the living rooms of strangers.

    The Pseudo-Celebrity

    • Denise Richards: It’s Complicated – I could have chosen any number of “celebreality” shows for this space, but I went with Denise Richards because this show really seems to have no point. Plus, if Denise was tired of the paparazzi following her around, why willingly let a camera crew have full access to her and her children? She can claim it’s to “set the record straight,” but all I see is someone who is seeking attention in the wrong places.
    • Living Lohan – Where does E! come up with the ideas for their shows, and who continues to watch them all, thus encouraging the production of more pointless celebrity reality shows? This show is one of the lowest of this lowest form of “entertainment.” It follows the adventures of Dina and Ali Lohan, mom and sister to Lindsay, as they try to become superstars in their own right. So, not only are they not really celebrities, but they are trying to “break into the biz” just like thousands of other people. Is the fact that they have a famous family member really enough reason that they should get their own show, when so many others are going through just the same process?
    • Rob & Amber: Against the Odds – I have never been fond of Rob and Amber using their Survivor super-couple status to prolong their 15 minutes of fame. After their (admittedly) impressive win on Survivor: Marquesas, the parade of reality appearances began: The Amazing Race, Survivor – All Stars, The Amazing Race – All Stars, Rob and Amber Get Married, and finally, this poker-themed show that had Rob being tutored by professional player Daniel Negreanu on his quest to become a professional player. It’s not surprising that Against the Odds ended abruptly when Rob and Amber got the more lucrative opportunity to appear on The Amazing Race: All Stars. I was over Rob and Amber about halfway through their first season of Survivor, so I have become increasingly annoyed by each of their subsequent reality appearances.

    So there you have it – my picks for the top ten worst reality shows (on Hulu). Which of these would you pick as the very worst? Or maybe the top three worst? I need help choosing a “winner”!

    Related Links

    • Worst Reality Show – This post on The Hulu Review gives the full list of shows eligible for the Hulu Award for Worst Reality Show. See if I missed any other worthy contenders, and place your own vote in the comments section.
    • My Proposed Nominees for Best Reality TV – For a more positive take on reality tv, check out the shows I nominated for the Best of Reality categories for the Hulu Awards.
    • Sorting the Lentils of Reality TV – My definition of “good” reality tv
     

    TV Season Midterm Review December 4, 2008

    It’s that time of year again. And I’m not talking about presents, cookies, and Salvation Army bell ringers. I’m referring to the absence of new tv to watch. About the time many of us put up a Christmas tree and hang some garland, the world of television takes a winter break. As a college professor, I am used to giving my students a midterm assessment of how they are doing in my class, so I’d like to take this opportunity to evaluate my tv shows as they reach the mid-season mark. I’ve done my best to list these shows in order from most disappointing to most satisfying:

    • Heroes – What a disappointment Heroes was this season, and I’m not alone in feeling this way, based on other people’s comments. I had been a cautious viewer since last season, but I decided to jump ship around the time that they killed off Adam, Mohinder was climbing up walls like Spider Man, and everyone else was speaking in cryptic language when they weren’t jumping back and forth between the present and future. I haven’t missed it one tiny bit since I stopped watching. Grade: D
    • CSI – I spent the last six months watching every episode of CSI in syndication, including those from the last three seasons that I had never seen (I quit watching when other shows I watched started airing at the same time). So I was excited that I would be watching this season’s episodes in first run. But now the luster of this smoothly produced show has worn off. Maybe I miss Warrick, who was one of my favorite characters, or maybe the gloominess that his death left in the lab is too much of a downer. Whatever it is, the episodes are piling up on my DVR, and I’m in no hurry to watch them. I’ve deleted a couple without even watching them. Maybe after so many seasons, this show has simply run out of new ideas. They are really grasping at straws some weeks. For example, what was the deal with the hypno-therapist that supposedly killed one of her patients? That story didn’t even make sense, and there was no resolution. I wonder if Lawrence Fishburne will have a positive or negative effect on this waning show. We’ll find out in a couple of weeks. Grade: C
    • My Own Worst Enemy – I’m not so much disappointed in the show as I am in NBC’s decision to cancel it. There was a time, a few weeks ago, when I would have called this my favorite show of the moment. That’s about the time I heard about its cancellation, and just like that I lost interest. This show had a fascinating premise, which kept it afloat even when the execution wasn’t the best. I guess Christian Slater will have to go back to making movies, but please no more video game adaptations or campy B movies! Grade: B-
    • How I Met Your Mother – This “best comedy on CBS” has vastly improved this season compared to last. I hated seeing Ted as a Barney wannabe last year, so it was nice to see him in a somewhat stable relationship with Stella the first part of this season. Marshall and Lily’s subplots haven’t been very interesting, though. The best thing about this season has been Barney’s newfound love for Robin. I like Robin so much better when she’s not with Ted, and it has been nice to see a softer side of the normally self-centered Barney. However, this show has never been appointment television for me. These days I watch it over dinner, while feeding my 9 month old sweet potatoes and rice cereal, so it hardly has my undivided attention. Grade: B-
    • The Mentalist – I’m never too excited about this CBS procedural, but Simon Baker keeps drawing me back week after week. The show always features a “where have you seen them before” guest star. A couple of weeks ago it was Terri Bauer from 24 as a psychic, and Chrissy from Growing Pains as the suspect daughter of a murdered woman. There are two things that make this show stand out from its CBS procedural brethren: Patrick Jane’s powers of observation, and the mostly light-hearted tone. I can only handle so much doom and gloom, so I find this show refreshing. Grade: B
    • Bones – I feel slightly better about this show than The Mentalist. It isn’t as predictable, the characters are more developed, and it actually makes me laugh in addition to being light-hearted. I haven’t been crazy about the decision to break up Angela and Hodgins, nor the revelation that Angela is bisexual and is now in a relationship with her college flame. The writers really wanted to keep her and Hodgins apart, I guess! This whole story has been very forced and unbelievable. But, there are many positives to make up for this. Brennan and Booth’s interaction continues to be a good balance of flirting and friendship, Sweets has been a great addition to the team, and Dr. Saroyan doesn’t even annoy me anymore. Grade: B+
    • The Office – This season The Office has had its ups and downs. Some episodes fall flat (the one where Michael and Holly broke up was hard to watch), while others are hilarious (the one where Oscar and Andy hang out together in Canada comes to mind). I’ve mostly enjoyed the sweet moments, like when Jim showed Pam the house he bought for her, or when Phyllis’ hug was the most popular auction item when they were raising money to replace stolen office items. The continuing saga of Dwight, Angela, and Andy is also amusing. The show doesn’t have me laughing constantly every week, but it never fails to put a smile on my face. Grade: A-
    • Life on Mars – I am loving this show so much, that I was angry when I found out there would be no new episodes until the end of January. They left it on quite a cliffhanger, with Sam listening to a creepy voice on a telephone in an abandoned house telling him to go down to the basement. And as if that weren’t enough, he found this house by deciphering codes at the bottom corner of all the files of cases he’s been working on since waking up in 1973. I like a little sci-fi in my tv, so I am more than willing to go along for this bizarre ride through time. This show’s best feature is, no surprise, its 1970s cultural touches. The clothes, the hair, the music, the cars, the references to movies and tv shows of that era. Also entertaining are the modern day cultural references that Sam makes without thinking, such as “high fives” or his impromptu performance of “Ice Ice Baby.” Sam Tyler is a very likable character. He’s cute, he’s determined to figure out what’s going on in his life and the cases he’s working, and he sometimes has a childlike wonder for the things he experiences in 1973, since he was only 5 the first time around in that year. This show seems like the type that needs to be wrapped up in two or three seasons, but I hope it can survive long enough to provide resolution. I’ll miss seeing it for the next several weeks. Grade: A
    • Fringe – This is my favorite new show of the season. I have been very impressed by every aspect of it: the casting, the acting, the writing, the character development, the strange plots, the special effects, etc. Kudos to Fox for developing this and a handful of other top notch one-hour shows. No one can say they put all their eggs in the American Idol basket anymore. My one concern at the beginning of the season was about whether or not Anna Torv would be convincing in the role of Agent Olivia Dunham, and whether her character would be likable. Well, Torv has done an excellent job, and the writers have given her rich material to work with. I now care about Dunham, as she deals with her disturbing visions of John Scott, and feel sorry for her, as she can’t find time for a personal life due to her demanding job investigating The Pattern. My favorite aspect of the show remains the interaction between borderline crazy Dr. Walter Bishop and his intelligent but troubled son Peter. This show’s premise goes a long way in making it entertaining to watch, but without its distinct characters and the ways they are being developed, I wouldn’t be so excited about watching it every week. This is the one show that I always watch the night that it airs. Grade: A+
    • 30 Rock – While How I Met Your Mother only makes me chuckle occasionally, and The Office keeps me smiling, 30 Rock has me laughing out loud constantly. I love its quirky characters, its ridiculous storylines, and all the little details that hold it all together (the music, the props, the fast-paced camera work, etc.). My favorite episode this season has been the one with the Night Court reunion. How random and fantastic was that? Not only did we see Harry, Christine, and Mac back together again, hear the familiar Night Court music, and end the episode with the freeze frame editing, but this episode brought us Jenna’s Were-Lawyer, Kenneth’s frozen fist pump, and Jack’s colleague Mi Au (pronounced Meow). It’s satisfying the Jennifer Aniston’s guest starring role wasn’t the only reason to watch. But I thought she did a great job as Crazy Claire. The guest stars are never gimmicky on 30 Rock. The writers always give them something funny to work with. Just one more reason that I love this show. Grade: A+

    Now that most of these shows are going into holiday hibernation, it’s time for me to dust off my Netflix queue and catch up with my reading. It won’t be long until we welcome back 24, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and Friday Night Lights. I may let go of a few more shows to make room for those favorites.

    What shows have impressed or disappointed you this season?