Tag Archives: television

Homer Simpson’s favorite travel show?

Clips are surfacing on YouTube – mainly because they were posted there by the network – of a new “adventure travel” show set in Peru, called Martin & Olly.

It’s one of those “let’s put these guys in the jungle and make it seem like they’re alone and in peril” kinds of deals, filled with shaky camera work and night-vision shots where tree-branches thrash the lens and people’s eyes are pearls in the darkness, in an attempt to give it at least the appearance of being real and dangerous and like the hosts are out there on their own and not being dogged by a crew of up to five people every step of the way. 

Not surprisingly, some youtubers aren’t convinced. Their comments on the “reality” of the show are less than forgiving, suggesting that the whole thing is set up and therefore “fiction”, forcing the network to jump in and write its own comments defending the series before it’s even hit the screen.

Problem is – and I speak as someone who’s been down this path and knows – these shows can almost never be authentic. Travel programs are by their very nature phony, and it’s the viewers’ fault. They’re idle layabouts. Fact. They can’t be bothered to travel into dangerous jungles themselves; they prefer to stay at h0me and let a TV network do it for them, Not only that but they then have the nerve to insist that the experience should feel real, like they’re walking in the host’s shoes. Jeez.

Well, to accomplish this is not easy, I need hardly tell you. 

From day one the producers are in a pickle. If the show were actually real and shot that way, it would look and sound crap, like Blair Witch mixed with a home skateboarding video. So they have to cheat. For the greater good, they compromise. They go to enormous lengths to make sure the pictures and sound, especially the sound, are vivid and professional. And the only way to do that is to have a full production crew “lost” in the jungle too. Which is where things get tricky. 

Example: in one scene, the explorers – that’s what M and O are, apparently, “explorers” –  suspect they’re being followed through the undergrowth by a mysterious stranger. Oh, and guess what, they are! Otherwise why mention or show that guy we can see lurking in the bushes? 

He comes to their camp in the night – cue night-vision cameras – and tells them in a series of easy-to-read captions that he was about to skin them alive for straying into his territory. Oh, right. Yeah, sure he was. For a start, he’s outnumbered, not only by the hosts but by their entire crew. Trust me, he wasn’t laying a finger on anyone.  But also, my experience in this genre has taught me that natives are better actors than even the host has to be. They’re completely unselfconscious when it comes to filming. All you have to do is tell them, “Walk into shot and start talking,” and have your fixer slip them a couple of bucks beforehand for their trouble, and suddenly they’re Tom Hanks, slick, word-perfect, unshakable. 

Their performance seems incredibly genuine, it’s amazing, but it is a performance, and because it is, somehow, by some invisible means, let’s call it intuition, the viewer smells a rat. Why? Because that’s not how life goes. The cameras might, might,  just happen to catch such a dangerous incident once, perhaps twice over the course of a series, but in every show?Excitement is fickle. It tends to be sporadic and seldom turns up to order.  You think those ice road truckers live in terror of their eighteen-wheelers disappearing through cracked ice into the ocean every single week? Come on!

These are early days, but Martin & Olly feels like old-style travel TV.  The kind of TV that I’d like to think is dying out slowly. Overproduced and vacuous, overplanned and clunky, hosted by dull, two-dimensional non-personalities stuck in inauthentic situations played as real. Pretend dressed up as genuine, in other words, on the premise that we are dimwits and will believe whatever we’re shown because, hey, it’s on TV, right? And TV is god, it never lies. 

Basically, Martin & Olly is the kind of travel show that Homer Simpson would love.

I like things to succeed, and so I hope the series is significantly better than the clips the network stuck on YouTube. But I won’t be setting my TiVo for it.

Rating for Martin & Olly: Two magic carpets out of five.

TV Swami – he say NO.

2 Comments

Filed under Television commentary

American, idle. An addict reaches out.

I’m furious at myself for getting hooked again.

After Season 7 of American Idol I was an emotional husk – ask my friends, they’ll tell you – having invested waaaaay too much time and energy in performers who, a few weeks later – actually, minutes in some cases – and removed from the ethereal glow of the spotlight, seemed pretty rubbish. Aside from the occasional Jennifer Hudson or Kelly Clarkson, the only time we hear about these guys again is a couple of years later when their house is being repossessed or they’re dropped suddenly by their management company and are releasing songs through a MySpace page.

So last year, especially when the right David didn’t win, I quit cold turkey. That was it. Finished. No more American Idol for Sir.  It was like a New Year’s resolution, only in May.

But oh, how soon we forget.

January. More out of curiosity than anything else. Just to check out the level of talent on offer. And also because I report on these things for the BBC – I mean, I have to stay in touch. I stopped by one of the Hollywood shows. A casual glance one evening when nothing else was on TV. And goddamnit, I got hooked all over again! 

You have no idea how angry I am at myself right now.

Tonight it’s the wild card round. They’re about to give three more people I won’t remember in a year’s time the chance to be forgotten by millions of others as well, by joining the twelve-step program that the show becomes from now until the finale, when the dozen will be whittled down to one, the wrong contestant will be crowned the winner, and we can all thankfully resume our normal lives once again.

The favorites are already obvious. There’s…

The guy with the Danny Wallace glasses who lost his wife and is never done milking it, hoping, I guess, to secure the granny vote, but alienating everyone else. Unfortunately, he blows you away when he sings, so he’s staying; 

The tall guy with the ridiculous black manga hairstyle and the screeching voice that will cause your  fillings to drop out. Very talented, but he’s way too theatrical and screechy, and dental work is costly; 

Lil Rounds. Slick, talented, and will probably win, mainly because her name is so catchy, though I doubt she’s distinctive enough to succeed big-time in the real world later on. In the cold light of day, even the most gifted performer on American Idol can seem like a washed-up hooker singing karaoke between tricks. But the judges are swooning. So, of the girls, Lil’s in with the best chance. And if her career takes off too afterwards, wonderful;

The blind guy. He’s absolutely hopeless in dance routines and has to be led everywhere by his brother. Good voice, though, and excellent when you direct him to where the piano is and place  his hands on the keys – it’s just that he’s excruciating to watch. I find myself on edge the whole time, yelling, “Don’t leave your stool!” One week he’s going to drop off the stage, and I don’t want to see that. He’ll get the pity vote for being a tryer, but I so hope he doesn’t win;   

And my favorite right now, Jorge – pronounced Horhay – from Puerto Rico, who has a lazy eyelid that’s going to require surgery at some point, and who sobs in Spanish every time something good happens. But he has a lovely voice, he’s tricky when he dances, and he keeps smiling at me – at me, mind, not you – every time he’s on screen. I love this guy and I’m going to vote for him ’til my fingers bleed.

One note to God, if he’s listening: during tonight’s wild card vote, please remove Tatiana del Toro and send her packing. She’s the coquettish little drama queen they’re setting up to be this season’s Sanjaya. She has a hideous tittery laugh, a tendency to sob more than Horhay does (and that’s a lot of sobbing), and is far more interested, it seems, in how she looks on the studio monitors than how she sounds in my ears. If this little screamer makes it to the top twelve this year…..God, I know you move in mysterious ways, but that would be almost too strange and you need to rethink it.

In fact, if Tatiana’s not booted off tonight, I almost think it could be the last straw. The one shock event I need to snap me out of my American Idol addiction once and for all. I am not watching this show if she’s in it. That’s it. Finished. No more American Idol for Sir

Well, y’know – until next week.

Leave a comment

Filed under Television commentary

Another British Import Hits the Scrapheap

70s drama Life on Mars axed

It was pretty so-so in its original form, I thought. They made it a little zippier in the US version, but it simply never caught on, and ABC killed it.

So – another one down. Add this to the worst comedy of all time, Coupling, game shows by the horrendous Ant and Dec and also Eamonn Holmes, and a bunch of personalities from Ann Robinson to Ainsley Harriott who tried to make it in America and fell short, and there’s a grim lesson to be learned.

Unfortunately, the British won’t learn it. You can’t just dump stuff on us and hope for the best. It has to be good too. Life on Mars wasn’t special, it was just more actors yakking. Drama’s costly, reality’s still popular, and cheap. A lot of actors need to start looking for second jobs. Their days are numbered on TV. Hopefully, the networks will think twice before importing any more dramas from the UK. Or anywhere else for that matter. 

The big-time British successes, such as Ricky Gervais and The Office, Simon Cowell and American idol, Piers Morgan on America’s Got Talent, and Gordon Ramsey, deserve to be popular because they’re authentic, extremely gifted, articulate, clever, and not just out to woo American audiences with their ‘act’. The losers – Ant and Dec, for instance – simply tried too hard and came here with insufficient charisma, talent, or material to make it. They weren’t up to the job and were sent packing by American audiences. Right now, Paul McKenna is making shows here. Another gifted guy. I hope the series takes off. 

After the demise of Life on Mars, next comes the American version of Absolutely Fabulous, which I predict will fail too. The BBC original ran for 36 episodes, beginning about 17 years ago. Loved that. It never gets old. But I already dislike the US version, to be called AbFab, and not one frame of it has been shot yet.

2 Comments

Filed under Television commentary