Having just passed the summer midpoint I think it’s fair to start handing out some midterm grades for the biggest summer of reality yet. 12 reality shows are currently airing in prime time network slots, and keeping in mind that many of these shows have 2 or 3 slots a week, and often for 2 hours worth, it’s almost impossible to turn on the tube at night without hitting some unscripted drama.
I think the rumors of Reality TV’s death are greatly exaggerated. (It’s more likely the typical half hour sitcom that is receiving it’s last rites.)
Here’s a look at the 10 of the 12 that I have had some contact with this summer. (Sorry if you are a fan of Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef, I’ve just never had the urge to watch. Feel free to leave your own review of them in the comments.) Let’s go in reverse order, shall we?
American Inventor, D+
Of the 10 this is the one I’ve only seen in bits and pieces. It often conflicts with other shows I like more so my DVR won’t snag it. I saw the first 4 episodes or so and was genuinely unimpressed. The addition of George Foreman as a judge sounds like perfect casting, but he turns out to have little to say that is valuable. Haven’t seen it in three weeks and don’t miss it one iota.
The Singing Bee, C –
The cheesier, less compelling of the battling lyric shows. Yet the one that has the most audience and already has been picked up for fall… Sigh…
America’s Got Talent, C
Completely lost my respect by putting through Boy Shakira and that guy that waves his arms around and calls it dancing. I don’t mind a tough judge, but Piers is a hypocrite to tell some acts, “This is a show for a million dollars, and you just aren’t good enough” and then vote for the joke acts. They wanted their Sanjaya, and so they purposefully put untalented people through over some very talented others (the Redneck Tenors for example). Whatever the case, if this show took itself seriously, it could be amazing, as it is, not so much.
Next Best Thing, C+
My impression I get of this show (get it, impression, heh, eh hem..) is that it would have been better with only one main performance episode. It gives undue preference to the singing impersonators to have several performances because they only need to pick another song. Whereas the often more talented (and dead on) non singing impersonators get lost in trying to do all new “bits” instead of just existing as these famous folks. You can have your Elvii (the plural of Elvis) I’ll take the guy who did Howard Stern, who I seriously thought in the first episode was Stern playing a prank on the show. For this reason alone, I’m rooting for the gal who does Lucy. I love her (get it, I love her, she’s imitating Lucy. I love… nevermind).
On The Lot, C+
This show should have worked, it really should have. I’m still struggling to put my finger on why it just doesn’t cut it. I think it must be that the directors really don’t have a chance to put together their own films. They are handcuffed by time restraints, theme nights, and the same actors each week. Now that the field is thinning and my favorites are all still in, it’s picking up some momentum for me, but it’s still just missing something. I do have to admit though, one of the high points of my week is seeing how out of touch Carrie Fischer is. Ahhh, celebrity judges, how we love you.
Pirate Master, B
The news came through today that they have yanked this one from the air. There are five episodes left and you can watch them online at CBS.com if you like. It’s sad that this show didn’t succeed because it had some really fresh ways of doing a reality competition. The idea of choosing a leader and then being able to “mutiny” on them is genius, but even more compelling is the idea that each challenge pays people different amounts of money, which can then be used in the game to buy votes, curry favor, or horde. Where Burnett failed with Pirate Master is that he didn’t trust it. Instead of casting fresh new faces and personalities to match the fresh new game, he found someone who looked and talked like Rupert and focused the cameras on him. It was annoying and distracted the audience from the fact that there was actually something cool happening here.
Don’t Forget the Lyrics, B
The better of the battling Lyric shows because of the host (Wayne Brady), the concept, and most of all, the stakes. Because it follows the tried and true Who Wants to Be A Millionaire formula of progressive difficulty and prizes, it just feels more engaging. It also has enough helps that I feel like I could actually win some money on this one, whereas, I would be completely lost on The Singing Bee.
Big Brother 8, B+
As long as Big Brother focuses on gameplay and human drama and off of salaciousness and immorality, it’s an amazing game. This season appears to be headed in the right direction, with an incredibly engaging father daughter relationship mending, and a sweet twist, where we get to direct one of the players by vote. Despite poor casting, Big Brother remains a solid concept.
Last Comic Standing, A-
Another show that absolutely rocks when it hits it’s stride. I’ve always loved that Comic has both amateurs and professionals playing for the title and there are always two or three of these guys that are absolutely hilarious. If they would just get rid of Ant this might be a perfect show.
So You Think You Can Dance, A
The blueprint for reality talent shows. Take yourself seriously, put through the absolute best talent, and respect your audience. After watching SYTYCD I always feel three things; joy, awe, and educated. The routines are fun, often have deep meaning and are amazing to watch. Even though the judges axed my boy Hok last week, I have to give them props for trying to make sure the best dancer wins. It’s the only reality show where I trust the judges opinion more than my own and I can’t wait to see Lacey follow in her brother Benji’s footsteps and take this thing all the way.
Don’t forget to mark which of these shows you watch in the weekly poll!