Friday, April 28, 2006

Random TV Show of the Week* 3

*Well, a week.


It isn't a good sign when a show inspires more interest in the production meetings that the content. Such is the case with the Travel channel's dopey and yet oddly addictive attempt to connect with the youth market, '5takes'. (Note hip lack of spacing.) The premise is simple, yet overinvolved: take five attractive young people, outfit them as backpackers and send them on a trip around the Pacific rim, on a budget of fifty dollars a day (plus thousands for plane tickets, but that doesn't seem to come up). Add a website (see above) where viewers can go to tell them what they should do, and have a camera crew film them doing it. (The original plan seems to have been to have them filming it themselves, which resulted in classic scenes like the completely black screen with a couple of spots of light, and five people talking about how completely amazing this view of the night skyline is. Hence, professionals.) It's kind of like Road Rules without the drunken one-night-stands or the girl with the eating disorder.

The hosts are called 'travel journalists', though none of them seem to have any journalism experience, or 'tj's for short. (I can just imagine the producers coming up with that one: "It's like DJ! Or VJ! The kids these days love acronyms! LOL!")They all have their own little labels, like Spice Girls- nightlife guy, culture girl, etc. The problem is, they aren't necessarily experts at their assigned areas. The extreme sports guy can barely surf, and the food guy is grossed out by vegemite, driven to puking by worms and has never seen a rambutan before. (It doesn't help him that the show is on directly before Anthony Bourdain's, who can eat a raw seal eyeball with only mild disgust.) In general, they seem to have been picked more for their abilities to speak clearly to the camera and look good in a bathing suit than for any special qualifications.

I have to wonder, am I the intended audience for this show? It's true, I am well out of the hostelling stage of my life; these days I prefer my rollerbag and en suite accomidations to backpacks and flip-flops in the shower. And even though all of the 'tj's' are in their mid-twenties, the thing has the feel of something that would come on late saturday morning, maybe around eleven, after Saved By the Bell.

In fact, in spite of all its studiously-attempted hipness, the real appeal of the show is in how endearingly square it is. Everything these guys do, they approach with complete sincerity and a total absence of cynicism; their confessionals (and isn't it odd how standard a part of TV that has been come?) are almost overwhelmingly earnest. They seem genuinely happy to be where they are, doing what they're doing, and it can be fun to get carried along in their enthusiasm and imagine what it would be like if you were doing the same.

A wholesome guilty pleasure, if there is such a thing.

Best thing: When they gathered for a picnic on the roof of their hostel in Sydney, eating fish caught and cooked by two members of the group and talking about friendship in a way that only people who met a week ago on a trip can.

Worst thing: When the Culture girl went on a cringe-inducing side trip to a kind of aboriginal theme park, where several thousand years of native history is reduced to a couple of dance numbers and a boomerang throwing lesson.

Tivo status: season pass

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Geek out!

I just preordered this and this. I am absurdly happy, because I am a geek.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Every once in a while I will be driving along 80 and I'll think: Hmm. This road goes all the way across the country, doesn't it?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Random TV Show of the Week 2

Deadliest Catch

Recently, someone suggested that, as a writer, I should go and work on a fishing boat in Alaska to gain inspiration. I knew this was a stupid idea, because I watch this show.

The thinking behind it is simple: Alaskan crab fishing has the highest death rate of any job in America, so film some a couple seasons of it and maybe someone will die. Fatalities=ratings. Unfortunately for the Discovery Channel, the old spoilsports a Fish and Game decided that "deadliest job in America' was not a distinction they wanted one of the industries they control to have, so they instituted some changes.

Under the old system (as seen on Season 1), a quota was put in place for how much crab could be caught in a given season, but there was no limit on the number of boats that could go after it. So the opening of the season would be declared and everyone goes hell-bent-for-leather for the next three days, trying to get as much as they could before the quota was met. Triumph of the free market system? Sure. Recipe for disaster? Damn straight. Under the new system, a few of the top-producing boats get a pre-determined share of the catch, and several weeks to meet it. It means that (presumably) fewer people will die, but a lot of those people who aren't dying are out of work. So there's some tension, as evidenced by a profanity-laced rant by an old-timer, but less drama.

So, in the fine tradition of 'nonscripted' TV, drama must be generated from the footage on hand. Grousing by some crew members on a boat where a younger guy is about to take over as captain is recast as incipient mutiny, the decision whether to wait out a storm or keep fishing warrants an end-of-episode cliffhanger and said rant is teased over three commercial breaks.

Which is not to say there is no danger involved here. There's rain and snow, seas rough enough to make a seagull puke, giant metal cages swinging around on a crane and the constant threat of being swept overboard by one of the giant waves of testosterone rolling across the deck. But mostly what's interesting about it is the glimpse it provides into a completely unfamiliar world, the thinking, the economics and a little bit of the culture of it. I know it's far from a complete or completely accurate picture- the Heisenberg uncertainty principle goes for double if there's a television camera involved- but, believe me, this is as close as I am ever going to get.

Best thing: The vicarious thrill of watching a hugely full crab pot come up over the side.

Worst thing: The vague sense of guilt felt when eating overcooked crab legs in a buffet.

Tivo status: Season Pass

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Contact info!

Out of frustration at not being able to contact other people through their blogs, and no small amount of hubris, I have decided to include my email in my profile. I'm not sure why, since everybody who reads this already has my email (and my home number, and knows that I never have my cell phone both charged and with me) but hey, I'm not getting nearly enough spam these days.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Now this is how you start a season.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Random TV Show of the Week

I've decided to introduce a new feature here on the blog, to while away the time until I actually do something interesting enough to write about. And since everyone in the known universe is blogging about American Idol, and I don't have anything more to say on the subject anyway, I'm going with this. Each week, until I get bored or distracted by something else, I'm going to do a little write-up of some tv show. Please do not expect any rhyme or reason to my choices. You should know me better than that.

This week: American Inventor

Not going too far afield with this one; it's produced by our old buddy Simon Cowell, proving that he is indeed a one-hit wonder by reproducing the American Idol template with this duller, sadder ripoff. You've got the same format (a panel of "experts" travels the country and passes judgment on an assortment of hopefuls both promising and pathetic, voting to send them to the next round for further cuts), the same focus on cruelty over content, and the same initials. 'Inventor' even has a bargain-bin Ryan Seacrest knockoff as host.
What makes it different is that these are not misguided teenagers who think they can sing, who are hurt by the rejection but probably weren't planning their entire futures around making it as pop stars. These are adults who have invested years of their time and sometimes all of their life savings in their 'inventions', being told that the dreams they have been living for will never come true. It's the schadenfreudiest!

Best things: The lady with a rare baldness disorder who invented absorbent pads to be worn under wigs and hats and the guy who made an alarm clock that jumps and bounces away from you when it goes off.

Worst things: The guy who invented fart deodorizer pads giving a detailed description of his wife's battle with flatulence, the guy whose product was a disembodied doll's leg that you squeezed to make a condiment come out the foot, called, naturally, 'ToeJam'. Eww.

(Side note: The show would be more accurately named 'American Product Developer'; almost nothing I saw would actually count as an invention.)

TiVo status: one thumbs-up

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Here I go again

Getting ready for my next big trip- to New York in May. I haven't been there since I was a little kid (all I remember is that it was really windy on top of the Empire State building), so I'm really excited. As is my habit, I have been gobbling up the guidebooks; one of my favorite parts of traveling. It's like going to a new place without the trouble of finding public bathrooms!
The plan so far: I'll leave May 11th and be on my own for a week, then Mom will come out and join me and we will go to my cousin Ella's graduation from Sarah Lawrence. So far my must-sees are all the standard tourist spots: the Met, MoMa, the New York Public Library, the Museum of Natural History (dinosaurs!), Central Park and the Statue of Liberty. Of course, at least sixty percent of my time will be spent wandering randomly down unfamiliar streets, trying to figure out where exactly I am. I hope all that stuff about New York being safe now wasn't too exaggerated.

And I might, just possibly, do some shopping.