Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How Bad Is Too Bad?

And what I mean is, where is your threshold?

We all have breaking points in various areas. Friendship, for example. Most people are willing to maintain friendships with people with differing opinions, but there's always a point at which the friendship just has to end. This might be the point at which you discover your friend owns a Tony Abbott for PM t-shirt, for example; or the point at which you discover your friend is sexually aroused by Fran Drescher. But there's always a deal-breaker.

It's the same with TV. Anyone who loves TV loves at least one terrible show. And by the same token, there's always a show that is a bridge too far.

This occurred to me when watching a little show called Four Weddings. Perhaps you have seen it. If so, my condolences. I had been pretty sure it was going to be my deal-breaker before I even saw it, but out of a sense of duty to my loyal reader (hey that's you!) I sacrificed myself.

Oh my goodness, what a show it is. Here is how an episode of Four Weddings goes:

We open with Fifi Box, making a gallant bid for the world record for Most Unnecessary Host of a Television Programme, standing in the doorway of a church, quivering in that nervous way she always has due to her deep instinctual knowledge that she is in the wrong place, telling us the premise of the show in a manner that obviously an anonymous voice-over person could never do because the task is such a skilled one it requires a famous radio giggle-jockey and weathergirl with a solid record of garnering big votes in FHM's Sexiest Lists from men with peculiar fetishes and poor TV reception.

We then move on to the four brides, who take it in turns to tell us about their lives, and how they will be meaningless without a massive wedding and a free trip to Fiji. Fifi will then explain how each bride is spending between a year's salary and the budget of a small but prosperous Arab state on her wedding, and we meet the ladies' fiances, who are mostly mild, balding men who float about the place wearing a slightly dazed expression, as if they do not quite know how they got into this situation, but have no idea how to get out of it.

Then we move on to the weddings themselves. The weddings fall into four basic categories: Extravagant and Tacky; Cheap and Ugly; Weird and Embarrassing; and Not-Really-Exotic.

For example, on the first episode I watched, an Indian lady had a Not-Really Exotic Wedding, which was promised to us as a "Bollywood Spectacular", but turned out to be a woman in a white dress exchanging vows with a man in a tuxedo, before proceeding to a reception hall where non-Indian food was eatan and an African drummer entered the room for no apparent reason to bang on his drum for about three weeks.

For each wedding, the other three brides come along to judge the event in four categories: Dress, Ceremony, Reception and Food, or something. Each one will in turn tell the camera how disappointing all the others' weddings were and how much better their wedding was/will be. Having given their views on how bland and disgusting the food was, how dull and lifeless the reception was, how weird the ceremony was, and how the dress was ugly and made the bride look like a dumpy toilet doll, they then give scores in each category. The scores will reflect both the brides' desire to make it clear just how much better they are than everyone else, and their essential failure as human beings

During all this, Fifi Box's voice-over, which costs about eighteen times as much as a voice-over from someone who could not possibly be worse, breaks periodically in to make observations that I think are supposed to be wry and witty but are actually just meaningless strings of words shoehorned into the show to assuage the typical TV producer's terror of putting anything on air that doesn't have at least five minutes of complete vapidness from a minor celebrity.

After the scores are tallied, the brides wait outside a house for a limousine, which pulls up and disgorges one of the grooms, the other three having been taken into the woods and shot. Whoever's husband emerges is the winner, and the happy couple are jetting off to Fiji, the Pacific's partyingest military dictatorship, for a dream honeymoon that only a fairly small amount of money can buy. The happy winners will then express their euphoria, given they could never have afforded such a wonderful honeymoon themselves.

Yes! They really say this! One couple said this, right after SPENDING FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS ON THEIR WEDDING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That's right, Four Weddings is a show about people who will happily spend enough money to rent a Tuscan villa for a month or sail down the Nile, in order to win the prize of a trip to Fiji which they could have bought themselves just by getting a slightly cheaper brand of napkin for their reception.

In other words, it is an insane show about horrible women for whom no price is too high to get their faces on TV, for whom the rest of humanity exists only to service their desire to demonstrate the extent of their vulgarity to the world, and who are filled with such a loathing for their fellow women that one assumes the reason Fifi Box never actually appears in the same place as the contestants is that they'd probably strangle her for wearing nicer shoes than them's pretty bad. I may watch it again due to my basic masochism, but it's pretty close to my deal-breaker.

What's yours? Is it Four Weddings? Is it Australia's Next Top Model which, the hilarity of Murdochgate notwithstanding, forces you to hurl rocks at the screen in anger every time Alex Perry squints his beady little eyes at a lovely young girl as she towers above him in mentally-deranged shoes and tells her she's too short and fat for his liking?

Or are you one of those who will watch pretty much anything, even Random Breath Testing, and whose pressure point has only ever been triggered four hours into Hot Dogs' Up Late Game Show (clip below, for those of you who've forgotten how much you loved it)?

Or are you at the other end of the spectrum, who has taken a strict monastic vow to watch absolutely nothing except shows rated "Mad Men or Higher"?

How bad is too bad? Let me know.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The More You Learn

So my first A2 column was up on Saturday. If you're in Melbourne or near a cosmopolitan newsagent, or even managed to find it online, hope you read it, and hope even more you enjoyed it.

Writing the column has, quite naturally, led to much thinking on the topic of TV. It's often said that TV is somehow a "deadening" medium, that watching it turns one into a zombie, staring blankly at the screen.

I defy this assertion. Nothing rouses the passions like TV. Nothing stirs the emotions like one's favourite show. No medium is its master in terms of provoking furious debates, declarations and defences. Standing up for the show you love, and lambasting the show you hate, put the lie to the "TV as neural deadener" interpretation.

I myself am passionate not only about the undeniable quality of the shows I like, and by extension the undeniable quality of my good taste, and not only about the undeniable awfulness of the shows I won't watch, and by extension the etc etc, but also about avoiding a certain kind of like-minded fan.

Because possibly the worst thing about being a TV fan is the other fans who claim to love the same show you do, but who are so bafflingly wrongheaded about them, so ignorant of basic facts, and so mind-bogglingly misguided about the motivations of characters and meanings of plotlines, that they drive you into a rope-chewing frenzy every time you log into their forum. A fellow fan with different views is far worse than a hater. Sometimes.

But really, the point is, television is an artform with just as much potential for provoking intense love, hatred and all emotions in between as any other. Although it is important to remember that when you and I disagree about the quality of a show, it is all just a matter of purely subjective opinion.

And your subjective opinion is wrong.

That said, here's a slice of my new possibly-regular blog segment, Thursday Classics:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Power!

In the latest development in my efforts to a) take over the world, and b) make sarcastic comments about Rebecca Gibney, I am pleased to inform you I have taken on a new job. As of this Saturday, 18th September, I am the new television writer for the A2 section of Melbourne's Age.

This means that every Saturday from now on I will be writing poignant and heartwarming treatises on issues of import to lovers of the medium, and probably some stuff about Kim Kardashian too. I do hope you will grace my column with your eyeballs. I'll do my best to make it worth your while.

It is a shame though, that just as I receive such wonderful TV-related news, I also hear some equally distressing news in the same area. A moment's silence please, for beloved Golden Girls boyfriend and Mel Brooks villain Harold Gould, and for beloved bumbling Gestapo henchman and occasional Ripping Yarns South American John Louis Mansi. Goodbye Miles, von Smallhausen; well done, good and faithful servants.