The Benefactor
What a fall ABC is having, huh? Thanks to Lost, Desperate Housewives and Wife Swap, the network finally appears to be back on the ratings map. Of course they're still stuck with According to Jim. And Rodney. And Complete Savages. Oh yeah, and this Apprentice knockoff that no one bothered to watch. Realizing that their bid to make Mark Cuban the next Donald Trump was failing miserably, ABC actually skipped a couple of episodes and aired the season finale last night. So now that it's over, let's analyze the reasons The Benefactor didn't work:
Reason No. 1: Mark Cuban has zero personality.
I don't care if he does own a basketball team, this Tony Robbins look-alike earns the Mischa Barton award for Most Wooden Screen Presence. I never thought I'd say this, but I missed Donald Trump's bottomless ego — and his nonstop parade of kooky ties.
Reason No. 2: The "cast" was strictly bottom of the barrel.
Not since NBC's ill-fated Next Action Star has there been such a sorry bunch of reality-show contestants. Word must have gotten out that the craft-services table was better on The Apprentice.
Reason No. 3: No boardroom
'Nuff said.

The Swan
You know, I normally don't feel guilty about being a fan of reality TV. Sure, the much-maligned genre has produced a number of terrible shows (the aforementioned Benefactor, Playing It Straight, Stephen Baldwin Must Die aka Celebrity Mole: Hawaii), but it's also led to some pretty awesome television — like the first season of The Apprentice, the second season of The Surreal Life (in which we learned that you never, under any circumstances, threaten to eat one of Vanilla Ice's children), Survivor: Pearl Islands and every season of The Amazing Race. But then there's a reality series like The Swan, which makes me rue the day that Mark Burnett said to himself: "Boy, you know what would be fun? Stranding a bunch of jackasses on an island and filming it!" Seriously, this show isn't even trashy in an entertaining way — it's just ugly. Speaking of ugly, the first half of this two-hour season premiere was a "Where Are They Now?" segment that brought us up to speed on all of last season's victims... I mean, willing participants. There hasn't been that much plastic in one room since the Rivers family reunion. Bada-bump-ump-ching!

The Brooke Ellison Story
Since this triumph-over-adversity biopic was Christopher Reeve's last completed project, it would have been easy for people to give it higher marks than it deserved. Fortunately, the film turned out to be a pretty good, with several genuinely touching moments and a great performance by Vanessa Marano as the young Brooke, who was left quadriplegic following a car accident. There was a level of realism here that this kind of tearjerker normally lacks, for which we probably have Reeve to thank. It couldn't have been easy coaching the actresses on how to act out a condition he lived with every day, but at the same time they couldn't have asked for a better teacher. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio also turned in a strong performance as Brooke's put-upon mother. Hard to believe it's been 13 years since Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. At least this time she didn't have to worry about being upstaged by a crappy Bryan Adams song.

How To Monsterize Everything
But what if I don't want to monsterize anything? What if I'm perfectly happy with my unmonsterized apartment and furniture? Does that make me less of a man? Apparently yes, as does the fact that I have consistently neglected to grow some really bitchin' facial hair. But you know what? I'm OK with that. I'm also perfectly OK with watching other people admit a bunch of rowdy designers into their living spaces so they can transform everyday objects into completely impractical (but cool-looking) devices. I was particularly fond of the drive-in car, where the front hood popped up to reveal a movie screen. Why, with that contraption you could reenact the famous French Connection car chase without leaving the comfort of your driveway!

2004 Radio Music Awards
So there I was, all set to tune in to this year's Radio Music Awards, which honor... actually, I'm not exactly sure what they honor. Artists who don't annoy the monolith known as Clear Channel Entertainment, I'm guessing. Anyways, my reason for watching this otherwise pointless awards show was to see if Ashlee Simpson would redeem herself for that embarrassing snafu on SNL the other night. But I guess my TiVo had other ideas, since it neglected to record this Very Important Event. For that, I place the blame squarely on Ashlee's daddy Joe Simpson, who clearly uploaded some sort of virus into TiVos across the country so that people like me wouldn't be able to play back his daughter's performance over and over again in slow motion, checking to see if her lips were actually moving. Yes, that sounds much more plausible than just my having programmed the darn thing incorrectly....

The First Lady: Public Expectations, Private Lives
At the risk of once again revealing my utter lack of machismo, I must admit that I've always found Barbara Bush (Dubya's mom, not his party-hearty daughter) to be one of the scariest people on the planet. I know she's always cultivated this image as a grandmotherly type, but she strikes me as the sort of person who could stop a person's heart with one icy glare. Growing up with her as a mom, I'm not surprised her eldest son looks petrified anytime he has to answer a question in public (inside he's screaming, "No wire hangers, Mother, no wire hangers!"). Anyhoo, Babs was one of several former first ladies, including Hillary Clinton and Betty Ford, interviewed for this PBS documentary about the role of the first lady in modern politics. The filmmakers also scored sit-downs with the current candidates for the position, Laura Bush (whom I'm convinced is some sort of a robot — or a former Swan contestant — since I've yet to see her blink on camera) and Teresa Heinz Kerry, who wisely did not tell the interviewer to "shove it." I guess she realized that that didn't go over so well last time.