Friday, May 16, 2014

Reality TV, A Primer and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "The Railway Man," DVDs "I am Divine" and "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," as well as a new book about the band Earth, Wind & Fire and give you the opportunity to buy a cool Creetisvan T-shirt.]

But First

If you have been reading my blogs, you probably have already figured out I am a hopeless reality TV junkie.

I confessed my addiction to TV in my post "Confessions of a TV Addict," but the addiction is primarily around Reality TV.

I am so bad I used to wish my children would get on "The Real World."

And this year I applied to be on "Big Brother." 

I guess they don't want old broads on the show.
(I like the UK version better, where they don't seem to mind old broads).

Now before you judge me, I am here to say that you can actually learn some things from watching reality TV, and I am going to share that with you.

But first,  let me give you a little history of the genre.

You might not be a reality TV junkie like I am, but you have probably at least seen some episodes of "Dancing with the Stars" or "American Idol."  Those fall into the Reality TV concept.

I enjoy those programs and do like my reality TV with a dose of competition, but I especially like watching people just living their lives.

If you have followed reality TV at all, you might think that American "Reality TV" began with MTV's "Real World."  You know the show...



"This is the true story ...of seven strangers...picked to live in a house...work together and have their lives taped...to find out what happens...when people stop being polite...and start getting real..."

Anyway, that's the way it used to open. 

Recent incarnations have shed some of the older production values to try to compete with social media and stay relevant, hence the last show which was in San Francisco (again), where they surprised the cast by bringing in their ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends, actually showed the camera people filming them (which was a real no-no in the past) and used Twitter-like captions -- all to the show's detriment, in my humble opinion.  Likewise, "The Real World" used to film 24/7, cast members were never allowed to take off their microphones and it was not scripted.  All that seems to have changed.

However, "The Real World" is the longest running program in MTV history.

But, if you thought that was the show that started it all, you would be wrong.

What started it all was...drum roll, please...PBS!  Gasp!  Not the home of "Downton Abbey" and other highbrow television?

Yes, my peeps, it all began with "An American Family," a television documentary filmed in 1971 that first aired in the U.S. on PBS in early 1973. 



There were 12 episodes edited down from 300 hours of footage.  The show chronicled the experiences of the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California and unintentionally witnessed the breakup of the family when Pat (the wife) asked for a divorce.  In 2002, "An American Family" was listed at #32 on TV Guide's "50 Greatest TV Shows of all Time" list, and it is one of the earliest examples of the "reality television" genre.

After I saw that series, I was hooked on the drama inherent in everyday life and documentaries in general.


And then along came "Survivor."



"Survivor" is credited with popularizing modern reality TV, and I guess must take the blame for the likes of "Naked and Afraid" and "Celebrity Wife Swap."

(I have to add that many of the reality shows that have aired in the U.S. are variations of shows from other countries, and "Survivor" is no exception.  The first televised version of "Survivor" was in Sweden).

"Survivor" aired on U.S. television in 2000 and is still doing well, though the producers keep tweaking it to attract viewers, something purists like myself do not like.  I am so glad they have done away with Exile Island, a device used to allow eliminated players to get back in the game. It was not a good concept and I'm glad it's gone.

But Survivor has survived because it really has it all.  It is part drama, part game show, part endurance contest.  What more could you ask for on a weekly TV program?

Now we have reality shows in every genre imaginable.

There is something for everyone.

There is self-improvement reality - The Biggest Loser (they are now casting Season 16); Remember The Swan?  Oy!

Singing and Variety reality - American Idol, The Voice, America's Got Talent (AGT new series starts May 27).

Dancing Reality -So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars

Home Improvement Reality - Design on a Dime, Love it or List It, Flipping Out

Real Estate Reality - House Hunters and House Hunters International

Cooking Reality - Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen, MasterChef
(Gordon Ramsay is actually nice on MasterChef and new season starts May 26).

Fashion Reality - America's Next Top Model, Project Runway, Fashion Police, Ru Paul's Drag Race, Fashion Queens

Addiction Reality - Celebrity Rehab, Intervention
(Both controversial shows.  Sadly, Intervention is no more, but you can see past episodes here.  Intervention was a serious show that helped many addicts and won several emmys.  This was one of my all-time favorites.  I guess it ended because addicts were getting wise to the show and the interventions. I noticed in the last year, they were in Canada a lot!)

Finding Love Reality - The Bachelor (casting now.  Know any cute guys who need a gig?), The Bachelorette (new season starts Monday, May 19th), Millionaire Matchmaker,
I Wanna Marry Harry
(OK, remember Joe Millionaire, where a not too bright construction worker pretended to be a millionaire to get the girl?  A sort of Bachelor for dummies?  Well, speaking of dummies.  I have to see "I Wanna Marry Harry" just to see how dumb these girls are to think this is Prince Harry and that he would go on a dating show to find love.  These girls are seriously in need of a library card, because they need to READ!)

Confessional Reality - True Tori (cringe - poor Tori), Lindsay (cringe - poor Oprah, she got worked!).

Travel Reality - Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, No Reservations, The Stopover (these are all stellar)

Social Media Reality - Catfish

And of course,

Housewives Reality - Beverly Hills, NJ, Orange County, Atlanta, Miami, DC, NYC and finally - I can't wait - London!

In addition to all of these, we have seen teen moms, little people, out of control 20-somethings, Courtroom shows, I could go on and on.  If there is a topic, there is probably a reality show about it.  Quite overwhelming, right?

Well, good thing you have me.  I watch all of this crap. 

I will help you sort out the best of the lot AND, as promised, tell you what you will learn if you take the plunge.

Note:  I am leaving "Survivor" off this list and giving it the Lifetime Achievement Award.  It deserves it.

Likewise, I am leaving out talk shows (Jimmy, Bill Maher, Letterman) and documentary news such as Dateline, 48 Hours and 20/20, because the list would just be too long, though I am a huge fan of all.

So here we go!



*The Best Reality Show for Armchair Travelers*


"The Amazing Race."


Why is it good reality?

The Amazing Race is the fastest hour on television. 

It has the drama of the interaction between the paired contestants as they race around the world and the viewer gets to see the world with them. 

Host Phil Keoghan seems to genuinely care about the players when he has to say to that episode's losers, "You are the last team to arrive. I am sorry to have to tell you, you have been eliminated from the race." 

Keoghan relates that more fans than he cares to admit come up to him and beg him to say that to them!



What you will learn:  This show will up your knowledge of geography and remind you of why you should never travel with your ex.



*Best Reality Show if you have Two Left Feet*



"So You Think You Can Dance"


Why is it good reality?

This is "American Idol" for dance. 

But it is so much classier. 

Yes, it has auditions, but far fewer of those "bad" auditions Idol likes to cram down our throats thinking we actually believe these people think they can win.  All of the contestants here are treated with great respect. 

New Season starts May 28

What you will learn:  You will appreciate that dancers are probably the hardest working performers there are.  Their bodies have to do things bodies are not supposed to do.



*Best Reality Show For Learning About Strange Food Concoctions*


"Top Chef"

Why is it good reality?

Because who knew the world of cooking could be so vicious and odd food pairings so delicious? 

Host Padma Lakshi is a skinny bitch, so it's heartening to know she gains at least 10 pounds during the show.  I know.  That's bitchy.  Sorry.



What you will learn:  Vanilla Oreo wafers make a delicious coating for fried chicken fingers.  Who knew?




*Best Reality Show for Wannabe Fashionistas*


Project Runway

Why is it good reality?

Because would be fashion designers wearing all sorts of strange and adventurous clothes and haircuts vie for money and props as best designer by whipping up more strange and adventurous clothes in just one or two days.

From Heidi Klum's little girl voiced "Hello" to the would be designers to Tim Gunn's "Make it work," this is a fun peek into the world of fashion.  And it's Tim Gunn that does make it work.  He is so fantastic that he had his own show this year - "Under the Gunn."  I adore this guy.



What you will learn:  You don't know as much about fashion as you thought you did. Sometimes a really ugly dress is considered high fashion.





*Best Show for Aging "Real World" Stars to Earn a Few Bucks*


The Challenge



Why is it good reality?

Because the competitions are almost as fun as the drunken shenanigans back at the house.

"Real World" alums come back year after year to exotic locations to compete and try to win a couple thou because it doesn't look like they have a lot going on anywhere else. Some of these folks must be pushing 40! 

But if you have watched "The Real World, "Road Rules," and this one, you get attached to some of these nutballs and it can be a lot of fun.  And they say, when you are a person of a certain age, you should hang out with all ages.  So I hang out with these guys.

What you will learn:  People will do anything to keep their 15 minutes of fame alive. But hey, you do what you have to do.



*Best Show for Gordon Ramsay Fans*


Kitchen Nightmares

Why is it good reality?

Gordon Ramsay is just good reality, period.  He lets it all hang out and he is a world class chef who knows what he is talking about.  Or should I say yelling about?

He is involved with many shows here and in the UK (Hell's Kitchen, Masterchef).  In this one, he travels to restaurants that are having financial difficulty and losing customers. 

There is a formula here.  Gordon tastes the food, spits it out, yells at the restaurateurs, and they usually come around at the end and it's all warm and fuzzy. 

Except this one.





What you will learn:  Don't sign up for a show like this if you are not expecting Gordon to ___ you a new one.



*Best Show if You Like Dancing AND the Housewives AND Gordon Ramsay*

Dance Moms

Why is it good reality?

Abby Lee Miller is the Gordon Ramsay of dance. 



I feel like I shouldn't like Abby or Gordon.  Abby yells at little kids and says inappropriate things and Gordon yells at his chefs and says f**k me all of the time, but I can't help it. 

There is something about people who can just be themselves and get away with it.  They don't give a crap what you or I think.  They are on their path and that's that.  In my case, I feel like every time I veered from the expected path, I got "caught."  I never got away with anything, so I have a certain respect for people who just say and do whatever they want and let the chips fall where they may.  And it's amazing how many of those kinds of folks are very successful.  Mmmmm.

And then there are the moms.  They are the "dance housewives." They are more of an aside than the main attraction, but they are still fun.

But other than Abby, the dance competitions and the girls are the highlight here.

What you will learn:  If you have talent or something people want, you can act however you want.



*Best Show for Singers who aren't beautiful*

The Voice

Why is it good reality?

It's a singing competition, but there is some fun and variety to the competition itself and the judges are successful singers, not producers or has-beens.

The judges have their backs to the singers and only turn around if they like what they hear and want that person on their team.  If more than one judge turns around, the singer gets to choose his or her team.  The judges mentor their teams and through a series of "sing offs," judges eliminations and voting by the public, the winner is proclaimed.

The judges are first class singers:  Blake Shelton, Adam Levine ("The Sexiest Man Alive." I didn't say that, People Magazine did), Shakira or Christina and Usher.  The judges sometimes change from season to season but whomever is judging, it's about mentorship, not insults.

"The Voice" has supplanted American Idol as the #1 singing competition and the premise here is the judges judge on the voice, not on the contestants looks, though their looks might come into play later. The judges are also much nicer than Simon Cowell, though the absence of Simon Cowell was probably why the ratings went down.

What you will learn:  when you are not basing your judgment of the contestants on looks, charm and whether they are boy band material or not, you get better singers.



*Best Show for Social Media Junkies*

Catfish

Why is it good reality?

Because this is the product of the host having been catfished himself and.  it's part private detective work and park schooling on how to effectively use the Internet.

Nev Schulman and his side-kick, Max Joseph, two very likable and empathetic guys are asked for their help by people who are worried they are being catfished.

You wonder why people, especially young people, are so lonely that they think they are actually dating or in a relationship with someone they have never met and only know online.

For the full impact of this show, see "Catfish, the Movie," Nev's true life story of being catfished and why he now has this TV show, available on Netflix and possibly ON DEMAND.

What you will learn:  There are a hell of a lot of lonely young people out there.



*Best Show for Voyeurs*


Big Brother

Why is it good reality?

A bunch of strangers are locked up in a house for three months and they plot, scheme and form alliances so as not to be voted out of the house.

What you will learn:  Nothing but I just can't help myself. 



*Best Show for Your Inner Drag Queen*

Ru Paul's Drag Race

Why is it good reality?

Because the contestants must win competitions, create fabulous drag outfits and lip-sync to win the title of "America's Next Drag Superstar." 

How can you resist a show that wishes the winners
 "Con-drag-ulations?"  It's like that.

What you will learn:  Drag Queens are really witty, have great style and a huge sense of humor.  And so should you.



*Best Show for the truly addicted*

Any of the housewives

Why is it good reality?

Because watching other people live out their dramas while I am drinking a glass of wine with my feet up is very relaxing.

What you will learn:  that you are truly addicted


What is your favorite reality show?

C'mon, I know you are watching!

 
 


***In Theatres Now***
 
 

True life story of British officer Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), who was taken prisoner by the Japanese  during WW II and forced to work on building the Thai-Burma Railway. He was tortured and years later, still reliving the horrors.  When he discovers one of his torturers is still alive, encouraged by his wife, Patti (Nicole Kidman), he travels back to the site of the labor camp to confront his tormenter.

The film jumps back and forth, weaving the present day of the film (1980's) with the WW II scenes.  Jeremy Irvine plays the young Eric who with his fellow imprisoned soldiers construct a radio so they can hear what is happening in the outside world.  When discovered, Eric takes responsibility and is tortured for the reason behind the radio.  One of the torturers is also the translator - Takeshi Nagase (Tanroh Ishida).

Eric is a train enthusiast and while riding a train meets his soon to be wife and Eric is able to find a modicum of happiness.  But he can't shake the dreams and flashbacks of what he went through.  When he discovers that Nagase is still alive and earning a living giving tours of the prison camp and when one of his friends, who was also in the prison camp, kills himself, Eric realizes he must confront the past.

Though Colin has some chances to emote, most of the dramatic legwork comes from young Jeremy.  I mean he is being tortured after all.  And Nicole doesn't really have that much to do.  And that dark, short hair. Not a good look, Nicole.

This is a serious look at the horrors of war and the redeeming powers of forgiveness. Though this is a very earnest depiction, which some may criticize, it's so gratifying to see a film aimed at adults, and I am not talking about porn here. 
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...a touching story of forgiveness with a little bit of "The Bridge on the River Kwai."




***DVDS***
You Might Have Missed
And Some You Should Be Glad You Did
(I see the bad ones so you don't have to)
 
 

I Am Divine (2013)



Before there was RuPaul, there was Divine.

Harris Glenn Milstead (his real name) was dubbed Divine by high school friend John Waters', and he became Waters' inspiration and muse.  He starred in the infamous John Waters films "Pink Flamingos," "Polyester" and the highly successful "Hairspray."

Divine met Waters in high school in Baltimore and together they made excessive, shocking and sometimes gross movies (check out "Pink Flamingos") in the 1970's, which led to surprising success for both of them.

This documentary of Divine's life reveals the man behind the drag, his excesses (massive pothead and food addict), his estrangement from his family, who didn't accept that he was gay,  and his desire to shed the drag persona to become a straight actor and performer.  Unfortunately, he died of a massive heart attack at the age of only 43.

But his legacy lived on. He was the inspiration for Ursula, the Sea Witch in "The Little Mermaid."

"All my life I wanted to look like Elizabeth Taylor. Now Elizabeth Taylor looks like me."

There are interviews with Waters, members of the Cockettes and others influential in his life and they paint a portrait of a person who found himself a persona, became famous for it, but could never get away from it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a John Waters fan, this is especially a must see, but you need to know who, according to People Magazine was "The drag Queen of the Century."  And it wasn't RuPaul.




The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
 
 
 
 
The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug, the dragon.

It hurt just to write all of that because this thing has become so complicated, who the hell knows what is happening?  I read "The Hobbit" years ago but I don't remember it being so confusing.

This is the second in what looks to be a trilogy but I recommend watching the first one again, because watching this second installment, I was pretty much lost.
 
They have a good Liv Tyler lookalike in Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom is quite the handsome elf, but this was not just the "desolation of Smaug" for me it was the "Desolation of Slog."  It was a hard slog.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...as sequels go, this one doesn't work.  The ending is a total rip-off forcing you to wait for the next installment to see what happens.  Even if something is part of a series, you shouldn't have to wait for the next film to find out what is going to happen after spending 161 minutes on this installment. I hate that!
 


***Book of the Week***
 
 
 
Shining Star:  Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire by Philip Bailey (2014)
 
 
Bailey, lead singer for the group, tells his story.
 
Bailey spends a lot of time talking about charismatic founder Maurice White, and well he should, because it was all about his vision.  Bailey was known for his soaring multi-octave range and distinctive falsetto.  It's all here...but that's the problem, very earnest, very and then we did this and then we did that.  Not the most compelling memoir, especially since he had his share of wives and extracurricular activities. It lacks details and depth.
 
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...for hardcore Earth, Wind & Fire fans only.
 
 

***Concert of the Week***
 


Creetisvan at JumpIt Sports (Redmond, WA)
May 10, 2014
 
 
Mike and Hubby, who make up Creetisvan, were asked to play at a benefit for the Susan G. Komen Foundation Event at JumpIt Sports owned by ex-Seahawk Joe Tafoya and his wife Brandolyn.  Highlights included an impromptu Johnny Cash song per audience member's request.  Great music, great food, great folks and I got to try on Joe's NFC Championship ring!  Thanks, Joe!



 
Thanks to Anna, Joe, Brandelyn, Sharon, all the great staff at Jumpit Sports.

Rosy the Reviewer says...For Creetisvan Fans - Become One.



Be the first in your crew to wear this proudly.  Here is order info.


That's it for this week.

See you Tuesday for

 
"How To Stay [Happily] Married For 30 Years"







Thanks for reading!

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If I reviewed a movie, you can now find my reviews there too.
Find the page for the movie, click on "Explore More" on the right side panel and then scroll down to "External Reviews."  Click on that and you will find me alphabetically under "Rosy the Reviewer."

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