Monthly Archives: April 2009

Drop everything! We’re forming our own army.

It’s rare I feel strongly enough about a show to actually fear for the life of it, but that’s how I am with ABC’s Better Off Ted right now.

Superbly written, acted, produced, entirely original, daring, envelope-pushing, and setting a new standard for “funny as hell” – in any fair and just world that would be the perfect combo to guarantee the extended life of a new series. It certainly worked for 30 Rock. But that’s because 30 Rock had Lorne Michaels and a bold NBC management behind it, so it lived on long enough to become a cult hit.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Better Off Ted, which is still a nervous fledgling fighting for survival, and I’m not sure the weaselly suits at ABC  have the balls to stick with it. Currently, my spidey sense tells me that this genius of a sitcom isn’t doing well enough and could be cancelled.

Why? Because it’s simply too good for us. Fact.  

The premise is easy enough: Ted is a good-looking, smooth-talking, moralistic R&D guy at a big immoral corporation, Veridian Dynamics, one of those sprawling faceless global leviathans that makes everything from “pills that look like candy” to “hurricane-proofing for dogs.” His days are spent locked in battle with his boss, Veronica – played by Ellen Degeneres’s husband Portia di Rossi – an ambitious, feisty blonde with a viper’s tongue and both eyes of the tiger. She would never settle for just one.

Half the fun of the show is seeing these two locked in battle, negotiating the tricky problems that go hand in hand with introducing new products to a world gone mad. Last night it was a solar-powered microwave oven that is perfectly safe until it’s exposed to sunlight, at which point it kills anyone using it.

The week before, it was money-saving sensors that reflect off a person’s skin as they enter a room to automatically turn on lights, elevators, water-fountains. Only one flaw: the sensors don’t work on dark skin, which means the building is full of black clerks trapped in elevators and black lab technicans unable to go home because the doors won’t open. The solution Veronica comes up with is ingenious: she hires a white intern for every black person, to walk behind them everywhere they go. 

Now, please, tell me that isn’t funny, daring, and everything else I said!   

And because it is, I think it’s doomed.

I’ve said this before: too many viewers now are poorly-educated, lazy, and dim. They want straightforward humor. Slapstick, fart jokes, and sometimes witty banter, but only if it’s accompanied by strange facial expressions or lots of manic gesturing.  That’s why The Simpsons does so well. Oceans of stupidity, bright colors, and movement.

What doesn’t do so well is stuff the audience has to think about. Where they have to put two and two together and stick with something – a joke, a situation, a story arc – ’til it pays off, and do so without the help of a laugh track. When TV executives in the 1950s invented the laugh track it was because they understood the mentality of their viewers – those unaccounted-for millions who make up the audience figures, and who are basically content to sit idly in an armchair all night with a six-pack and a bag of doughnuts, watching almost anything that’s put before them, as long as it has bright colors, explosions, emergencies, shouting, running about, a sappy “you’re perfect just as you are” kind of message crowbarred in two minutes before the end, and can be squeezed in between bathroom breaks. 

That’s not Better Off Ted, alas. You have to stick with it to like it.  You have to use your brain. You have to have a sense of humor that’s triggered by actual humor, not by a sign saying “laugh now.”

So, like some of my other favorite shows – Journeyman, Surface, and a wonderful little thing I loved called Stranded With Cash Peters – this one looks destined for the scrapheap.

Unless, that is, we do something to save it.

Making sure we tune in and don’t miss an episode, that’s one way. The old way. The old way that leaves people to make their own minds up – which we know is extremely dangerous and doesn’t work. Look at the 2000 and ’04 elections. One catastrophe after another.

No, this new way I’m thinking of is to form a small private battalion – you, me , and a few others, coalescing into an unarmed but brutal militia that goes door to door on Wednesday nights in every corner of America and makes sure everybody with a TV is glued to Better Off Ted. And if they’re not, we ridicule them. Ridicule them hard. And wherever possible make them feel small, using the only weapons at our disposal: our intelligence, superior sense of style, and wit.

Good, eh? So what do you say?   

The idea’s only at its formative stages yet – like solar-powered microwave ovens that kill people – but I think it might work. Are you in?

 

Better Off Ted gets five magic carpets out of five.

TV Swami – he say YES.

www.cashpeters.com.

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Part 2 of the Ayn Rand Traffic Experiment.

Zero.

That’s how many.

I went down the list and checked every line. Not one mention of Ayn Rand anywhere by anyone.

This was a little test to see if you could randomly plant a major celebrity name in a blog and attract web traffic like ants to a dead sparrow, or country housewives to a pottery sale. But in fact it backfired. Maybe word got around. Sensing danger, Ayn Rand fans stayed off the internet yesterday in their thousands. 

Most visitors arrived here via my website – www.cashpeters.com – or through Facebook. But the majority were referred by Google or Yahoo! after typing in a ludicrous range of eccentric keywords, such as “television spankings”, “tied up naked girls”, “kim kardashian limping”, “naked black boys”, “marco pierre spank”, and “naked sport”. The usual things. Nobody, however, not a single individual out there in the entire world, typed the words “ayn rand” into their search engine yesterday and found themselves lost in the strange land that is TV Swami. I think that must tell you something.

At the very least it tells you that Ayn’s publisher is wildly exaggerating her popularity and book sales.

So that’s it. End of experiment. What a let-down. Believe me, I’m as disappointed as you are.  

 

TV Swami – he say NO to Ayn Rand, because Ayn Rand fans, they say NO to TV Swami.  Bastards.

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The Ayn Rand Traffic Experiment, Part 1

Someone on Facebook recently told me that the greatest number of hits they’d ever had on their blog was the day they mentioned everybody’s favorite mother of Objectivism, Ayn Rand.

“Oh really?” I said. “Ayn Rand, eh?”

You’ve heard of Ayn Rand. Russian woman. Screenwriter and novelist. Wrote Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Smoked too much and contracted lung cancer – natch. Got famous by opposing fascism and all absolute forms of rule. In which case, in all fairness, I should be just as famous as she is, because I oppose them too. Alas, I’m not, so it doesn’t work for everyone clearly. 

Anyway, although she died in the early 80s, Ayn’s books continue to sell by the hundreds of thousands – Atlas Shrugged was 1,100 pages long, and therefore makes a handy step up when you’re trying to reach a high shelf; which accounts for at least 80% of sales –  so clearly she’s a popular blog search. Therefore, in the spirit of our quest to draw traffic to TV Swami by hook or by crook, and in particular by mentioning famous people more or less at random – celebrity nobodies Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson come to mind – I am throwing Ayn Rand into the mix today, to see how many grazing readers will inexplicably find themselves outfoxed and caught up in this net of intrigue.

A-ha!!

Result tomorrow.

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Hi, Cancellation – meet my new friend, Chris Isaak.

Apparently, the post that follows, which was written in April of 09, is still causing minor controversy with dedicated Chris Isaak fans, who have leveled some pretty horrendous attacks at TV Swami and in one case even threatened violence against him – violence, though! – for holding an opinion they don’t agree with. They also venture to suggest that he is not competent to offer his views about showbiz because he’s angry, he’s bitter, and he’s jealous about all TV performers on account of his own show being cancelled five years ago. 

Wow. That’s quite an indictment. But here’s my counter-argument:   

I really do like Chris Isaak. Honestly.

There. That should do it.

As weak as this might seem by way of a defense, it’s all I have. Isaak – again, in my opinion, so please don’t hit me – is an awesome performer, but not a good talk show host. Just as the Swami wasn’t a good travel show host – the viewers were right in both cases. 

Luckily, TV Swami recovers fast. Yes, sir.  He is not angry or bitter about the cancellation of his show (grrrrr) and will be back writing posts again in 2010 once he completes his book. 

In the meantime, I’m really, really sorry, Chris Isaak fans. You will bounce back, I just know it.  Chin up.

Here’s the post. Make your own mind up.

I’m still hung over. Not from booze this time, you’ll be pleased to hear, but from watching The Chris Isaak Hour on Bio last night.

Bio used to be the Biography Channel, a go-to place for human interest stories. Then, presumably after someone wrote in and said, “Hey, man, this documentary crap you’re putting out is waaaay too interesting,” they had second thoughts, shortened the name, and filled their schedule with boring shows instead. Let me try to think of an example.

Oh yes – The Chris Isaak Hour.  

The idea seems simple enough. Give a popular singer whose star has faded somewhat the opportunity to interview other popular singers whose stars have faded somewhat. Let him do it on a couch, give him a budget to dye his hair and eyebrows if he needs it, and pepper the interview with clips of the guest singing, wherever possible with Chris Isaak plucking at a guitar too, since he’s there already and might as well do something.

It’s basically a lot like any Jools Holland show in the UK. Only, Chris Isaak is no Jools Holland. In fact, I’d say he’s possibly the most boring interviewer I’ve ever seen on TV. In any country. Anywhere. And I’m including Antarctica, where  the interviewers on TV are all penguins. Yet even they manage to ask questions without mumbling them.  

I only watched it because Isaak wrote a blog for the Huffington Post yesterday, pleading with readers to tune in. And that doesn’t happen often. So, sensing desperation and the whiff of impending cancellation, I thought I’d better grab the opportunity while I had the chance. Now, of course, I wish I hadn’t. Oh my God, what a horrible show. 

The star guest was Cat Stevens, one of my all-time faves. If you recall, he became Yusuf Islam for a while, then, when the word Islam acquired a bit of an aftertaste in the West, and songs by an artist with Islam in his name would most likely be box office poison, there was a hasty rethink, I’m guessing, and he settled for just plain Yusuf instead. In any case, Cat – seriously, who’s going to call him Yusuf? –  is a brilliant songwriter.  Cute and a little chubby in his heyday, he now has a gray beard that goes straight down, and an old man’s voice when he speaks. Remarkably, though, when he sings – jeepers creepers! The magic comes rushing back again, like a tide that’s been out too long, and he sounds exactly like the records.  It was quite magical to hear.

But the problem is Isaak. When I made my travel show a couple of years back, a small number of angry, jealous viewers wrote in, saying, “What a terrible host. Replace him immediately with somebody better.” But they were wrong – obviously.

I, on the other hand, am not wrong about Chris Isaak.

He’s low-key to the point of comatose when he speaks. It’s like listening to a generator hum through a wall.  Almost as if he’s so intimidated when confronted with staggering (see below) accomplishment and talent that he clams up. At one point, he even brought his dog on and sat it on his lap, which was a sappy and silly moment and I wanted to rush in and confiscate it. Cat doesn’t like dogs, I’m assuming. By the look on his face, I think he’d have smashed it with his guitar if he could, and to hell with his peace-loving image.

Anyway, we learned fascinating snippets of background info about Cat’s old songs. (Moonshadow, for instance, was written after he stood out under a full moon one night and saw his “moon shadow.” His song Lost in Fog, about the time he got lost in fog, can’t be far off, I’m sure.) We also learned that his gift for writing magical tunes that haunt you for a lfetime didn’t extend into later years. His new stuff is a load of cock, quite honestly. Furthermore, last night he tried updating Peace Train, turning it into a laid-back blues number, managing at the same time to render it simultaneously boring and profoundly unlistenableto, which takes some doing. 

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was, top to bottom. Ghastly show, boring host, wishy-washy guest. I wanted to love it all, but I didn’t make it to the end. Switched it off, went to bed, and fell asleep oozing rivers of anger and regret at the hour I’d just wasted. Hopefully, Bio will take note and cancel this series before it does any more harm. The perfect example of life simply being too short.

The Chris Isaak Hour gets one magic carpet out of five.

TV Swami – he say NO.

www.cashpeters.com

UPDATE 4/14/09: I have amended one word in the above review, changing “real” to “staggering.” This was done, believe it or not, as a gesture of goodwill, to appease critics who’re insisting I was way too negative about the show and unfair to Chris Isaak.

For goodness’ sake! I’m not saying that Isaak is not a good or successful performer. He is very talented – of course – and his long track record proves that. It’s just that Cat Stevens is better. Period. What I am saying is that Isaak is not a good talk show host. He’s not peppy enough or effusive enough. That said, if Bio decides to renew the series, good. The TV Swami won’t be watching it, that’s all.

Now, let’s step over this difficult moment as if it were an injured pedestrian and move on with our lives.  I thank you for your attention.

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Everyday life in Celebrity Central.

Oh boy, did we strike gold yesterday or what?

Each day a fair number of people stop by to see what the TV Swami is up to, which is nice. But yesterday, thanks to a clever combination of the tag word ‘spanking’ and the names Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson, which are like catnip to celebrity-snoopers, apparently, traffic skyrocketed in previously unimagined ways, and was still heading into the stratosphere when I went to bed.

Why is this? Why are we, the general public, even the remotest bit fascinated with a guy in a yellow Mercedes putting the roof of his car down? Truth is: we’re not. At least, not generally. But fame is a magnifying glass and, as boring as it would be if you or I did it, Lord Darth Vader attempting the exact-same thing makes it seem a thousand times more interesting.

Given that I live in a nice, leafy, high-end part of Los Angeles, it’ll come as no surprise to you that our area tends to be Celebrity Central. I often mention it on my BBC broadcast, much to the annoyance of half the audience. We see them all the time.

For instance, Rachel Bilson’s house used to be owned by Noah Wylie, the ER guy. David Hyde-Pierce from Frasier still has the house on the hill. Danny Bonaduce was a neighbor too, until his divorce. Now he’s gone and the stark prison-camp-like house is sold.

Meanwhile, Courtney Love is holed up along the street. Our neighbors claim she came trick or treating a couple of Halloweens ago (then again, they also swear Robert Downey Jnr arrived at their door one night asking for candy, then danced away up the street when he got some – so I’m beginning to think they’re nuts, quite honestly, and not to be trusted!)

Probably our most famous celebrity residents right now, though, are Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. According to several high-level sources (local gossips who can’t keep their mouths shut), they bought the house next door-but-one from David Hyde Pierce. It’s just a tiny fragment of their worldwide network of homes, so of course, if they do actually live there, we never see them, though I must say their Christmas lights last year were a feast of Hollywood self-indulgence. About twenty trees in the grounds and on the house itself, all lit up and visible from miles around. Stunning.  

Anyway, speaking of spotting people, which is the point of this post….

Yesterday, to celebrate the fevered Times-Square-like traffic of the blog, I had lunch at a local cafe. While I’m eating, in walks a black guy swathed in bandages. Poor thing, he’s obviously been in a horrendous accident, because his head’s wrapped up and he’s wearing a big foam neck brace.  Together with another guy, he sits at the table opposite, then – and here’s where things got strange – began chatting away as if he wasn’t hurt. Moving his head. Moving his neck. Getting up, sitting down. Extremely animated. Which was very suspicious, and led me to believe that he wasn’t injured at all and the bandages and neck brace were an affectation to get attention.

But then I realized – there’s a TV studio complex just behind the cafe. It’s where they film General Hospital and also Gray’s Anatomy. So obviously he was an extra on one of those shows. When he left the set, the continuity person must have told him, “Hey – you. You in the neck brace. Don’t take it off.”  He had to keep the pretend dressings on his pretend wounds, or they wouldn’t be able to match them later in the next shot. 

Or, just as likely, this being Hollywood, he kept them on to let people know he’s on TV. It’s so much more discreet than standing up and shouting,  “Everyone, look who’s just walked in – it’s ME. A total non-celebrity. That guy you wouldn’t notice otherwise, from that show you probably don’t watch anyway.”

Of course now I AM going to have to watch the wretched show to see if I can spot him. Hospital set. Guy in background on stretcher with head bandaged. Should be easy enough.  

TV Swami – he say YES to living a few doors down from Brad and Angelina.

www.cashpeters.com

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Attention! Celebrity Neighbor Alert.

Pssst. Listen up.

So last night I go for my usual evening walk. Around 9.30, after American Idol, to calm down and get my sanity and sense of perspective back. Anyway, I’m coming home again, mind wandering, mouth snacking its way on automatic through a bag of 65% reduced fat Kettle chips, when a car whizzes by and shudders to a stop some way off, just past Rachel Bilson’s house.

A yellow car.

A yellow two-seater Mercedes convertible car. With the roof down.   

And we all know who that belongs to, right?

Hayden Christensen!!! The Star Wars guy. Natch.

So immediately I do what anyone would do. I cross over the street to make sure I pass by as closely as I can. For research purposes.

It’s pretty dark at this point, therefore details are hard to come by. Also, I guess he’s on the look-out for paparazzi or reporters, being as he’s marrying Rachel Bilson ‘n’ all and those scuzzy press seem to care about the both of them way more than the rest of us do. All the same,  he sees me heading his way and hurriedly puts his roof up. One of those roofs that rich people keep in their trunk, and which unfolds at the press of a button, like an awning.  Or the weapons shield on an X-wing fighter, which I guess he’s more used to.

Now, bear in mind, he’s sort of parked in the middle of the street at this point, about twenty feet past his fiancees’s home. All very strange. And I’m walking towards him faster than the roof is closing.

Having sped up to beat the roof, I now slow down again for full effect, while pushing Kettle chips into my mouth in a remarkably casual way, like I’m waaaaaay too hungry right now to bother about celebrities sitting in the middle of the street in cars with the roof kind of open like an envelope flap. But then, suddenly – and here’s the thing – at the last second, when he thinks I haven’t seen him, I swivel my head and stare right into the vehicle. Bang boom bang. Just like that.

It’s like a scene from Star Wars, only without the drama, dark deeds, seductive dialogue, or rip-roaring green screen fights and special effects.

Quite obviously, he’s shocked by this turn of events. Maybe he was going to wait until I’d passed, then reverse into Bilson’s driveway. If so, he scotches that plan immediately and tears off down the road in a panic, disappearing from sight.

But wait! That’s not all.

When he turns at the end of the street, he turns right, not left. That’s a key sign. Left would take him towards the city. Right, on the other hand, takes him in a full circle around the block, bringing him back to where he started – Bilson’s house, only this time without all the hassle of passers-by walking along, eating Kettle chips, staring in his window and thinking, “Oooh, Hayden Christensen, you look so different when you’re not surrounded by droids.”

And that’s it. My exciting celebrity neighborhood exclusive for today.  There may have been more, but I had to rush into the house to pee. Made me think, though – what kind of life is that? Where you can’t even pull up at your fiancee’s house in the dark when there’s nobody around without fearing that that guy eating chips over there is secretly following you and about to pounce? I mean, come on. As it was, his instincts were right on and his fears totally justified. Still, that’s no way to go about things. That’s not freedom, it’s celebrity enslavement. I felt quite sorry for him, actually.

Of course, it might not have been Hayden Christensen at all. That’s possible. It might have been some guy in a yellow Mercedes convertible identical to Hayden Christensen’s who just happened to stop in the street outside Rachel Bilson’s home to put his roof up.

All the same, I am expecting competing bids from People magazine and US and Entertainment Weekly for rights to use this in their next issue.  And you know what I’ll say when they call? I’ll say, “No. This is for TV Swami. Please stop calling me.” And as I put the phone down I’ll be all cocky and puffed up with pride, followed by thoroughly despondent for the rest of the day when I realize how much money I’ve just lost by saying that.

I’m such an idiot sometimes.

TV Swami – he say NO to the pop media jackals.

 www.cashpeters.com

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Boy. Spanking. Bad.

One of the most fascinating aspects of doing this blog is being able to see what many of the people who come here type into their search engines in order to be directed to one of the posts.

The other day, I wrote about Chopping Block, the ghastly Marco Pierre White’s unfortunately-named-in-the-circumstances reality cooking show, being cancelled. The title of the piece was “Bad-Boy Chef Gets a Spanking.” 

Well, that blog above all others received huge attention, and continues to do so, not because of Marco Pierre White or the show or what I said about either, but because there are readers out there, sitting alone in their one-bedroom condo with nothing but their computer and the rest of the world to keep them company, who slavishly type a combo of “spanking” and “boy” and “bad” into Google, often with some other words that have me slightly perturbed, and as a result find themselves  on TV Swami.

There was “naked sexy young boys” (ugh!), “bad boy hard spanking”, “spanking hard tv”, “bad boys need spanking,” and many more variations. There were also, by convoluted means, a couple that related to other posts: “Portia di Rossi naked” and “Chris Evans’ naked body”. They too ended up here, and probably cursed the whole system of tagging as they did so, because quite clearly it doesn’t work.

It’s remarkable, though. And in the case of the first one, disturbing.

But in the same way that merely mentioning that Rachel Bilson, a woman I couldn’t identify if she came to my door and said, “Hi, I’m Rachel Bilson”, was my neighbor brought floods of people checking out what I had to say, dropping the word spanking in a commentary acted as a magnet to pervs globally.

So let me give a shout-out to all the committed spankers out there who were misled into visiting this blog today, under the impression that it was going to be about their favorite fetish. And let me also, while I’m at it, say sorry for doing so.

Oh, and grow up.

TV Swami – he say NO to spanking hard TV.

www.cashpeters.com

Watch Cash’s video:

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