Wednesday, 15 February 2012 00:00

Sex Week 2012: Superbowl Sexy Time!

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superbowlsexytimeCC2K's Big Ross presents a look at all the SEX-filled commercials that aired during Superbowl XLVI

As I was stuffing my face with chips & guacamole and beer, I noticed there seemed to be a lot more sex in this year's broadcast of the superbowl. Not during the actual game, not even during the halftime show featuring the sexually charged and often provocative Madonna. She kept things pretty tame, even with M.I.A.'s flash of her middle finger. No, I'm talking about the commercials. Which is ironic considering none of them were for drugs made specifically to give men erections so they can have sex.

Actually, there's nothing sexual about those ads, which we’re subjected to several times during an NFL regular season game broadcast. They typically feature an older (but not too old) couple doing something mundane like making breakfast or cleaning  their bathroom. Then something completely innocuous happens. They bump into each other or reach for the Scrubbing Bubbles at the same moment and touch hands, and then BOW-CHICKA-BOW-WOW. SEXY TIME. Of course, it's all innuendo. They climb into separate bathtubs on the beach or ride a Ferris wheel, but you know it's some ad-exec's idea for a G-rated depiction of SEX. Ridiculous.


What started out as a guilty pleasure people talked about in hushed whispers, because no one was sure whether or not it was alright to like something as dirty as this, has turned into one of Starz’ biggest buzz makers. I am talking, of course, about the epic tale of gladiators in Ancient Rome of Spartacus. The third season (don’t get technical on me here with the prequel not being Season 2 etc.!) Spartacus: Vengeance returned two weeks ago, but it sure looks a lot different than what the show started out as.

What hasn’t changed is that scenes of violence in slow motion still fill the screen aplenty in every episode. And even though these scenes make us wince (and inspire columns entitled “Things That Made Us Go ‘Ew’!”), we all know that they are part of the reason we are tuning in. Thousands of years later, we still enjoy the same games as the Romans. Let that sit for a minute.
However, since this season deals with the fall-out of the Spartacus-led rebellion against Batiatus, the violent fights seldom take place in the arena anymore (I think I counted exactly one arena fight). Mostly Spartacus and his motley crew battle Romans wherever they encounter them, giving the stunt team many opportunities to come up with more ways to kill people with a sword than you ever imagined there were.

Even the sex, the other thing that lured us all into watching religiously, has been scaled down a bit so far. Which is fine for me, because this way it feels less gratuitous. The women are still scantily clad and the men only wear the clothes they have to, but so far, Vengeance has been far less sexed up than I remember previous seasons being.

Speaking of previous seasons and what has changed, of course I have to address the change of the lead actor. As is common knowledge, Andy Whitfield, who originally brought Spartacus to live, lost his battle with cancer last year and this left the production no choice but to replace him. They searched long and hard and finally settled on Liam McIntyre, who so far has proven to be a worthy choice. The fact that it has been two years since we last saw Andy as Spartacus helped a little bit to take the sting out of seeing a new actor embody him now. When Whitfield was diagnosed, Spartacus creator Steven S. DeKnight & Co. postponed production on the follow-up season to Spartacus: Blood and Sand and instead filmed the prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.

Obviously everyone would have preferred for Andy Whitfield to still be around, and that’s no offense to Liam McIntyre. He is doing a good job in a tough spot, although it might still be a while until I can watch Spartacus: Vengeance and not wish to see Andy Whitfield there. But truth be told, Liam McIntyre could have been cast in the very beginning and the show might have turned out just as well. No disrespect to Andy Whitfield in this instance.

So now, after all the trials and tribulations, two years later, we finally get to see the continuation of the rebellion originally led by Whitfield’s Spartacus and I have to admit it was a little hard for me to get my bearings in Vengeance’s opening episode. I had forgotten a lot more than I thought I would, but the episode did a good job of putting us right back into the place of sheer desperation and anger that sparked the rebelling in the first place. All the loss Spartacus, Crixus and the crew they assembled around them had to endure was palpable when they plotted their next moves and of course we are rooting for them once again.

More change is definitely afoot, not the least of which will come when they finally find Naevia, Crixus’ beloved, who will also be portrayed by a different actress than before. But Vengeance also gave us glorious returns. I was always a fan of Viva Bianca’s Ilithyia and the dynamic between her and Lucy Lawless’ Lucretia. And low and behold, Lucretia emerged from the massacre at the House of Batiatus, a little worse for wear, but with a glimmer in her eyes that suggests she will soon be back up to her old tricks. Her husband, Batiatus, will probably never appear again, unless the show starts incorporating more flashbacks than it already is. This is another sore loss in my book, because I enjoyed Batiatus, but I am always a proponent of high stakes in television and sometimes that means you have to sacrifice a character that you really like. Change, even painful change, is a part of life, and so I believe it should be a part of television too.

The bottom line so far is that Spartacus: Vengeance has a lot of obstacles to overcome, with the recasting and the long time delay between Blood and Sand and Vengeance on the production side, and the fallout and shuffling of characters within the show’s text. Some viewers are openly expressing that they feel something is missing from this season of Spartacus, because it looks and feels different than in previous seasons. I think this is a good thing. No longer does Spartacus trade in the pathos that comes from winning for “your master” in the arena, but it gets down to the nitty, gritty human reality of what it means to break the bonds of slavery, and how that still doesn’t immediately translate into being free.

This moral grey area the rebelling slaves are treading makes for very interesting television much in the way the telling of Batiatus’ story made in the first two seasons, where we all knew he was technically doing something wrong by keeping slaves, and yet we felt for the guy and his struggles with a domineering father and a faltering political career.
Ultimately Spartacus: Vengeance still delivers what most viewers tuned in for in the first place: blood, sand and sex.

This week I chose to highlight a topic that lies somewhere between the world of television and the world of movies. It came to me while watching TV and seeing the trailer/ad for the buddy/cop comedy 21 Jump Street, starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. Not only was I offended by what this movie seems to be making of the concept that inspired the original TV series (starring Johnny Depp), it also offended me because it derives its humor from discrediting a group of people I really don’t think should be discredited in this day and age: police officers.

I come to this (new-found) respect for the daily work police officers do courtesy of TNT’s excellent cop drama Southland, which just came back on the air for its fourth season last week. To be fair, there have been other cop dramas before Southland that have treated the work as a police officer in detail and with respect, such as NYPD Blue, but Southland stands out to me for several reasons.

First off, I was too young to watch NYPD Blue when it originally aired, so all I have seen of the show is in retrospect, which makes a lot of what the show deals with seem dated and less apropos than a lot of the things Southland incorporates and depicts. Secondly, I can’t recall any other show that did justice to the average street cop, the boots, as much as Southland does. This show is not all about the high-profile murder cases that get solved within an episode, even though there are homicide detectives on the show. Southland goes way beyond any “Case of the Week” format, in fact, it forgoes that concept most of the time and simply shows the work of Los Angeles police officers on any average day of the week. (I recommend watching Season 4 opener “Wednesday” to prove this point.)

And even though there are plenty of things one can criticize about the police force (corruption, racial bias, male domination etc.), Southland made me realize something: police officers have to deal with a lot of crazy people all day long. I can walk by the weird, drunk dude mumbling offensive words, hanging out in front of the train station, but police officers actually have to do something about it if they are called to the scene. I don’t even want to think about the hell it has to be for police officers to be called to a domestic disturbance of a couple that is just out-of-their-minds yelling at each other and refusing to calm down. Half the time I stare in utter disbelief at a friend of mine, who actually is a street cop – although in Germany – when he tells me about some of the things that have happened to him over the years. I wouldn’t want to have his job for all the money in the world.

But for as long as there have been cop shows that take the profession seriously, there have been franchises that don’t subscribe to upholding that ethos. And of course artistic license has to be given and we shouldn’t make any topic or profession permanently exempt from being the butt of a joke. But there is a difference between the police-related high-jinks such classic franchises as Die Hard or Bad Boys have given us and the adolescent and eroding humor the movie version of 21 Jump Street wants to sell.

Sure, the cops in Police Academy were all incompetent too, but that was the whole point. Everybody was incompetent. From what I could tell from the full-length trailer for 21 Jump Street (which, yes, I did make the effort an watch online), here we are meant to believe that two absolute boneheads somehow made it onto a major city (Metropolitan City) police force and none of their superiors, who are actually accomplished officers, ever figured out that these two play tossing games with their service weapons and that one of them can’t even recite the Miranda Rights (which every kid who has ever watched television can basically do).

This movie (trailer) doesn’t offend me simply because I can’t take a joke (although I have had it up to here with adolescent humor adults are supposed to find funny). It offends me because it is lazy at best and picks a target that has been hit so many times, that it's more than dead and there is no more blood to be squeezed from it. And I really do believe that we need to stop repeating the cultural message that it is okay to make fun of cops and do so often, with at least one crappy cop comedy a year. Because when these kinds of messages get repeated over and over, that’s when they start to nest and fester and manifest into the wrong kinds of attitudes and beliefs about the police force.

I applaud Southland (and to a certain degree Blue Bloods and even Rookie Blue, feeble as the latter’s attempts sometimes may be) for giving credit where credit is due and working meticulously towards portraying what being “a real cop” is really like. Because in a lot of ways the movie 21 Jump Street and the two main characters in it are exactly the kind of disease that results from the cultural repetitions of false images of the police force. The characters believe being a cop is all fun and games and explosions and car chases. That is one side of the coin you can see in a lot of cop movies and shows.
And the makers of 21 Jump Street believe it’s okay to make fun of cops and show them being completely incompetent, because that is the other side of the coin of our cultural heritage of the genre.

I say it’s time to stop both false messages, but especially the latter, because it is so detrimental to an integral part of our society. Being a cop is not glorious 99.5% of the time. But the fact that it can still make for spectacularly good television as in the case of Southland should be all the proof you need that it’s time to start an appreciation movement for cops. People who feel appreciated are proven to do a better job. So if you’re dissatisfied with the police force you have now, start appreciating what they do right, and maybe they’ll do more of it.
And if you think all of this is pointless and I should just shut up and laugh about a silly movie, then at least watch some Southland and we’ll call it a compromise.

Usually the Golden Globes are a fun, albeit very inconsequential event. Although the award is not as prestigious as the Oscars in the movie business or the Emmys in the television business, those that are invited tend to enjoy the event thanks to its relaxed atmosphere, the food, the alcohol and the unique blend of cinema and television.
The Golden Globes telecast 2012, sadly, fell very flat and we can’t even squarely blame Ricky Gervais for that.

The exact reasoning behind the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and NBC hiring Gervais as their host again after last year’s controversy remains somewhat shrouded in the land of “hopefully people will tune in to see if Ricky is being outrageous again”. Unfortunately, as Gervais himself pointed out at the beginning of the telecast, NBC gave him a list of rules so extensive, they basically neutered him and his general performance proved that not everything is made better by a British accent (Madonna made that point again later in the telecast).

The complete list of winners has been plastered up and down the internet (for thoroughness’ sake, I included it at the end of this post) and the fashion of the Golden Globes 2012 has been discussed ad nausea, so let me turn my attention to a more fundamental issue with the Globes for a minute: their arbitrariness.
2011/12 was by no means an exceptional season in either movies or television. In ten years time, precious few of the movies that were nominated for a Globe in 2012 will be remembered (you can take me up on that bet) and even fewer of the nominated television shows will still be on the air or have been canceled only recently after a long, successful run.

This, by design, is not the HFPA’s fault. An annual award demands annual nominees and you  make do with what you have. The HFPA though makes a few wacky choices with reliable consistency every year and I am not sure their “We are foreigners, we don’t know any better and our taste differs from yours” excuse covers the full extent of it.
While I do not wish to imply that all Oscar Academy voters watch all the nominated movies and then make an informed choice, the nominations and subsequent winners at the Golden Globes follow a particularly kooky pattern that undermines how serious they can be taken.

In the movie business, the Globes are still sometimes looked at as an indicator for the Oscars (i.e. if you didn’t win at the Globes, you need to put more time, effort and money into your Oscar campaign), although recently it seems the SAG Awards’ results often more closely resemble the Oscar results.
In the world of television it all works a bit differently. Since the Emmys are awarded in September, the Golden Globes often can nominate shows that the Emmys haven’t gotten around to yet, like shows that premiere on the Fall Schedule.

This year this fact led to New Girl being nominated in the comedy category, a show that I am fairly certain will get no Emmy love, because when it is time to vote for the Emmys, some midseason shows will have repressed the memory of New Girl sufficiently enough for it to be ignored, as it should be. (It’s a fine show, just not an outstanding, award-worthy show.)
What bugs me more about the Globes’ television section though, is the fact that they pretend to “award what is popular” by nominating a few network shows that draw a big audience, and yet nine times out of ten end up giving the award to the rarely watched pay TV show (see Kelsey Grammer for Starz’ Boss, which had the grimmest ratings I have seen on pay TV in a good long while: the final Season 1 episode was seen by fewer than 300,000 people).
Poor Johnny Galecki didn’t stand a chance either in the Comedy Actor category, and he looked like he knew it. He was just there as the ceremonial nod to network television, the HFPA’s case-in-point that you don’t have to be on HBO or Showtime to get nominated.

See, and if any of these television award shows could figure out how to deal with the non-comedies of 20-40 minutes runtime that air on pay TV (Enlightened, Shameless, Nurse Jackie etc.), instead of sticking them in the “Musical or Comedy” category, the win for Modern Family wouldn’t ring as hollow, because it wouldn’t have been up against two essentially non-comedies. But the way it is set up now, who can blame HFPA members for voting for Modern Family, when it is the only viable, discernible comedy in the “Comedy” category? (New Girl is a fad that will fade and Glee was only nominated because they had to have one musical show in the category to justify the name, but everyone knows Glee is terrible now).

The conclusion of the Golden Globes 2012 for television is this: it was an outstanding night for Showtime, nabbing four awards (out of 8 nominations in 7 categories), beating out main competitor HBO (3 awards). I was delighted by Idris Elba’s win for Luther, even though I think it outrageous that Luther was nominated as a miniseries, since it was the second season of a continuing show on the BBC, it just happened to have less episodes than the American market expects. I was similarly delighted for Peter Dinklage’s win for Game of Thrones, and his selfless shout-out to Martin Henderson (seriously, Google him and don’t get distracted by the pictures of the Australian actor, he is not the Martin Henderson Dinklage was talking about).

The television awards at the Globes are often even more random than the movie awards (can you believe they once nominated Matt LeBlanc for Joey? Proof the HFPA is insane!) and hence almost inconsequential. At the end of the day, it’s just a bunch of kooky foreigners giving out shiny golden balls and treating some A- to D-listers to a very expensive dinner (the desserts this year were made with edible gold, Google that too, it caused a controversy).

The Globes telecast, however, could be greatly improved upon by hiring a more dynamic host, who is willing to do a musical number, so Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy aren’t the only ones bringing the fun, and letting more of the “wild side” come out on TV, in order to set the Globes apart from the stiffness that are the Oscars. Taking away the telecast from the failing NBC might be a first step, because these days NBC can’t get anything right, not scripted television and not even football broadcasts. Until they “turn it around”, as NBC president Robert Greenblatt promised to try at the January 2012 Television Critics Association press tour, its best we let them toil in peace and in the meantime take from them what we wish to save, before NBC has a chance to do any more damage to it. If left to their own devices, they’ll bring Ricky Gervais back for a third time and no one wants to see that.



Golden Globes 2012 - List of Winners


Best Actor, Drama: George Clooney, "The Descendants"
Best Actress, Drama: Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"
Best Actor, Musical or Comedy: Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, “Hugo.”
Best Actress, Musical or Comedy: Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn.”
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, “Beginners.”
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, “The Help.”
Best Foreign Language Film: “A Separation.” (Iran)
Best Animated Film: “The Adventures of Tintin.”
Best Screenplay: Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris.”
Best Original Score: Ludovic Bource, “The Artist.”
Best Original Song: “Masterpiece” (music and lyrics by Madonna, Julie Frost, Jimmy Harry), “W.E.”


Best Series, Drama: “Homeland,” Showtime.
Best Series, Musical or Comedy: “Modern Family,” ABC.
Best Actor, Drama: Kelsey Grammer, “Boss.” HBO.
Best Actress, Drama: Claire Danes, “Homeland.” Showtime.
Best Actress, Musical or Comedy: Laura Dern, “Enlightened.” Showtime.
Best Actor, Musical or Comedy: Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes.” Showtime.
Best Miniseries or Movie: “Downton Abbey (Masterpiece),” PBS.
Best Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Kate Winslet, “Mildred Pierce.” HBO.
Best Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Idris Elba, “Luther.” BBC.
Best Supporting Actress, Series, Miniseries or Movie: Jessica Lange, “American Horror Story.” FX.
Best Supporting Actor, Series, Miniseries or Movie: Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones.” HBO.




It’s that time of year – again – when another round of new shows is being rolled out: midseason. For some reason this time around it seems the networks saved the most interesting formats for the midseason cycle instead of a Fall 2011 launch, so it’s time to giddy on up and welcome the new.
(I know many TV viewers are hesitant to jump into new shows, because there is always the danger they’ll go away before they ever really get going, but I remain on the side of “No risk, no fun.”)

Pay TV channel Showtime is rolling out the second season of Shameless, the fifth season of Californication and its latest addition to the “Train Wreck Human Beings Club”, House of Lies. If you are familiar with Showtime’s latest brand of shows, you’ll know exactly what to expect from House of Lies – debauchery, sex, drugs, sociopaths, and no consequences for anyone ever – and you won’t be disappointed. The show centers on a team of high-profile management consultants, who basically sell their souls to the devil in order to get their clients what they need.

Despite the all-star cast (Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, Greg Germann) doing a stellar job in the pilot episode that aired this past Sunday, I couldn’t help but think about how fatigued I am of Showtime’s brand of TV and how utterly unlikable House of Lies truly is. To clarify, House of Lies is a well-made show, there is nothing to complain about in terms of production value or acting, it’s the subject matter and the characters within the show that repel me.

My fatigue of Showtime’s branding is, however, directly related to the moral repulsion I felt while watching House of Lies. For a while now Showtime has specialized in depicting characters that have “gone off the rails” or who are deeply flawed. From David Duchovny’s sex addicted, alcoholic, cocaine-snorting writer Hank Moody in Californication to Edie Falco’s pill-popping nurse Jackie Peyton in Nurse Jackie, characters on Showtime are anything but angels. What these shows try to do though, and whether they succeed in this is a highly subjective point, is to still make these characters relatable and likable to the audience by giving them redeeming qualities. Hank Moody and Jackie Peyton both care fervently about their kids and although they let them down time and time again, they always do their best to make up for it. Jackie, furthermore, is a nurse and a damn good one at that, so how bad can she really be, right?

Suffice it to say that these types of shows lose their punch and steam when the central characters never actually have to face any consequences for the illicit, illegal and irresponsible behavior they display, so there is really no point to these shows other than putting flawed characters on the screen for “shock value” and “deviation from expectation” alone (more the case in Californication and Shameless than in Nurse Jackie, but she also goes scot-free). And for the most part I don’t really mind so much that there aren’t consequences, because Jackie is a good mom and a good nurse and I feel for her and Hank Moody is an artist with issues and all the women who fall for his crap and sleep with him five minutes after they meet him make their own bed. But this all changes when you center a typical Showtime show of “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” around a group of people that represent precisely what is going wrong in society these days.

These top-tier management consultants in House of Lies are morally corrupt in a way that cannot be redeemed by showing them care about their kid (which Don Cheadle’s character fails at anyway) or being good at their job. Let me demonstrate my point by recapping what happens in the pilot episode: Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) and his team are asked to present a new marketing campaign to one of the biggest banking conglomerates in America in order to restore their public image after they lost their clients billions of dollars, their houses and their jobs following the collapse of the stock market (you remember Lehman Brothers and the crapshoot that came after, right?). What this bank conglomerate wants is a way to justify the fact that they keep paying themselves millions of dollars in bonuses, while their clients are camped outside in cardboard boxes because they lost their homes because of what the bank did to them.
Marty’s solution: initiate a “Loan Amnesty Program”, to which anyone can apply and they won’t have to pay back their loans until they are back on their feet. The catch: about half of the estimated 17 million applicants will be disqualified for being eligible, then another 8.8 million will be eliminated in processing (half of which due to “good old inertia and lack of follow-through”), then there’ll be more technical DQ’s and basically the bank won’t have to give anyone anything. “The classic bump and grab.”  

So tell me, how is 99% of America supposed to sympathize with the consultants that come up with this “image campaign” for a bank conglomerate like this? While the consultants make seven figures a year themselves?  The only viewers, who would rejoice at Marty Kaan’s team successfully coming up with a marketing scheme that lets the bank look good while it can continue to operate as usual, are precisely those viewers who would benefit from something like that in real life, because they are top bankers or marketing consultants or filthy rich themselves. Basically the entitled 1% the Occupy Movement has been protesting against for months now.

Marty and his team don’t swoop in to save the day here, like Nurse Jackie sometimes does – in spite of being high on pain killers. In fact, Marty and his team just ruined the day for 99% of Americans. The fact that Marty endorses his son “testing the limits of gender identification” and lobbies for him to be allowed to play the part of Sandy in his high school’s production of Grease, can’t redeem him from the fact that he just successfully came up with a plan to screw the average American over. Again.
(Plus, Marty doesn’t even make it to his son’s performance. He is busy screwing another student’s mom in the parking lot. So much for his parenting skills.)

I tried to think of House of Lies as a more explicit, modern version of Mad Men in order to make some sense of its concept. Mad Men, too, gives viewers a peek into a high-profile industry that is universally fascinating (we are all influenced by advertising, and we are mostly aware of it, too) and somewhat elite and secretive. However, the temporal distance make some of the techniques and tricks the Mad Men use easy to see through for modern day viewers, and the Mad Men were never really selling people anything evil or trying to blatantly rip people off. I think the most evil thing I ever saw Don Draper sell were Lucky Strike cigarettes, but he based his campaign on “scientific findings” we now know to be incorrect, so it’s easy to smile at these depictions of “marketing in the old days”.

However, what Marty Kaan and Co. are selling does not have the benefit of nostalgia. In a world where good and evil aren’t always easily defined anymore, I am fairly certain most people would agree that greedy bankers fall squarely in the category of “despicable” and the people helping them to justify and maintain their greedy ways are less than one step behind them. So unless House of Lies chronicles how Marty Kaan slowly sees the error of his ways, gives up his consulting job and donates a good chunk of his money to charity, I don’t see myself caring about the characters in House of Lies one bit.
House of Lies will just have to settle for being one of those shows people love to hate. And it surely depressed the hell out of me with its message of utter moral corruption.


The fantastic Ms. Phoebe Raven is out enjoying her holidays and has left me in charge of her television column this week, so let’s wax nostalgic on that great divider of television: Glee!

I’ve been Glee’s biggest defender for awhile as witnessed by my article about Glee’s positive message for teenagers today (Loser Like Me). And even when I’ve cited Glee for favoritism and bias in their recent reality show The Glee Project (Competition Cops Out on the Glee Project), I’ve still never let it affect my viewing of the series. Recently though I’ve come to doubt my love of Glee, and the last two episodes have made me question whether I can even continue watching the show! I know people who already hate the series will say, “It’s sucked from the beginning,” but the problem is the shows alienation of fans that have been there since the beginning.

As Survivor is gearing up to air its twenty-third season finale this Sunday, I thought I’d share my personal experience with this most eclectic of all the reality TV competition shows.

I knew there was a reason why I avoided watching Survivor for 23 seasons, even though regularly my Twitter feed was blowing up about it and the show seemed to be a peculiar pop-culture reference in couple sitcoms, one person sheepishly admitting to their partner “Sorry, I watched Survivor without out you”. It was obvious there was a special fascination with this reality television competition and I had best stay away from it, given how I tend to get addicted to all things TV and don’t particularly like reality competition shows.

If you would ask me why I caved a couple weeks ago, I couldn’t tell you. It probably had something to do with my annoyance at the current TV that was being offered to me. None of the new Fall Dramas hit a strong nerve with me, except Homeland, and the comedies were even more disappointing. Furthermore, Bones got a late start to the season, Cougar Town was absent altogether and none of the senior dramas were doing too well in my book either (see last week’s podcast for more details).

So I delved into the rich catalog of Survivor, starting with the last complete season, Season 22: Redemption Island (in Nicaragua), because I didn’t want to be spoiled for the currently airing Season 23: South Pacific while I was trying to catch up. I went backwards from there all the way to Season 16 (Micronesia: Fans vs. Favorites), before I decided I should really start at the very beginning instead of this retroactive crap. Taken altogether I have now seen 11 seasons of Survivor over the course of eight weeks and I have to say I finally get where the fascination comes from.

Not every season is equally as fascinating as the other, but which season you like is utterly dependant on whether or not you are able to personally identify with any of the contestants, whether you like them or not, and that is a highly individual response. Therefore, everybody “sees a different show”, when they watch Survivor, because everyone is rooting for/against someone else. And the beauty of the whole thing is that the audience has absolutely no control over any part of the game, except awarding some money to their favorite player at the reunion show.

Really, it is such a relief to know that it won’t be whoever the teenage girls liked best, who will win Survivor, like it is the case with virtually every other competition show, from American Idol to X Factor. (This “lack of control” on the audience’s part is also what is so appealing about Project Runway, btw.) Instead, it depends entirely on the group dynamic of the actual contestants. Where in one season, the older contestants might get voted off first, in another season they might make it all the way to the end and the “young buffs” stand no chance. With each new season, the possibilities are endless.

Of course, when the game began in 2000, it was still a different game. Although a surprisingly high amount of elements were already part of the game in Season 1 (tribal council, the merge at 10 people overall, the interview segments), over time Survivor evolved and changed, thereby keeping each season interesting to watch. The introduction of separate Reward and Immunity Challenges, hidden Immunity Idols, Redemption Island, surprising tribe switches and new ways to break a tie at Tribal Council were introduced, so you were never watching the same game twice. Over time it became established that you have to strategize to win Survivor. Only in the early seasons do you still see people trying their damndest to be honest and actually believing – as a whole – that it doesn’t take alliances to win. Early on, contestants really still went into the game trying to make friends. Nowadays, after 23 seasons, we – the audience – laugh at these fools, if one ever manages to stumble into these later seasons at all, and know they will be one of the first ones to go.

And yet, Survivor manages to not be too overtly exploitative of the drama, the personalities and people’s dignity. Every season has moments of genuine human emotion, when the contestants bond or go on a challenge reward and realize how lucky they are to be alive, be where they are and with the people they are with. We’ve heard it many times over the seasons, and yet it seldom rings hollow when the contestants have this “epiphany”.
Not to mention the episodes with the loved ones – which Jeff Probst has personally said he always fight for, even though some people want to get rid of them – are always uniquely touching. Vicariously through the contestants, we all remember how lucky we are to have what we have and to be thankful for our friends and family. I for one always feel the urge to call my mom after I have seen one of those “loved ones” episodes.

So, America, I get it now. The ever changing dynamics between the contestants, the slowly evolving rules, the exotic locales, the entirely likable host and the vicarious adventure of Survivor make it the closest any of us will ever come to the Robinson Crusoe feeling (especially if you hate bugs as much as I do and would never even consider sleeping in a tent for longer than a weekend). Chances are I will watch live, week to week with you all next season. As long as you promise you won’t judge me for liking Boston Rob and hoping for his return. Maybe he could help Jeff host the reunion show. I’m sure he’d be better than that dude they had host the first five reunion shows (Bryant Gumble).






Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra", Episode 19 below.

Topics include the finales of Sons of Anarchy and America's Next Top Model.


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Humor is subjective and oftentimes it is more than futile to debate whether or not something is funny – although sometimes taking a harder look at the things you laugh at reveals frightening truths about yourself. Network executives know that humor is subjective as well as anyone, which is why at any given point there are three to seven sitcoms running on any given network, making sure each and every one of us can find at least one show to laugh at.
Not by any stretch of my imagination can I conjure someone who would genuinely laugh about anything that happens on Fox’s new show I Hate My Teenage Daughter.

Disclaimer: I haven’t watched many episodes of My Name Is Earl, so Jamie Pressly is not infallible in my book as she might be to a certain cult following of that show. She is the lead actress in IHMTD, alongside decorated theater actress Katie Finneran, and her performance has been praised by most critics, even though they generally hated the show. I can’t say I agree with all the praise for Pressly. Given how grisly bad the material is she has to work with here, she might have done a fine job, but I wouldn’t say no other actress couldn’t have done the same. I certainly hope that she doesn’t get accolades for the fact that she made horrible material seem slightly less horrible. Accolades should go to actors who make brilliant material genius.

But let’s rewind and look at the premise of IHMTD and identify where exactly it veers off-course. Pressly and Finneran play two divorced moms raising teenage daughters, who are apparently supposed to be high school freshmen. The moms’ biggest concern is to make sure their daughters don’t end up being social outcasts/nerds in school, like the moms did back in their high school days. And the way they go about that is to spoil their daughters rotten instead of teaching them about respect, love and diversity.

See, in the pilot episode, which aired last Wednesday, the two daughters are supposed to be punished for locking a handicapped schoolmate of theirs in the opposite sex’s bathroom. The mothers initially ground the daughters, forcing them to miss their first high school dance, but then cave and let their bullying behavior slide. Pressly’s character even has a little bit of a defense for it, given how her daughter lies to her and claims the handicapped kid is the biggest bully in school and “deserved what he got”, but Finneran’s mom just caves at seeing her daughter cry. It turns out the daughters lied, of course, the handicapped kid is a perfectly nice, young black guy. The moms hence decide to not take their daughters home immediately, but instead to dance like crazy in order to embarrass them in front of all their peers.

In an age where bullying in high schools is such a hot-button issue, this episode sends all the wrong messages! Not only do the daughters get away with bullying a handicapped (!), black (!) kid, but the mothers don’t even address the issue of bullying itself. Given how they are supposed to be the victims of bullying in the past themselves, you would think they would make extra-sure that their children knew that everyone deserves respect. Given that the mothers are aware that they were victims of bullying, this would be the only logical, because human, consequence. Once you are aware of what has happened to you in the past and how you have been wronged, you then have an especially passionate reaction when the same wrong happens to someone else and you most likely commit yourself to making sure no one has to suffer the same fate. This is essentially where activism comes from.

Sidenote via personal example: my mother was always the youngest in her class when she went to school and she was teased for it and sometimes felt the effects of being almost a year younger than everyone else. Hence, when I went to school and was offered the chance to skip a grade, because I was doing so well and my teachers felt I was advanced enough to be able to deal with the academic challenge, my mother declined this offer, because she didn’t want me to suffer through being the youngest like she did. Get what I mean?

So while it is logical that the mothers of IHMTD are trying their damndest to make sure their daughters are popular, the other logical consequence would be them trying to make sure their daughters are also better people than the bullies the mom’s had to endure in high school. Instead these moms are still stuck in high school themselves. They still perceive themselves as exactly what their high school peer group decided to classify them as: freaks/nerds/outcasts. They never moved beyond the walls of their high school, the message of the anti-bullying campaign “It Gets Better” didn’t reach these moms at all. Instead of drawing self-esteem from the fact that they found love, got married and had children (and live in pretty swanky homes), they still define themselves by the things they didn’t have or didn’t get to do in high school, thus extending their own purgatory far beyond the four years of a normal high school career.
I think we all agree that’s pretty pathetic.

And Sherry Bilsing-Graham, one of the creators of IHMTD, should know better, because she worked on Friends as well and I distinctly remember an episode in which Monica, once the fat girl in high school, just like Finneran’s character on IHMTD, but now skinny and successful, gets the chance to go on a date with the guy who used to be “it” in high school. She discovers the guy still has the same job as he did back then, still lives with his parents, still has the same friends and still gives them wedgies. Essentially, he is pathetic, because he never moved on from high school. So if Friends knew that lesson to be true a decade ago, then why does IHMTD not know that lesson?

See, Friends did so many things right with so many of the same premises. Monica was the fat girl in high school, and yet on the show we see her become a successful career woman, who finds true love and has the best mothering skills of the bunch, even though – or maybe precisely because – her own mother has always been a bit too critical of her.
Meanwhile Rachel, the popular girl in high school, has to find out the hard way that being popular in high school means diddly-squat when you get out into the real world and have to earn your own money, and she works through her vanity and becomes a mother and successful career woman.
And then look at Ross, who was the geek in high school and in college, who studies dinosaurs for a living and becomes a university professor, a responsible father to two children, tolerant of his ex-wife’s same sex relationship and an all-around stand-up guy.
(I don’t even want to get into Chandler, who has had it really rough, to say the least, and yet, will always be my favorite “Friend”.)

These are the messages a sitcom should send. That it means nothing what people think of you in high school, because that doesn’t define you. What defines you is what you make out of those experiences. And the mothers of I Hate My Teenage Daughter clearly make nothing of their experiences, they – as former victims – breed the new bullies of high schools right under their own roof.
Now that’s a message I can’t forgive.

The genre of comedy doesn’t get a pass from me for messing up like this, because even though sometimes the whole point of comedy is to make light of issues we all take too seriously, there are issues that cannot be taken too seriously. And the things we laugh at – or which network executives and sitcom writers apparently want us to laugh at – sometimes reveal a dark side in us that should make the laughter get stuck in our throats.





Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra", Episode 18 below.

Topics (for this relaunch episode) include Bones, Castle, House and Grey's Anatomy.



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SPOILER ALERT! If you have yet to see the midseason finale of Season 2 of AMC’s The Walking Dead (which aired on Sunday, Nov. 27th), then don’t read on.

The Walking Dead is a hit show, with the highest ratings out there on basic cable right now, and if there is one thing critics love, it’s tearing into a hit show, trying to make people see how terrible it is and trying to convince them to watch other, better, smaller shows instead, like Fringe or Community or…

Well, this is not one of those posts. I won’t try to convince you that you shouldn’t be watching The Walking Dead, because while I am more than aware there are better things to watch out there – particularly on Sundays *cough* Homeland *cough* - I can’t stop watching The Walking Dead either. But that doesn’t mean I have to love it unabashedly, which is an approach I know many people take towards television anyway. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be good enough.

The critical consensus of Season 1 of TWD is that it started and ended strong, but it was weak in the middle, where it lost a lot of speed and didn’t really know where to go. And this seems to be the same dynamic that is playing out in Season 2 as well. The season started with momentum - being propelled by the huge explosion at the Center for Disease Control – and tension but then quickly delved into philosophical issues and God rambling that were of little interest to anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I think a show like TWD is the perfect venue to ask some of the questions the show is asking – Does humanity deserve to survive? Why do you go on surviving if there is no hope for things ever getting better? And who decides what is right or wrong when all “order-giving entities” have been destroyed? –, but eventually you have to let your characters find answers to these questions as well. And these answers have to make sense for the characters alone, not the audience. I get the sense that the show is deeply afraid of taking a firm moral stance, because the – switching – showrunners don’t want to risk alienating any members of their numerous viewers.

But any TV show ultimately benefits from the creators taking a stand, whether we agree with it or not. Disagreement can at least spark passionate arguments. The constant wavering of the characters on TWD however inspires little more than frustration and polls asking “Which character should die next?”, with the answers to this question being very varied, because almost all the characters are so annoying right now, you wouldn’t mind seeing them die.

Let’s get into specifics: Lori and Rick had a wonderfully poignant debate when Carl lay dying about whether or not it was worth risking other people’s lives to save him if all they could offer him was the world of horror they lived in right now. Lori was the one arguing that maybe he would be better off dead and Rick was the one desperately trying to cling to some sort of hope. When Lori found out that she is pregnant – with a baby that may or may not be her husband’s – this is exactly the debate that echoed in her head again, but instead of making a choice and standing by the consequences, she dragged poor Glenn into her dilemma, then made a choice by swallowing a bunch of morning after pills, and then reneged on that choice by throwing them up. Whether or not Lori was actually stupid enough to think that swallowing these pills a few weeks into her pregnancy would actually terminate it, is beside the point. Since she had been through the pros and cons of whether or not the world is still worth living in for a child and decided that it was, which is why she agreed to save Carl, she should never have considered abortion, because she had come down on the side Rick was arguing, that life is worth fighting for.

This is not a pro-life argument I am making here. I am a firm believer in a woman’s choice. I am saying it would have made sense for her character development to have her lay her thoughts of abortion to rest when she decided that her son’s life was worth saving and hence life itself was still worth living.

I don’t even want to get into the issues with gender roles I have with TWD. It is bad enough that Lori follows the wishes of her husband whenever he decides to actually share them, but most of the women on TWD are reduced to nothing more than potato peelers and laundry ladies, which is worse than what Mad Men is portraying and at least that show is set fifty years in the past. It doesn’t help me that people keep reassuring me that “in the comics, Andrea is really bad-ass”. I haven’t read the comics and I don’t care what happens in the comics, the show still has to be able to stand on its own two feet and be coherent and compelling in its own medium and message and the Andrea of the TV show is useless, moronic and not at all bad-ass. And when she attempts to be bad-ass, she ends up shooting Daryl, one of their own. The women of TWD are infuriating and more often than not, I find myself wishing they were the ones catching a bullet to the head instead of the Walkers.

The twist reveal in the midseason finale, that Sophia was actually a Walker already trapped in the Walker Barn, did little to alleviate the fact that we have spent weeks with these weepy characters on a farm, looking at fields of grass and nothing else. While they brought up an interesting moral issue here and there, real character development was sparse. Shane moved a little further into “Black Hat territory”, Daryl gained a few more sympathies, and Rick is no longer a Sheriff, but still the driving force behind the entire group, because he tirelessly tries to keep them safe, by compromising any way he can (which can very easily get all of them killed, but he is trying to hold on to the little morality and humanity that is left in the world).
If anything, the Sophia reveal only makes this first half of Season 2 feel like even more of a waste of time. Partly because the logic behind it also doesn’t make any sense.

If Sophia had wandered into the barn to seek shelter, it would be far more likely for any trace of her to be gone, because, you know, Walkers eat people. Given how starved the Walkers in the barn were, I doubt they would have just scratched Sophia and then let her go through two days of fever until she finally turned into a Walker herself. So it is far more likely that Sophia became a Walker outside of the barn and was wrestled in by Hershel and his crew, in which case it is beyond reprehensible that Hershel didn’t tell Rick & Co. about the fact that there is a little girl Walker in the barn. The two defenses I have heard on this front are
1.) that Otis was the one, who usually brought in stray Walkers (as revealed on The Talking Dead feature after the episode aired). But even Otis knew that the group was looking for a little girl, hence he would have mentioned if he brought a girl Walker in, even in the whole chaos surrounding Carl. Even if it had been his dying words. It’s not something you forget if you are as morally righteous as Otis was.
2.) That Hershel didn’t tell them because he knew Rick & Co. think of the Walkers as threats and would have killed them all, including Sophia, when he still believed he could save them eventually. This makes no sense because Hershel’s prime objective was to get Rick & Co. off his land as soon as possible, so the best thing for Hershel to do would have been to lie and tell them that they found Sophia, that she had been infected, they had killed her and hence Rick & Co. can be on their way. (Or he could have told the truth, showed them the barn and Sophia in it and said "Hey, if you leave her here, maybe I will find a cure eventually, In any case, you can leave now, she is dead to you anyway.")

See, this is my problem with TWD. It builds up tensions and sets up scenarios and twists, but then when things unfold, they never make much sense when you dig anywhere deeper than the surface. The reveal is cool for a second, until you turn your brain on and realize it’s moronic. And while the general devastation and hopelessness of the world of TWD might work for a horror movie of 120 minutes runtime, it is getting awfully hard for a TV show to sustain any kind of momentum beyond the few seconds of “Ooooh, cool!” kicks we get out of the few violent tricks the show can pull. Also, has anyone noticed the abundance of Walkers but the lack of corpses, picked clean by said abundance of Walkers? Where are all these Walkers coming from and where are the remains of all the stuff they must be eating?

You can tell, I have a lot of issues with TWD, but they are not severe enough for me to give up watching, because the show does inhabit a unique space in television, precisely because it is set in a hopeless world and we are unlikely to get any big victory with swooping, glorifying victory speeches afterwards. I am not saying TWD inhabits this space particularly well, but at least it is no longer vacant. If some of the characters could get a firmer grip on where they stand morally, and if preferably not all of them turn out to be such goody two-shoes as Dale is always trying to be, then the show could be as compelling as many of us want it to be. And give the women some guns, for crying out loud!

 As the line-up of new shows premiering in this Fall of 2011 was revealed months and months ago, critics remarked on a peculiar trend: there seemed to be a lot of new comedies coming out that focused on the theme of “what it means to be a man in America”.
And as these shows subsequently came on the air, this phenomenon was then aptly titled “mancession”, and it’s one of the most disturbing social commentaries to come out of TV of late.

The moniker of “mancession” came about because the shows in question – mainly ABC’s Last Man Standing and Man Up and CBS’s How to Be A Gentleman – were operating around the premise that men in America have forgotten how to take charge of their manhood and were threatened by their environment in their manliness and consequently turned into whiny crybabies or worse. The clear message was: “Men, take back your manhood and embrace your inner macho!” This message deeply disturbs me, because it is most definitely the wrong one in a world that seems to be politically and socially regressing.


In Last Man Standing Tim Allen plays essentially the same character as he did on Home Improvement, only this time he has three daughters instead of sons and works at a shop called "The Outdoor Man", you can guess what items they sell there.
Many have bemoaned that this sitcom feels straight out of the Nineties, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad sitcom. And I do appreciate the snide remarks Allen’s dad characters makes about his teenage daughter getting pregnant and having a kid, because while it is obvious that he supports her in raising her son – she lives with her parents and they help out with the baby – I feel it is right that she is reprimanded for her lapse in judgment (though the same would go for the parents).
What gets me about Last Man Standing is not the fact that the dad struggles with hanging on to “manly things” in a household full of women, because that is a natural struggle. It’s that he is trying to hold on to all the wrong things of manhood; the machismo, the refusal to go with the times when it comes to parenting methods (New Age kindergartens are not the worst thing to ever have happened) and the general attitude of “Bitches be crazy, but we gotta deal” that seeps through the seems.

By no means is Last Man Standing the worst offender in this “mancession” epidemic though. Man Up and How to Be A Gentlemen are/were far worse.
The latter has already been canceled after a short and thankfully almost unnoticed run of four episodes. The title was a misnomer anyway, as the show focused on Kevin Dillon’s airhead of ex-high-school-bully turned pumped-up macho turning the perfectly acceptable nice guy David Hornsby into “a real man”, meaning one that likes to drink beer, knows nothing about wine, travel or politics and doesn’t do his own laundry or own a salmon-colored button up shirt. When did writers get the idea in their heads that this is the kind of man women desire? Maybe it’s the kind of man some men wish that women would desire, because that would require so much less work on their part, but at the end of the day you expect women to put in the effort too, don’t you? And besides, who said that it has to be hard work to know how to dress well or eat fine food or enjoy conversation more than Sunday Night Football? Why is it unacceptable for men to genuinely like those things? Believe me, the men who do are way more popular with the ladies than the muscled beefheads at your local gym.

The men in Man Up fall into a different category of “unmanly” yet. They enjoy their video games, are socially awkward (in varying degrees) and fail to assert physical dominance when threatened by another man. The implication is that they were probably geeks in high school and that even the women in their lives, be it wives or ex-girlfriends, want them to toughen up and be “more of a man”, which evidently in the context of the show means not wearing flip-flops and tackling dudes twice your size when they say something bad about your ex.
The married guy, Will, reminds me a lot of Phil Dunphy on Modern Family. He’s a goofball and he tries too hard to be cool, but he is good father, a reliable partner and he makes everybody laugh. And humor, above all, is the one thing women always name as a must-have for the guy they want to end up with. But while Modern Family, although taking jabs at Phil, always manages to portray him as a stand-up guy and hence justify that he has a stable home life with three wonderful children, Man Up takes essentially the same character and tries to convince us that even his own wife wishes he was “more of a man”, meaning less in touch with his emotions, more focused on appearing strong, more Bruce Willis in Die Hard than Ryan Gosling in The Notebook.


What irks me so about this apparent nostalgia for a time “when men could still be men” is the underlying unwillingness to move forward and evolve that speaks through it. I agree that we need to redefine what it “means to be a man”, just as we need to redefine what it means “to be a woman”, because we live in turbulent times that more than anything put before us the question of what it means to be human. Regressing to old role models and manifestation of gender roles is the worst possible message to put out there these days. We need progress, we need evolution, we need new ideas, because all the old ones are collapsing around us.
And in a society that is currently so obsessed with talking about (cyber) bullying and bullying in high school, the least I would expect are TV shows that show these bullied high school boys that things will get better and that they can be goofy and educated and sophisticated and still be called a man, more so than their aggressors will ever be.