Sunday, February 24, 2008

The High Numbers on the Dial

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I really am glad the writers' strike is over.

I don't watch as much TV as most people I know. But there are a few favorites I've missed, like "My Name Is Earl," and "The Office," and, of course, "The Daily Show" (as opposed to "A Daily Show," host Jon Stewart's attempt to stay on the air without writers). Plus, I've got some friends and acquaintances in the business who are glad to get back to work.

The strike provided an unexpected boost to so-called "reality" television, since it doesn't take a script to get people to humiliate themselves for their measly few minutes of fame.

Most "reality" programming leaves me cold, since it seems based on finding some of the world's most desperate or despicable people and pitting them against one another. But, while idly scanning the channels looking for something to watch besides another rerun of "Two and a Half Men," the family and I discovered an interesting batch of "reality-based" shows in the upper reaches of the cable dial, some offbeat, some just plain weird, but all entertaining.

My wife and daughter are big fans of Discovery Health's "John and Kate Plus Eight." J&K+8 tells the story of the Gosselins, who, after having twins, decided to tempt fate by trying fertility drugs -- and ended up with sextuplets. Personally, I'm constantly amazed that this show doesn't turn into "John and Kate Have a Psychotic Break" or "John and Kate Weep and Curse Fate," but judging from the "awwws" coming from the family room when this thing is on, there's apparently a high cuteness quotient.

From Japan comes "Ninja Warrior," on the G4 channel. People from all walks of Japanese life try to conquer the Obstacle Course from Hell while a hyperactive announcer screams commentary in Japanese (with subtitles) that's made up mostly of bad puns about the contestant's day job.

The interesting thing about this show to me is that the course is so blooming hard, there are episodes where nobody wins. Try to imagine a season of "The Amazing Race" in which it was possible for everyone to be eliminated. An American audience would never stand for it.

For fans of more gritty fare, like police chases, gun battles, fist fights, tasings, and other types of real-life carnage, there's the double- barreled threat of "Most Shocking" and "Most Daring," back-to-back on the former Court TV, now known as TruTV.

Both feature collections of police-camera, aerial, and citizen footage of Very Bad Things happening. "Most Daring," however, claims that it's the home for the clips that were too intense for "Most Shocking." Which leads to the question: Is there, like, a committee that decides these things? Are there guidelines? How bad does the collision in the middle of the police chase or the drunken beatdown have to be to make the cut?

But my all-time favorite has to be the Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters." This show, hosted by a couple of guys who spent years in the field of movie special effects, purports to take an experimental approach toward discovering the answers to questions most of us take for granted. Questions like, "How easy is it, actually, to shoot fish in a barrel?", "Is it actually possible to make a lead balloon, and if so, how would it go over?" and, "Could a guy actually chop people's heads off by throwing a steel-lined hat like Oddjob, that big Chinese dude in the James Bond movies?"

In truth, however, the show most often devolves into an excuse to blow stuff up. The "fish in a barrel" episode, for example, quickly escalated the firepower through a 9mm handgun, then a shotgun, and finally using an M134 minigun (the multibarrel machine gun they mount on the Humvee) to blast the barrel to shreds.

The show where they tested out the plausibility of the stuff in James Bond movies ended up with their replicating the exploding fountain pen from Goldeneye. Not satisfied, however, with the initial explosion, they kept increasing the amount of explosive until the pen was the size of a toy baseball bat and completely obliterated the dummy they were using as a test subject.

How could you not love a show like this? I personally think that "American Idol" would be vastly improved if you armed the contestants with large-caliber weapons. Might be a shorter season, though.

Oh, and another great thing about "Mythbusters" is Kari, the vivacious redhead who's often the most gonzo member of the team. She's just too damn adorable, even when (or maybe especially when) she's lopping the heads off statuary with the aforementioned steel hat while cackling madly. This girl is a fun date, you betcha.

Reality: It ain't what it used to be. .


Anonymous said...

Mythbusters rules.

Did you see the Macgyver episode?

Mark Terry said...

Mythbusters is pretty cool. It's one of those shows that I watch and go, "They have got the greatest job in the world."

On the other hand, the other Discovery show I'm getting hooked on is "Dirty Jobs" which I watch and say, "I have the great job in the world and I don't want ANY of those jobs (except maybe changing the light bulbs on the Mackinaw Bridge, well, maybe just once)."

Anonymous said...

I like Dirty Jobs too.

I'm also hooked on No Reservations on the Travel Channel. Mainly because there are so many times Tony Bourdain ends up eating and drinking things just to be polite to his hosts. I recently bought a book that he and his crew put together of still photos from their travels, and he talks about essential items you need if you're going to travel anywhere. Number one on the list-immodium.

I forgot to mention that Kari Byron is my hero-it's so rare that you see a chick on a science based show who really does know what she's talking about. As a female science geek, it's nice to see that.

Now if I just looked half that good...

Kristy Kiernan said...

My new TV obsession is Breaking Bad. The first episode made me feel the same way I felt with the first episode of The Sopranos.

I catch Mythbusters once in a while and, like Norby, I like that they've got a cool, hot chick who's not just there for decoration. (Ahem, also being a bit of a geek myself...)

But overall, if there's music on, I'll miss every show I ever think I'm going to watch.

Cornelia Read said...

Mythbusters is indeed awesome, and I'm happy to report that Adam Savage is also a most excellent and entertaining person in real life. Can't speak for Jamie, as he never dated my sister.

It's wonderful when people you like and ALREADY think are cool go on to become deservedly famous.

Truly couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

JD Rhoades said...

WOW! Once I tell my kids that I know somebody whose sister dated Adam from Mythbusters, they'll think I'm the coolest Dad ever!

Or maybe not.