July 17, 2006Feature
What We're Watching This Summer
Summer! Tans, drinks with little umbrellas, big umbrellas... Perhaps we're not at the beach; perhaps we're just working the same grind as before. But certainly the days are a little calmer, and the schedule a little looser. And with this extra bit of time we've got on our hands, what of summer's oddball programming are we taking the opportunity to try out? Well, let's see...
Last summer, I was repulsed by the idea of spending an hour a week watching a crazed chef belittle a group of hapless individuals under what may be the greatest pressure of their lives. But this year, my opinion changed. I find Hell's Kitchen an intoxicating guilty pleasure. Chef Gordon Ramsey's insults are still incredibly mean-spirited--at least once per episode he let's fly with a "You donkey!"--but I can't look away. The contestants are perhaps the most unlikable bunch this side of the Big Brother house, yet for some reason I want very badly to know who wins this competition. With the level of ineptitude displayed thus far, none of them deserve the grand prize, their own restaurant in a new Las Vegas casino. But that doesn't mean I won't still be watching when the last meal is served.
The paradox of The Hills is that it is both the most realistic portrayal on TV of what we in L.A. have to put up with on a daily basis and the most unrealistic fantasy of what wide-eyed youths can expect to find when they get off the proverbial bus. The L.A. of The Hills is a magical place where every flighty airhead with zero qualifications can score a primo job, every douchebag and his roommate is an aspiring model/actor and "work" is a four-letter word. Fashion student/interns can afford $3,000/month apartments and still have pocket change left over to buy their skuzzy boyfriends a bag of golf clubs for their birthday and diamond-encrusted dog tags for Christmas. Nineteen-year-olds have no trouble getting into Hollywood's hottest bars and nightclubs and never have to wait behind velvet ropes for an hour while some bouncer with a God-complex lets every pair of surgically enhanced boobs. where was I? Oh yeah: I hate that L.A. But I love to watch it from the long-lensed distance of beautifully shot reality TV. As a bonus, there's Heidi, whose every idiotic "thought" or action fills me with both joy and rage. Paradoxically.
ABC Family's Kyle XY is the perfect show... for summer. See, summer TV isn't about quality. We SMRT viewers spend September through May trying to decipher the subtext of Lost and struggling to remember all the important things that happened last time on Veronica Mars. The TV criticism area of our brains (check one of those old time phrenology charts — it's there, really!) needs a vacation like the rest of us.
Enter Kyle XY, a supernatural family drama about a mysterious, bellybutton-less teenage boy who wrote the book on tabula rasa — or should I say erased the book on tabula rasa? Anyway, Kyle, who has virtually no memory, is taken in by the Tragers, your stereotypical TV family: two white professional parents, big sis, and the annoying kid brother. Conspiracy ensues.
What makes Kyle XY so worthwhile is its hilarious and shameless product placement. Watch and witness: Kyle refuses to eat anything until a gleaming package of Sour Patch Kids catches his eyes. At the act break, see the camera linger on that wrapper for just a few seconds too long. Hear the annoying kid brother say, "Hands off my stash! My Sour Patch Kids are sacred." The show should really be titled Sour Patch Kids Presents Kyle XY. I was genuinely surprised to see that "Sour Patch Kids" isn't credited as the show's executive producer.
The acting is subpar and the plots generally predictable, but in its defense, Kyle XY invites the same kind of obsessive theorizing that conspiracy shows like Lost and The X-Files do. (X-Philes, by the way, should look for Mulder's maybe-brother Krycek appearing as a mysterious truck driver.) My theory: Kyle XY is a messiah sent from the heavens to lead humanity to the promised land — of gummy, sour goodness, available at your local supermarket for a low, low price.
But really, how can you resist a show that uses the line "Yo! Juice me!" to indicate a rebellious youth?
The effects are adorably bad and the writing veers towards plot-holed melodrama. But they travel through time and space. And there's an awful lot of handholding. And every once in a while, the Doctor will lick something.
So it's a good time.
One word: MEERKAT. If you haven't yet had the pleasure of checking out Animal Planet's Meerkat Manor, you need to click on this link immediately and then check your local listings. Imagine The Real World but instead of Puck, Judd, and Pedro you get Flower, Mozart, Shakespeare, and Yousarrian...and they're 12 inches high and furry! Narrated by Sean Astin, this gem of a reality show follows the Whiskers, a meerkat family that is part of a 10 year study being conducted by Cambridge University. And just in case you don't think these 'kats are fo' real: they've got their own IMDb pages.
My Tuesdays this summer now has a definitely, and vaguely strange, viewing schedule. First, at 8, I watch Nova. Then at 9, I watch Supernova. The first show is large self-explanatory -- the PBS show Nova has been around forever and is well known. I've watched it from time to time in my life, ever invigorating and expanding my very small knowledge of the sciences. But right now, they are replaying a three part series on String Theory. I have very little ambition of being able to understand String Theory, but if Nova can't explain it in terms I'll understand, no one will. After this mental exercise, I have a cool down regime of some Reality TV trash in the form of Rock Star: Supernova. I find the talent to generally pretty good and the outrageous factor of the outfits to be satisfactory. And while there is even less chance of me buying a 'Supernova' album than last year's INXS (not that I'd buy that either), I find the whole thing entertaining. From all males and females using quite a lot of makeup to try not to look as old as they are to everyone calling everyone else 'bro', it's a peek into a partially pathetic, partially fantastic world of wannabe-rock.
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