Friday, July 14, 2006

Some reality TV doesn't suck

So I get this e-mail:

"Why do you just write off all reality TV and say it all sucks? Sure some of it does, but a lot of it is good."

The e-mail then goes on to talk about My Life on the D-List and such.

But, actually, my e-mailing friend is right. There is SOME good reality TV out there. Some of it is even on the air RIGHT NOW.

Let's have a look, shall we?

The Amazing Race (CBS) -- The family edition was a dark hour for this show, but this is still the most fun you can have with a "traditional" reality show (i.e., a game show disguised as something other than a game show). The idea of forcing everyone to be in a pre-existing relationship with their partner before embarking on the race was a masterstroke, and that's what keeps this series going. It's always fun to watch engagements fall apart, marriages come to shambles and parent-child relationships burst apart at the seams. But that's what racing around the world will do to you. The show gets bonus points for being a super-fun travelogue as well.

30 Days (FX) -- Yeah, yeah. I know. Morgan Spurlock is a wannabe Michael Moore who has a bit too big of an ego. And now there are questions of whether the show's editing misrepresented some of its participants. (Honestly, though, how can you NOT misrepresent someone in a project like this? It's impossible to cut that much footage down to an hourlong show with any honesty whatsoever.) But this is still one of TV's most entertaining straight documentary shows. And Spurlock and the producers have a real faith in human nature, always assuming that the judgmental and short-sighted will be turned around by a walk in another man's shoes. The new season debuts on July 26 and will feature an episode where a hard-core atheist has to live as a fundamentalist Christian for 30 days. It sounds like thought-provoking good times to me!

The Bravo "creative people" shows (Project Greenlight, Project Runway, Top Chef) -- I don't like fashion. I'm not a foodie. I do like the process of filmmaking, but what should impress you is that I find all three of these shows deeply engaging. I had stayed away from Runway, sure it would be boring (I REALLY don't like fashion), but having seen the third season premiere, I can say that this show matches up nicely with Greenlight and Top Chef. All three are shows about people who are driven by creative impulses, and all three show people with some degree of talent who just want their big breaks (as opposed to something like American Idol, where the whole show is about the rags-to-riches dream). Whether it's movie making, fashion design or cooking, Bravo's shows capture that moment when a thought becomes an inspiration and then becomes a product. It's like when you were a little kid and they showed that short on Sesame Street about how crayons get made and despite yourself you were FASCINATED. Well, it's like that with a game show element added, basically.

So you see? Fun CAN be had with reality TV.

Tomorrow, a review of Crafty TV Writing, which I have been putting off entirely too long.


JW said...

I still think Survivor is by far the best reality show on tv?

If you look at it from a game theory perspective and predict who is going to win based on the editing it is fairly fun.



Todd VanDerWerff said...

I actually really liked Survivor up until the All Stars season. I think that was the worst season of the show (or, rather, the one that least lived up to its potential). After that, I just could never work up the interest in the show any more.

But I agree it's surpassingly well made. Mark Burnett is a great, great producer, as all of his shows attest. Even something like Rock Star, which should probably just be an American Idol ripoff, succeeds because of Burnett's sheer force of will.