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Summer Viewing Report 2010 September 16, 2010

Posted by Ted in : America's Got Talent, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, DTV, ER, Friends, General, Hell's Kitchen, Inspirational, Lost, PBS, Reality TV, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Supernatural, The X-Files, Whedonverse , add a comment

The DTV Nightmare Part IV: In spite of the umpteen public service announcements that promised all I had to do was hook up a digital converter box and my TV viewing would not be affected in the slightest by the digital television transition, I discovered after the switch that I was unable to receive my local ABC affiliate — in spite of buying two different antennas for that purpose — and was unable to watch the final season of Lost. Not the biggest surprise of my life. It’s OK, I’ll just pick up Lost on DVD. That show’s definitely worth owning. I’ve already started to accept the fact that this could the beginning of the end of free over-the-air television, thanks to the greedy telecom companies wanting to usurp all the extra bandwidth, and I could eventually be forced to pay for cable or satellite television for the first time in my life. Honestly, the thought of paying a monthly fee for TV makes my stomach turn, but I guess I’ll just cross that bridge when I get to it. I may have to change the name of my blog to Book Wormhole. God knows, I have plenty of books to read.

So maybe the fact that one of the major networks is out of my life for the foreseeable future accounted for the lack of things to watch on TV this summer. Although, that seems unlikely, since Lost is the only show I can remember watching on ABC since The Six Million Dollar Man. I guess part of the problem is I’m finally getting tired of some of the summer reality junk that used to amuse me on occasion. I once again elected to miss the circus of stupidity called Big Brother, and sidestepped the parade of wasted lives know as America’s Got Talent. I chose to opt out of Chef Ramsey’s masochistic cooking school for a second season in a row, maybe I’ll be bored enough to watch him next time Hell’s Kitchen rolls around, and yes, there will be a next time. There’s always a next time for these abusive British types.

Supernatural reruns: This CW show has been pretty amazing for the last couple of seasons in spite of the fact that I never particularly liked the Winchester brothers. Their melodramatic bickering and overwrought machismo are still annoying at times, but the show consistently delivers interesting, well written stories, with witty dialogue reminiscent of Buffy in her heyday (but don’t tell Dean I said that).

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Need To Know: I tuned in to the new PBS public affairs program, needing to know if the show was a worthy replacement for the recently ended Bill Moyers’ Journal. It’s not a bad program, but they seem to take more of an apologist stance on American foreign policy than I would have hoped for. In other words, more of the same warmed over middle-of-the-road opinions you can hear anywhere else. Well, we can look on the bright side. Maybe the talk radio Nazis will quit calling PBS liberal now that Moyers is gone. Of course, they would have to actually watch the network to figure that out, which seems unlikely.

Ghost Story / Circle of Fear: Lucky for me, I have a small stockpile of DVDs of favorite TV shows from the past. These are a real lifesaver at times when there’s nothing on but infomercials or court shows. Receiving top billing here in the crawlspace this summer was an old childhood favorite, which had never been officially released on DVD, but I was enthused to find it for sale as a bootleg. It was a supernatural-themed anthology show (meaning that each episode was a stand-alone story with a different set of characters) called Ghost Story, which was renamed Circle of Fear in its second and final season. The program is very similar in style to Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. This show originally aired in the early 70s, but I discovered through reruns in the 80s. The passing decades have only made it more appealing — the old cars, the clothes, the psychedelic music and directing style all add up to a nostalgia high for this aging potato. Plus, Sebastian Cabot adds a touch of class as a mysterious innkeeper who introduces each episode.

Hangin’ out with my Friends: Other shows in my DVD player recently included the first seasons of X-Files, ER, and Friends. You might not believe this, but I was actually going through an extended “I don’t watch TV” phase back in the 90s when the early seasons of these shows where on. But I fell off the wagon hard in 1996 when I discovered them, along with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Seinfeld. That was the year I became a TV fanatic. I couldn’t believe how much good stuff was on, and so happily rejoined the ranks of the low-brow and unrefined. My renewed friendship with the glowing box has gone on for 14 years now.

So sue me. I’m sure you anti-TV snobs that read that last paragraph will recognize me as a traitor to your cause, and call for an immediate intervention on my behalf. No doubt, you’ll have me sent to a TV watchers’ rehabilitation center somewhere, where my treatment will consist of a rigid daily regimen of life affirming get-em-off-the-couch activities, including skydiving, bungee jumping, horseback riding, cake decorating, metallurgy, tightrope walking, bee keeping, long distance swimming, marble sculpting, barehand tree climbing, helicopter piloting, CPR classes, square dancing, jazzercise, tennis, karate, taekwondo, tai chi, feng shui, and advanced survivalist training. Evening hours will be dedicated to group therapy and the speed reading of great literary classics. Concurrent with these activities, I’m guessing, will be daily deprogramming sessions involving the use of psychoactive medications and the forced viewing of Clockwork Orange-style propaganda videos. At the end of my 60 day stay I will roll my eyes at any suggestion of watching TV, and join the ranks of the sweater-wearing latte sippers at my local trendy bookstore.

PBS lightens up with As the Wrench Turns July 14, 2008

Posted by Ted in : 30 Rock, PBS, Reviews , add a comment

  

 

If you’re like me, you have listened to Car Talk on NPR (National Public Radio) for years now and learned very little about cars in the process. Continuing their long tradition of putting entertainment ahead of useful information, Car Talk hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi unveiled their new animated show on PBS last week, called As the Wrench Turns. The show is not, as I had at first assumed, merely a cartoon version of the Car Talk radio show. It’s actually a cartoon sitcom about what goes on behind the scenes at their radio show. I found the two debut episodes to be highly entertaining (PBS shows two episodes back to back on Wednesday nights). Stylistically it borrows a lot from network primetime cartoons such as The Simpsons and Family Guy, with rapid fire humor and satirical jabs at society and culture. The lighthearted spirit of the NPR radio show is faithfully reproduced on As the Wrench Turns, possibly due in part to the fact that Car Talk’s long time producer Doug Berman is also Wrench’s head writer.

The characters of the show include Click and Clack, which are voiced by their real life counterparts, Tom and Ray, along with the staff of their fictitious headquarters, long known to fans of the radio show as Car Talk Plaza. In addition to their radio show, C&C also run an on-premises auto repair shop. The first episode, “Campaign”, features Click and Clack plotting to run jointly for the office of U.S. president in order to supplement their failing NPR fund drive with campaign donations. They acquire the services of a political consultant named Jimmy, who bears a striking resemblance to James Carville. In spite of his expertise, they repeatedly botch all their campaign speeches, and end up getting zero votes on election night. Jimmy comes through with the required five million dollars for the fund drive at the last minute, donated by special interest groups in exchange for C&C’s promise to stay out of politics. In terms of pushing the boundaries of political correctness, the second episode, “Outsourcing”, gives Family Guy a run for its money. In this episode, the Bostonian brothers endeavor to make their lives easier by outsourcing their radio program to India. They discover that established radio shows such as Rush Limbaugh, Prairie Home Companion, and Howard Stern have all been outsourced, and utilize India-based sound alike radio hosts. The final scene is truly distasteful but hilarious, and involves the effects of Indian water on the human digestive system.

As the Wrench Turns is probably not as funny as The Simpsons was in its 90’s heyday, but it’s infinitely funnier than 30 Rock, and proves that making a show about a show is not necessarily an exercise in futility. It is a welcome addition to PBS’s pantheon of greatness, and adds a much needed dose of mid-brow irreverence to the more serious programming such as Frontline, Nova, and Washington Week. I’m hoping this show lasts longer than the list of production credits on Car Talk.

Tale of Two Walbergs, Episode 2: The Prophet of Doom June 19, 2008

Posted by Ted in : Antiques Roadshow, Moment of Truth, PBS, Reality TV, Reviews , 1 comment so far

 

 

 

The primetime game show Moment of Truth on the Fox network takes its viewers on a thrill ride through the private lives of its contestants, who answer awkward personal questions in front of family and friends in exchange for cash prizes. Before the show starts, each participant is required to take a polygraph test to verify the truthfulness of their answers to each question. If the answer they give to a question on the show is false according to their polygraph, they go home with no money. Contestants cheerfully come clean about their darkest secrets, often to the horror of their supposed loved ones. Some of us instinctively know we shouldn’t be watching this kind of show, but morbid curiosity takes hold and forces us to watch.

Perhaps the best thing that could be said about Moment of Truth is that it gives interesting insights into human behavior, although those insights are rarely comforting. Contestant Ellen replies with confidence, “absolutely” when she is asked, “If you knew you would never get caught, would you rob a bank to pay off your debts”. Brandon, who is a waiter, confides in front of a national audience that he has changed the amount on a customer’s credit card receipt to receive a bigger tip. It turns out we weren’t just being paranoid. Our fears are confirmed. Our faith in humanity is routinely crushed on Moment of Truth. Contestant Paul admits to his baffled girlfriend and parents that he keeps a spreadsheet of all the women he has slept with, numbering over a hundred.

One memorable episode featured hair salon assistant Lauren, who seemed determined to destroy whatever reputation she may have had before her appearance on the show. As her family and husband looked on, she answered “yes” to the questions:

Would you give food to a stray dog before you would give it to a homeless person?

Have you ever derived pleasure when one of your siblings got into trouble?

Have you ever been fired from a job for stealing money?

Have you ever taken off your wedding ring to appear single?

Have you ever cheated on your husband?

A strangely satisfying moment came at the end of this episode, when the cold blooded contestant was reduced to tears, not by remorse over her past misdeeds, but by giving a false answer and losing all her prize money. Ironically, the question that sank her, which she replied yes to, was “Do you believe you are a good person?”

Riding grimly on this apocalyptic beast of a game show is host Mark L. Walberg. He defended the show’s infamous reputation in a recent TV guide interview: “Quite honestly, the ‘wrecking-your-family,’ evildoing rap we get, I think it’s crap.” The first time I watched the show Walberg’s face seemed immediately familiar. Then a stunned realization hit me. This man was also the host of Antiques Roadshow on PBS, a show as different from Moment of Truth as could be imagined. (See my previous post for more on Antiques Roadshow).

So what has happened to Mr. Walberg? We had assumed that as a host of a PBS program he was a force for good in the world. He seems to have entered into a simultaneous incarnation as a force for all that is wrong with television. It also appears that Moment of Truth is not his first foray into the world of sleazy reality TV. A look at his Antiques Roadshow bio page reveals that he was also the host of Temptation Island. Still, we know there is a side of the conflicted MC that longs for respectability. The same bio also states that the happily married Walberg is the coach of his two children’s little league teams.

The two versions of our host have apparently become locked in a death struggle to determine the future of television and possibly the solar system as we know it. What will determine the outcome? If he is replaced with a different host on Roadshow, and remains on Truth, he will be lost to the dark side. If he remains as a fixture on PBS, and can leave behind the temptations of big-money reality TV, he may once again become a force for good in the world. The odds may seem insurmountable, as in Luke Skywalker’s one man attack on the Deathstar, but each one of us can us influence the outcome with the force of our remotes, and turn off stupid trash like Moment of Truth.

Tale of Two Walbergs, Episode 1: Hope for the Weary May 31, 2008

Posted by Ted in : Antiques Roadshow, Moment of Truth, PBS, Reviews , add a comment

 

 

 

 

 

Life is a war between two opposing forces: people who collect lots of junk, and people who throw junk away. Those of us who save our stuff view those who don’t as cold and unfeeling, lacking in sentimentality. To justify ourselves we claim that our old Star Wars figurines, magazines and broken appliances might be worth something on eBay. Beaten down and weary from our struggle, we were starting to lose hope. But what’s that in the distance? Could it be something riding to our rescue? Yes! It’s Antiques Roadshow, the PBS production that travels to different US cities so that viewers can bring in their old antiques, collectibles, and junk to be appraised by the show’s team of experts. This ingenious program allows the clutter bugs to fight back against the neat freaks, and say things like, “honey, the old rug they almost threw away turned out to be worth half a million dollars!” As a fellow junk hoarder, it’s hard not to share the joy when participants hit the jackpot. Interesting items of the past have included: A collection of puzzles, games, and cutouts from the backs of 1930’s cereal boxes appraised at $3500; a confederate punch bowl; a napkin with an Andy Warhol doodle valued at $25,000; a painting worth big bucks found in somebody’s attic; an early edition of the book The Picture of Dorian Gray worth $10,000; and a creepy ceramic jug with a face on it.

The host of Antiques Roadshow is the cheerful Mark L. Walberg (no, not the guy from Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch), who introduces the show at the beginning, and does informative segments later in the program. Walberg is clean cut and likable, but there’s something strange about him that I can’t put my finger on. He seems like he might be more at home selling cars, or hosting a game show of some kind. I’ll bet he secretly wants to throw away everyone’s junk. No, wait….that was just wrong, I didn’t mean it. We should give Walberg a chance. He’s as earnest as a Jehovah’s Witness, the kind of guy who would help little old ladies across the street. After all, he’s a perfect fit for Antiques Roadshow, the most inoffensive program you can watch with the possible exception of old John Denver Christmas specials.

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...