What We Watched In 2015

Back in the day, this blog got traffic boosts from the posts I wrote about Jersey Shore, The Challenge, Real Housewives and The Big Bang Theory. Taking notes while watching and posting that night got pretty exhausting and when the kids starting coming, those fell to the wayside. But, I still love television and wanted to share some of our favorite shows from this past year. Continue reading What We Watched In 2015

What We’re Watching: Wednesday & Thursday

As it turns out, our Wednesdays and Thursdays are mixed between longtime favorites and brand new shows that are tickling our fancies these days. This batch includes mostly half hour comedies as well as my personal favorite comic book TV show Arrow. My wife also enjoyed this season of Cover Affairs, but I usually read or watching the other TV when it’s on because it just never quite grabbed me. If you’re interested, I covered Mondays and Tuesdays in a post last week.

WEDNESDAY

Arrow (8:00 PM, The CW)

arrow season 2 banner

Arrow is one of my favorite shows on TV and probably one of the ones I look forward to the most in any given week. I was cautiously optimistic when it kicked off last season, but got sucked in with the story of spoiled rich kid Oliver Queen trying to make things right in his city while also flashing back to his time on a crazy island. Sure there’s a ton of melodrama involved in the proceedings (it is a CW show after all), but I love the solid mix of action, fun stories and deep cuts when it comes to comic book references. I couldn’t help but compare Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Arrow and in nearly every way, Arrow came off better.

Modern Family (9:00 PM, ABC)Modern Family - Season 5

I’m not really sure what to say about Modern Family that hasn’t been said a million times. It’s so intricately written and perfectly acted that it’s impossible not to fall in love. We’ve been watching the reruns on Fox at 7:30 every day after Jeopardy and even though there aren’t a ton of episodes, it’s a welcome addition to the syndication rotation.

Super Fun Night (9:30 PM, ABC)super fun night

I wanted to like Super Fun Night, but the first episode just killed all the excitement I had going in. The basic concept of the show is cool: three 30 somethings put a bunch of ideas for ladies night in a hat, pull one out and that’s what they do that evening. The problem? Star Rebel Wilson puts on a terrible American accent throughout the entire thing. There are pretty much three things everyone knows about Wilson after watching Pitch Perfect: she’s not America, she’s super funny and she can sing incredibly well. The first episode of this series tried to get you to forget two of these things as her character is nervous about karaoke. I was pretty much done at that point and tend to flip around or read during this time slot. I really think I would be back in if they just had her speak in her regular voice.

THURSDAY

The Big Bang Theory (8:00 PM, CBS)big bang theory season 7

We’re still big Big Bang Theory fans. I love how they’ve expanded the group to fully include Bernadette and Amy. It does kind of seem like the writers aren’t quite sure what to do with Penny lately. She and Sheldon work so well together, but they seem to be writing her a bit dumber than before. It’s a minor problem and I think they’re probably ramping up for something big at the end of the season, but we’ll see.

The Millers (8:30 PM, CBS)the millers

The Millers was a big surprise for me. We’ve liked previous Greg Garcia shows like My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope, but got burned out on the latter. I also didn’t much like Will Arnett’s two previous shows, Running Wilde and Up All Night. But I think this is enough of a departure for Garcia — it’s not about dumdums in a mysterious western town — and it allows Arnett to play awkward and put-upon in a way we haven’t quite seen before. I think it’s funny that last season saw all kinds of “adult kids moving back in with their parents” shows and this seasons has the reverse. Even though it’s not super original, I’m still enjoying two shows like that this season between Millers and Dads. As a nice bonus, the show features Jayma Mays who deserves a show better than Glee and Nelson Franklin who I’ve enjoyed on Traffic Light and his brief stint on New Girl. I hope the show succeeds just so I can keep seeing them all!

The Crazy Ones (9:00 PM, CBS)?????????????????????????

I’ll be honest, I wish Parks & Rec was on at 9:00 PM on Thursdays. I love that show and really miss it, but since we’re full-on into BBT, that’s the show we watch. Plus, it sounds like the schedule’s going to be all over the place. Anyway, since NBC doesn’t have much to offer, we’re watching The Crazy Ones, an ad agency comedy starring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar as well as the guy who played Bob Benson on Mad Men and the former secretary from The Mindy Project. The dynamics on this show are a ton of fun and really carry it through. This is one of two shows that I could probably just watch the outtakes of and have a great time. New Girl is the other for what it’s worth. Still, as enjoyable as the show has been, I’d drop it in a heartbeat if it meant I could watch Parks & Rec.

The Michael J. Fox Show (9:30 PM, NBC)MichaelJFoxShow1

I think The Michael J. Fox Show is the only show we watch on NBC these days which is crazy because it used to one of the main stops for us, especially on Thursdays. As a dyed in the wool child of the 80s, I have an almost inborn love for all things Fox going back to the days of Family Ties on through Spin City. The fact that the show puts his Parkinsons right on front street and just deals with it as part of the ongoing story is an ingenious move that brings everyone in on what’s going on and deals with it honestly.

What We’re Watching: Mondays & Tuesdays

It’s been a crazy-long time since I’ve talked about TV here on UM, but that doesn’t mean we’re not watching. It’s an interesting season because there are a good deal of shows I’m really into, but also a lot of slots in the schedule that are left open. For what it’s worth, we’re still in the dark ages when it comes to cable and don’t have DVR, so all of our viewings are done the old fashion way, “live.”  Continue reading What We’re Watching: Mondays & Tuesdays

Why We Get So Hung Up On The Realness Of Reality TV

If you’re like me — and I assume some of you are — you find yourself saying, “This can’t be real,” to your television on a somewhat regular basis. I know this has been a complaint of the reality TV genre going way back to the first seasons of The Real World. What’s real about manufacturing this wonderful place, casting a group tailor made to breed conflict, throw them in front of cameras 20 hours a day and seeing what happens, right? Well, that’s not the kind of unreality I’m talking about, but if that’s your quibble, I recommend just avoiding the genre at all costs.

I like reality television because it gives me a window into worlds and onto people I’m not familiar with. Whether those people are a group of 20-somethings living in Seaside Heights, rich ladies of Beverly Hills or people vacuuming for gold in the ocean, I’m curious to see what they’re all about and how the interact. Not every reality show is for me and that’s fine, every thing isn’t for everyone all the time and I’m not offended by things I dislike. If you dig them, rad, if not, don’t watch.

I’m more talking about shows like Discovery’s The Devils Ride, Moonshiners and Amish Mafia which purport to follow groups that supposedly operate outside the law at times and have long-standing reputations as being incredibly secretive, not exactly the kinds of folks who would let cameras in on their daily dealings. In the case of Devils Ride, which claims to follow the exploits of a California-based motorcycle club, we’ve gotten into full-on crime territory in the second season which kicked off a few weeks ago. These guys are stealing motorcycles, destroying stolen property, pulling knives on people and threatening to burn tattoos off with blowtorches. At the same time, Moonshiners is completely built around the illegal production of whiskey in the South and Amish Mafia features gun-toting members of the Amish community who deal with that same community in ways that definitely fall into the extra-legal category.

Now, I can buy that there’s at least one person or group in any organization that can be convinced to let cameras follow them. Lots of people say that’s a huge no no in the MC community, but come on, this is the 20th century, people no longer want their 15 minutes of fame, they want their 15 episodes. You could find just about anyone in any group that would love to have cameras follow them. So, in that regard, while I’m still skeptical, they get something of a pass (though less so with Amish Mafia, which literally goes against everything most people know about that group).

One of my biggest questions when watching these three shows — and I’m sure there are more that fit in this category, but I’m not personally familiar with them — is, “how can it be legal to show these crimes?” And, if it’s not actually illegal to broadcast crimes, how do these people not get in trouble with law enforcement agencies who police such things? On Moonshiners, one of the main guys, Tim, is on his town’s firefighting department. He’s a prominent member of his community and yet he’s not in jail. How does that work? Same for anyone on either of the other two shows who is shown committing a crime.

The answer most of us come up with is that the shows are just fake. Many of them feature quickly-flashed bits of text explaining that some of the events seen in the episode were reenacted, but it’s also completely possible that the Moonshiners guys aren’t really making booze, right? It could just be water in those vats which would make the entire thing legal. On that same note, if every illegal act is being reenacted and not actually presented as what happened, then it’s not really a crime.

“It’s all fake,” is the easiest dismissal of these shows, but I think that’s a little too easy, though it’s not completely beyond the realm of possibility. An episode of Amish Mafia tried to prove that these people are really in the Amish community by showing viewers their names in a kind of Amish directory kept in town. Really? That’s supposed to be proof? Like it’s not impossible to fake the whole book or take an existing book and make up characters based on the names found within?

While watching a recent episode of Devils Ride I looked at all this from a different angle and wondered why any of this really matters. You’re sitting there watching a show and enjoying the drama being presented, does it really matter if the events being portrayed are completely real, based on real events or completely scripted? For some people the answer is no. A story’s a story and if it’s interesting and cool and you’re invested in it, that might be good enough. It doesn’t really matter where the story comes from.

I was okay with that theory for a few minutes until two thoughts popped into my head. First, watching real things heightens the drama because, well, they’re real and the events hold real consequences for actual living people. And second, I don’t like being lied to or misled. That’s the part that just won’t unstick from my craw. Why do the networks feel the need to flash the information about reenactments so quickly? Why not just embrace it, get the show’s stars out there talking about the show and letting the audience in on the secrets? Do they think it will turn too many people away? I guess that’s a possibility, but a little honesty might also wind up bringing in some of the people who scoff at these shows as fake and move on. Would they be so opposed to a story about an established motorcycle club full of interesting characters falling apart? Probably not, but if you have all these hovering questions about realness, then a lot of people are going to tune out.

So, what I’m really saying is that I’d like a little more honesty in my reality TV. I know that sounds silly considering all the insanity that surrounds things like the Real Housewives franchise and its ilk which seems to be built on a general fakeness, but I feel like you have a pretty good idea what you’re getting into when tuning into a show about rich ladies living in huge houses and complaining about each other. That’s as real as they allow it to be. But when a show focuses on a job or group that might not exactly follow the letter of the law, I think being a little more upfront with the audience might get more people in on the joke and enjoy the proceedings without too much internal conflict.

Of course, this is the internet, so even if there was a fair amount of honesty, people would still think it was all made up. But, hey, you can’t please everyone all the time.

Reality Rundown: American Ninja Warrior, Real Housewives Of New York & Final Offer

As the weeks and days roll on towards summer, the more and more reality shows keep popping up as the regular scripted shows take their summer hiatuses. Today I’ll be talking about two fairly new shows and one that recently got a new network. Did I hook you? If so, read on. I defy you to find someone my age who doesn’t love at least the idea of American Ninja Warrior. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, contestants face a series of physical challenges on an obstacle course to get to the end. The series starts off with regional qualifiers and, so far, each episode seems to shine the spotlight on those locations. All of this earns the contestants the chance to go up against the king daddy of all obstacle courses Mount Midoriyama. The show used to be on G4 and started off as a Japanese competition before we co-opted it.

I first discovered the show when Spike did a marathon in one day of a whole season. That version found the regional winners going to a camp where they trained for the finale. I’m not sure if that’s going on this time or not, but we’ll see. I’m really glad the series is on NBC so I can watch it on a regular basis (and in HD when my TV’s working). I do have a few problems, though. First off, the very first episode was two hours long. That is just way too much of watching most dudes fall down and almost hurt themselves. It seems like they shortened them down to an hour after that, which is fantastic. The factor that still bothers me however many episodes in we are is that way too many people make it through. Obviously, getting to the very end of the course gets you in, but you can also get into it by getting further in a shorter amount of time than other people. That just seems like too much. Do we really need all those extra people? It’s not like we’re going to remember who these people are after six weeks of qualifiers. Ah well, I still like watching somewhat regular people doing amazing things.Longtime readers will remember that, in seasons past, I’ve written in great detail about The Real Housewives Of New York. I just don’t have it in me anymore, but I did want to say a few things about the fifth season opener which aired this week on Bravo. Man, this show makes you work to like it, doesn’t it? First off, the dismissal of cast members Kelly, Jill, Alex and the new one from last year who clearly didn’t know what she was getting herself into, was strange. I’ve seen a few transitions on these shows, but they usually flowed from an episode or a reunion or were at least explained in some way. Not the case here. Heck, Alex and Jill were OGs and now they’re just gone. I should note that I don’t actually like Jill or Kelly, and will not miss them, it’s just strange that they’re gone all of a sudden.

Which brings us to the new ladies. Ramona the lunatic, gross Sonja and haughty LuAnn are now joined by author and widow Carole, sunny business woman Heather and one-legged mom and wife Aviva. The three new women seem like a ray of sunshine and, at one point, are sitting around a table wondering about the batty broads they find themselves surrounded by. Unfortunately, it looks like they will fall prey to the bitchy beast that seems to come with being a Real Housewife for some reason as the season progresses if the “coming up this season” video is to be believed. I’d actually rather just watch these three mix with the deported Alex instead of the ones that did make the cut. I find LuAnn unbearable, Ramona completely out of her mind and Sonja just sad in every way imaginable. If literally anything else I was even remotely interested in was on at this time, I’ll be switching over to that.Another show that seems to want to make it difficult to like is Discovery’s new one called Final Offer. It’s basically a fancier Pawn Stars. People bring in their treasures to an overly swank and “cool” warehouse somewhere, show them to a quartet of people who will offer them money to purchase the thing and then the person has to decide who to sell to. BUT, they have to take the offer in the room, it’s not like you get to see all four and THEN make your decision. Set-up wise it’s pretty interesting, though I think I’m losing my patience for shows where people don’t understand that they’re selling their thing to people who are going to turn around and sell that thing, meaning they need to make a profit. Coming in and saying that this would sell on eBay for $5K and wanting that much is silly because 1) they’re not going to make any money if they give you $5K and then sell for that same amount and 2) if you think it’s worth that much, just sell it yourself!

The show is difficult because both the sellers and the buyers are hard to like. One guy bought a signed baseball five months ago and wants to flip it for way more money. He winds up succeeding, but he’s kind of annoying. A lady who looks like a more uptight mom from the Partridge Family and her serial killer son come in to sell this jewel-encrusted gold thing. They act all tough, spouting off prices in the millions and then sell for far less. Bullshit posturing is boring pretty much all the time, right? Maybe I’m crazy, but I like seeing interesting people getting a good deal for the things they have. I guess for that, I’ll have to go back and watch Antiques Roadshow reruns with my inlaws.

Reality Rundown: Real Housewives Of New Jersey, Saw Dogs & Next Food Network Star

After writing about Shark Tank, The Devils Ride and the suspiciously missing Real World, I kept thinking of more and more reality shows I wanted to say a few quick things about. This time we’ve got The Real Housewives of New Jersey, a show I used to blog about pretty consistently but have changed thoughts on greatly in the past few seasons, Discovery’s Saw Dogs and Next Food Network Star. Let’s jump in, shall we?

There was a scene in the most recent episode of Jersey Housewives where, after Teresa’s daughter freaks out about cheating at a bunch of games in the yard (huh, wonder why the word CHEATING is such a trigger for her, Joe), Caroline’s daughter Lauren essentially lays out my thoughts on the current situation: why can’t we stop inviting all these crazy people to our family events and just have fun as a family? After four seasons of crazy, I’m all filled on up Teresa’s particular brand. She’s clearly incapable of seeing the world from any perspective but her own skewed one and it feels a little sad to continually see her try to make reality (and reality TV) bend around her to her will to form her life.

I’ve said before that I’d be perfectly happy watching a series about just Caroline and her extended family, but even that doesn’t sound like the most appealing thing at this point. Is anyone else sick to death of hearing Lauren talk about losing weight while seeing her do things that will not help her in any way? Lazily slapping golf balls with her dad and hanging around a kitchen just isn’t going to cut it. This episode in particular seemed PACKED with her bitching and honestly, who cares? Losing weight sucks, either do it or don’t, but stop talking about it either way. The rest of them are fine, I’m glad to be done with Jacqueline’s daughter for the time being, she’s just awful, and I like Kathy and her crew enough, same with the Gorga’s, but I’m starting to think the bloom is off the rose on this one. And, no Bravo, I don’t need more “housewives” shoehorned in, starting over completely makes the most sense to me and still give Caroline her own show!

And now for something completely different, we’ve got Discovery’s Saw Dogs, a show about chainsaw carvers who make beautiful pieces. Some of my favorite reality shows are the ones that follow artistic people who use their talents to sell pieces and the process they go through in first figuring out what to do and then doing it. The fact that this job even exists is amazing to me, let alone the fact that these guys are so damn good at it. In one marathon a few weekends back, I saw them make an amazing tree house, a giant eagle and plenty of other amazing things.

My only problem with the series is that they have a Chumlee. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it comes from History Channel’s Pawn Stars which features a  spacey character of the same name who seemingly has no business being anywhere near the job. If it were a regular TV show you’d just assume this is the goofball people keep around to make or bounce jokes off of, but in reality you’re constantly thinking, “Why don’t they fire this idiot?” In the case of Saw Dogs, the Chumlee is named Ryan. He looks and acts like a Will Ferrell character which is odd in its own right, but then you add in the fact that he’s not great at his job (he ran the forklift through one of the barn walls) and bitches way too much for an apprentice and you wonder if he’s there because he was really there or because the producers wanted a Chumlee. I’m more in favor of the natural method, but even if it is a set-up, there’s enough coolness going on to keep me coming back for more.

Lastly I want to say a few things about The Next Food Network Star that I didn’t say over on my food blog Monkeying Around The Kitchen. First off, while I like the idea of switching the format up — three teams with Food Network stars talking them through the challenges with the bottom two going into a room with FN execs and trying to keep themselves in the game assisted by their team leader — it feels like the show is spinning its wheels a bit. The challenges I’ve seen so far have been great, but doesn’t it seem like there’s an awful lot of fat this season that’s just waiting to be trimmed? I bet if you watched just the first episode, you could probably make a list of the first five or six people who will be let go with a pretty darn good level of accuracey. Sure, it’s possible that one of them will really find a place to shine, but I highly doubt it.

The other huge strike against the show is the length. Does it really need to be 90 minutes? Worse yet, those last 3o minutes go up against Mad Men. I don’t think there’s a show I would watch instead of MM. I know people out there are exactly the opposite, but it also seems like these episodes are padded like those guys who train attack dogs. Do we need to spend so much time not only showing everyone’s everything, but also laying it on so thick that you really don’t have a choice but to understand who’s being thrown to the wolves about half way through. At the end of the day, the show is more boring than it has any reason to be. I highly recommend following Alton Brown on twitter, though, if you are a fan as he has some excellent behind the scenes commentary during the airings.

Reality Rundown: Shark Tank, The Devils Ride and Real World

Wow, it’s been a while since I wrote about TV, hasn’t it? I admit, I get a little burned out after being on the computer all day and don’t always feel like sitting under my laptop while enjoying the evening’s mindless entertainment. With the regular TV season coming to an end, expect a lot of reality series’ to pop up as well as summer series’ on networks like USA and TBS. But, there are a few ongoing series that my wife and I have been watching and even a few that we’ve been enjoying. Here’s a few of the reality shows we’re digging right now.

My wife and I stumbled onto Shark Tank because we’re old and lame and don’t do anything on Friday nights anymore. The show, which is on at 8:00PM on ABC, features a panel of sharks (ie very rich people who are looking to invest in new ideas/business/products) hearing presentations by inventors and deciding whether they want to invest in them. In addition to showing off some really interesting advances, the show captivates us because of the way people make their decisions. It’s easy to say that many of them are outdone by their greed, they don’t want to trade away a certain percentage of their idea for some money and solid backing by people with zillions of more connections in the biz, but I think there’s more to it than that. If you spend all this time and money working on a project, it really becomes your baby and you don’t want to just hand it over to someone else. But, that’s what you usually need to do to put a dent in whatever industry you’re trying to break into. After watching a good deal of episodes at this point, it’s funny how my wife and I can kind of see the Matrix. If someone comes in asking for a lot of money and a low percentage offer, you can just tell they’re not getting that deal. There’s also a clear correlation between having a good product that you’ve started selling and the sharks’ interest. If you come in with a great idea, but zero sales and want a lot of money? Kick rocks, kid. It’s super interesting, love this show.

I’ve also become fascinated with Discovery’s The Devils Ride, which follows the exploits and inherent drama found in a motorcycle club. I’ve only seen the first episode so far, but I was immediately absorbed. This is kind of the perfect reality show because it’s not corny and it also shows viewers a world most of them have never seen. It certainly helps that these people have an air of violence around them, you never really know what’s going to happen. Additionally, there’s a good deal of political and dramatic elements going on in the club itself (the elements that would make this an interesting series, not just a reality show). In the first episode, the guy who started the club and has been the president since inception stepped down and gave the job over to the vice president. So, there’s a lot going on there that has surely been explored in the episodes I haven’t seen just yet. It’s on Tuesdays at 10:00PM EST and I just realized I missed it again last night. Boo. On a fun side note, I was in a fraternity in college and it’s really interesting how similar the set up between that organization and this motorcycle club are. I was VP myself, but I didn’t get a cool patch.

Lastly, I want to talk about a show that’s not actually on. Why am I not watching a new season of The Real World right now? Traditionally speaking, a new RW immediately follows a season of The Challenge. For instance, the DC series ended on March 31st, 2010 and Fresh Meat II premiering a special preview that night and then the first full episode on April 7th. This year, though, The Challenge ended (back in April) and yet there will not be a Real World until the June 27th premiere of the St. Thomas season. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually a much bigger fan of the Challenges and would be fine just watching those every few months, but Real World acts as a really good cast member generator. Has anyone heard about why they decided to do this? I did notice that MTV kicked off a lot of new shows directly following the last Challenge including The Pauly D Project, the new Punk’d and the unbearable I Just Want My Pants Back. Maybe they were trying to leave room for those series’ to do their thing? Who knows. Actually, if you do know, let me know in the comments, I’m very curious.