Drowning in Summer's Reality Glut
Wipeout by Adam Larkey/ABC
First, some good news before the bad: July is less than a week away, and a month that once upon a time signified the absolute doldrums for TV fans now looms like an oasis of bountiful pleasures, with returning shows on the horizon including
The Closer, Burn Notice
combo, and the piece de resistance of
's second season. (You'll also want to add HBO's gripping
docudrama miniseries to your calendar.) Naturally, this is all on cable, but this is still especially good news after the dismal reality circus of June, capped by the current week's onslaught of ridiculous time-wasters.
More than ever, I've been feeling trapped in a bizarro world, as if I'd bought a subscription to a season of "To Each Their Own" theater. I know there are people out there who get their jollies at watching elaborate and messy pratfalls accompanied by snarky commentary- the model being Spike's
, which I found mildly amusing until at least the first commercial break, after which I grew quickly bored- and in a way, I almost admire the simple stupidity of ABC's new slapstick obstacle-course contest
(which was a lot funnier when teased in clip form). With
, and the much more generically insipid show that follows,
I Survived a Japanese Game Show
, the titles couldn't be much more clear about what you're getting yourself into.
scores at least a little higher on the guilty-pleasure meter, because it does nothing but cut to the chase: the chase being a muddy and wet playground of slippery slides, wobbly platforms and dizzying challenges all designed to send players of various abilities- many chosen for their apparent lack of stamina (the better for us to laugh at)- into the muck and drink as often as possible.
The "big balls" obstacle, in which even the best contestants run afoul of giant rubber balls that bounce them like pinballs into the water, is the standout attraction so far. "It never gets old," says field correspondent Jill Wagner. She's almost right, although
actually doesn't get funnier the more you watch. In part because it's overrun by the commentary of smug clowns like John Henson, whose comments go like this: "Jen told us she's on the market? She's already getting hit on," as a contestant gets "sucker punched" into the mud. I think I'd enjoy
more if it just had a merry musical soundtrack and kept the stupid wisecracks to a minimum. Besides, by the end, the remaining players muster up enough enthusiasm in the pyrotechnic and visually impressive "Wipeout Zone" final round to convince you that an actual game is being played. With no contestant sob stories gumming up the works,
is at the very least a more simplistically entertaining piece of escapism than NBC's tiresome
remake, which already appears to have run out of steam this summer.
The less said the better about
I Survived a Japanese Game Show
, in which 10 all-too-typical "reality" types are recruited to go to Tokyo, where they're thrust without warning onto the soundstage of a frantic Japanese game show that puts them through silly humiliating stunts, none of which have been particularly memorable so far. As the studio audience wildly shrieks and chants, I'm afraid this member of the at-home audience couldn't help stifling yawns as we were taken backstage and at home (where a dour "mama-san" tries to keep them in line) and forced to try to care which of these narcissistic bozos was sent home first. Sayonara, show. I don't think I could survive sitting through a second hour of that one.
As silly as ABC's new reality shows are- and I wouldn't be surprised if
at least gets a healthy tune-in- they're almost instant classics compared to the junk NBC is offering up this week.
Celebrity Family Feud
, which also bowed Tuesday, is so inept it makes me sorry I ever said anything negative about CBS's
Million Dollar Password
(which won me over the night that Betty White proved she'd lost none of her game-playing moxie). In the new and unimproved
, Al Roker plays cheerleader to a ghastly parade of has-beens and their entourages in an endless, charmless hour that depressed me no end. Survey says: Loser.
The Baby Borrowers
, starting tonight (Wednesday), is a reality "experiment" (code word for irresponsible exploitation) in which teen couples are given life lessons in responsibility by being saddled with infants to look after, while the real parents observe on monitors and occasionally intrude when they see their little darlings aren't being fed or bathed properly by these clueless brats. What were these parents thinking? In future weeks, the couples will be given toddlers to look after, then pre-teens, then (preposterously) actual teenagers to be in charge of, and eventually the elderly to take care of. (Who'll be watching over the teens then? Nursing-home volunteers?) This ugly, dull show of tantrums and bawling- and we're not even talking about the babies here- feels like the longest installment of
ever. And I don't mean that as a compliment.
And now to end on a positive note, since that's how I started: FX's first
"mini-sode," in which a fasting Sean (Steven Pasquale) tried in vain to stick to his "cleanse" while his firehouse buddies gorged on Lou's home-made donuts, provided more genuine entertainment in a mere five minutes than in the multiple hours of reality sludge I'd consumed over the last day or so. A scatological vignette that showed our heroes as obsessed with their bowel movements as they are with their steady intake of nicotine and caffeine and other "toxins," this felt like it should have been a curtain-raiser for an actual episode. Instead, it reminds me how much we're missing by FX virtually sitting out the summer this year. So much for ending on that positive note, I guess.
Isn't July here yet?
Read Cheers & Jeers take on Celebrity Family Feud