The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘reality TV’

Role Play

June 8, 2015 | by

holidayintheprotectorate

A still from Holiday in the Protectorate.

Readers of the New York Times may have noticed a recent story about a new Czech reality show. In the tradition of Victorian House and other total-immersion programs, this one sticks modern people in another time—specifically a 1939 “remote mountain farm” in what was then the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Hilarity does not ensue. As the article explains,

There, they must not only survive the rigors of rustic life with dated appliances and outdoor plumbing, but navigate the moral and physical dangers of life under Nazi rule.

German troops (played by actors) kick down their doors in the middle of the night. Local villagers betray them to the Gestapo. Food is scarce. Conditions are crude.

Everything about this show sounds distasteful, certainly. Besides the obvious objections, the basic flaw in these time-travel shows—the assumption that you can switch off modern mores along with central AC—seems doubly true here. Reading about it, I was reminded of when my father and I had gone to an exhibit featuring artifacts from the Titanic. To enter, we’d had to show a “boarding pass,” and they’d made us pose for an obligatory picture together at the top of the stairs they’d re-created, just like Rose and Jack in the movie. Read More »

Danke Schoen

November 3, 2014 | by

newton

A still from The Entertainer, 2005.

If I need to, I can date my periods of depression by the corresponding enthusiasms for terrible TV shows. Enthusiasms is maybe the wrong word: let’s say commitment to.

Now, at the best of times, I can be sucked into watching almost any show—give me a marathon and I’m yours for the next twenty episodes, and I genuinely mourn the passing of Most Eligible Dallas—but when I think of the other times, the bad times, my devotion had a different quality: resigned, enervated, yet obsessive. It was sort of coaxing a tepid crush out of boredom; with a little care and a lot of time, you can create something that approximates a genuine interest.

And I was willing to put in the time. There was my relatively respectable Upstairs Downstairs fixation after I moved into my parents’ house after college, when I’d spend my days crouching by the mail slot, waiting for the red Netflix envelopes to arrive with my fix. Even now, I see those weeks in 1970s BBC yellow. Less defensible was the obsession with the Australian soap McLeod’s Daughters, which could only be watched (a) during the day and (b) on Lifetime. This one crept up on me. Did I enter a McLeod’s Daughters contest to try to win a trip to the outback? Maybe. Let’s just say that when the booby prize, a faux-silver cowboy-boot key chain, arrived in the mail, it felt like a wake-up call.

But by any measure, the nadir came in the summer of 2005. I know the date because it was the one and only season of Wayne Newton’s The Entertainer, which aired on E!. Wayne Newton’s The Entertainer was part of the spate of copycat programs that followed the early success of American Idol, and the talent-show premise was similar. Ah, but here was the twist: The Entertainer was not restricted to singers—it sought to give exposure to all kinds of Vegas-style razzle-dazzle. As such The Entertainer was composed not merely of singers, but of ventriloquists, magicians—sorry, “illusionists”—and comedians, too, all vying for the grand prize: opening for “Mr. Vegas” himself. (Apparently Wayne Newton is called that, though I’m not sure by whom.) Read More »

Repent at Leisure

July 30, 2014 | by

Dagnan-Bouveret_Une_Noce_chez_le_photohraphe

Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, Une noce chez le photographe, 1879.

My father is a great TV watcher, and he keeps me abreast of the state of American television. Recently, he urged me to watch the U.S. reboot of the British reality show Married at First Sight, which, as the title suggests, introduces two willing strangers at the altar and marries them, albeit with the input of shrinks, matchmakers, sexperts, and various other professionals.

“It’s fascinating,” my dad assured me.

“I don’t want to watch that,” I said. “To see people either that lonely or that desperate to be on TV would only make me sad.”

“There’s that, of course,” he conceded, “but when you think about it, that’s how your great-grandparents met. And I’ve often wished I could arrange marriages for you and Charlie.” I prudently decided to not interpret this as a dig at any of our romantic partners. I suppose he wasn’t wrong about the matchmakers, but it does seem that, with parties of identical upbringings and cultural mores—not to mention not much premium placed on modern marital happiness—the shtetl varietal had a somewhat easier time of it. Read More »

America’s Newest Sweetheart

May 29, 2012 | by

Ashley’s father died from a brain aneurysm two years ago. Chantal didn’t talk to her father for the last fifteen years of his life. Alli’s father came to her and was like, “Oh, you have a little sister.” The other Ashley’s father struggled with addiction; she hadn’t been in touch with him for years. “What makes you you?” the Bachelor had asked them.

It seems on the face of it like an awful idea to reveal deeply personal things about yourself on a show like The Bachelor, since to do so is to trivialize not only your own life but the lives of the people who love you, to cede primary control of your identity to People and Us Weekly and the Internet comment monster. But if you want to win The Bachelor and/or win the heart of the Bachelor, sooner or later you’re going to have to tell the saddest story you know about yourself. It will be about your father, and it will make you cry. As you wipe away the tears, you'll smudge your dark eye makeup. The Bachelor will put his arm around you, maybe run his hand through your hair, maybe even kiss your forehead. You’ll laugh and say, “I can't believe I’m crying.” The Bachelor will tell you it’s okay to cry. He’ll be so grateful that you finally made yourself vulnerable for him. He really will. He knows it’s not easy for you to open up. Those tears will tell him you’re here for the right reasons.

Read More »

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Remembering Sendak, Gaining Honors

May 9, 2012 | by

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