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October 17th, 2005


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02:25 pm - The Wasteland
[Hmm. This one might provoke a comment or two...]

It was only a few short years ago that I said (mostly to myself, a habit I'd try to rid myself of except that, really, blogging is kinda all about that), "Television is actually pretty amazing these days.There may be a higher percentage of garbage, but there's so much television that there are some really great shows. I can watch my fill of TV (admittedly, I fill up relatively quickly) just on 'good stuff.' Stuff like Junkyard Wars. Powerpuff Girls. Samurai Jack. MythBusters. Good Eats. Firefly."

Something Happened. Of the above list, only two shows are still on the air, and even with a diminished appetite, I cannot fill the Replay with good television. Junkyard Wars was wildly successful, and had two spin-offs, and it's utterly vanished from the airwaves (or the cable voltage fluctuations, for the picky among you). Not even reruns grace the signal path. I have not yet found anything remotely as good and as personally interesting as Samurai Jack for an animation fix. "Tripping the Rift" is not an acceptable replacement (shudder, gag, barf).

I have no SF television at all! Preposterous! Of the three even remotely eligible candidates, "Charlie Jade" is broadcast everywhere in the world but the US (and if it fulfills the promise of the pilot I got to see at CascadiaCon, actually has a chance to usurp Firefly for "best SF series I ever saw"), "Doctor Who" is not currently on the air, and "Battlestar Galactica," while inarguably a rich, sophisticated tapestry of SF, is so depressing and negative that I simply don't like it. The over-the-top cinema verité style of anti-SteadiCam camera shake-n-zoom used to add dis-realism to space shots and confusion to battle scenes also strongly influences my opinion.

We are deluged in Reality TV, There are a few (well, one) of these that I actually enjoy. I think putting "real people" in artificially manipulated environments is sort of like regular TV but with bad actors. "What Not to Wear" (admittedly, much to my surprise at first) is the only show currently on the air that makes the grade. I'd really started getting bored with the formula; apparently they had too, since they've started fiddling with it a bit. This is good, but I think it also means that the show won't be on the air too much longer. They have the unusual talent of leaving their victims far happier then when they find them, despite their surgically precise catty remarks and put-downs. They (or whoever's editing the show) seem to have a very well-honed sense of who's going to give them sass right back, and who might just break down and lose it if they get too nasty. Still, it'd be no fun to watch them being petty and mean except that people are so very grateful at the end of the show. That's what makes it so much fun; watching fashion disasters twirl, strut, and smile in their classy new look.

"Project Runway" was the other Reality TV show that astonished me. It was a more traditional elimination-by-episode format. However, the projects in the episodes were usually reasonably thoughtful, real-world projects, often with real-world consequences. "Design a Dress for So-and-so to Wear to the Grammys." And she did. "Design an outfit for Banana Republic's Fall Line" and it was, in fact, sold by Banana Republic. The special prize of being immune to elimination for one episode was usually tied to an outsider's opinion in some obvious, intelligent way (who's dress did So-and-so pick, which outfit was selected by Banana Republic), and rarely did I disagree with the opinion of the judges when deciding who to eliminate. I hear they're working on a sequel; I'm looking forward to it.

I'm not sure if Iron Chef America counts as Reality TV or not; it's kind of weird. It makes it into the regular rotation on the strength of Alton Brown, Mario Batali (what a fun guy!), and the professionalism of the producers. Judges are always qualified food critics (at least marginally, they had "just an actress" once, but she really was a competent commentator and critic nonetheless), odd ingredients are identified, supplementary information about the main ingredient is there, and watching the chefs react to the commentary is always fun.

And then . . . nothing. I'm watching "Unwrapped" for crying out loud! I'm that desperate. (The narrator sounds like he studied at the William Shatner School of Voice-over. "The cookies are . . . baked! . . . at five hundred . . . degrees.") Reruns of CSI. Reruns of Monster House. Reruns of The Simpsons.

What is my Replay currently trapping for me? Reruns of CSI (Las Vegas, I don't like the others as much); Futurama (I've think I've seen them all, although two months ago it snagged an episode I hadn't seen before, and next time it grabs "The Why of Fry" we'll move it to tape since we named our beat-up Corolla after the space scooter from that episode); Good Eats (although the Food Network keeps rebroadcasting episodes I have seen, instead of the approx. 50% of them I have not); Iron Chef America (I'm sorry, but the US version is just flat-out better than the Japanese original, which fell below my minimum requirements for Something I Want To Watch On Purpose); Monster House (which I watch about half the time, and erase w/o watching the other half); MythBusters; Queer Eye (which I also mostly don't watch anymore); and What Not To Wear.

Things I have traps set for, but which have not caught anything (in some cases, in over three years): Red Dwarf, Max Headroom, The Flash (it was a short-lived and quite cheezy TV series, but kitschy fun, and I'd like to see it again), Muppets (in almost three years, I've caught just one thing; Muppets co-hosting America's Funniest Videos. I didn't save it to tape); Junkyard Wars.

When I turned on the TV today, I accidentally caught "History Detectives," so I added it to the list; we'll see if it manages to stay there.

And no, I do NOT want to read a book instead. TV is for when my brain hurts, and wants something nice and soft and mushy to not-quite-think-about.
Current Mood: bitchybitchy

(14 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:mcglk
Date:October 18th, 2005 03:52 am (UTC)

Good TV.

(Link)
Well, "Junkyard Wars" can still be seen on digital cable from time to time on one of the Discovery channels, but I was unable to locate it this week. Maybe they really did take it away from us. Crap.

I know exactly what you mean about "Battlestar Galactica"---I've been finding that I'd rather wait for the DVDs and depress myself all at once rather than let my soul get eaten bit by bit. But I have enjoyed "The 4400"---not highly intelligent SF, but still pretty decent. Sadly, I'm getting most of my current SF fix with reruns of DS9 and TNG.

I do recommend "Family Guy," of course, along with "Jimmy Neutron" and "Dexter's Laboratory." I see I don't need to recommend "Futurama." I also recommend checking out FLCL if you get a chance (it shows up on Adult Swim once in a while)---it's hard to follow, but the animation is incredible. I used to hate "Jimmy Neutron," but I've been finding myself cracking up at Sheen more often than not. There's also "The Tick," which is running around on one of the Nick networks, I think.

"History Detectives" is an excellent show. "Eyes of Nye" is also a pretty decent PBS show, and "Nova" is still outstanding. If you're into that sort of thing.

As far as other animation goes, if you're looking for something squishy to watch, "American Dad" is starting to find its feet now after a rocky couple of episodes. "The Venture Brothers" is a lot of fun (another Adult Swim resident). And hey, there's always "The Daily Show."

I will disagree with you on one point, though. Iron Chef America is just lamer. The cultural stuff doesn't translate well. On top of that, the execrable Bobby Flay is a major downer---I can't stand to watch any episode he's in. But Batali and Morimoto and Cora are all fun to watch.

If you get BBC America, I also recommend "Little Britain." You might not like it, but it's pretty passable sketch comedy.
[User Picture]
From:snarke
Date:October 18th, 2005 07:01 pm (UTC)

Re: Good TV.

(Link)
Dexter, alas, just sort of annoys me. I may give "Neutron" a try, though. What is "FLCL?" Mmmmm. Tick. I should set a trap for Tick. Ooo, man, there's an episode on Family this Saturday. How can you not love a show with an episode entitled "Evil Sits Down for a Moment: The Ottoman plots to take over the city"? I can't tell if that's the animated or the live-action one.

I don't have quite the negative reaction to Bobby Flay that you do. Hey, there's always the "Let's see if he actually injures himself this time!" excitement. He's slipped a few times, and had a close call with a knife once, but no blood in the food yet, alas.

I'd like to like the Daily Show, but they're basically parodying network news, and since televised news is 99.5% crap, that makes The Daily Show a TV program poking fun at stuff that I don't care about and mostly doesn't matter. Current events aren't suitable as source material for "pretty pictures to rest my brain with" in the first place, and the pureé that is TV news is like, oh, making baby food from a croissant. I prefer to get my news from a weekly news magazine; they have to take a longer perspective, so if it's a big event, I get a week's perspective all at once, and if it's not big, it doesn't appear at all.
[User Picture]
From:mcglk
Date:October 18th, 2005 08:12 pm (UTC)

Re: Good TV.

(Link)
FLCL is pronounced "Fooly Cooly" (or "Furukuru" or any of a number of other variations). It's extremely hard to describe, and I don't recommend going to the websites (even the official one), because it's more fun to try to figure out what's going on from the episodes themselves. The animation is lush, innovative and evocative. I've seen the entire series, several times, and still find myself stopping on the channel whenever it's on---it's that good.

As far as the Daily Show, its origins certainly were a parody of network news, and they put themselves in that position occasionally, but they tend to take the time to *skewer* network news and the personalities thereof, and that's been the thing that makes it worth watching. I'm not very fond of the off-set "reporter" segments (that *is* the parody part, and it's not very good, frankly), but certainly the on-set interviews are often worth catching, and their coverage of other networks' coverage is downright hilarious.
[User Picture]
From:mpolgara
Date:October 18th, 2005 01:46 pm (UTC)

Suggestions

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If you haven't seen The 4400, I suggest keeping an eye out for the new season. When it started, I was expecting an x-filesy s'mutant power of the week' type format, but it' turning out to be much more complex and well thought out than that. The thing I love about this show is I never know where they are going with it. It consistantly suprises me, which is a rare and wonderful thing.

Also check out Ghosthunters on the scifi channel (known around our house as "Dude, what the hell was that?!"). It's a reality based show, the two guys who run the team are plumbers by day, paranormal investigators by night. They approach it from the position of debunkers, but every now and then they catch something that can't be easily explained. The best part is they are getting to go to some fascinating locales. Last week they were at the Winchester Mansion and the Queen Mary.

There's a whole crop of new cop shows and csi ripoffs. The one winner out of the bunch is Criminal Minds. Great ensemble cast, lead by the always wonderful Mandy Patinkin. The writing is tight and intelligent, the episodes that have aired so far remind me alot of early CSI Vegas.
[User Picture]
From:snarke
Date:October 18th, 2005 06:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Suggestions

(Link)
OK, I've set a trap for "4400" and enabled recording of "Criminal Minds" (The difference is, if they move Criminal Minds off KIRO at 9, I'll lose it. A trap sweeps all listings at all times on all channels. The problem is if I have too many "high priority" traps, then when two shows occur at the same time, the magic box has to pick one semi-randomly.) I also tagged "Ballroom Bootcamp," another reality tv show.

Hmm. One of these days I may have to blog on How ReplayTV Changed My Life, and You Can Take My Cell Phone Before You Can Have My Magic Box. [I'll just say for now that TiVo's better than nothing, but ReplayTV's better than TiVo.]

Oh, and by the way, Say Girl! How You Be?! And who did your illustration?
[User Picture]
From:mpolgara
Date:October 18th, 2005 10:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Suggestions

(Link)
According to the 4400 website, they are rerunning the second season starting late wednesday night. It's just been renewed for a third season, which starts filming in November. Set to air next summer. Yay!

Oh, and I be very well, thanks. I'm still unemployed, desperately poor, and ridiculously happy. :P Are you and your better half still planning a trip down to Florida this winter? I'd love to see you, and introduce you to Tommy. And my illustration was done by my friend Nick in LA.
[User Picture]
From:kate_schaefer
Date:October 18th, 2005 04:18 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Because I am a no-TV-in-my-house snob (something that anime may change eventually), I haven't seen any reality TV except "Project Runway." The Seattle Central Community College Apparel Design department head taped it every week last year, and we'd sit at the cutting tables or at our sewing machines and watch it during lunch every Thursday.

From the Apparel Design point of view, it was amusing but frustrating. They showed way too much of the bitchiness, and they didn't show enough of the clothes themselves. They suggested the design process without ever getting technical enough to let us see details. I found it irritating that they concentrated so heavily on the makeup process every week, making sure that the audience at home saw the sponsor's name clearly, but my teacher disagreed. She said showing the makeup and modeling process emphasized how important presentation is to the business, how things other than the clothes themselves could frame the clothes or keep the clothes from being seen properly.

We were all irritated when pieces fell off one design during modeling, and yet that designer (the creepy eventual third-place finisher) wasn't the one thrown out that week. She seemed to be kept in just to keep tension among the participants, while more talented designers were tossed. Workmanship was never considered in the judging, and while lack of co-operation was considered, actual co-operation didn't seem to be. One contestant was eliminated because she cited her historical sources, and scolded for lack of originality, as if that were a problem. In the real fashion industry, designers pay homage (if the design they're ripping off is more than one year old) or steal from each other (if the design they're ripping off is one year old or less) all the time. It's a crucial design technique.

At least all the contestant did have some genuine design talent. The show was a good distraction for lunch time.
[User Picture]
From:snarke
Date:October 18th, 2005 06:29 pm (UTC)

Project Runway

(Link)
Ah, "Runway" from a designer's point of view. I did say I usually agreed with the judges' choices. If I recall correctly, zapping the one for not being "original enough" was one of those not-agreeing times, if it happened relatively early. The nasty Wendy, however, had a remarkable number of close calls, but I never felt that she'd actually had a clear "mercy save." She wanted to win, and she was refreshingly honest about that. The nature of the show means that you can be brilliant, but if you really goof it just once, that's when you go bye-bye. You're much better off being mediocre with occasional bursts of greatness, like Wendy, than really good with occasional bursts of crap, like, oh bother, the screaming queen.

It's perhaps unfortunate that the web site didn't have more details on the clothing, from from a non-sewer's point of view, I assure you, there's only so many times I want to see somebody pinning fabric onto a dressmaker's dummy. It looks exactly the same to me every time, and they did it a lot.

What sells reality TV are the catfights, unfortunately, and Project Runway was dangerously devoid of those. I was really glad of that, myself; it was so nice seeing a show where the contestants were mostly nice people, and where the 'situations' weren't specifically designed to pit the contestants against each other (like having them vote each other off the island, for example). There was one episode where the Narrating Voice was trying desperately to make a bigger mountain of a tiny molehill, and it was rather sad and annoying. Still, I felt very lucky that they hadn't gone to greater lengths than that. Another show I tried watching, "Manhunt," was about finding a male model. Lovely eye-candy, but geez, those guys were shallow and annoying, the situations were strange and artificial, and the producers had a plant in the bunch to help tattle on the contestants. It was too petty to bear. "Last Comic Standing" had some great humor, but the contestants were the ones voting each other off, so it was all terribly gossip-y and angst-ridden.
[User Picture]
From:twilight2000
Date:October 18th, 2005 08:37 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Have to agree with Criminal Minds -- loving the intricasies of the work -- and Mandy is fun :>. I've also taken a shine to Bones -- coming back in November -- it's interesting and I like the writing. Not as layed as Criminal Minds, but not bad work.

As for "reality tv" -- mostly Banned with Barney from the house -- I *do* like a couple of the (interior) design shows for their flavor. I've liked Find & Design (A&E) -- which is all about creating a new room out of swap meet/flea market/ garage sale finds -- and it's done without irritating the hell out of me. The other two (which I tend to like for the designer as much as anything) that I find I like is re-design with Kenneth Brown (who's just fun) and Designer Finals (both on HGTV) -- that allows you to see a soon-to-be-graduated student working on their first real-life project. In both cases, while the format can be a little stilted, the work is interesting and the perspectives (on design) are fresher than most.
[User Picture]
From:robespierrette
Date:October 19th, 2005 04:44 am (UTC)

As you know. . .

(Link)
. . . we just watch movies. Lots of movies. And then some more movies.

As Jeff Vogel once said: A person's DVD collection says a lot about them, and yours says 'I like to buy DVDs'. : )

I have enjoyed the few episodes of "History Detectives" I've seen. I'm rather horrified at the idea of "Iron Chef America" - Who's the Chairman? Does he have rhinestone jackets? And do they actually make desserts with fish or meat in them?
[User Picture]
From:snarke
Date:October 19th, 2005 06:46 am (UTC)

Re: As you know. . .

(Link)
ICA's chairman is the nephew of the Japanese chairman. He is (thankfully) not nearly as much of a freak. He does not have rhinestone jackets. They do actually make desserts with fish or meat in them. Alton made Morimoto jump when he yelled "It's on! It's on!" referring to the fact that once again, somebody had fired up the ice cream machine. We've seen asparagus and salmon ice creams, to name a few, as well as some other very strange "desserts."
[User Picture]
From:bedii
Date:October 21st, 2005 05:03 am (UTC)
(Link)
Which version of "What Not To Wear" are you watching? I was wondering because in my LiveJournal post http://www.livejournal.com/talkread.bml?journal=bedii&itemid=4675 I went into what I found incredibly objectionable about the UK edition...
[User Picture]
From:snarke
Date:October 21st, 2005 05:25 am (UTC)

Which Wear?

(Link)
I'm watching the US edition. I've never seen the UK version.
[User Picture]
From:djonn
Date:November 8th, 2005 10:13 am (UTC)
(Link)
The Flash is supposed to be due on DVD Real Soon Now, I hear.

And I have heard that ABC is commissioning an America's Next Muppet series, which is apparently some sort of reality/Muppet hybrid. Deeply weird.

Of the new fall lineup of more-or-less-genre SF, I think the only one I've watched more than once is Supernatural -- and I've got issues with that one, as I dislike a setup which seems to endorse the idea that it's OK for Our Heroes to commit credit card fraud and impersonate federal officers on a weekly basis because they are Doing Good Deeds.

One animated show I'd recommend chasing down (I believe it's in reruns on the Cartoon Network still) is Jackie Chan Adventures, which is a clever and frequently snarky fantasy-adventure which, very approximately, operates as a sort of cross between the adventures of Indiana Jones, Jonny Quest, James Bond (the Roger Moore version), and Hong Kong Phooey. There were five seasons' worth of episodes, each season having an ongoing story arc (Season 2 also included a sizeable number of freestanding episodes), and about ten times the wit of most toon adventures.


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