Archive for the bachelorette

Sense of Schumer

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Reality TV, TV Acting, TV advertising, TV channels with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2015 by Tom Steward

If you have to get sick of seeing someone’s face on TV, make it Amy Schumer’s. Why? Well, firstly because being sick of seeing Schumer’s face seems to be part of her schtick. Every sketch on her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer is preceded and followed by a close-up of Schumer’s face quick-scanning the streets of New York before the camera CSI zooms into her eye. Her face is the lifeblood of every sketch, and even the (mandatory) Twelve Angry Men parody episode in which she did not feature begins with her face dominating the screen. It’s also because Amy Schumer’s face is interesting to watch. Eschewing the hyperreal expressionism of her peers (not that there’s anything wrong with that – Key & Peele are as cartoonish as they come), Schumer’s face is a flickering deadpan, oscillating between irony and approval of the characters she plays and those she interviews.

Facial Schumer!

Facial Schumer!

Which is good news because Amy Schumer is everywhere. In fact, it would be perfectly possible to watch nothing but Amy Schumer on TV these days. There’s her weekly Comedy Central show which seemingly plays throughout the night (uncensored) on the network, her guest appearances on every late-night talk show around, her work on The Bachelorette (which ABC executives want to expand into a regular thing), and trailer-length promos for her upcoming movie vehicle Trainwreck in the ad breaks. We’ve seen this kind of momentary ubiquity before, of course, but rarely with a performer of such substance. That may be because Schumer is able to do provocative and powerful material while making it sound like a bunch of harmless Seinfeldisms. She even makes light of the issue-based thrust of her comedy, passing off most sketches as a PSA-gone-wrong, while underlining just how culturally urgent her intervention into modern life is.

Last night, Schumer confronted the alleged crimes of Bill Cosby. The heavily corroborated sexual assault allegations against the veteran comic seem fair game for comedians now and indeed it may be easier for a white female comic to talk about this topic than, say, the black male one who broke the story. It was the level of discussion that was remarkable. Refusing to debate the existence of the crimes (for, as she points out, there is no debate to speak of, despite all legal disclaimers), the court-based sketch was instead a more sophisticated exploration of how nostalgia and cultural comfort food (both real and symbolic, since this was the man who advertised Jell-O pudding pops) interfere with our sense of justice and gender equality. This is really what we struggle to reconcile, not crime and perpetrator. But this isn’t the first time Schumer has put her finger on the problem.

She coolly and pleasantly took on perceptions of women ageing with Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette celebrating Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ ‘last fuckable day’ as decided by the media. She did an almost Sesame Street-esque scatological number on pop culture’s fetish for women’s sticky-out asses with a hip-hop music video set to the rhyme ‘milk, milk, lemonade, round the corner fudge is made’. Schumer was there to pinpoint the pathetic paradoxes of middle-class women pole dancing while condescending to women who work as strippers as well as female employees being obliged to be ‘cool with’ whatever their male counterparts want to do while being paid half the salary. Bravely she slayed a sacred cow of American comedy, the borderline-rapist late-night talk show host, and perversely she’s seemed to increase her appearances on these kinds of programmes as a result. She’s so popular that even her targets want to be seen with her.

Amy Schumer's parody of late-night...oh wait, that's just her on Letterman!

Amy Schumer’s parody of late-night…oh wait, that’s just her on Letterman!

It would be too easy to say that Amy Schumer’s success is down to the sugar-coating she puts on her social criticism, but it’s hard to deny that her self-aware baby-face mannerisms (see, the face again!) makes what she does much more palatable. But it’s not the cutesy-girl disguise that comedians like Sarah Silverman have used to deflect attention from their obscenity and controversy. It’s more direct than that, like having a conversation with someone who seems perfectly nice and you realise hours late they completely destroyed you. That’s what translates into mainstream entertainment so well. On The Bachelorette, she exposed the egregious insecurities of a male contestant without ever saying a cross word to him. She’s also not afraid of plumbing the lowest depths of entertainment, like dirty jokes and toilet humour, to get what she wants. The time of overkill will come, so enjoy her just killing it.

Watching Century With Americans

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, BiogTV, Reality TV, Reviews, Touring TV, TV Criticism, TV Culture, TV History, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2014 by Tom Steward

You know when anniversary shows try to make out that the second part is different from the first, even though it’s just another set of clips with a new (but equally banal) gimmick? Well, now you get the point of this introduction. It’s somewhat fitting, however, as what I’m most proud of about this blog is that it is different from one week to the next, even if my obsessions do tend to re-surface like a pardoned 24 terrorist. It’s a freedom writing about American TV that you can’t have making it. Here’s some more re-runs before normal service resumes:

For the second of our hundred television posts celebration that's...erm...crazy like a fox?

For the second of our hundred television posts celebration that’s…erm…crazy like a fox?

‘Given that this is how I spend most of my days anyway, it seemed perverse to be treating a TV marathon as the novelty it was supposed to be for the majority of the population. But I’m also not going to miss a golden opportunity to sit in my pants morning, noon and night continuously watching TV on one of the rare occasions it’s been deemed socially permissible’

‘It’s the inverse relationship between the interest taken and the research done that makes American TV’s obsession with the British so bemusing to me’

‘The Food Network could run Chard Week featuring all the best appearances of the vegetable in the mystery box on Chopped, including the time someone drizzled it with a gummiworm-infused vinaigrette’

‘If there’s a lesson here, it’s that people want reunions more than they ever want to see them happen’

‘It seems bizarre that in a country where the mere mention of healthcare can cause the government to shut down, science is such a popular commodity. Yet again and again American TV shows flashing their scientific credentials like phosphorus in a Bunsen burner are more likely to succeed’

‘It occurred to me recently that TV talks to us as if we’re all amnesiacs’

‘Film critics can no more admit to the abysmal hit rate of current movie releases than TV critics can acknowledge that most of the time on-air television resembles an endless sewage pipe’

‘One of the places I was surprised to find TV on the air was in the air’

‘The show is so ingrained in the city that it’s entirely possible to take a Breaking Bad tour of Albuquerque without even knowing’

‘Unlike other game shows, The Bachelor(ette) likes to invite its losing contestants back to occupy more senior roles in the programme, like Juan Pablo who was sent home in a previous season and is now The Bachelor. It’s like losing Final Jeopardy and then next day replacing Alex Trebek’

‘Ok, let’s consider how many people in television have ripped off Letterman since he started compared to Leno. And Bill O’Reilly doesn’t count, he just happens to be a disgusting Republican who’s bad at his job’

‘It occurred to me recently that TV talks to us as if we’re all amnesiacs’

‘I often feel guilty about recommending shows that don’t warm up until a few seasons in. In essence you’re asking someone to commit all their free time to something that won’t pay off for months. It’s like getting someone to invest their life-savings in a niche restaurant that you know won’t make any money for the first few years’

‘American TV seems to be in a permanent state of finale. The average season has more false endings than a Hobbit trilogy’

‘Aside from being the perfect audience since it’s guaranteed they haven’t heard his music, Vanilla Ice Goes Amish is the feeblest juxtaposition of topics since Ted Nugent tried to fight Obamacare with Dr. Seuss’

‘After all, there can’t be many clips out there of Orson Welles winding Dean Martin’s head 360 degrees with a handle’

‘I often wonder how long reality shows would last if there were no repetitions or duplications. Chopped would probably end before it began!’

‘Hours of broadcast prior to the official start time of the Oscars are taken up with reporters transmitting live from the red carpet-lined entrance as stars rotate their bodies more slowly than a Virgin Trains toilet door and answer existential questions like “who are you wearing?”’

‘Can we jump forward to a time when TV doesn’t time jump?’

‘With the possible exception of serial killing, the part of our culture most likely to produce copycats is television’

‘It occurred to me recently that TV talks to us as if we’re all amnesiacs’

Vanilla Ice takes an Amish selfie...or as they call it a 'self-portrait'.

Vanilla Ice takes an Amish selfie…or as they call it a ‘self-portrait’.

‘At least we now have an idea of what Return of the Jedi would have been like had David Lynch directed it’

Memory Box

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Reality TV, TV Criticism, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2014 by Tom Steward

It occurred to me recently that TV talks to us as if we’re all amnesiacs. Shows are incessantly reminding us of what happened minutes before, when we’re not being previewed we’re being recapped, and flashback has become the bane of television storytelling. Reality shows are the worst culprits, since their heavy-handed narration and editing permits them to insert extraneous references to past events at will. But dramas and comedies can be just as bad. Think about how many devices there are built into the fabric of fictional TV series to remind us about what just happened; ‘Previously On’ segments, duplicated action, flashbacks. Such repetition is almost certain to annoy viewers and make them feel patronised, so why does TV always think it’s addressing Guy Pearce?

Torture and racism, probably.

Torture and racism, probably.

When it comes to reality shows, it’s safe to speculate that there’s an element of killing time here. Visual call-backs are a good way of conserving footage through re-use and along with voiceover re-caps they can easily pad out a show to its allotted time. I often wonder how long reality shows would last if there were no repetitions or duplications. Chopped would probably end before it began! But there are also less cynical motives at play. It’s long been assumed by producers that people watch TV in fits and bursts and they don’t necessarily watch a programme from start to finish. It’s something we critics with our programme-based reviews still don’t really get. But it’s the impulse behind filling viewers in every few minutes.

Much as we would like to think for the sake of art that TV has fulfilled its potential as a serial medium, it’s still pretty much a halfway house between closed and ongoing storytelling. There must still be part-time and sporadic viewers out there or we’d have switched over to continuous storytelling a long time ago, given that it’s a feature common to all the great TV out there. We wouldn’t need to have these concessions to people who’ve missed a few episodes or were out of the room if we were all faithful and attentive viewers. As far as flashback is concerned, somewhere along the line it got mistaken for complex storytelling – even though the truth is the opposite – and the rest is history.

TV memory aids are where good television and quality television clash. It’s good practice to make TV that responds to the fragmented way a lot of us watch it. But all the shows we associate with quality television are about breaking away from that kind of audience spoon-feeding for something that challenges viewers, even their memories. And it goes to show that the type of television we’re always wanting more of and more like in television (The Wire, The Sopranos) is difficult to produce in most contexts. People are paying specifically for HBO so they’re going to watch everything and stick with a series for value alone. You couldn’t do a HBO show in a place with audiences that are constantly drifting in and out.

Of course, there are limits. It often feels like we’re being cheated of new content. Last week The Bachelorette ran a highlights package of its first three weeks in place of a new episode. It will do this again in a special prior to the finale, and then during the Judd Apatow-comedy length finale itself. Most reality show finales are season re-caps. There is a point beyond which you’re pandering to people who have missed some crucial moments and simply taking the piss out of the remaining audience. In this way, such shows are their own worst enemies, offering no reward to long-term viewing except seeing it all over again multiple times. You can’t count on TV viewers wanting nostalgia like an instant coffee powder.

Late-night talk show Conan has a regular bit called ‘Memba This?’ in which sidekick Andy Richter repeatedly asks the question in front of a slideshow of recent viral news images. As with many Conan skits, they’ve distilled how TV works in a matter of minutes. What TV pretends is a ‘trip down memory lane’ is actually a re-cap of things they haven’t had time to forget. Set up as a ‘new comedy bit’, regurgitation is posing as creativity. And when Conan keeps getting heinous news images, it reminds us that these memory aids are actually TV’s way of manipulating the past, not just repeating it. Damn, I’m twenty words short. It occurred to me recently that TV talks to us as if we’re all amnesiacs.

Back to Reality

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Reality TV, Reviews, TV channels, TV News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2013 by Tom Steward

Despite the name, reality TV is unflinching in its adherence to the conventions of their rigid formats. It’s tantalising when a reality TV show throws out those conventions but then doubly deflating when they still manage to collapse under the crushing weight of formula after deviating from format. Breaking with convention has also become a branding strategy for many reality shows (especially the long-running ones) so it becomes difficult to separate an experimentation with format from marketing bullshit. I’ve encountered a couple of instances of this recently. Celebrity Wife Swap is the US version of a European reality format in which the long-term partners of male celebrities exchange lives for a week. The latest season began with an episode that changed the rules of the game significantly and almost to the point of abstraction. Instead of men swapping partners it was the women that exchanged their significant other, who were also women. The partners were not romantic peers but live-in blood relatives, and different relations on each side. Comedienne and broadcaster Joan Rivers took in Bristol Palin, reality-star celebrity daughter of Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, while Rivers’ daughter, TV producer Melissa Rivers, went to live with Willow Palin, Bristol’s sister.

You’re my wife/daughter/sister now!

This loose interpretation of the format may have been motivated simply by the draw of the personalities involved and the prospect of an entertaining confrontation between Joan Rivers and Bristol Palin after Rivers’ frequent jokes about the Dancing with the Stars contestant’s weight in the press. But the sister and daughter swap had the potential to undercut the patriarchy of the format and suggest alternative living arrangements or definitions of family (alas none of them gay or friendship-based). It also promised that something different would happen, since the roles of daughter and sister are so incongruous and the impact of exchanging family members unknown territory. Somehow the formula of reality TV resisted these challenges from the reality of family life to reproduce the same outcomes. The couples struggled to understand each other, they seem like they will never overcome their differences, then they do, quickly, saving recriminations for their own spouse and ending with the promise of the couple having a better relationship in the future because of the experience. The peculiar dynamics of the relationships seem to make no difference-be it sibling parents or inter-generational mothers-and are entirely secondary to ticking these boxes every week, more Bruckheimer than Broomfield.

Families are all the same…or they will be by the time we’re done.

This year’s season of The Bachelorette was billed by host Chris Harrison as having the ‘most dramatic finale ever’. Even the studio audience balked at that. By the host’s own admission, all season finales are preceded by puffed-up rhetoric promising shocking and surprising twists and turns in the normal course of the show, with a gap between promise and outcome big enough to make it a standing joke with viewers. Last year the final episode of The Bachelorette was cut in half by the contestant choosing her partner early. This was a departure from format that seemed to suggest that contestants were able to mould the conventions of the programme to their desires rather than being cogs in a media machine. But the disruption also annoyed viewers by eliminating the suspense built into the final stages of the competition. 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. This year’s season finale had nothing to live up to and everything to prove. It had to stick to the format to the bitter end while looking like it was a breakthrough moment.

‘Keep crying…we’ve got an hour to fill’

Like last year’s finale, the competitive element was jettisoned when eponymous bachelorette Desiree was dumped by her first choice and forwarded the rejection to her most ardent admirer, leaving only one suitor in the running. The finale was split into two parts making a cliffhanger out of the dumping, which only intensified the feeling that Desiree was going home with nothing (excuse the language of commodity exchange but this is basically a game show with prizes). The suspense of the finale strategically shifted to speculation that Desiree’s first choice would return to make a two-horse race and doubts over whether she would accept a proposal from her Plan B. The proposal happened, she accepted, and the other man in her life didn’t come back to complicate things. It almost seems like the opposite of drama to me, and as conventional an outcome as could be mustered. The viewer was not as cheated by the rhetoric as before but only because the reveal was better paced not because it broke free of the restraints of format. It feels like reality TV shows have become propaganda films for their own formats, defending their orthodoxy against any challenges the outside world might bring.

For an account of TV in 799 less words, follow @TVinaword on Twitter…

America is Not Ready for Love

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Reviews, TV channels, TV Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2013 by Tom Steward

G and I have the TV on while we’re working in the living room. Don’t worry, it’s not like we’re doing anything important like finding someone the perfect home or determining the future of local government. I look up thinking I must have been writing the last sentence for hours as the programme has changed. I put my head down again and before I know it we’ve moved on to something else. I ask G if she went through with the surgery to get the remote chip installed in her brain. It’s not scheduled until next Thursday. So what’s happening?

There should have been a question mark where Eva Longoria was.

We’re watching Ready for Love, NBC’s new dating show. Or rather we’re watching Blind Date and Take Me Out closely followed by The Bachelor and Millionaire Matchmaker. It’s shopping mall television; all your favourite programmes under one roof. Unfortunately, the storeroom’s empty and the stock’s limited to what you see in the window. Each sequence is edited briskly in order to cram in all the various formats and create the illusion of pace in a 2-hour show. So what the viewer actually gets is a severely truncated cut-down of a pre-existing format that’s barely recognisable and lacks the original’s appeal.

Name the dating show…all of them!

In scenes eerily reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers women are delivered by pods into a studio. A man is then introduced via a video segment done in the style of a Just-for-Men commercial. The man is brought into the studio but cannot see the women and has to judge compatibility from their words, though superficiality has already been applied at the screening stage so no body-type surprises here. The podspawn that are not eliminated (apparently by incineration in the basement) are then imprisoned in a house together awaiting date-release and then the one with a personality goes home.

The women of the pod!

Periodically, the contestants are mentored by a panel of matchmakers, one of whom is played by a graduate Harry Potter interning at a stockbroker firm. Their advice is uniformly terrible, steering the women away from genuine self-expression and the men from picking a partner with a modicum of self-respect. At least the matchmakers on other dating programmes pay lip service to the contestants not picking women based entirely shallowly but here individuality is ruthlessly pruned like a weed.

What Harry did next…

NBC has already announced that it will cancel Ready for Love after only 3 airings. I’m no fan of snap cancellations nor the increasingly chop-happy actions of the networks but when a programme is so shamelessly derivative and cynically leeches off the success of other formats without putting anything new on the table, it is richly deserved. There is also something deeply offensive about continuing to promote the harem approach to dating. While the dating show is no stranger to giving a man his choice of women with no recourse in the other direction, Ready for Love does this unthinkingly.

‘Have the women incinerated’

I’m fully aware Ready for Love didn’t start the balls rolling on the sister-wife format. Though The Bachelor, from which this tradition sprung, had the good grace to turn the tables with The Bachelorette where men get the cattle market treatment. I know mutual exploitation isn’t exactly progressive gender politics but it’s better than dick all. Millionaire Matchmaker in which women are routinely subjected to the kind of bodily scrutiny one would typically see at a slave auction is still a reporting of what happens within an industry where women are demeaned, even if the producers don’t comment on the abnormality.

The Bachelorette: both genders exploited!

Take Me Out is another dating show where women outnumber men but for much of the process women have the upper hand even if the power of selection ultimately reverts to the man. Ready for Love seems to have no such compunctions and seems to want to add to the surplus of single, unfulfilled women left by dating shows as they whizz through the contestants with ruthless efficiency. It’s just as unforgiving for women who express qualms about how appropriate the format is for forging a healthy relationship. If you’re not willing to pander to male ego, please step aside.

Take Me Out: where women are in control…most of the time.

Though TV may seem like a sausage machine of recycled formats at times, the truth is that programmes which simply imitate other shows without useful variation will always fail miserably. Ready for Love didn’t make an argument for why it should be watched instead of its forbearers, except convenience and bulk buying, which given that the viewer doesn’t have to travel more than a few channels, isn’t really a selling point.

All the Single Maybes

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2012 by Tom Steward

Most American TV is so chaste it makes me feels like I hail from a nation of sexual deviants. If Jersey Shore recalls the buffoonish innocence of an end-of-run episode of Saved by the Bell, the UK version Geordie Shore is more like the grim disillusion of Screech’s sex tape. A lot of this is down to repressive censorship practices in US network television, not to mention the deeply conservative corporate owners of some stations. But TV tends not to reflect the openness towards sex in American popular culture. Comparatively there is far more sexual repression in British attitudes, and this comes out in my vehemently prudish reaction to ABC’s The Bachelorette. Like most of the over-50 relatives that feature in the later stages of the programme, I’m uneasy with the way the show’s design promotes promiscuity whilst pushing the dogma of monogamy-as if one leads naturally to the other.

Does he have brown hair?

As The Bachelor/ette is one of the few hit US reality series that doesn’t have a British doppelganger, some introduction is required. Basically, it’s a dating version of Guess Who? Each year, one man or woman (increasingly a contestant from previous years) goes through a seemingly endless 10-week process in which they have multiple dates in various spots across the country and globe with several members of the opposite sex who run the gamut from bland to unhinged. As the series goes on, the eponymous singleton eliminates one or a couple of contestants per week by denying them a rose like some demented flower Nazi. After weeks of simultaneous and group dating-in which the show begins to eerily resemble the scene list from a porn movie-the pool is whittled down to two, until a winner emerges and becomes a fiancé. It’s a perfectly normal road to marriage…if you’re James Bond.

No Rose For You!!!

It’s now a cliché of the white noise surrounding the programme that romantic relationships between the contestants are doomed to failure. The marriages are reality TV versions of shotgun weddings, with a digital video camera with high colour contrast aimed at the grooms’ heads instead of a firearm. No-one involved with the show ever seems to attribute this to the fact that the participant is compelled to split their affections equally across partners or that the series gives the contestant a chance to try out each of the four finalists sexually in turn in the sleazily-named ‘fantasy suite’-another nod to the conventions of the sex industry. The situation flatters the producers immensely, with post-publicity in the tabloid scrutiny of the couple’s troubles and splits keeping the brand visible out-of-season. It also makes a hoard of familiar show faces single again, putting them back in the rotation for future series.

Back for a second time!

The bravado and the carefree playfulness of the contestants in the first few weeks are all well and good. But it’s when the contestants start to declare their love for each other and meet their respective families that the façade of true romance starts to look as false as the Vegas-Roman pillars that replace load-bearing walls in reality shows. As if anyone with an ounce of self-respect would continue to go through the motions of a game show with someone they cared for that deeply. It’s hard to accept that the contestants’ families would be comfortable consenting to their loved one being exposed to so much hurt. The show gets a lot of dramatic mileage out of suggesting in the editing that the parents will object to their child’s pluralistic attitude towards love. With some judicious, Bravo-style shot displacement, however, this all seems to come up dung-smelling roses in the end.

Daughter Ricki-the most talked-about child on TV

This past season of The Bachelorette threw a human-shaped spanner in the works. Competitor Emily, a former show winner whose relationship had ended, was now in the driving seat with her pick of suitors. Those in contention for the fantasy suite decided it was too tawdry, not least because Emily has a young daughter at home. Once Emily recognised compatibility and fatherly qualities in Jeff-albeit not before the final show-she ended the competition and sent other potential fiancé, Ari, home. So has the programme finally gained self-awareness about its detrimental effect on long-term relationships? Not exactly. The finale was roundly ridiculed-even by other network shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live!-for killing the tension of a closing rose ceremony and effectively ending a half-hour early. ABC’s salvage operation centred on promoting Bachelor Pad, a spin-off set seemingly entirely in the fantasy suite with partners for everyone! It’s the Bachelor/ette without piety.

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