Monday, May 24, 2010

Fear and Dread Upon Meeting the new Bachelorette

Let me start with my founding principle: media in our current age should be transparent. Founded on honesty, integrity and good values.

OK, I know that mainstream TV is still struggling along in the old way: manipulating the audience, contriving events, making it false and making you believe it.

But it shouldn't. We have higher value to aspire to. And the new reality shows, which came of age about the time the new transparency was going into effect, should know better.

Case in point: the new Bachelorette (starts tonight on ABC).

Let us remember, looking back on what we know with the virtue of hindsight. During the season of the last Bachelor, I, like most Bachelor fanatics, was all wrapped up in the proceedings of what was going on, and like a true gullible fan, I was believing it.

Here's what happened, in case you forgot. All along the way, there was a "battle" between one girl, Ali, and Vienna. Vienna became the woman that the Bachelor, Jake, is now married to. Ali became the new Bachelorette.

Now, a cynical person could say, Hm... at what point exactly did Jake Pavelka realize that he was in love with Vienna and wanted to marry her? I would argue that he knew pretty early on.

But, of course, if you just say, "I love this girl and all the rest of these women can just go home," that doesn't make for much of a season.

And, even though it's a reality show, we know that even on reality shows, people are fighting for camera time. Especially those who are going to be starring in their own show next season. So one also wonders, at what point did the Bachelor producers (who traditionally pick the next Bachelorette from the existing lineup) say: "Oooh, how about Ali?"

I would also argue pretty early on.

Because the way the events were portrayed, nearly two shows into the season, Ali decides she doesn't like Vienna. In nearly every show, she's picking some fight or another with her, pouting and generally being a bitch, saying under her breath at rose ceremonies, "I can't believe he picked her again!" as if Vienna had some heinous boil on her face or something.

All of that, by the by, really made Ali look ungracious (at best) and scheming, manipulative and mean (at worst). THEN, at the end of the season on the "Women Tell All" show, Ali states that she has no hard feelings against Vienna, and she's happy for them. And she's so glad to be starting as the next Bachelorette. Hm.

Oh, but there's more.

Things go along, as they do, on the Bachelor. Jake's picking women, dumping women. Continually he picks Ali. Continually he picks Vienna (amidst howls of protest from women who never ever explain what it is about her they didn't like exactly).

We get down to the final four or five (I think, it was around there). Ali suddenly, in a HUGELY dramatic (taking up a good 20 minutes of our hour of Bachelor time), Ali has a meltdown. She's sobbing, she's pacing, she's telling Jake the bad news: her job has given her an ultimatum. She has to leave The Bachelor and go back to work! But she really wants to stay with Jake. She just doesn't know what to DO!

After much sobbing and kissing and gnashing of teeeth, he finally says: "I can't promise you that I'd be picking you at this point." And she finally says: "I have to go back to work anyway." So she leaves.

Mind you, I'm QUITE skeptical of this device since they used it in the previous season with the contestant Ed, who ended up coming back and marrying Jillian.

In any case, Ali leaves, after a final collapse in the hotel hallway to cry to the camera a bit more. She then returns a few episodes later to tell Jake that she made a mistake and she wants to come back. More drama.

He, to his credit, says, "No, we don't really need you back. We are doing just fine without you." (paraphrasing) Anguished sob into the phone.

Now all of this, in the moment, felt very manipulative and extraneous. And note to Bachelor producers: this "my job is calling me back" malarkey has been PLAYED OUT. Don't even try it again this season.

So, for me, as a loyal Bachelor viewer (even though I know I'm being manipulated), unlike all of the other Bachelorette candidates, whom I liked and really did want to see as the Bachelorette, I really hate the idea of Ali as the new Bachelorette.

She is fake. She is manipulative. She is not genuine. Maybe the others weren't either, but they didn't make such an obvious show of their deception.

Yes, of course, I'm going to be watching. But it'll be with a jaundiced eye this season.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lost: Back to the beginning, and how I hope it ends

Tomorrow is the final episode of six seasons of Lost. I'm rewatching the first episode that they are airing tonight in preparation. I'm reminded again how pure that first season was, and how far off the track they had fallen at times.

The show has a simple and basic theme, not in the sense of "everyone's stranded on an island," but the opening phrases of Lost had a simple message: No one is what you think they are. And, we are all in this together, so we should just learn to get along.

That was the beauty of it. How, in that first episode, as everyone is struggling up from the plane crash, and you, like they, are just getting to know everyone's names, one makes assumptions. Pretty much every assumption made turns out to be wrong, by the end of the first poetic lyrical season.

And how if you really know someone's story, it can make you cry.

Everyone is basically a good person, or think they are, just trying to get along.

The first season, indeed, was filled with philosophy, and poetry, and mysticism, and beauty and magic. But it was squarely grounded in the human heart. Its key moments, closely examined, were like jewels held up to the light, evoking tears.

Then, somewhere along the way, it fell deeply into the dark side, lapsing into the common television themes of torture and imprisonment, and completely lost the magic and the poetry. Completely lost the "everyone is interconnected" poetry, except as a hokey device.

The path became convoluted. Instead of our happy group of survivors, it became us, and then "The Others." Then the Others had others. Then the Dharma Initiative. Then they Dharma Initiative was guided by someone else, and blah blah. Look to fan sites to see the convoluted hokey path.

All I know is, it started with a simple pure, basic premise that was affecting and deeply felt, and veered very far from that. This final season has evolved into some race for the chosen one, that has depressed me more than explained things to me.

So, I don't know how I want tomorrow's finale to wrap up. The very first death of a character we knew was moving. There have been many more along the way, some for inexplicable reasons (why were those two buried alive with diamonds again?).

Then there was the whole "flashback" concept. Used to brilliant effect in Season One, it showed you the castaway on the island, and their former life. Simple. In Desmond's episode, they introduced a "flash forward" concept. In fact, in the same episode. It flashed BACK and forward. The whole next season involved castaways and their FORWARD stories. The season after that involved them going back to the island, after leaving it. Then, they were jumping all around in time, apparently for some important reason.

Now, this season, they are not only on the island, seemingly in this time, but they are also off of it, in what Lost is oh, so coyly calling a "flash sideways." What would happen IF the plane didn't crash. It's seriously enough to make your head spin.

Even watching every episode regularly can leave you scratching your noggin, going, where are they again? What time is this? Are they forward? or back? or sideways?

I guess the simple, "Are we good? or are we evil?" argument was too facile. They had to throw in a little time travel to keep it interesting?

Well, I'm willing to fall down their rabbit hole one more time to see how it's all wrapped up, finally.

I hope for two things. I hope that it ends on a note of hope and optimism, instead of: "Oh, we are all so screwed," as it seemed to intimate so many times in these six seasons. And it's got to end on an eye. Maybe an eye closing. Maybe Jack's eye. The first shot was his right eye. Maybe the last shot could be his left eye? It's got to be an eye. Then all will be right with the world.

Forward, backward, or sideways.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Why I Continue to Watch Reality Shows, Or You Can't Fight the Future

When the first season of Survivor (the very first reality show) started, my friends here in Hollywood who write shows for a living loudly proclaimed that reality shows were taking dollars out of the writers' pockets, and therefore, they (insert footstomp here) were not watching them! Surprisingly, many of them still have this attitude (in Survivor's 20th season).

This week, I read an article which stated that MILLIONS of people who lost their jobs in this economic crisis were just simply never getting them back. These two items are related.

Simply put, the world is changing. You have two choices: Change with it, or die. Seriously.

You can say all day long that scripted television is better than reality television (and I would agree with that), but that won't make the networks stop putting cheaper programming in place of it. All writers everywhere can stop watching it, but does that make American Idol less successful? No, it just makes those writers out of touch.

People can argue about how pervasive the Internet is, and how really, they still love to curl up with their favorite newspaper on Sundays, but is that going to stop the iPad from becoming a dominant way to read books or what used to be printed content? No.

So you can stomp your feet and cling to your mainstream media and outdated jobs, or you can evolve and evolve now. The Internet is where it's at, folks, like it or not. People want media that's better, faster and on their phone. Whatever that is, and whoever provides it.

As much as big media hates this reality, people can find just as much enjoyment (you heard me, I said JUST as much) from a YouTube video of a cat playing with yarn, or a podcast created in someone's garage, as with whatever the Big Media is pumping at us currently.

Face it, principled writers: Dancing with the Stars is glitzy and glamourous and fun to watch. Survivor has some of the best location shooting and underwater photography on television. The Amazing Race travels all over the world, so you see cultures you'd never otherwise see. Every hugely popular reality show has good points.

This is our world now. Computerized, mechanized, at your fingertips 24/7. That is our entertainment. Those are our jobs. Come and get 'em. Or at least, quit your bitching about it. It's not going away.