Friday, May 30, 2008

Top 5 Worst Ideas For Reality Shows That Actually Made It To Air

To define terms: loosely, think of a reality show as anything that could win the Emmy category. I used the word "idea" on purpose, so that we are free to criticize shows we haven't actually seen. (For example, one doesn't have to watch much or any of that Britney Spears show, whatever it was called, to know it was God-awful.) This website helps:

Ryan's Top Five

1. Bonds on Bonds, ESPN - Here's an idea--let's take one of the biggest jerks in sports and give him a public forum to talk MORE about how he's been victimized. Count me in! This show epitomizes everything that is wrong with ESPN (let alone humanity, American culture, etc.). In a nutshell: excessive (to use understatement) coverage of stuff we don't want to watch. Patriots Spygate stories, endless Yankees and Red Sox games, news, etc., a phony GM press conference involving Steve Phillips (I have not forgotten), Steve Phillips in any capacity that doesn't involve him trading away Mets prospects (Kazmir for an old paint can and Victor Zambrano), "Who's Now?" bullshit, etc. etc. etc. Look. You cover sports. SPORTS. JUST SHOW HIGHLIGHTS ALL DAY LONG.

2. Celebrity Paranormal Project, VH1 - A common theme on this list has to be the "Just add celebrities" paradigm that reality show producers seem to follow. For this stratagem to have any merit, the celebrities would have to be big, or, you know, bigger than someone you wouldn't be surprised to see cutting the ribbon at a new used Kia dealership. (Off topic, but in Celebrity Fit Club, these celebrities are playing for ACTUAL PRIZE MONEY--not for a charity.) The D-List celebrities angle is one thing (examples, hm, examples...I think Chyna Doll was involved...), the having-them-examine-old-mental-hospitals-and-prisons is another. The fact that this was often done in a heartfelt spirit of challenging one's fears... No. (I'll not address the fact that VH-1 was at one point a music video channel...)

3. Rich Girls, MTV - You know who I love to hang out with? Pretentious rich assholes. I especially love to hear their world views. An added bonus of this show: if you listen closely, you can actually hear your brain shriveling while you watch.

4. Kid Nation, CBS - Hah!

5. Skating with Celebrities, Fox - This one has to win the Spirit Award for most ludicrous. You know what I'd rather watch than D-Listers trying to ice skate? Actual figure skating. You know what I'd rather watch than actual figure skating? Paint dry.

Dan's Top Five:

1. There's Something About Miriam, Sky One - "Hosted by Tim Vincent, it featured six men wooing 21-year-old Mexican model Miriam without revealing that she was a transwoman until the final episode... Responses from critics were generally unfavorable, calling it 'the cruellest reality show idea yet' and part of a trend in shows that exploit unwitting contestants. A British reviewer noted, 'The whole premise of There’s Something About Miriam was not a celebration of transgendered life. It was designed to elicit horror from the winning contestant discovering that his dream date had a penis.'"

2. The Swan, FOX - Want to up the ante on makeover shows? Move over, queer eye guys, we're here to do plastic motherfucking surgery! Sure, you could change your clothes, your diet, and your routine of preparing yourself for the day in front of your bathroom mirror, but real beauty lies in the sharpness of the scalpel.

3. The Big Break, The Golf Channel - I just have to regurgitate what wikipedia tells me... "The Big Break was a reality show in which aspiring golf players competed against one another and were eliminated. The show's premise is to award an aspiring professional golfer exemptions into selected events on certain tours. The series debuted on October 6, 2003, and has become very popular, spawning eight subsequent editions." Yeah, read that last part again.

4. Tommy Lee Goes to College, NBC, VH1 - I'm not exaggerating when I say that I laugh every single time I read this title. Hahaha.

5. My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, FOX - "An elementary school teacher named Randi Coy is offered $250,000 for herself and $250,000 for the rest of her family if she takes part in a fake wedding engagement to a man named "Steve Williams". However she has to convince her family of the engagement and have a wedding arranged in 12 days time with all her family members attending in order to win the money." Here's the sad part, though... "The German broadcaster Sat. 1 adopted the format and aired Mein großer, dicker, peinlicher Verlobter in late 2004. In France Mon incroyable fiancé was aired on TF1 in summer 2005." I am truly ashamed of American culture.

Tim's Top 5:
I have superb news for people here, which is that I am utterly unaware of things on TV. So I'm going to have to do this armed with wikipedia and a vague memory of shows that I know of but have not seen.

1. American Idol - I've gone on this rampage many a time before, but while it has value in the abstract, it suffers from all the deficiencies of all other reality shows -- its premise is utterly abandoned for the conclusion -- after actually having people judge them on their merits for months of prelims, they turn it over to people who will vote for people based on race, sex, attractiveness, or Sanjayacity. The first few weeks of the show, as I understand it, are basically oriented around mocking people who really want to be on the show. The last few weeks are supposed to determine who gets the grand prize of a record contract with Clive Davis. recap...beginning of show = schadenfreude, middle of show = karaoke to Stevie Wonder songs performed by people who've never even heard Songs in the Key of Life, end of show = votes that can't be counted accurately, not that it matters, since the votes are based on things other than musical talent. Oh, and the vote total doesn't really matter because unfortunately, the ratings for this awful show are really good, so even people who finish sixth on the show get record deals with legitimate labels (and I only know this because my mom bought one of those albums -- John Stevens' Red). So -- premise is abandoned near the end in favor of direct democracy, which so rarely works in any system -- and premise is faulty because the winner might actually get a less lucrative deal anyway (see Clay Aiken). After the Beatles helped us push the talentless hacks who play no instruments and don't write songs down the fame charts, this show has given us people whose whole goal in life is to sell records of other people's work. If everyone who participated in this show in any way, shape, or form were to disappear tomorrow in some American Idol rapture, I suspect those of us who were left behind would live in a much richer world. Oh, this show is also responsible for the god awful movie American Dreamz. I shall never forgive.

2. Flavor of Love - If you can watch Flava Flav for more than five minutes, you obviously hate Chuck D. If you can watch women fawn over the opportunity to...uh, I don't know exactly, with Flava Flav, you are enjoying what is a misogynistic minstrel show. Everything about this show offends me, and I'm not easily offended. A celebration of women whose dream in life is to be a whore would be fine, so long as it wasn't dressed up as something else -- but that programming's already been taken care of by Cinemax and its legions of movies called "Diary of a Prostitute", "Hooker Nights", etc. Strange Love, this show's would-be predecessor, also warrants mention, and is hereby incorporated by reference.

3. Last Comic Standing - I've seen absolutely none of this show -- not one second of it. That said, it is the biggest culprit for the faulty premise of a reality show, because the first season had Kathleen Madigan competing. Kathleen Madigan. Read that again. If you are even incrementally aware of stand-up comedy, Kathleen Madigan has already crossed your radar. This is not taking comedians who are opening for the opening act at the Improv (which is already making it, as far as I'm concerned), it's taking people who are already headlining the Improv and then giving them a chance to be "famous". It'd be like if American Idol required you to sell 100,000 albums before you could be a contestant or if Richard Simmons was a contestant on the Biggest Loser.

4. The Contender - I don't remember what comedy album this is from, but I have to attribute it to someone far funnier than I am (in other words, not Larry the Cable Guy, not Jeff Foxworthy, not Ron White, not Dane Cook). (I've done some research, it was Greg Giraldo -- "Anyone watch The Contender, where they have this show to see who the best boxer is? That kinda reminds me of this other show where they tried to find out who the best boxer was. It was called boxing. Remember that? It was a good show, boxing."

5. The Real Housewives of Orange County - This gets credit for having some douchebag husband on the show get arrested and then say "this proves that celebrities don't get special treatment in the court system". Douchebag, you're not a celebrity. Your show is on bravo or some network that eighteen people are watching at any given time, you're not even one of the titular (I think that word is spot on here) housewives of Orange County. Basically, if you want to watch conniving women act like ... conniving bitches and their husbands conniving bitches, you can watch this show. But I remember another show where you could see people being miserable bastards. It's called going outside. Try it. Then again, if you watch this and enjoy it, please don't. Please never encounter another human being, unless it's to purchase some sort of one-way ticket off this miserable planet.

Honorable mention: absolutely anything MTV has done. I hate MTV and all its works, but The Real World really was the reality show that launched a thousand ships and shut down music videos being played on MTV. Road Rules, The Osbournes, Punk'd -- all these shows should be punishable by death. For some reason game shows like Deal or No Deal get mentioned in this category -- given that it's a game show with absolutely no skill involved, it has to be mentioned; Grease! You're the One That I Want! -- for having a god awful title and bad premise, again, this show already existed, it was called open auditions; Kid Nation - Alas, I know far more about this program than I can disclose.

Just for the record, this top 5 has made me more angry than perhaps any other. I am so furious at the absolute trash that people voluntarily subject themselves to that I may not be able to sleep. I enjoy irony, but man...there's a line, and everything mentioned above (on any of these lists) crosses it. I have watched no reality show that I know of, though I know educated people who enjoy The Amazing Race, so I will assume it to be less horrific than most (even though I know from my limited experience in viewing it, that it also suffers from any number of faulty premises).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Top 5 Songs with State Names (or Similar Approximations) in Their Titles (East of the Mississippi River Edition):

Tim's Top 5:

1. Simon and Garfunkel – The Only Living Boy in New York – Ok, its association with the movie Garden State does take some joy from the song, since it’s lost all its obscurity value to people of my generation, but it's a very beautiful song that captures simultaneous youthful optimism and bitter sorrow.

2. Crosby Stills Nash & Young – Ohio - In my opinion, it’s hands-down the best song CSNY ever did, and it captures both sides of Neil Young really well, while having bitter and cutting lyrics about the inexplicable murder of four Kent State students by the Ohio National Guard.

3. The Strokes – New York City Cops – The best track off an album I’d never been all that into was left by the wayside when September 11 made it inappropriate to write a song about how New York City cops ain’t too smart. There’s not much to the song, and one could make an argument for leaving it off an album in any event…at least until they listened to it.

4. Elliott Smith – Georgia, Georgia – It’s a shame that New Moon was released only after I’d transferred all my music listening onto the shoddy IPod dock in my office, because Elliott Smith just doesn’t work on the system, because he’s ambient in and of himself. So I’m only discovering this song as a matter of research, but it warrants mention. The frantic pace and clear guitar work (you can practically hear his fingers on the guitar) would have made it a superb inclusion on Either/Or.

5. Rolling Stones – Sweet Virginia – It’s one of the more intriguing tracks on Exile on Main Street, which makes it emphatically worth including in this list. They do a good job in producing this to remove Mick Jagger’s from the rest of the track by a good distance, but the chorus really captures a Let It Be sort of feel of the Rolling Stones just being in a studio and working something out live. It sounds a lot like Springsteen’s work on The Seeger Sessions – very authentic. I really don’t listen to Exile nearly enough.

Honorable mention: R.E.M. – Leaving New York – It’s really literal, I know, but I’m okay with being the only person in the world who likes this song; Arrested Development – Tennessee; Countless artists, including Chuck Berry and The Beatles – Memphis, Tennessee; Neil Diamond – Kentucky Woman – yes, I like Neil Diamond.; The Jayhawks- Somewhere in Ohio

Ryan's Top Five

1. "I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City" - Harry Nilsson - This is probably one of Nilsson's best, and one of his first hits from 1969. Incidentally, it's one of my favorites and it exemplifies what Nilsson's so great at: simple, happy pop songs done to perfection. (See: Me And My Arrow, The Puppy Song, Good Old Desk, The Town, Poli High, Down To The Valley, etc. etc. etc. etc.) Marry the cheeriness and simplicity of the song with Nilsson's vocals and you have a perfect pop song.

2. "Come On! Feel The Illinoise!" - Sufjan Stevens - One of the best songs, and maybe the best song, from one of the best and most complete albums of this decade. Sufjan uses a wide array of instruments and here crafts another cheery song with poignant lyrics that belie its happier exterior. "I sleeeep last night..." Man, I love this song.

3. "Piazza, New York Catcher" - Belle and Sebastian - Here's a textbook band that I should be more into than, regrettably, I am (or rather, have tried to be). In any event, I love this track.

4. "Mississippi Queen" - Mountain - A great hard rock/proto-metal song from the 70's. Gains bonus points for its association with the Homerpalooza episode of The Simpsons.

5. "Tennessee" - Arrested Development - This was probably my favorite song of 1992, when I was 9. Arrested Development in 1992 could do anything, I'd dig it. A great song from a great album.

Dan's Top 5:

Wow, there's a lot of Georgia in here.

1. Ray Charles – "Georgia on My Mind" – Ray Charles' first #1 song, and for good reason. Forget that it became the state song of Georgia in 1979, or that Ray Charles didn't even write it. Sometimes, certain recordings become immortal. I even included this on one of my mix CDs, which was otherwise populated by rock tracks. Should be noted that it ranks #44 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

2. Frank Sinatra – "New York, New York" – Sure, this song may be a bit cliché, but for me, it's synonymous with the character that's unique to the city. I don't know about anyone else's opinion, but I always enjoy going to New York. Also the only Sinatra song I really like.

3. Brother Bones and His Shadows – "Sweet Georgia Brown" – Harlem fucking Globetrotters. I rest my case.

4. Charlie Daniels Band – "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" – It's rare that a song tells a story this complete. Gains massive points for being a Southern Rock song that's actually known by people who aren't Southern Rock fans (which is because most Southern Rock sucks.) But at the same time, it loses points because, as many people agree, the Devil's band actually rocks harder than Johnny's "winning" performance.

5. Brian and Stewie – "Road to Rhode Island" – I decided to include this song for a number of reasons. First, it reminds us of a time when Family Guy didn't suck ass, or at least not nearly to the degree it does today. Second, it's a decent parody of the classic Hope and Crosby numbers, lest they be forgotten. Third, it makes fun of Rhode Island, and successfully ("like a group of college freshmen who were rejected by Harvard and forced to go to Brown.")

Monday, May 26, 2008

Top 5 Songs with State Names (or Similar Approximations) in Their Titles (West of the Mississippi River Edition):

In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I'd do something American, but my original idea was far far too expansive, there are a lot of songs with states in their titles. So I've split the country in two far more efficiently than the Democratic primaries.

Top 5 Songs with State Names (or Postal Abbreviations) in Their Titles (West of the Mississippi Edition):

Tim's Top 5
1. Dead Kennedys – California Uber Alles - The entire album is stunningly good, and I can't really pretend to be a punk guy at heart, since the only punk bands I listen to have sold a million albums...which is about as non-punk as you can get. But this is a masterpiece, a song that's about state politics that is still timeless for people who barely even recall Jerry Brown's aborted run for the presidency in 1992. No one has even come close to mastering Jello Biafra's gift of musical irony, and while it's not on the same level as Kill the Poor, this is untouchable.

2. The Old 97’s - W. TX Teardrops - If there's a song more meant for Murry Hammond, I've not heard it. Reminiscent of Buddy Holly's work with Bob Montgomery, but still blissfully original and quaint.

3. Phantom Planet – California – You can thank XM for inspiring the list by playing this song, a song I’ve forgotten a dozen more times than I’ve heard, but I always enjoy being reminded of its existence. While Phantom Planet continues on as a band even after the fame of Jason Schwartzman has waned, this is the first and last song I’ll likely encounter from them. It’s best not to risk their sterling reputation.

4. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Oregon Girl – a very simplistic pop song, I’d forgotten I’d ever heard until I began compiling this list.

5. Groucho Marx – Omaha, Nebraska – If I ever became a 1930-1940s comedian, this would have been a standard for me. The first line says all you really need to know -- “There’s a place called Omaha, Nebraska, in the foothills of Tennessee”.

2Pac – California Love; Red Hot Chili Peppers – Dani California; Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska;

Dan's Top 5:

1. Stevie Ray Vaughan - Texas Flood - S.R.V. his the guitar player's guitar hero, and he single-handedly made the blues cool again in the 80's. He did it with this song. Probably the best example ever recorded of excellent blues guitar work. As a testament to that fact, it was included on the original Guitar Hero, back before the series of video games became so immensely and irreparably popular.

2. Led Zeppelin - Going to California - One of those Led Zeppelin songs that are really appreciated by true fans of the band, rather than people who have listened to "Whole Lotta Love" over and over again and claimed to be fans. Featured in the movie Almost Famous, so it scores even more points.

3. The Eagles - Hotel California - OK, since I apparently failed at geography (Damn you, Carmen Sandiego) I'm putting this song in despite the fact that it features California a second time on this list... what a tyrannical state. I'm surprised I missed it the first time around, though, because it was the first popular song I ever listened to of my own free will (it was Summer, 1999 - back when I thought the fourth Beatle was George Hamilton). I have to credit this song with being kickass enough to get me into more rock music, but laid back enough to not be turned off to rock entirely (something harder like Nirvana surely would have done so at the time). Also, the solo still kicks major ass.

4. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Louisiana Rain - I first found out about this song in order to fill out this list. Of course, I could have resorted to using a bunch of "California" songs, but I feel like that's almost cheating. Anyway, I figure that any song by Tom Petty is good enough to make the list, so I'm glad he chose to include an oft-overlooked state.

5. Billy Joel - Stop in Nevada - Same method of discovery as #4. It's from Piano Man, so it's guaranteed to be better than most of the rest of his songs. Upon listening, I'm convinced that the only reason I've never heard of it is that it was never promoted as a single. It's actually pretty decent.

Honorable mentions - pretty much anything else with "California" e.g., Phantom Planet - California, The Mamas & The Papas - California Dreamin', R.E.M. - I Remember California, The Ramones - California Sun (someone else's song, but their version is the best), Decemberists - California One Youth and Beauty Brigade, and so on.

Ryan's Top Five

1. "Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey" - The Beatles - There's quite a few versions of this song by lots of famous people. I like the Beatles. (I'm also taking liberties with the "state name in title of song" rule...I suppose "Kansas City" isn't a state [though I'm in favor of losing the rest of Missouri in favor of just KC].) Anyway, this is a great 50s/60s rock standard.

2. "Hawaii Five-0" - The Ventures - If only for that intro drum, which is pretty fucking awesome. Dun dun dun dun dun DUN! Doo doo doo doo doooo doooo! Doo doo doo dooo dooo!

3. "California" - Phantom Planet - I actually prefer "West Coast" by Jason Schwartzman's other band, Coconut Records (I'm sorry, but it's the same basic song). This one also loses points for its association with "The OC." Still though, a solid alternative song.

4. "California Girls" - The Beach Boys - It's hard not to pick all the California songs for this list, essentially because there's so many compared to the rest of the states. West of the Mississippi is difficult; as Demetri Martin points out, the easier it is to draw a state, the harder it is to live there. "Culture is attracted to squiggles." In any event, I do like The Beach Boys, and this is one of their best.

5. "Lawrence, KS" - Josh Ritter - This one in lieu of "Hotel California" by The Eagles, which I don't like nearly as much as I used to (and I hate The Eagles).

Honorables - Everyone else's honorables and top 5 songs.