Archive for TLC

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.

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Crimewatch

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, Reality TV, TV channels, TV History, TV News with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2014 by Tom Steward

2014 will be remembered as the year American TV went on trial. I mean that quite literally. Three of the stars of Bravo reality franchise The Real Housewives have been given prison sentences for fraud in recent months, and earlier in the year another was arrested for an altercation on the show. In the last few weeks, American TV icon Bill Cosby has been accused of multiple historic instances of sexual assault by women, and his past and future TV shows have been pulled by Netflix, NBC and TV Land. TLC also made the decision to cancel their reality series Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo after star ‘Mama’ June Shannon reportedly started dating a registered sex offender. The reactions from the networks concerned have been variable.

Sopranos Remake Goes Ahead with Cast of Unknowns!

Sopranos Remake Goes Ahead with Cast of Unknowns!

Bravo appointed themselves unofficial court stenographers for the trials of Teresa and Joe Giudice on multiple bank, mortgage and bankruptcy fraud charges and Apollo Nida for bank, mail and wire fraud, following their court appearances on The Real Housewives of New Jersey and The Real Housewives of Atlanta and putting them on every conceivable sister show on the network before and after sentencing. It’s not exaggerating to say that the court cases have been the key interest for each of the series this year, or that Bravo has been unapologetically wallowing in their losses of freedom. The network has skirted around the issue of their guilt and culpability, wasting no opportunity to portray Nida and the Giudices as victims of circumstances, rather than knowing criminals

This is hardly surprising given how Bravo behaved when a criminal act took place on one of their shows. Porscha Williams was charged with assault after attacking Kenya Moore (or rather a tenuously linked appendage of hers) on the ‘Reunion’ episode of this season’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The end-of-season special brings the invariably estranged co-stars on to a studio stage and uses footage from the series (and typically social media baiting) to provoke conflict between the guests. The formula is such that violence of one kind or another is inevitable, and that the assault was less of a by-product of the show than a slightly cruder version of its desired effect. Bravo didn’t express the contrition appropriate to goading a person into criminality.

The different between the responses of Bravo and Cosby’s networks may be attributed to the gulf in the seriousness of the alleged crimes, but there could be more at stake. In 2012, it emerged that deceased TV personality Jimmy Savile, an entertainer equivalent in status to Cosby in British popular culture, had been one of the country’s worst ever paedophiles, a fact widely known during his lifetime but downplayed through his connections to the UK establishment. The revelations about Savile laid bare a culture of sexual abuse and assault in British showbusiness in the past few decades. Of course, I’m not suggesting that what Cosby is accused of doing is on the same scale as Savile’s serial child abuse, although both have a moral point-of-no-return.

I make the comparison because in their knee-jerk reaction to media-led allegations, Netflix’s decision to postpone Cosby’s special, NBC’s termination of a new Bill Cosby sitcom, and TV Land removing reruns of The Cosby Show from their schedules might be a tactic to draw a line under the controversy before it takes out any more of the entertainment legends their business depends on. There’s no reason to disbelieve the women who are coming forward to accuse Cosby, since they have all to lose and nothing to gain by smearing the comedian’s good name, but the networks have based their verdicts calls on unsubstantiated claims in lieu of a police investigation. If CNN’s reproach of Joan Tarshis is representative, it’s not about solidarity with Cosby’s alleged victims.

There Goes Honey Boo-Boo!

There Goes Honey Boo-Boo!

TLC cancelled Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo as June Shannon apparently resumed her relationship with Mark McDaniel, who was convicted of molesting June’s daughter Anna Cardwell. The network should be commended for sacrificing one of their most valuable properties in making a moral stance, but TLC’s rhetoric about their duty of care towards the Shannon children is disingenuous. A network statement said TLC was committed to ‘health and welfare of these remarkable children’ but they’ve never been conflicted about exploiting their socio-economic disadvantages for entertainment and, as E!’s TV review The Soup illustrated, the network haven’t made any interventions to prevent the children’s health problems. While Bravo is clearly the most exploitative network here, at least it doesn’t pretend to have anything but self-interest at heart.

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’

 

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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