Archive for E!

The Rest Of The Year’s TV

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, British Shows on American TV, Reality TV, Reviews, TV advertising, TV channels, TV Criticism, TV History, Unsung Heroes, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2014 by Tom Steward

There’s a formula for writing annual ‘Best Of’ TV lists. First it’s compulsory to observe how pointless a task it is making such a list for a vast and varied medium like television, then talk about how your criteria will be completely different, before naming the SAME EXACT shows as every other critic. Well, I don’t think it’s pointless, at least no more futile than doing it for books or films (where critics don’t seem to have the same anxieties about habitually omitting factual and lifestyle titles). I have no wish to create an opaque ratings system that will lead me back to shows which come pre-ordained as the best of TV. But I do want to ensure that the titles I choose won’t appear on anyone else’s list, something which gets harder and harder as critics begin to fawn over the nichest possible television. So don’t consider this the year’s best TV (see I’m doing it in spite of myself!) but rather good TV that has been overlooked simply because it doesn’t get listed.

Botched (E!)

...what if he dies first?

…what if he dies first?

Real Husbands Dr. Paul Nassif (disguised as Moe Syslak from The Simpsons for ease of viewer identification) and Dr. Terry Dubrow (other two-quarters of Heather Dubrow, who must always be named twice) are L.A. plastic surgeons who specialize in fixing botched jobs. There’s some emotional hard luck stories but basically it’s the best excuse ever for social voyeurism and with patients like a Human Ken Doll and a 33-year old man with the face of an early-teen Justin Bieber it’s about as visually mesmerizing as reality TV gets. The show is also indispensable body horror, with its drop-in circus of malfunctioning and distorted anatomy. Even E’s glossification can’t mask the raw psychological distress.

90-Day Fiancé (TLC)

A show close to mine and G’s hearts, since I arrived in the US on a marriage visa. This observational documentary follows six couples during the 90-day window for visitors to the US to marry on the K-1 visa. It’s as compelling for its cartoon parodies of loving marriage as it is for reaffirming the borderless beauty of the institution. So extraordinary and bizarre is the experience for these culture-clash couples that the network barely needs to meddle in the melodrama, as it does for its other reality shows, giving it a more natural (if no less extreme) flow of real events than heavily devised TLC docu-soaps like Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo.

Muppets Most Wanted (Disney)

Variety at heart!

Variety at heart!

Probably more likely to be dismissed on grounds of not being a TV show, this was nonetheless the movie that in 2014 most thoroughly blurred distinctions between film and television. The Muppets are a creation of television, stars Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey are all television personalities, and the legacy of The Muppet Show is privileged at the expense of the movie franchise (the latter self-consciously in comic acknowledgements of the diegetic amnesia around popular movie characters and sequels). The movie is a joyous celebration of the achievements and talents of television past and present, reminding us of how far the medium has come. And it’s full of commercials!

LIVE With Kelly And Michael! (ABC)

A show that will doubtless elude recognition for its monotony and ubiquity, but this doesn’t change the fact that host Kelly Ripa is by several miles of open country the funniest, smartest, wittiest and most multi-dimensional presenter in daytime. Her work in morning television is more akin to what Conan, Colbert and Craig Ferguson have done with the late-night form than the platitudinous moron-making of virtually everybody else on TV at that time, and until about 11 in the evening. This is an everyday occurrence, which makes it all the more startling, but her essential impersonation of Laura Linney in the Halloween parody of PBS Masterpiece Theater speaks volumes.

The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson (CBS)

Not like any other late night show!

Not like any other late night show!

Dare I say that Craig Ferguson’s departure from late-night talk shows will leave an even bigger hole than David Letterman? While Letterman innovated within the format, Ferguson created a new late-night form that was genuinely subversive, avant-garde and experimental, importing a brand of British vaudeville surrealism reminiscent of Reeves & Mortimer and The Mighty Boosh. Like those acts, Ferguson meshed light entertainment with serious art, carved out an absurd fantasy using television grammar, and delivered alternative culture disguised as broad comedy. It was a rejection of all that was bland and formulaic about one of American TV’s most intransigent genres, and a complete reinvention of its possibilities.

Advertisements

Cry Me A Rivers!

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, Reality TV, TV channels, TV History, TV News, Unsung Heroes with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2014 by Tom Steward

Look, I never said this was a news blog (except in applications for paid blogging positions!). Besides, I have to leave a period of time between a celebrity’s death and blogging about it so it doesn’t look like I’ve been knocking off television legends to give me something to write about. Three weeks ago, at age 81 comedian Joan Rivers died, as she lived…in surgery (don’t you dare tell me Joan wouldn’t appreciate a joke like that!). She will undoubtedly be remembered as a stand-up who, unlike many of her generation, was as relevant the day she died as when she first started out. Let’s not forget that Rivers was the comedian who said the unsayable about the widows of 9/11. But she had a real gift for television, and was particularly adept at using everyday formats – talk shows, entertainment news, red carpets – to sneak in provocative and edgy comedy.

Here's Joany!

Here’s Joany!

Rivers got her big break on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show in 1965, where she would continue to appear as guest and guest host until the mid-1980s when a rift between her and Carson caused her to be blacklisted from the talk show until this year. Her caustic manner and matter-of-fact handling of other personalities on this and her Fox talk show vehicle The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers was a refreshing departure from both the sycophantic hosting and demure women associated with the genre. It paved the way for her later television career spent trashing celebrities both to their faces and in absentia on the E! shows Live from the Red Carpet and Fashion Police. It also showed that Rivers could insert her brash, no-holds-barred comedy into regular television without ever disrupting it. She didn’t revolutionise late-night talk shows but made them far less deferential and more assertively direct.

Joan Rivers never seemed to be snobbish about what kind of television she was prepared to do. In later years, she would frequently appear on home shopping network QVC to hock her line of costume jewellery. In 1996, she became a reporter on E!’s Live from the Red Carpet, a job more usually reserved for young, up-and-coming, vacuum-brained celebrity enthusiasts. This was as much because she knew television was a business as it was to do something interesting and shocking with bland, formulaic TV. Playing herself on Louis C.K.’s artful sitcom Louie, Rivers castigates the stand-up for leaving a gig in a casino because of its corporate and commercial diktats, addressing her reputation as a ‘sell-out’. Her red carpet interviews are proof enough that Rivers could transform the most banal role into comic art. Acerbic, fast and wounding, she made it entertaining and intelligent with savage mockery replacing awed reverence.

Rivers has been on TV screens weekly since 2010 in E!’s panel show Fashion Police. The highlight of each episode, for both viewers and co-hosts it seemed, was the comedian’s throwaway similes about celebrity dress sense, which would frequently incorporate a ruthless and tasteless commentary on pop culture. No death appeared to be too soon to joke about, no disaster or ailment a taboo, no imperfection beyond satire. Year upon year, the show demonstrated perfectly how Rivers could condense her act into TV’s rigid dimensions without becoming any less sick and twisted. Her 2011 appearance on a Season 2 episode of Louie was a long overdue recognition of Rivers’ standing in comedy, as she becomes Svengali to the disillusioned comic. But she is represented according to a tension between commerce and art that has always been part of her persona, and one that she has managed to resolve without fuss.

The goon squad are coming to town!

The goon squad are coming to town!

Like most celebrities who want to survive in contemporary TV, Rivers allowed her life to be scrutinised onscreen in a reality series. Her relationship with daughter Melissa was the subject of Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best and her family dynamic was addressed in Celebrity Wife Swap where she swapped her daughter for Bristol Palin (for reasons best known to the producers). Perhaps her most unremarkable television work, if only for the foot-binding conventions of reality shows that do not permit idiosyncrasy, they are still testament to Rivers’ canny understanding of where to be in TV at the right time. With all the low-end TV she’s been involved in; some might be inclined to write off much of Joan Rivers’ time on the box. But she definitely found her niche in each genre she tackled, and never sacrificed what made her comedy special for the sake of being on television.

US News You Lose!

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2011 by Tom Steward

 

 

Two superficially dissimilar international new stories dominated American television during my stay: the recession-distraction English wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton and the American-inflicted death of pesky terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. I tried to avoid both of them as much as possible for different reasons. It embarrasses and depresses me that Britain’s international image is so dominated by such a ludicrous, dull and anachronistic institution such as the Royal family. The triumphalism and party atmosphere surrounding the coverage of Bin Laden’s demise on US news channels was alarming and bloodlusty, and I wanted no part in it, even as a spectator. So when I did come into contact with these stories it was primarily by accident and outside the domain of news. I’m not going to slam American TV news outright as so many foreign interlopers do. The cliché of US news channels failing to mention or appropriately cover key international events has a ring of truth to it, and that was increasingly evident while I was there with the lack of information circulated about Gaddafi and the Libya rebellion when in retrospect it seems, in the words of Superhans, it was ‘all kicking off’. But this also means a lot more time for local news reporting, meaning civic or regional matters are extensively covered and debated on TV (however banally), and from a country where regional TV news is in jeopardy, this makes it even more treasurable.

News Coverage of the Royal Wedding

The Royal Wedding is US TV News

But these stories were difficult to escape. 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. Hard to take was Barbara Walters’ live reporting from London, which spat on her American colleagues’ intentionally comic captions as ill-informed nonsense. She then laboriously took us through the correct Royal conventions and traditions in an extreme case of racial Stockholm Syndrome not seen since Madonna starting drinking Timothy Taylor. Regis and Kelly press-ganged their audience into Royal Wedding approval, nationally humiliating those who dared to question the ceremony’s success. At least there was an appreciation of the camp value of the ceremony in some quarters, with the ladies on The View and the panel on Kathy Griffin’s Insightful and Hilarious Take on the Royal Wedding mock-recoiling at the Queen’s garish outfit, head-shaking at the cartoonish behaviour of the Duke of Edinburgh, and hand-rubbing about the potential upstaging of the bride by Middleton’s bridesmaid sister Pippa. Some of this TV detritus actually came upon some accidental insight when The View’s Sherri Shepherd pointed out the blatant racial segregation of the wedding guests, which felt more like the latent anti-monarchism I had hoped would rears its head.

Other commentators had similar problems. The barrage of Royal biography programmes preceding the Wedding on celebrity magazine channels like E! featured voiceovers done in a strange Anglo-American Esperanto, a vocal non-space between peppy MTV VJ and female Tory junior minister. The highlight of the Royal Wedding tie-in programmes was undoubtedly the Lifetime TV movie ‘William and Kate’. Not only were the two lead actors as physically unlike their real-life personages as a pint glass is to a donkey, but the actors cast as their relatives looked completely unlike them also. According to the film, William and Kate studied at The Department of Narnia Studies at The University of Hogwarts, regularly time-travelled to 19th Century rural Ireland for nights out, and William’s fraternity played a daily game where they may only speak in dialogue written by P.G. Wodehouse.  

Princes William and Charles

 

During Dancing with the Stars on the Monday following the killing, host Tom Bergeron somehow managed to crowbar in a reference in response to guest judge Donnie Burns’ remark ‘Nobody but nobody does showbusiness like you Americans’. Bergeron’s face said ‘fuck, yeah’ as he tangentially retorted ‘We Americans have shown ourselves to be good at a few things these past couple of days’. This was followed by an uncomfortable driftwood of applause smelling faintly of public ambivalence, or at least massive unease with Bergeron bringing such a brutal thought into a light entertainment package. Though evidently not the place or time, the pukewarm reception on Dancing with the Stars was far more representative of the melancholy most intelligent adult Americans feel about this than the news footage of masses of young party people using the death of Bin Laden to squeeze another Spring Break out of the calendar.

Dancing with the Stars' Tom Bergeron

'Mission Accomplished' says Tom Bergeron

%d bloggers like this: