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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

We Watch It So You Don't Have To

Is "According to Jim" really as vile as we believe it to be? Why do millions of Americans tune in week after week to hear Simon Cowell spout diatribes about mediocre singers who butcher classic tunes on "American Idol"? What possesses CBS to renew "Two and a Half Men" (a People's Choice award-winner for best comedy this year) despite a dire lack of anything comedic beyond its "My Two Dads" premise? In fact, what is "Two and a Half Men" even about? Seriously? Is Charlie Sheen the dad? Or is it Jon Cryer?

Answers to these questions and more have plagued the Channel Surfing bloggers until we realized, well, we've never really given any of these shows a fair shake. Perhaps on closer viewing, Jim Belushi is the new Bill Cosby. Perhaps one of us will become a member of the "American Idol" faithful. Perhaps... OK... let's not take it too far.

Welcome to our newest segment -- We Watch It So You Don't Have To (thanks, Ms. Q for the title and the subsequent inspiration). Channel Surfing bloggers will each take a show they've previously denounced either publicly or privately, and review it objectively with as open a mind as possible for a bunch of opinionated cynics.

Blogger Thomas Rozwadowski marks out first foray into the deep, dark abyss with VH1's "Tool Academy"

Look, reality TV is the equivalent of fast food -- it'll ravage your insides and leave you feeling more bloated than Bruce Vilanch, but darn it if a Chicken McNugget dunked in sweet and sour sauce doesn't hit the spot every now and then.

So while it appears that I've set myself up for obvious failure in this project by turning directly to VH1, I'm also hoping to objectively look at the reality genre without feeling as though every empty calorie idea is insulting my vast, vast intelligence.

So "Tool Academy" and its promos featuring greased up, bandanna-wearing douchebags becomes the poster child for all reality programming I've previously dismissed -- "The Hills," "Bromance," "Rock of Love," "A Shot at Love," "A Real Chance at Love," "A Bromantic Real Chance at a Shot of Rockin' Love on a Bus with Heidi Montag" ... you know exactly what level of lowest common denominator entertainment I'm talking about.

The premise of "Tool Academy" is simple: nine frustrated women with serious self-esteem issues secretly enroll their idiot boyfriends in VH1's highly credentialed (ahem) program. Their relationship habits are observed by a trained therapist, and the grand winner not only takes home $100,000, but will have transformed into the perfect boyfriend right before our very eyes.

The setup is particularly ridiculous since the nine "tools" believe they're participating in a reality show called "Mr. Awesome." (OK, I'm gonna be honest. That name is a stroke of genius.) So while getting off the bus with six-packs on full display, we find our favorite group of neanderthals shouting "Awesome! Awesome!" in unison. All this meathead pandemonium reminded me of that scene in "P.C.U." where a bunch of burly dudes start chanting "Chips! Chips! Chips!" Either that or "The Accused." Man, I have to stop channelling "Top Chef" judge Toby Young for my blog posts ...

But alas, looking too closely at reality TV of this persuasion is like staring at the sun. Yes, my retinas are still burning this morning -- it premiered Sunday, but even I have enough of a life that I was unwilling to watch it in real time -- but mainly, I just feel really, really stupid having wasted an hour of my time on such dreck.

These shows aren't even remotely amusing as popcorn-style entertainment because everyone just comes off as an amateur-hour actor. I guarantee you that none of these relationships are real, and if they are, it's all a put-on for the sake of trying to score some cash or get one of those snappy MySpace taglines that says, "As seen on VH1's 'Tool Academy' ..." If relationships and weddings are manufactured on "The Hills," the dude tossing a chair in a roid rage because his girlfriend can't put together a bed during the "communication challenge" is definitely a grand ol' ruse.

The contestants -- who interestingly enough are called 'characters' on VH1's "Tool Academy" home page -- aren't worth delving into it. They're typical egocentric steakfaces who spend the majority of their time guzzling protein shakes, popping back acne and dry humping the floor in order to demonstrate their sexual prowess. Apparently they also ignore their girlfriends -- who we should all feel sorry for because, you know, they have a gun to their heads saying they can't be with anyone else. Sorry Chesty LaRue, but perhaps if you tried picking up someone other than club-thumpers who don't gently massage their barbed wire tattoos every second of the day, you wouldn't be lamenting the fact that he doesn't appreciate you scrubbing his thong on laundry day.

That's not to say weak-minded women who gravitate toward Tooly McToolersons of the highest order do not exist. I think we all can attest to knowing quite a few immature losers who look and act like the above cavemen (seriously, one of them has the nickname "Matsuflex." Um ... wha?).

But when you turn to reality TV to fix what are purportedly REAL relationship problems ... well, if these people aren't wannabe actors, I'd like to get my hands on some real tools so I can do some serious skull bashing.

Will you watch again? No. Never. Ever. Never. Never. It's the worst show on TV ... at least until "Tool Academy: New Recruits" starts up later this year. (I want residuals on that name, VH1!)

--Thomas Rozwadowski,

Up next: Adam Reinhard tackles "American Idol," but first he has a plea to you, dear readers.

Seven years. Seven damn years this show has held America in its gnarled clutches, like a witch doctor weilding an army of zombies. And for seven years I've resisted watching, resisted getting caught up in the bland pop covers, the shallow fame seekers, the snide Simon putdowns. But all of that ends tonight.

Yes, I'm going to watch "American Idol" tonight. And I'm going to approach it as open minded and unprejudiced as a close minded guy prejudiced against stupidity can. But I need your help. I need you, dear readers, to be the Linus to my Charlie Brown, and tell me just what this "American Idol" is all about. What are the rules? Who are the judges? Why is it so BAFFLINGLY, BRAIN-STOMPINGLY POPULAR? Drop us a comment and give me some survival hints. Please. For the sake of my sanity.

"American Idol" begins its two-hour (two hours, for God's sake!) eighth season premiere tonight at 7 p.m. on Fox. I'll be watching.

-- Adam Reinhard,

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Well there are two distinct American Idol shows really, the auditions and then the competition. I think people like the auditions because they like to see other people be really terrible and oblivious. I myself definitely got sucked into that in the first season. I guess for a lot of people it never gets old.

As for the competition, I think it's like the Olympics, you give a competitor enough emotional backstory and you feel yourself rooting for them against your better judgment or actual interest. It brings out the hidden sap in you.

By Blogger Eileen, At January 13, 2009 at 2:30 PM  

Godspeed Adam, I hope you survive with your sanity intact.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 13, 2009 at 2:54 PM  

Don't do it Adam. Stay young and pure and Cowell free!!!!!

By Anonymous Anonymous, At January 13, 2009 at 7:15 PM  

Tom - I hope your rods and cones recover.

Adam - The Idol shows overseas are so much better. I particularly enjoy Megasztar out of Hungary. They have a hip Hungarian woman sporting a fro. Though I've never seen an episode of American Idol and so cannot adequately compare.

By Blogger Ms. Quarter, At January 15, 2009 at 12:41 AM  

I do agree with Ms. Q. I watched "Indian Idol" obsessively when I was in India a couple of years ago and it was addictive. However, nothing beats a Russian singing show about five years back when they had prisoners compete in for a free ticket out of jail! Gotta love the Russkies.


By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At January 15, 2009 at 9:43 AM  

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