Murder and Matchmaking

Murder and Matchmaking
A novel mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Pride & Prejudice

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Now for some scathing reviews...

Continuing on with my current trend of veering wildly from one inconsistency to the next like a drunken lunatic behind the wheel of a dodgem car at the fair, I thought I’d do another review-based post. Although I thought this time I’d opt for the more reliable mode of the popular critic by slagging things off. Fear not though if you have concerns that this will lead me to conform to the generally expected codes and conventions of reviews. I flatter myself that I shall be adding a more unpredictable flair to my criticisms by only reviewing TV shows that I haven’t actually seen.

Such an exercise may seem remarkably pointless at the outset. Why should anyone bother to read a review about television shows that even the reviewer cannot be bothered to watch? How can anyone get that incensed over a subject on which they are so blatantly ignorant?*

Now is a time when the world seems to be facing an appalling number of crises. On the global front, the constant barrage of troubling news about the environment, the economy, poverty, diseases and international conflicts mean that your daily intake of current events is about as cheerful as your average Dostoyevsky novel.

On a national level, things aren’t any better. The government seems to have taken to introducing nasty-minded policies with all the moustache-twirling glee of a dastardly villain in a Victorian melodrama, hastily tying national parks and beneficiaries to the train tracks and then gloating at us all with maniacal laughter.

In times like these, our days are incredibly stressful. Worrying about the ever-increasing tower of problems and injustice, writing strongly-worded emails to MPs and joining all the Facebook protest groups is exhausting. At the end of our days, kiwis should be able to switch on the TV and find some relaxing escapism from the terrifying levels of impending doom and destruction. Television may not be much more than valium for the masses, but if there has ever been a time when everyone deserves a pleasant hour or two of self-medicated numbness from the misery of real life, it’s now.

That’s why I find I am compelled to wail and moan about that most despised of television: Reality TV.

I know, I know. Surely, everyone on the internet has already mocked and criticised Reality TV. It seems like a lazy target, like I’m kicking the wheezy, unpopular kid at school when they’re curled up on the ground having already been beaten up by bigger, tougher bullies. I don’t want to be the inept wannabe thug who gets a kick in only after everyone has had a good go, but I fear that on this occasion, I might have to be. Reality TV has really annoyed me. It’s broken my pencils and stuck chewing gum in my hair one too many times. I can’t resist the urge to give it a kick in the shins now, even though it’s a hardly a fair fight.

I should mention that I’m not opposed to the idea of Reality TV in itself. In fact, I think the first series of the first show of any particular concept** is probably interesting enough to watch. After all, there’s heightened human conflict and drama between the contestants, the additional element of competition and suspense, and often a pretence that they’re giving us insight into the ‘reality’ of surviving on an island, running a restaurant, becoming a famous singer/model/designer/performer or successful business person. Of course, it’s all so artificial and staged that we’re all abundantly aware that the ‘reality’ show is no more of an accurate representation of the actual reality than the experience of watching an episode of ‘Wheel of Fortune’ is like using a dictionary.

My biggest gripe with Reality TV is the sheer amount of repetition there is. I fear this is a common enough complaint, but surely we New Zealanders are afflicted with a far worse time of it than other countries. What seems unaccountably cruel is the obsession TVNZ broadcasters have with screening countless series of international versions of a show for a year or two before forking out cash to buy the format and then making a NZ series of the idea as well.

This is a particularly vicious form of evil. We’re expected to endure the American, then the British, then the Australian versions of the same show, each with diminishing budgets and production values, and then, to add insult to grievous injury, they make the NZ one, which is unfailingly the cheapest and blandest of the lot. Shows like ‘The Apprentice’, ‘ Idol’ and ‘Masterchef’ are hard enough to endure multiple seasons of as it is. We’re all sick to death of them by the time they get round to making the NZ one, and then our one looks cheap and pathetic in comparison to the show that we didn’t even like in the first place. Some of them look like they weren’t shot in proper studios. Donald Trump had a swanky board room to fire aspiring business persons in and Alan Sugar had a cold sterile set which seemed to be an appropriate match for all the warmth and kindness of his tender soul. I fear ours has been filmed in the back of a shed with a couple of sheets of cardboard dragged in for a backdrop****.

The ‘’s Got Talent’ shows are even worse for inducing nationalistic shame and embarrassment. Presumably, these shows are meant to create some sense of patriotic pride, at least that’s what I have inferred from the title. Watching a televised talent show and being blown away in amazement that there are people who can sing, dance, juggle or perform some other form of entertainment. But the thing is that I don’t find it amazing at all. I already knew that there were people who were good at those things. People whose talents were so great that they actually performed them for a living. I could go to a ballet and the stage would be entirely occupied by people who can dance ballet very well. Concerts are an excellent place to go if you wish to listen to people who can play their instruments admirably, and operas are almost entirely performed by people who can sing opera. If you care to visit the theatre, you most likely shall behold actors acting. I doubt that any of us have lived such sheltered lives that we weren’t already aware that there are numerous people who were good at these things.

Of course, I may well be missing the point. The purpose of the show is perhaps to cast a spotlight on those overlooked talented people, the aspiring and amateur performers. This is not a bad idea in itself. Maybe people have forgotten about the joys of community theatre and so forth. Perhaps we have forgotten that people who aren’t paid large sums of money can be talented too. Are we as a society too inclined to acclaim only the highly successful and ludicrously famous? Have we been neglecting to praise the talents of the amateur artists in our clamour for the works of celebrities?

If this was the original ideal of the show, I would not object. It seems a nice idea to showcase the talents of so-called ‘ordinary’ people. Give some people a chance to get to be on TV and maybe even win a prize. Sort of like a larger scale version of a school talent show. Loads of kids get to perform on stage and then receive an appreciative round of applause from the favourably-disposed audience of parents and grandparents. Mum and Dad can film their child’s performance and feel in the heady glow of parental pride that the money they’ve been shelling out for ballet or oboe lessons has not been wasted.

However, I fear that this nobler idea has been perverted into yet another means of manufacturing celebrities. The Susan Boyle phenomenon for example. The hype around the fact that a lady who didn’t fit the usual requirements for a glamorous singer could actually sing was artificially made to seem like a shocking revelation. It isn’t. None of us should be astounded by the fact that someone who looks like Susan Boyle can sing any more than we find it incredible that someone who looks like Beyonce can.

Are we meant to be shaking our collective heads in bewilderment, remarking that ‘it’s almost like what you look like doesn’t have any bearing at all on your ability to sing’? We all knew that already. We didn’t think that external attractiveness was an accurate indication of musical talent or any other skill or ability for that matter, did we? I don’t assume that someone with poor dress sense would be incapable of filling out their own tax return or that a person with an unflattering hairdo wouldn’t be able to parallel park. Why then should I be expected to be amazed that a slightly frumpy middle-aged lady can sing? Are the likes of Simon Cowell so out of touch with reality that they didn’t think any woman existed who wasn’t gorgeous, skinny and under forty? Had they imagined that any female deemed by society to not be attractive or fashionable enough must be so lacking in other skills as to be worthless, and should be driven out with pitch-forks to live under a bridge and jump out to scare children?

Whatever the reasoning for these ‘some country or other has got talent’ shows, surely they are best enjoyed only within the confines of their own country. Watching another country’s talented amateur performers who are possibly doomed to become the latest reality TV celebrity is rather like sneaking in to watch a talent show at a school that your child doesn’t go to. There can’t be a good reason to do it. If the performances are universally impressive then you’d feel concerned that your own child’s school wouldn’t measure up, and if the performances are bad, then you’re just sneering and judging someone else’s kids in a mean-spirited way, and enduring a painfully tuneless rendition of Greensleeves on shrill recorders as well. It’s a lose-lose situation.

It’s particularly bad for New Zealanders. We’re the smallest school in town and we’ve only a pathetically meagre budget when it comes to the Arts. We shouldn’t be forced to watch other countries’ talent shows and reality series before our own. It’s just going to make us feel worse about ourselves and we already suffer from an inferiority complex and self-hating cultural cringe. Any more of these low-budget versions of international reality shows and none of us are going to be able to look each other in the eye. We’ll be forced to invent more thinly-veiled suicide attempts to market as ‘extreme sports’ to the tourists. I can’t take the risk of the remorseless despair that might be induced if I risk watching NZ Masterchef. What if they’re only attempting to make sausage rolls or reheat a potato-topped pie? What if they don’t even manage to do it without burning the pastry whilst somehow still failing to adequately cook the meat filling? It could drive me over the edge.

I better join Facebook and start a ‘New Zealander’s against remaking local version of reality shows’ group.

* A question I have indeed found myself asking on numerous occasions when I have read the ‘letters to the editor’ section of the local newspapers.

** There are some concepts that never should have been made. The show about finding the next Pussycat Doll for example***.

*** Possibly I would hate the existence of this show less if they hadn’t replaced Veronica Mars with it.

**** As I have steadfastly refused to watch or discuss the show I have no idea, nor any desire to learn, where it was filmed. That doesn’t mean I can’t belittle their set design.


housemonkey said...

I agree with the point of your review most wholeheartedly, but can people please stop confusing the rather lovely Simon Callow with the execrable Simon Cowell. This is the second blog I've read where the writer has done this. To be fair, I haven't watched any reality tv recently, but I'm pretty sure that Simon Callow has nothing to do with any of them.

Simon Callow:

Simon Cowell:

Debbie Cowens said...

Oops. I have corrected this error. I feel horrendously guilty and like I should write an apology letter Simon Callow. Can't think of anything worse for a chap than to be mistakenly confused with Simon Cowell.

I'm surprised it's happened before. It seems a particularly egregious typo. I blame sleep deprivation or lack of caffeine or something...

Anonymous said...

As a professional modeller I was shocked to discover that there wasn't a single differential equation in "America's Next Top Model". The contestants all seem to rely on self-validation and the error analysis is superficial to say the least.

Debbie Cowens said...

Heh. Maybe we should cobble together a pitch for 'Palmerston North's Next Top Modeller'. :-)

Rachel said...

IIRC, NZ is actually to blame for the Idol format - whatever the show was called that produced True Bliss was first, then the UK's Pop Idol, then the rest followed. We have a mutual friend who had some involvement in the NZ version, but I believe I'll grant her name suppression :).

Other than that... yes. I do have a weakness for reality tv formats that involve people with an actual skill - Project Runway is my chocolate-coated-crack.

I'm not sure which is worse, though - the shows that follow someone around while they go through the skull-grindingly-dull minutiae of their every day life (Gene Simmons, Hulk Hogan, Ozzy Osbourne, for example) or the almost farcical shows like Rock Of Love Bus, where skanks compete to see who'll be allowed to officially shag the hat-wearing singer from Poison or... something about teaching women how to come across well on a date, or guys disagreeing with their mothers about girlfriends. I don't know. There are a lot of ads for these shows on C4 and they all get muddled together.

I might watch a show where rock groupies compete for boob-jobs by singing whilst wearing clothes designed by their boyfriend's mother, all the while negotiating an obstacle course in the jungle which includes the choosing, cooking and presentation of a meal to make the gods weep in ecstasy. Yes?

Debbie Cowens said...

Yeah, I'd watch that. I bet a lot of people would. :-)