Monday, September 5, 2011

Reality TV and ethics: mutually exclusive?

Like a lot of people, I was interested to see how Bravo would handle the suicide of Russell Armstrong on the season premiere of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  I'm surprised but I'm not at the result: three and a half minutes of the cast sitting around, minus the (estranged) wife of the dead man, talking about how awful it was, without even so much as a photo or a "In Memory Of" title card to remind the audience of who we're talking about.  And then they just eliminate his storyline and any of his appearances from the premiere episode, like he never existed in the first place.

I was also surprised, but not surprised, that the season premiere wasn't pushed back a week or two.  From a pure ratings standpoint, it is probably going to be a home run for Bravo.  But from a moral and ethical standpoint, I'm wondering how well the programming department and production company responsible for the show are sleeping tonight.  It seemed like a slapped-together way to deal with something that other networks have dealt with in a much more extraordinary and respectful fashion.

VH1 pulled an entire series (Megan Wants a Millionaire) after one of the contestants killed his estranged wife and then himself.  As much as I loved the ...of Love franchise and all of its spin-offs, I thought that was the wisest decision to make.  It feels strange to watch a dead man on TV, let alone one who has done such horrible things.  RHOBH is slightly different, in that Russell Armstrong certainly wasn't a primary cast member, but I was left feeling a little disgusted with myself, because I didn't change the channel tonight.  I kept watching.

How responsible is Bravo for Russell Armstrong's death?  Not at all, really.  He knew he had things he didn't want the world to know, but he signed the release and appeared on the show anyway.  He made his decisions, and he should have been more prepared to live with the consequences.  He wasn't.  Should Bravo have had more safety nets in place to prevent this from happening?  I don't know.  It wasn't up to the network to see how deep his problems were reached if his family didn't see it coming.

Should I have kept watching?  Or even watched in the first place?  Probably not.  But we all like a trainwreck.  That's why reality is so successful; it appeals to that part of us that loves to see what nonsense other human beings are up to.  There have been a few interesting articles in the last few weeks about how far is too far for reality, and whether or not there should be a moral code producers should follow in order to care for the participants.  (See NPR and Playboy - careful of that URL if you're at work - for more, said better then I could.)  It's good that it's becoming part of the conversation, but the issue is that reality is so prevalent because it's so cheap, and it's so cheap because they aren't produced under the protective umbrella of unions.  I don't think it's ever going to happen without those protections.

Actors in unions are guaranteed breaks, and certain working conditions, and certain pay rates.  Reality TV participants are not, and they are further hamstrung by incredibly restrictive contracts that basically mean they sell their soul for the chance to be on TV.  I can't figure where the problem starts: in TV for wanting to make money off human tragedy, or in the desire some human beings have for fame, and the lengths they'll go to get their faces on TV.

At its best, I think reality TV is a great way to see a slice of life you wouldn't have seen before, to be exposed to people you would never meet in your daily life, to get a look at how others live, to give people a chance to share their stories.  At its worst, it's exploitative and cruel and damaging to the people who participate.  I don't know what Bravo should have done tonight, but I know that what they did wasn't enough for this viewer.  I also know I'll keep watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills this season, because I want to know what happens next, and I know I won't be the only one.  What I don't like is knowing that the act of viewing makes me complicit in the potential harm this genre has.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

OMG I know

It's been so long I've let my domain name expire.  Update thy bookmarks, sayeth the Lord, to this thy free blogspot address.

ANYWAY so here's what I'm loving in a too-many-Skittles-my-teeth-feel-gritty-kind-of-way:

1. Real Housewives of Orange County: the First Ladies of Bravo are officially caricatures of themselves.  I love it.  There's so much Botox barely contained in their foreheads I feel like someone's face is going to explode and it's going to be all over my living room.

   a) Did we really have to see Tamra and her vaguely hunky boyfriend boning in the bathtub?

   b) Does anyone believe Gretchen and Slade are really together?

   c) Is anyone else sad knowing that Vicky and Donn have split up?

   d) Brilliant editing during Alexis's family trip to San Diego.  "I love that my husband is the king of the castle!" juxtaposed with eye roll over getting the king more toast.  I like to picture 50-something dudes editing Real Housewives while drinking heavily.

2. Bethenny Ever After: obviously I love Bethenny, but who I'm really loving is Jason.  Like, I want to marry him.  He's fan-freaking-tastic.

3. Amazing Race: Unfinished Business.  Look, anything that brings back the Cowboys and the Globetrotters in the same hour of TV is fine by me.  Some of the challenges have been a little lame, but overall, I'm having an absolute blast watching this season.

4. Sister Wives.  This falls into the can't-look-away-category for me.  And for my mom and half of my friends, because during the whole show we're shooting text messages back and forth like:

"EW Jenelle's mom is Kody's dad's second wife?"
"How does Kody get away with a two seater sportscar when he's the dad of 19 kids?"
"Dude.  What the f*ck is wrong with these people."

Look, you can go on and on about how great it is to have all of these women around to support you and share a household with, that's fine.  But you can do that without all boning the same guy.  See: The Golden Girls.

5. Teen Mom 2.  I cried during Corey and Leah's wedding.  What?  Don't look at me like that.  It's normal!  It's perfectly normal!

6. Top Model.  I'm getting back into it this season.  Bitchy Alexandria and Louise Brooks lookalike Brittani are totally doing it for me.  FIERCE.

So I'm going to try harder at this whole blogging thing.  If I'm going to watch all this crappy TV, I might as well do something with it.  And since my only "good" TV show, Mad Men, isn't going to be back for like eighty billion thousand years, this is what I'm stuck with...


Monday, September 20, 2010

Old friends, new love

Not only have I gone months without updating my blog, I went months without watching On the Road with Austin and Santino.  Oh, if I could turn back time!

Seriously, this show is a perfect little dreamy bite-sized strawberry cupcake.  Austin Scarlett and Santino Rice are former Project Runway contestants (from back in the day that I actually watched the show, aka when it was on Bravo) from season one and season two, respectively.  Now they're BFF and traveling the country designing dresses for women with special events.  And it's an absolute delight.

Here's the thing: they're going to small towns, designing for things like beauty pageants and birthday parties and bachelorette parties.  This show could definitely be snarky and unkind.  It could take every opportunity to make fun of small town life and small town women.

But it's not.  Every episode of this show has me in tears at the end, because the women are always beautiful, and Austin and Santino are genuinely enthusiastic about they do, genuinely kind to every woman they design for, and have a really fun and wonderful friendship.  It's not a makeover; they're not there to tell these women what's wrong with how they dress and how they can change it.  They're there to help them celebrate a special occasion in a beautiful dress.

Beautiful dresses are one of the best things about being a girl.  I don't get to wear them nearly enough, but dresses are one of my favorite things.  I love beautiful, well-made dresses, dresses with full skirts you can spin around in, dresses that sparkle, dresses dresses dresses.  I have dresses in my closet that I've only worn once and I'll never get rid of them but I'll never wear again because they're all tied up in my mind with the night I wore them.  And it's silly because they're only clothes, but they're like little friends in my closet who remind me of that moment when I felt beautiful.  Austin and Santino are giving away that moment: that moment when you know you look amazing, the best version of yourself, that moment when you feel like the prettiest girl at the party, that moment when you feel people's eyes on you.

This show has a huge heart.  And the biggest surprise is Santino.  I loved him on PR, but he definitely had an acerbic, biting wit that rubbed some people the wrong way.  Here, he's warm and caring and dear God, he's hysterical.  They're both hysterical.  I need to figure out a way to move in with them or give them their own channel.

Also, I found my wedding dress in episode five.  I just need Austin to re-create it for me.  And then I need to find someone to marry and stuff.  I can't find a picture of it online, but go here and if for some reason you don't want to watch the entire delightful episode, scroll ahead to about 18:40 and there you have it.

The only thing that could make this show better is if Tim Gunn showed up.  In the meantime, let's reminisce about Project Runway back in the days where I never missed an episode.

(On the Road with Austin and Santino airs on Lifetime on Thursday nights after Project Runway.  If you watched the first two seasons of Runway at all you will love this show.  Set your DVR.  For realsies.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

ashamed of myself

I come here with my head hung in shame.

I have weeks worth of Teen Mom unwatched on my DVR.

I could care less about the Real Housewives of DC.

I forgot to set my DVR for the new season of AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL.

I am a terrible bad TV fan and blogger.  I hope now that it's fall I'll be more inclined to spend time indoors watching things and writing about them.  But if I forget to set my DVR for The Amazing Race I should probably just give up altogether.

Hopefully you and Tyra will forgive me for my lack of output this summer.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Teen Mom! I missed you!

I am ashamed to admit I totally forgot Teen Mom was premiering last night until I went to a friend's house for wine and dinner and he reminded me.  So we curled up with some ice cream and raw cookie dough and dug in for another season of Teen Mom amazingness.  Quick thoughts on each mom, coming up:

1. Yo, Amber and Gary: "The heat of the moment"?  Did you not figure out what got you pregnant the last time around?  I know it might be hard to find a condom with all the lounging Gary's doing, but seriously.  Wrap that up.  Or visit a happy place called Planned Parenthood and get thee on the pill.  While Leah is the cutest baby on the show (closely followed by Bentley), I don't really want to see you guys have another one.

2. Break my heart, Catelynn and Tyler.  BREAK MY HEART.  Seriously.  Seeing that one lone tear roll down Tyler's face when he said "I just miss my daughter" turned my stomach inside out.  And Catelynn having to move back to the House of Mullet...those poor kids.  I hope they can make their relationship work long-term because he's such a good guy.  I totally agree with Tyler's mom for asking Catelynn to leave, though; regardless of what they've been through I don't think teenagers in a relationship should live together.

3. Maci: YOU GO GIRL.  Way to take that loser Ryan's ass to court for refusing to pay child support.  She seems to be the mom who has it the most together - but she also seems to have the most supportive family.  It's refreshing to see a teenage girl on this show standing up to one of these asshole boyfriends.  And according to US Weekly she has a new, fantastic boyfriend, so I'm interested to see how that dynamic plays out.

4. Farrah.  Farrah, Farrah, Farrah.  Your mom had no right to hit you, but you are the most irritating person ever, and I think a cat is probably a better mother then you are.  Pick up that screaming, crying baby and put her to bed instead of yelling at her to "stop crying."  I want to feel bad for you, but you and your mom are so insufferable, I can't.  I'm intrigued by the season preview showing her finally talking about her baby daddy - it's never been dealt with on the show, but Sophia's father was killed in a car accident shortly before or after Sophia was born, I can't remember which.  I think exploring that would make Farrah way more sympathetic.

I am so excited to have this show back.  Wahoo!

Monday, June 28, 2010

An Open Letter to the Ladies of New Jersey

Dear Real Housewives of New Jersey:

Look, last year was great.  It really was.  But things are different this year, and there are some things I want to talk to you about that are bothering me that I think you can work on.

1. If I have to hear Teresa brag one more time about all the sex she's having with her greasy goombah bankrupt husband, I'm going to throw some ham at the TV.  And we all know how Caroline feels about people throwing ham.

2. And while we're on the topic of Teresa, if there's any way to get her hairline a little further away from her eyebrows, I would really appreciate it.

3. And in a similar but opposite note, why don't you take the space needed for Teresa's forehead from Danielle's, because she has some stretched-taut room to spare.

4. Danielle: you are crazy.  Not only for the obvious reasons, but also because when you threaten to take your business away from a local boutique, you say "they'll miss my money."  Um.  I thought you couldn't afford to fix up your house to sell it?  How much money are you spending on clothes?  Could it perhaps be better spent on, you know, your crumbling ceilings?  I feel like Danielle's beyond professional psychological help here, but there's nothing here that a good financial planner couldn't fix.

5. Caroline.  You do not have an empty nest.  Because ALL THREE of your ADULT CHILDREN live at home.  Stop crying about it.  Maybe use that time instead to think about where you might have led them astray since, you know, they're over 18 and LIVING AT HOME.

6. And while we're on the topic of adult children on this show, why are they all useless?  And why are their parents surprised that they're so useless?  I mean, someone had to raise them, right?

7. Jacqueline needs to find something to do.  Besides complain about Danielle.

8. Actually, that goes for everyone.

9. In conclusion, I miss Grandma Wrinkles.

New Jersey, you're no NYC, but I want to love you.  I hope we can make it work.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

I finally get it!

(Okay, first, I apologize for my absence.  Summer in Minnesota is interfering with my reality TV viewing.  It'll get better in the fall.)

I just finished hour three of Real Housewives of New York City reunion special insanity, and I had a brainwave.

You know why I like these crappy TV shows so much?  Because they make me feel so wonderful and normal by comparison.

Three hours of watching grown women yell at each other like they're on the 5th grade playground has done it.  I can count on one hand (without using many fingers!) the number of screaming, yelling fights I've had with a friend after the age of 18.  I really can.  Friendships aren't about fighting and cattiness and bitterness; they're about finding like-minded people or people whose viewpoints you had never even considered and loving it and (I hate to use a phrase Kelly Bensimon uses) celebrating the people who land in your life.

And these Housewives claim they're all such good friends, but, man, if I found out that my friends were talking about me or found myself talking about them the way those women talk about each other, I would just have to give up and sequester myself in my house with my cat and never go outside again.

It's all about the lowest common denominator.  I've believed this since my first casting gig in reality TV and I believe it to this day: the kind of people who would reveal their lives to that degree in such a public forum have something wrong in their heads.  I would die if I was on national TV looking the way I look first thing in the morning, or the way I am when I'm crying and snotty and irrational, or the way I act when I've had a few too many.  But these people put it all out there, and whether it's brave or foolhardy, it really puts things into perspective.

I mean, okay, sometimes I have disagreements with people.  But at least my disagreements aren't replayed on Saturday marathons on national TV.  And sometimes you say and do things you only mean in one instant that you regret the next, but at least it's not captured on film for all time.  My moments of anger and unkindness and sadness are private, and only I have to relive the discomfort of that time where I really wasn't the best person I could be.

So when I'm feeling particularly low, all I have to do is click on my TV and watch someone who signed a release form they probably didn't really read do something they regret and I can think, "Hey!  It's not so bad!  At least my life isn't a TV show and I don't have to watch this for the rest of my life anywhere but inside of my head!"

In a weird way, thanks, Housewives, for letting yourselves be exploited.  It reminds me that even though my clothes may not be as fabulous and my hair might not be as shiny, at least I'm emotionally stable, which is better then any piece of incredible footwear.

(Even though I'd sign on for one day of complete and total reality TV humiliation to get my hands on Jill Zarin's amazing teal shoes from the reunion show.  Did you see those?  Hello.)