New to this blog?
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
In the Shadows
Here comes the bride...
(photo courtesy of E Online)
I’ve long been a fan of Mary McNamara, a wonderful writer who first came to my attention in the LA Times with “Drive Time,” her series of smart, insightful columns examining the cultural mores surrounding cars, driving, and life here in Southern California. Back in those heady days, newspapers still made enough money to maintain a full staff of talented writers musing on all kinds of subjects -- but things have changed in that regard, and not for the better. Still, McNamara survived the plague of management shuffles and cost-cutting purges over the past few years to emerge as one of the Time's best television critics, wielding a merciless and delightfully snarky pen.*
Only in the last year or so did I notice another excellent writer among the Time's slate of critics. Robert Lloyd is no less thoughtful than Mary McNamara, if a tad less savage. His perceptive, beautifully crafted reviews of television shows and performers are a pleasure to read. Two typical examples of his work graced the paper recently, a warm and deeply nuanced dissection of Jimmy Fallon’s late night show, and a gentle-but-thorough evisceration of E! channel’s latest unreality show featuring insecure brides enduring pre-marital plastic surgeries in their ceaseless quest to sculpt themselves into something closer to society’s officially sanctioned template of the Feminine Ideal -- tattoos and all.
And since no amount of manufactured "drama" is ever enough to fill the black hole at the heart of such a show, the geniuses at E! upped the ante by creating a competition among these desperate brides-to-be to win a "Dream Celebrity-Style Wedding."
No wonder the Taliban hates us...
I’ve never seen Jimmy Fallon, but Lloyd’s review makes a persuasive case that the overall tone and approach of his show offers at least some hope for humanity (albeit of a low-key variety), while E!’s latest reeks of the usual manipulative voyeuristic garbage festering at the rotten core of most “reality television.” Shows of this ilk make me wonder if we really are living in a latter-day Rome, a society and culture crumbling from within while stumbling towards collapse -- but then I remind myself that it's only TV, and thus nothing much to worry about.
All this reminded me of an e-mail I received from a young lady in E!'s development department a couple of years ago. She'd come across this blog, where one particular post caught her hungry eye, leading to the following proposition:
I work at E! in development, I came across your blog this week and I thought you or someone you know may be good for a show we are currently developing. We are working on a half hour special about outrageous jobs in the entertainment industry. Everyone loved your story about being a Juicer and having to work in downtown with the urine and feces soaked streets. Are you currently working on a show? What we are looking to do is send the host of the show to your job so he can learn about it and try his hand at the work himself. It's a fun light special that will take a behind the scenes type of look at some of the jobs that make the entertainment industry possible. Let me know what you are working on and if there’s a time that we can talk over the phone.
I'd just started a sit-com pilot out at Sony, but bringing an E! camera crew on stage to follow me around with their shucking-and-jiving host would have turned the proceedings into a circus, and in the process, almost certainly have gotten me fired. Besides, although there's no shortage of BS to wade through on a typical Hollywood sound stage, there's not much in the way of “urine and feces soaked streets” for the cameras of E! to lovingly linger upon. For that, they'll have to venture onto the mean and filthy streets of downtown LA.
I sent back a very polite e-mail declining E!'s offer, thus blowing my big chance to step from the shadows into the bright lights. That's fine with me. I've made a living working behind the lights for thirty-some years now, and in those shadows is where I belong -- and where I'll stay.
* Better read it quick. In a post last year, I included a link to Mary's scaldingly funny review of a show called “Real Housewives of Orange County” -- which just might be the single most entertaining piece I've ever read in the LA Times. Unfortunately, the paper has since locked that gem up in their pay-to-read archives, but I've got the review on file. If you want to read it, shoot me an e-mail and I'll send it along.
For a biting take on the latest sorry example of the “Housewives....” unreality genre, check out this highly entertaining recent post from Ken Levine’s blog...