Archive for the TV Sports Category

I Dream of TV?

Posted in American TV (General), TV advertising, TV Dreams, TV Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2016 by Tom Steward

After a week in which the SuperBowl ads debuted and I had a stinking cold, there’s only one game you can play and remain sane: Superbowl Ad or Fever Dream?

 

super bowl

Three awesome things in one terrifying vessel!

 

Nick, Frank and Ziggy Sobotka from The Wire stage a bank robbery.

 

Answer: SuperBowl Ad.

 

Details: It can’t just have been a casting coincidence that the three actors who played relatives in the same storyline of the same season of the same TV series are the main cast of this Toyota Prius commercial. Nor is it entirely impossible that they are still playing the Sobotkas. It’s a short road from smuggling to grand larceny. Maybe they formed a union for bank robbers. Hopefully Pablo Schreiber, Chris Bauer and James Ransone were watching the ad together over their Superbowl brunch of beer and raw eggs.

 

Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen campaign cross-country for the right to drink piss.

 

Answer: SuperBowl Ad.

 

Details: Even the dockworker’s breakfast of beer tartare sounds better than Bud Light, which Schumer and Rogen – who retain the demographic integrity of the current Democratic race – are fighting for your right to drink. And pass. And re-bottle and drink again. Both comedians have played a part in politics in recent years, with Rogen’s The Interview censored for fear of South Korean retaliation and Schumer campaigning for gun control after her movie Trainwreck was used as the backdrop for a shooting. This is the year of cultural association in SuperBowl ads.

 

An inter-species cross-breeding experiment creates a new household slave.

 

Answer: SuperBowl Ad.

 

Details: This is what happens if you try to write a synopsis of the puppy-monkey-baby spot for Mountain Dew, a suitably horrific premise for what is no doubt an equally horrific drink. Kickstart is a mix of Dew (because of course that’s a substance now!), caffeine and juice. Three awesome things in one, like a puppy-monkey-baby. By the time the tagline that prompted the creation of a grotesque Golom to illustrate the product is revealed, everyone watching is too disturbed and unsettled to care about how it came about in the first place.

 

Glen Campbell returns to touring with his wife helping him to remember lyrics.

 

Answer: Fever Dream

 

Details: Yes, the one celebrity appearance on the list that might actually bring you some joy is in fact a dream I had. Country legend and Alzheimers sufferer Glen Campbell is back on the road, with gaps in performance for memory exercises – which the audience get to see as if it is part of the show – and the singer leaving the stage periodically to get a memory reboot from his devoted wife. While seeing this would make me very happy, I’m glad that no corporation is able to profit from it.

 

Christopher Walken is hiding in your closet [HINT: This was a movie idea I once had].

 

Answer: SuperBowl Ad.

 

Details: Double bluff, I’m afraid. I did have an idea for a movie – ripping quite terribly from Blue Velvet – where a gangster (who in mind was Christopher Walken) hid in his boss’s closet and accidentally killed the boss when he was startled. But this was a play on the phrase walk-in closet (Walken Closet, geddit?!) that somehow segued into a car commercial for Kia. Clearly part of the fun of making commercials is throwing in cultural references, and it’s hard to ignore the visual nods to the Fatboy Slim video Weapon of Choice, which also starred Walken.

 

Genetic tendencies towards obesity result in a premature birth.

 

Answer: SuperBowl Ad.

 

Details: Sounds like a classic anxiety dream for someone like me who wants to be a parent and is worried about passing on their portliness but this was a Doritos commercial that – like Mountain Dew’s Frankenpug – drew on horror comedy to advertise the brand. Apparently, babies want Doritos so much they’re willing to rip themselves prematurely from the womb to get them. Having an inconsiderate, sexist slob of a father seems to be a factor too. Gender caricature is big here, but the man gets off easy as usual.

 

super bowl 2

 

Ted Cruz is talking badly about the needs of the disabled.

 

Answer: Fever Dream.

 

Details: An addendum to the Glen Campbell dream. Ted Cruz is there watching Glen and tells me that his wife shouldn’t bother helping him to remember and just leave him be. I protest and he tries to talk his way out of it. Needless to say, this dream tells you more about Cruz than a campaign ad ever could.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Balking Dead

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, TV advertising, TV channels, TV Sports with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2015 by Tom Steward

I didn’t blog yesterday as usual because I was at my first (American) football (not soccer/football) game, which coincidentally took up the whole day due to stoppages for television. I’m glad though because now I get to talk about something that happened on TV last night. WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS BLOG POST IF YOU ARE NOT UP TO DATE WITH THE WALKING DEAD OR ARE PLANNING ON BINGEING THE SERIES IN THE FUTURE (UNLESS YOU TEND TO FORGET TV DRAMA CHARACTERS AS IF THEY WERE CONTESTANTS ON THE BACHELOR).

As spoiler-free a picture as I could find...

As spoiler-free a picture as I could find…

On Sunday’s The Walking Dead, everyone’s favorite post-apocalyptic pizza delivery boy – with the possible exception of Fry from Futurama – Glen Rhee apparently died. I say ‘apparently’ because while visually we seem to have seen his demise (and intestines), the storytelling, which continues intertextually in post-show discussion program Talking Dead, left Glen’s fate ambiguous, despite the unlikelihood of his escape from a throng of hungry, handsy walkers. In a series where every character is already to some degree dead, the writers and directors are obliged to be specific about what character is in which state of death. Moreover, the emotion surrounding certain leading characters, including Glen who has been there from the start, means there is an unwritten rule that they be killed visibly and memorably, so as to not play with or minimise those feelings.

Last night, when it came to ‘killing’ Glen, The Walking Dead did neither. Add this to the absence of the character death rituals on Talking Dead of having the actor appear as a guest and a slow-motion replay of their death on the mock-mournful ‘In Memoriam’ section of the show, and it appears that either the producers are playing a dangerous game with Walking Dead fans or floating the possibility that we didn’t see what we think we did. A note read out on Talking Dead by producer Scott M. Gimple hedged their bets even further, saying that ‘a version…or part’ of Glen would return to ‘complete the story’. Lost creator Damon Lindelof was a guest on the show – which is perhaps another clue that in a show where everyone is already dead anything is possible (OH YEAH DON’T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN LOST) – and found it hard to believe that The Walking Dead would pull a Dallas and have Glen return from the dead against all conceivable odds.

Not that it will surprise anyone who suffered through all six seasons of Lost but Lindelof may be overstating the case here. The Walking Dead is rather fond of melodramatic cliffhangers, as the final ‘how do we get out of this’ moment of Season Four nicely illustrates. The show is not above waiting off on spoiling the death of a character if it helps heighten the drama. In Season Five, we didn’t know Bob had been bitten for nearly a whole episode until he finally revealed it to the cannibals who had just eaten his leg for dinner. The quality seal of the Mad Men network (which is also a guarantee of having to watch crappy action and horror movies back-to-back) sometimes makes us forget that what we’re watching here is popular genre television – quite literally a televised comic strip – in which such matinee-style twists and turns are not only possible, but rather their stock-in-trade.

Don't take it out on me, it's this guy's fault!

Don’t take it out on me, it’s this guy’s fault!

No-one doubts the class of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories yet the author had the Great Detective return from the dead in implausible circumstances. More to the point, I can see about three or four different ways Glen could have escaped from the pile of walkers he was crowd-surfing on. A couple of those have already been tried and tested in the series, so while the Talking Dead panel saw the callbacks to Glen’s earlier episodes as signs of his impending death, they may also spell the solution to his survival. All of this rhetoric might be my way of deflecting deep-seated sadness about seeing Glen depart The Walking Dead, and of course I’d rather all this conspiracy theorising be true rather than false (as anyone who purports a conspiracy theory does). But don’t underestimate the extra-textual games that TV producers in the digital age are willing to play to maintain interest in their program. One day we might be talking about the ‘Glen hoax’ in the same way we talk about affinity-based publicity stunts like ‘new Coke’. On a story level, if Glen does survive the unsurvivable, it’s a sure sign he’ll be the last man walking.

Bonus Ball

Posted in American TV (General), TV advertising, TV channels, TV Sports, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2015 by Tom Steward

I’m sure most of you are over The Super Bowl for another year (this really should be called ‘Watching TV after Americans’) but I’m far more interested in an aspect of the event that doesn’t change each year – although even for someone to whom ‘football’ means round balls and bad pies it was a pretty great game – which is the TV generated around it. The Super Bowl on TV seems never to start or end, making it the perfect metaphor for the medium. As it’s assumed that large portions of the nation are watching, which is no mean feat these days, The Super Bowl is a bat-signal for advertising. For the same reason, counter-programming decides to take one for the team, but those networks that try to take on The Super Bowl must do so in the most ruthless ways possible to even get noticed. This year, however, there were some added satirical bonuses.

I’m used to televised sporting events starting a few minutes later than advertised to sneak in a commercial break while everyone’s watching, but I was not prepared to be sitting on the couch at 3.30 still waiting for the game to begin. And for what? John Travolta’s Adele Dazi trying to break Bleedin’ Gums Murphy’s record for the longest rendition of ‘Star Spangled Banner’? The presentation of the NFL’s annual ‘didn’t rape or hit anyone’ award? Don’t we have a pre-show for this? The mechanics of modern television have manoeuvred themselves so that we are continually watching prelude. The Super Bowl goes one better and expects we will enjoy it. It’s moments like this which remind us that commercial television form is an integral part of the way that a game of American football is structured, rather than the British kind which is merely pricked around the edges by commercial interruption.

Commercials broadcast during The Super Bowl are notorious for being sexist, portentous and counter-intuitive. Half-time act Katy Perry clearly wanted to take some of the heat off the sexist commercials, but they were out in full force, not as well-disguised by nob gags as the advertisers clearly thought. Carl’s Jr. has even managed to turn gender discrimination into a branding mechanism for its Super Bowl ads. But this year they didn’t go unchallenged. Feminine health company Always ran a semantic deconstruction of the gender assumptions and discourses behind the phrase ‘Like a Girl’ while Saturday Night Live staged a fake Totino’s ad exposing the unbelievably narrow gender stereotypes and chauvinistic divisions of Super Bowl ads, particularly the archetypal representation of women as child-minded homemakers. Somewhere in the middle was Fiat’s ‘Viagra’ campaign which unironically presented pumped-up virility and machismo as a draw but also satirised male sexual prowess and the idealised feminine body.

Part of the fun of watching Super Bowl commercials is trying to figure out what product the pretentious pre-amble will eventually advertise (clue: anything combining ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ is deodorant). But sometimes the logic of ad writers is beyond even those who dissect media images for a living. A ghost-child commercial is the perfect vehicle for a leukaemia or cancer charity, but it does nothing to ameliorate the ghoulish undertones of an insurance company. Another insurance company, Esurance, seems intent on using circular logic and specious reasoning similar to the Johnny Cochran O.J. glove defence to convince consumers of its superiority to established rival Geico, but as long as that involves Walter White as a drugstore pharmacist I don’t much mind. If you tire of the commercials, you can switch over to The Puppy Bowl, Animal Planet’s re-imagining of The Super Bowl through the imagery of illegal competitive dog-fighting. For cute read irresponsible.

As with SNL, the most authentic example of Super Bowl television was the least genuine. Key & Peele have always satirized American sport and its coverage, but with their simulated Super Bowl pre-show staged as a real network broadcast, it was far more than a send-up. There was plenty to ridicule: the ill-fitting suits of the former-pro presenters, the passive-aggressive banter, the live-action footer trails of network sitcoms always starring ‘Alison Janney’, and of course the beyond-hyperreal graphics with overly phallic connotations. But the real-time flow and denouement in which the digital robot mascot achieves self-awareness and propels humanity into a state of oblivion identifies The Super Bowl and its live, ongoing broadcast with a dystopian terror effect that reminded me of another piece of faked factual horror television, the one-off BBC drama Ghostwatch. There is something inherently wrong and otherworldly about TV’s broadcast of The Super Bowl, the same something as television itself.

From Diego To A Slow Newsday

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Local TV, TV News, TV Sports with tags , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2014 by Tom Steward

If there’s a pop culture albatross hanging around the neck of my adopted home San Diego, it’s that of bad local television. Not only is the successful Anchorman movie franchise about a San Diego news station – with Will Ferrell’s hapless broadcaster Ron Burgundy a composite of local newsmen – but iconic American late-night sketch show Saturday Night Live currently runs a series of skits called ‘Inside SoCal’ parodying magazine shows on San Diego public television. It seems too much of a coincidence for San Diego to have been arbitrarily picked twice to represent the worst in local TV by the nation’s leading comedians. Before moving here, I thought Anchorman was set in San Diego by accident not design. It didn’t take long to rectify that misnomer.

San Diego: A Dolphin's Vagina!

San Diego: A Dolphin’s Vagina!

It must be acknowledged, however, that this comedy works on national and international levels and clearly doesn’t require affinity with local San Diego stations to be enjoyed. Anchorman and ‘Inside SoCal’ can be identified as broad mockery of the ineptitude of provincial media, applicable to whatever region the audience happens to be in. But in each case, the portrayal captures something unique about the TV coming out of San Diego, which gives them greater weight as parodies, whether you are aware of what they’re referring to or not. It’s presumably why so many of the best media satires (Alan Partridge, Parks & Recreation, Wayne’s World) have a recognisable geographical point of origin, even if the native in-jokes go over the majority of the audience’s heads.

But does it really matter that Anchorman is based in San Diego? On one level, no, since it tells the overarching story of how the sensationalism and kitsch of local news became the mainstream national norm, and could conceivably be about the foibles of broadcast journalism in any overlooked region of the US. Despite an acknowledgement of the city with some local filming at Sea World, San Diego barely features in sequel The Legend Continues, set in New York during the cable boom of the ‘80s. But then there are touches which suggest that Anchorman can’t do without the real thing, with sports reporter Champ’s catchphrase ‘Whammy!’ unnervingly close to KUSI weatherman (and notable global warming denier) John Coleman’s dancing and squealing to signature slogans.

Similarly, ‘Inside SoCal’ could surrogate for just about any poorly-made, small-minded public access show, and indeed you could just as easily locate the skit in the history of Saturday Night Live’s local TV parodies from Illinois-set ‘Wayne’s World’ to the Hampshire College students’ webcam series ‘Jarrett’s Room’. But, again, the self-conscious presenting styles and just-discovered-post-modernism of the editing hits right at the heart of many of the manchild-hosted late-night shows on San Diego’s local stations. The dress, talk and articulation of the East County twentysomething male is rendered to a tee, and G – a San Diego native – was particularly impressed at how convincing this was coming from East Coast comedians. Clearly, though, San Diego-born skit writer Kyle Mooney had a lot to do with this.

But is local TV in San Diego really that bad? Well, yes, but so is I suspect all the regional broadcasting outside the country’s media hubs (and probably in them too!). What distinguishes San Diego is its complete lack of self-awareness. Aside from the waltzing weatherman, KUSI also has an investigative reporter, Michael Turko (of a segment called ‘The Turko Files’ no less), who I will refuse to believe isn’t a parody until my dying day! Turko seems to have studied under Chris Morris’ Ted Maul at the Brass Eye School of Journalism and his voiceovers would be considered a broad spoof if they appeared in a Scary Movie sequel. The anchors are so Stepford I once saw a man present the news with himself.

News For Our Generation!

News For Our Generation!

It might be a welcome break from the surf and sun clichés that haunt San Diego, but the city’s synonymy with laughable local television doesn’t permit the world to take it seriously. Sure, the surfer tag can inadvertently make San Diego seem bland and vacuous too, even if the beach music and movies it stems from are among the best in America’s popular culture. However, there’s no such backhanded compliment in Anchorman or ‘Inside SoCal’, however affectionate they are. Since it puts San Diego on the map and heralds the rise of natives to national fame, I don’t think locals will put up too much of a protest. Given the state of TV here, they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if they did.

One Pundred Hosts (Without Typos Or Cheap Puns)!!!!

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, Behind-The-Scenes, BiogTV, British Shows on American TV, Reality TV, Reviews, TV Acting, TV advertising, TV channels, TV Culture, TV History, TV Sports, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2014 by Tom Steward

We’re into syndication! With 100 blogs under my belt, I can now sell the rights to the A.V. Club who will publish the same three posts over and over again – with every third sentence removed – for the next twenty years. In the true spirit of American TV, I’ve decided against celebrating this milestone with a piece of considered, original writing (why break with tradition now?) and instead hastily assembled and artlessly compiled a list of extracts representing the best (or at least most comprehensible out-of-context) of the blog…and split it into two parts. Thanks for watching and enjoy!

A specially-created TV series just for this milestone!

A specially-created TV series just for this milestone!

‘Years previously I used to run on the spot along to chase sequences in cartoons like a dwarf soothsayer doing a dance prophesising the age of TV interactivity’

‘My friend openly admitted to finding the slapdick (my term) comedy of the three hosts hilarious, commenting that “we don’t have people like Clarkson on American TV”. “Fox News” I thought, but didn’t say’

‘So shifting viewing an hour or two to make way for a pizza is not exactly the end of television’

‘Yes, Chantix is apparently not just a wonder-drug but a porthole into an alternative universe of Marxist dialectic or, if that’s too posh a reference for you, the Bizarro World’

‘All my morning shows on the day of the Royal Wedding were attended or discussed by the hosts with a bizarre royalty-envy that ill fits a country founded on telling the King of England to fuck off’

‘After weeks of sounding like a malfunctioning motivational speaker robot, Celebrity Apprentice contestant and consecutive mental-of-the-week Gary Busey was appointed project manager on a task’

‘For G, it was as if Britons had collectively decided to substitute a working TV set in the corner of the room for a 19th Century ventriloquist dummy with its mouth sprung to repeatedly gawp the word “Mummy”’

‘When war “came to Downton Abbey” it went by so fast that it seemed to have actually been fought in the grounds of the building, like a game of Risk gone awry’

‘Now I’m starting to think that I was in some sort of hallucinogenic fever state the night before because I could’ve sworn I saw Hollywood actor-director Clint Eastwood hold a conversation with a chair while an audience of magenta elephants cheered him on’

‘TV Land is where sitcoms and their stars go to die’

'Memba them?

‘Memba them?

‘After prolonged exposure to American TV news, however, I now long for a token alternative viewpoint and the masquerade of even-handed commentary’

‘Watching a Halloween-themed sitcom episode used to be like watching film footage of Hitler’s speeches; unimpressive and kind of shambolic and yet those in the crowd seem to be going wild for it’

‘Like anything in life which I have no direct experience of, I looked to American TV for advice on how best to handle the situation’

‘All I found on The Travel Channel were programmes about the excessive intake of high-calorie foods which make Americans less able to move. When I turned over to The Learning Channel I saw wall-to-wall programming about people without formal educations’

‘I’m sure Harry Enfield will be relieved to know that after decades of writing and performing some of the best character comedy and social satire in Britain he is finally known in America…as a talking gnome with goggles’

‘But a 3 hour serialised pilot? It’s like the feeling you get ordering a starter of garlic bread with tomato and cheese in a pizza restaurant. It’s enjoyable and you wanted a starter but it’s also what you’re getting for the main course’

‘I mean, what exactly is gained showing Goodfellas at 2 in the afternoon?’

‘It seems that if reality TV was more like reality, with all its loose ends and uneven surfaces, fans of the genre wouldn’t necessarily want to watch it’

‘Early in his career, artist Roy Lichtenstein produced a series of paintings based on advertisements. In one of the great cultural ironies of our times, advertising started appropriating Lichtenstein’s paintings. Something similar is going on with Mad Men

‘To those who know football from the European or Latin American leagues, watching a US soccer team play feels like the moment in Futurama where Fry finds that in the 30th Century baseball has become ‘Blernsball’, a barely recognisable Twilight Zone twist on the sport where spectators try to catch players instead of balls and giant spiders roam free through the diamond’

‘It’s a perfectly normal road to marriage…if you’re James Bond’

 

Window on the World Cup

Posted in American TV (General), Touring TV, TV channels, TV Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2014 by Tom Steward

This is the first time I’ve not been in Britain during a World Cup. The point would be moot were I virtually anywhere else in the world, be it Europe, Africa or even Latin America. But I’m in the United States, where the following for football/soccer (delete as inappropriate) is cult at best. The US team did well in their World Cup qualifiers and they’ve started the tournament with a big win over bogey team Ghana (if you’re not sure what I’m taking about at this point, it’s probably not worth going on…) so they’ll be some bandwagoning, but, unlike most nations, it will be driven more by patriotism than love of the game. But I’m starting to realise that television makes a World Cup.

ESPN replaces match coverage with cooking shows!

ESPN: football in the wrong place!

You might wonder what the difference is since a game’s content doesn’t change depending on where you watch it. It’s not some animated blockbuster that has local celebrities dubbing the characters’ voices. Except it sort of is. I don’t need commentary and coverage by my countrymen any more than I need an Englishman coaching the national team (because that always works out so well for us) but I need pundits who can talk about the game with some degree of sophistication. That’s not to say that British TV guarantees this. ITV’s nickname-driven football bloke-in always fell short yet the statistic-based monotone of Spanish language network Univision’s World Cup commentary hits the spot. So let’s call a spade a spade, or let’s just call ESPN shit!

In some ways, ESPN’s World Cup coverage feels very familiar. Commentator Ian Darke is English and previously worked for Sky Sports, and has that voice that only British football pundits and inflammatory talk radio DJs have the rights to. He’s backed up by a renowned ex-Premier League player, Liverpool’s Steve McManaman, whose years in the sport somehow haven’t resulted in the ability to read a match. Just like ITV, the coverage is heavily commercialised and avowedly lowest common denominator, with a line in metaphor that makes the poetry written by contestants on The Bachelorette seem avant-garde. But if this were all that was wrong, it wouldn’t be any more disappointing than being forced to watch football in the company of Adrian Chiles, Britain’s highest-paid pumpkin.

But it is much worse. The commentary is idiot-friendly to the point of baby-talk. During USA vs. Ghana, pundits referred to the US closing the game down as ‘parking the bus’ so many times, I actually thought the handbrake on the team coach was off. Conversely, the self-evident rules of the game are discussed with a depth and ambiguity that wouldn’t look out of place in The Wire. Behind this I’m sure there’s some nobly futile effort to broaden the appeal of football to US sports fans, but it insults our intelligences from ear to ear. The studio segments are so short they’re more like game shows where pundits have to come up with a repeatable three-syllable analogy before the clock runs out. Reports from the city have been replaced by pseudo-Steinbeckian monologues.

The other culture-shock (although does it count if it’s just one country holding out?) is that ESPN’s coverage of the World Cup doesn’t include all the tournament’s games and events. The opening ceremony featuring a kidnapped Jennifer Lopez was shunned in favour of the US Open and though I’m not one for race-baiting, it does tend to be the games featuring the whiter parts of the world that are covered. In cultures where football is taken seriously, TV channels broadcast a continuous World Cup flow but ESPN’s coverage is sandwiched in-between Nascar races and miscellaneous college sports tournaments. It’s jarring not to have every broadcaster on TV crowbarring the World Cup into every studio segment. Never have I longed more for a bloated pre-match show.

Univision: football coverage you can count by!

Univision: football coverage you can count by!

Hispanic TV networks have been my sanctuary. I may only understand a quarter of what’s said but the pundits’ innate football knowledge and enthusiasm is palpable. All possible scenarios within the match have their own catchphrases, bellowed in one continuous breath by the commentator. Seemingly every show on Univision, regardless of genre, cuts away to live coverage in Brazil like a transmission test card and it’s not uncommon to see news being presented in football strips. It’s not a home away from home; it’s an extended stay with a mad moustached uncle. I never thought there was anything worse than ITV Football, but there is and it’s ITV Football for beginners. I’m just grateful there’s enough Latinos in the US to give me an alternative.

%d bloggers like this: