Archive for the view

TV Highlights

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2012 by Tom Steward

I’ve been in the US since June so here’s a round-up of my TV highlights thus far on this visit:

  1. James Holmes in Court (ABC News)

Courtroom footage of real-life Batman villain and ComiConvict James Holmes at his arraignment was broadcast on news programmes just days after shootings in a Colorado cinema. With his Day-Glo-red hair and look-at-me-I’m-crazy mannerisms, it was the most absurd court TV since O.J. Simpson tried to avoid prison by pretending to be Michael Jackson. The Joel Schumacher-worthy performance of mental illness also recalled the trial of New York Mafia boss Vinny ‘The Chin’ Gigante, whose insanity defence was founded on pyjamas. With the orange afro and mad-cap expressions, those who had just woken from a coma they’d been in since the mid-90s may have thought that Carrot Top finally lost it after the prop comedy business went south.

  1. Hoarding: Buried Alive (TLC)

Unlike Bravo who’s every series is a staged-reality variation on Dallas, rival reality network TLC likes to get its hands dirty from time to time. Case in point is Hoarding: Buried Alive which documents the lives of those who by choice-and various undiagnosed mental illnesses-clutter their homes until they resemble post-apocalyptic shantytowns. It’s an archaeology programme of sorts, a search for the lost civilisation of deposit-return. One gruesomely compelling episode saw a mutually-traumatised couple discover a Jurassic Park-quality fossil of their beloved pet Ratcat preserved in faeces betwixt cabinet and wall. In their world of elaborate denial, it becomes disrespectful to put the cat in a bin bag but loving to let him rot for two years in a sewage Breville.

  1. KUSI News Weather Report (KUSI)

In times of extreme weather it’s invaluable to have a meteorological perspective on conditions. That’s why I was so pleased that the weather report on San Diego’s TV station KUSI consisted of the words: ‘Oh wow! It’s really hot out there today’ blazoned across the screen in volcano-red letters with a melting dissolve graphic. Add in a weatherman who squeals like an extra from Deliverance as his signature intro, and you’ve got the kind of local news reporting that would make Ron Burgundy proud!

  1. KFC Online Commercial (ABC.com)

No I’m not turning into Nana Royle! It’s simply that the words ‘Mash potatoes and gravy’ are now etched in my sense memory, following an attempt by G and I to watch an episode of The Bachelorette on ABC.com. As a way of retaining control over viewers’ exposure to advertising in the digital age, networks keep the ratio of content to commercial from broadcast airings in their online streaming. What makes it exponentially more annoying is that it’s the same couple of spots recycled ad nausea. Every few minutes, a KFC commercial which begins with a grandfather asserting his right to choose ‘Mash potatoes and gravy’ as his chosen side, would automatically pop up like a clock cuckoo with bad time management. Has anyone looked into whether James Holmes was a regular viewer of online TV?

  1. Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep on The View (ABC)

Two famously reticent and short-winded Hollywood actors being interviewed by four separate talk show hosts asking questions from all sides? What could possibly go wrong? Presumably as a publicity ritual, stars of relationship comedy Hope Springs Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep were packaged-at what looked like gunpoint at the very least-on to ABC’s late morning magazine show. Streep buried every routine answer beneath deep swallows of nervous laughter and Jones employed the evasive language of a guilty politician to provide the most oblique responses possible. Jones resembled a mute husband on a property programme and Barbara Walters resorted to coaxing elaborations out of him like it was a speech therapy session for a stroke victim. It was can’t-look, how-bad-can-this-get television of the highest order.

  1. Sam the Cooking Guy (Various Stations)

Billed as the ‘everyman’ cook, San Diego-based food writer and presenter Sam Zien’s TV vehicle proposes to ‘make cooking casually understandable’ but could equally be an elaborate ploy to give Anthony Bourdain a coronary. Sam’s cooking philosophy could be described as ‘can-to-plate’ and his method ‘food-arranging’. The production is brazenly shoddy and so is the eat-by-numbers approach to the art of cuisine. In a segment I caught recently, Sam innovated with hot-dog condiments and cursed himself for not buying a turkey frank for his Thanksgiving-themed dog. It’s one thing to lower the culinary bar on TV cooking shows but another entirely to forget the pre-made ingredients.

 

 

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Dreaming of View

Posted in American TV Shows, BiogTV, TV Dreams with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2011 by Tom Steward

What follows is a deposition of last’s night dream. Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is entirely mental.

The ladies from The View

My employers

Hosts of The View Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Barbara Walters and Elizabeth Hasselbeck want to leave the live broadcast of their morning talk show ten minutes early and ask me, who evidently works at the show and is somehow familiar to viewers, to fill in for the last segment. I have decided for some reason to go on air with a blue Ikea holdall full of broken, antiquated agricultural work tools taken from underneath my grandparents’ front garden and then lecture millions of American viewers on their archaeological significances. The audience and hosts abandon the studio leaving only myself and a floor manager. The manager signals that we have gone to commercial and to set up my bag of tools. At this point, the bag goes missing and I scramble to find it before we come out of the break. The tools have somehow re-submerged themselves into the soil in my grandparents’ garden, which is now adjacent to the studio, and I enlist their help to retrieve them as we dig into the earth with our hands and pull out hoes, rakes and steel-wood gardening appliances. I re-fill the bag and heave it over to the set, hoping to catch my cue. I miss it by mere seconds by which time an emergency broadcast of a late 1990s version of the show has automatically clicked in and is now playing on all the monitors. I feel dejected, especially because I am unable to show my girlfriend G that I have been on television in her country. The following day, The View resumes with its normal hosts and Whoopi and Barbara spend the opening ‘Hot Topics’ section of the programme castigating me for blowing this opportunity in front of a national TV audience and cursing themselves for giving me such a break.

Tony and Dr. Melfi

Paging Dr. Melfis...

Anyone who thinks they may be able to shed some light on what this dream may mean or reveal about my psychological or emotional condition, please leave a comment.

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

Top TV Picks

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2011 by Tom Steward

I’m just over half way through my stay in the US so here are my Top 5 TV moments from the last two weeks:

  1. Kris Kardashian on morning food show Rachael Ray getting a round of applause for adding parmesan cheese to Pasta Primavera. I still don’t know why.

Ladies and Gentlemen...parmesan cheese!

  1. John Travolta’s cameo as ‘The Dance Doctor’ during Kirstie Alley’s filmed rehearsals for Dancing with the Stars in a classy skit apparently written by the man himself. Travolta playfully pastiched his own performance as Chili Palmer and Elmore Leonard’s cutting dialogue in Get Shorty in his finest and most controlled piece of acting in some years. Almost as good was Kirstie Alley’s disbelief at host Brooke Burke not realizing that this was a pre-written sketch. ‘Really?’, Alley growled, detaching her head from her neck in disapproval, as Burke asked humorlessly what advice Travolta gave to her.
  1. In Anthony’s Bourdain’s No Reservations the self-proclaimed tough guy of fu-cusine and Leonard Cohen lookalike tours the grassroots local food places of Boston with his apparently ker-azy yet to all appearances entirely cogniscent rock star buddy deliberately avoiding the gourmet end of the market ‘and if you don’t like it, fuck you!’. One suspects this mission is not exactly foodie-free once the two mock-fucks start to rhapsodize over the ‘essence of mayonnaise’ in the lobster roll at a Boston seafood joint. Their alcoholic machismo is also somewhat parlayed by the revelation that all hard-boiled toughies can be identified by their fondness for cream soda.
  1. After Grey’s Anatomy star and recording artist Sara Ramirez sings an impromptu rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ to host Sherri Shepherd on The View, scary schoolmistress Barbara Walters bluntly informs her that ‘we have to pay any time anybody sings that’.

'We have to pay for that'

  1. On daytime View-clone The Talk Sharon Osbourne begins the show by attempting to explain her way out of a tabloid-reported tax snafu about an undisclosed property lease on filing day. Characteristically candid, self-deprecating and silly, Sharon is unimpeachable no matter what her financial wranglings. What hope does she have with real estate and taxes anyway when she can’t even control a house full of small, shitting dogs. However, by order of the IRS the show has been re-named The Tax.

Lovable rogue Sharon Osbourne

Good (Late) Morning America!

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2011 by Tom Steward

Waking up is hard to do. I always thought this was because of my sedentary lifestyle but apparently it’s because the TV in my country was never worth getting up for. Whereas in the UK, I’d be swilling cereal with bothered-looking hospital patients and those in the auction trade, here in the USA I’m champagne breakfasting with living legends and soap stars with heads so big they eclipse the painted moon backdrops they are so frequently mounted against. TV crumbles into the ashes of interest about 9am in the UK once the breakfast magazine and sitcom cycles are over but in the US (California time) this is when it starts to come alive. The stalwart of late morning TV is ABC’s Live! With Regis and Kelly, a talk and magazine show hosted by Bob Hope impersonator and male version of Blanche from The Golden Girls Regis Filbin and his co-presenter cum carer Kelly Ripa. A fairly mundane roll call of deathly dull competitions and perfunctory celebrity interviews are made immensely likeable by Regis’ endearing ineptitude and Kelly’s brusque-but-funny ushering that makes you want to purr ‘oh, she’s so good with him’. The top and tail of the show where the banter between the two hosts is allowed to flow freely is genuinely hilarious and frequently smart and witty, especially when Regis is irked by Kelly’s sarcasm and his latent insult comic lets rip. What’s more the show does skits and spoofs incredibly well, much more so that the cringingly appalling attempts at tomfoolery by other breakfast programmes like the Today show. This is mostly thanks to the arresting comic talents of the pair. Regis has that air of a hobbyist about him that distinguishes so many of the great TV presenters (Richard Whiteley and Terry Wogan would be the British TV equivalents) and is a walking argument against slickness and competence in TV hosting.

I have to admit I’m rather fond of The View, a flagship all-female fronted talk and magazine show that comes on after Regis and Kelly, which sports some pretty big cheeses in the world of news and entertainment like veteran comedienne Whoopi Goldberg and heavily medicated queen interviewess Barbara Walters. The format was plagiarized by ITV’s Loose Women and occasionally it’s just as banal and clichéd in its attitudes towards gender and reductive, applause-driven mwah-mwahs about politics. But The View is tons classier than its British mutant and sometimes it’s pretty challenging. In October of last year, Whoopi and co-host Joy Behar walked off in protest to Fox News’ Bill O’ Reilly’s badger-baiting bollock-mongering claim that ‘the Muslims got us on 9/11’ and the show is consistent in offering viewers a balance of liberal and conservative opinion, from the punchably swan-necked WASP Republican Elizabeth Hasselbeck to Behar’s fart-smell-faced social liberal skepticism. The interviews often take the form of grueling interrogations to the point that guests often bring gifts with them to try and pacify their inquisitors. Ricky Gervais had a remarkably tough time the other day with the interviewers scrutinizing every word of his Golden Globe jokes, a much rougher ride than he could ever expect from chortle-faced Graham Norton or celebrity chum Jonathan Ross.

The next couple of hours are dominated by soaps. Whereas British soaps tend to attempt social realism and end up peddling melodrama, American soaps seem much more in control of their ludicrous and overblown plots and characters, almost to the point of complete self-awareness. Nothing is too much, be it ghost, alien, dream or coincidencis-in-extremis. And they seem happy, nay even proud, to recycle the same old stories. In the episode of The Bold and the Beautiful I saw, a man was heard to say ‘You’re not the first women to come in here in a trench coat trying to steal me away’. I, for one, believe him. Thought of as drearily sentimental, what struck me was how completely nasty and Machievellian these soaps are; an impure celebration of conniving and conspiracy. What really stands out is how the soaps are (all identically) shot. Extreme close-ups on faces are the base line which, depending on your level of cynicism, could either signify budget-cutting in background set design or an almost schizophrenic immersion in the emotions of the characters being watched. It’s probably a combination of both and like all good TV is equal parts thrift and intimacy. The morning to lunchtime schedule on US TV is almost pathologically entertaining, and doesn’t make me feel bad for not appraising my attic space.

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