Competitive competition-watching, part 1: Oh, shut up and go marinate something

Public service announcement: Y’know what would make a great gift this holiday season? Fashion sweaters from the Bay. Get two or three of ’em – heck, run right down that list, maybe all the way to Fido.
Cashmere would be good, but really, any natural or acrylic fibre will do – it’s not like Gramma’s gonna know the difference. C’mon now, who doesn’t lurve big poufy sweaters in the middle of a cold winter? All that softness, all that coziness, all that ability to maximise your honey’s resemblance to an adorable stuffed animal except with breasts…
…Seriously, those of us whose job satisfaction – not to say overall sanity – is closely tied in to how much of this winter’s ‘hot trend’ their bosses see left on the shelves in April will really, really thank you.

Public service announcement for that-one-mystery-IP#-from-Vancouver-who’s-logged-in-like-thirty-times-in-two-weeks: Thanks, it’s appreciated. Even if it turns out only to be by a random search engine bot. Always nice to be needed.

Bob & Ray moment of the week (yep, it’s the random spillage of love that just keeps on giving): A skit from late 1959 that features Bob agreeing to help with a preview scene of Mary McGoon’s (performed by Ray) new radio drama. For those of you keeping track at home, we end up with Ray ‘s character approving Bob’s voice for a character he’s performing opposite Ray’s character performing another character in the drama, while Ray prompts both his character and Bob from the script. After which Ray’s character complains to Bob that his character’s voice could’ve used more of an Italian accent.

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So I was musing over the State of the Blog the other day, and it occurred that for a journal that was founded on a series of critiques of Canadian Idol, this one contains precious little in the way of lightheartedly obsessive analysis.

It’s not that the love is gone, far from it. Everybody needs to feel superior to his fellow man at some point, and Shoemom and I, not being quite able to challenge the local rocket scientists yet, still get real satisfaction out of competitive-reality TV.
The problem is – well, first of all, that the distinction between superior and not gets a little blurry in the process of scrutinizing and then transcribing every little detail of a famewhore’s day. Eventually, you discover that it’s much easier and more pleasant to claim that you’re just too superior to bother at all.
It helps that we’re lately obsessive mainly over Food Network and HGTV, thus most of the series we watch are on second-run from the States or UK. By the time we Canadians get a crack at, say, HGTV’s Design Star, the winner’s already worried about their first-season ratings. It’s even more difficult to maintain superiority – let alone a point – when you’re prattling on about stuff your audience is all “Yeah, been there, watched that, contributed to the Wikipedia article, moving on now…”

Which is kind of a shame, because all snarkiness aside, watching cooks and designers do their thing under pressure turns out to be amazingly rewarding – even meaningful. When it’s done right, anyway. Over the last year or so, we’ve accumulated a lot of insight into the genre as a whole…

What stands out most of all is how much I’ve learned to prefer shows that don’t require the winner to take on a show of their own, ie. Bravo’s Top Chef and Top Design. Sure, instant fame and fortune is a whoa-AH! amazing prize in theory; but in practice it just gets in the way. The really interesting stuff about these people – if there is any – tends to get lost under the artificiality of first wanting to be, and then having to be a ‘TV personality’.

Ironically enough, real superStar chefs and designers, the Jamie Olivers and Candace Olsens of the world, are where they are mostly because they ignore the camera totally, just revel in what they’re doing. I’m not saying that a certain amount of personality isn’t required; that was hammered home more than once…and I do mean hammered, which is the sound your head makes when hitting the remote against it in frustration at one more literally chintzy smile on Designer SuperStar Challenge.

Thing is that these ‘next Star’ shows tend to go about the search in exactly the wrong way, by insistently separating out the concepts of talent and charisma. Charisma is largely the ability to communicate enthusiasm and belief; it stands to reason that the more you have to give artistically, the more you’ll be able to give to an audience.

That’s what we get to see, albeit in embryo, on the Bravo series at their best – people who want to prove they’re the best at what they do. Pride and passion flaring on a regular basis. That’s what was conspicuously missing from, f’r instance, The Next Food Network Star, in which the contestants were chided on such grounds as their dishes were too complicated. Net result: you ended up with the people who came off best on the Rachael Ray show. One of whom was this ‘great personality’ down-home sorta gal whom nobody ever seemed to notice had hideous mutant teeth…but my therapist says it’s best I don’t bring that up anymore.

Even in a quick glance over the HGTV message boards, it’s noticeable how much more sophisticated the viewership is on that score than they’re given credit for. The first season of Design Star did in fact zone in on the contestants’ talent almost to the point of charming naiivety, featuring several people with their own design businesses and twins with degrees from Harvard Architectural. Result: a surprise hit series that actually spawned a viable hit host (at least in the US *grumblegrumbleohsurewecanseethewinnerbutnothisshowgrumble*), David Bromstead of Colour Splash.
The second season, apparently having been locked in a small closet by Nigel Lythgoe and Jeff Probst until they said sorry,  DS’ producers hastened to assemble a bunch of game designers and hairdressers and a guy calling himself Sparkle Josh. Result…well, I haven’t seen it, but from the many disgruntled comments on the boards, I’m not missing much. The consensus was clear: Lose the ‘personality’-filled losers, bring back the viable talent. Words for any cable TV producer to live by, really.

However, for the moment Shoemom and I are stuck with what we’ve got…that, and our finely Idol-honed ability to turn reality lemons into tart lemonade. Tune in next time for the results of the Official Shoe Central Best in Reality Snark…

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