Saturday, July 11, 2009

Guilty Pleasures: 15 TV Shows I Tell Myself I Shouldn't Watch, Then Do. +1 I Should Possibly Feel Guilty About, But Don't.

I have a terrible shame. I'm sad to say that i am a part of the target audience for several of Viacom's MTV/VH1 programs. Though i can take solace in my loathing of "The Hills", "The Real World", "Road Rules" and their various spin-offs, generally speaking if the network execs manage to match a brightly colored font with glitter effect graphics, bad pop music, surreality, and people who look like Postmodern Sleaze Barbie, i will probably tune in at least once. I'm not proud of these occasional lapses in judgment. To most people, i will never mention them. Yet in conversation, you will find it difficult not to notice that i know an inordinate amount about the going-ons within the hallowed walls of various Los Angeles reality camp mansions. Say what you will, but i find myself intensely interested in what happens when you put 15+ emotionally immature human beings in one location and pit them against each other. Usually for a shot at something i would never, ever, want. I could lie and say that as a writer, my viewing is anthropological, but that's really not true. Let's face it.

But MTV/VH1 reality shows are not my only weaknesses. Let's count the examples of my questionable taste, present and past. Which shows are your shameful secrets?

1. America's Next Top Model: This one isn't exactly a secret. I've blogged about it before, but i still feel like a guilty sucker. Each cycle is formulaic, the drama has been largely diffused from the program in favor of pure competition, the girl who might actually make it in the modeling business basically never wins, it's all one big commercial for Cover Girl cosmetics, and Tyra Banks grows more irritating and egotistical with each passing year. Alas, i'm addicted. I watch it like it's a ritual, and become very angry if the ending is spoiled for me. I keep hoping that one day they'll get a sponsor who might actually want an editorial model instead of a girl next door. For awhile they were partnered with Elle, which was a decent pairing, but for the last 123 cycles it's been Cover Girl and Seventeen. Also known as "Generic" and "Commercial". What i'd like to see? Something along the lines of Nylon and MAC. 2. Gossip Girl: Another poorly kept secret. I'm roped into each episode with the promise of scandal and inappropriate high school behavior, plus Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick), whom i have an almost inexcusable crush on in spite of his womanizing, old wicked bachelor conduct. None of this is what makes me guilty, however. What makes me guilty is that in general, Gossip Girl almost never pays off. The scandals are more shocking in the advertising than in context, and each episode is strikingly boring, especially since the story has turned a focus away from mean girl antics and towards the tricky adult relationships of parents Lily and Rufus. I just want more drama. Is that too much to ask? (it's not for another teen drama on the list, hold tight)
3. Paris Hilton's My New BFF: The concept of this show is so glaringly ridiculous it's unbelievable. Super fans and fame whores line up to try and win the heart of a notoriously fickle and vacuous frenemy who, in the name of "seeing who's really here for me" puts her new buds through the fluffily torturous fire. She picks a special one each week and inhumanely refers to her new snitch as her "pet", she selects people for elimination based on superficial whims like having bad taste in shoes. The contestants will take part in the silliest challenges ever conceived, all of which Paris says test how well they'll be able to keep up with her "lifestyle". The worst part is, she's probably right. The besties are subjected to 24 hour parties (where you're either not fun enough, or an alkie embarrassment), interrogation by Three Six Mafia, climbing ropes in booty shorts and six inch heels (boys too), spiteful talking dolls, mindgames, and seeing who can pick up the most guys in Vegas and convince them to show up to a party in Los Angeles. As for the contestants, about 50% of them seem like likable enough, naive human beings, which makes you wonder why they'd bother. Sometimes, she will decide whether or not you stay based on the opinions of animals. If Tinkerbell, or a rented Tiger, don't take to you, it's TTYN. The show is so completely illogical, so mind numbingly sugar coated, that it's like liquid crack. Don't watch one, or somehow you'll find yourself watching them all. Which brings us to...
4. The Simple Life: Awful megabrats Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie foray into permanent fame by slumming it across the United States with the most well-timed sound effects in the history of television. They were frequently vapid and sadistic (especially Nicole, who's intelligent enough to really hit you where it hurts), playing with unsuspecting rednecks like amusing little toys, but occasionally took to their host families in a way that was almost quaintly human. I had a roommate who watched this in excess during its spell on E! and who eventually managed to accumulate the series DVDs. That said, i have seen them all. Every episode. And what's worse, even when i complained, it was really repulsively enjoyable. Whoever was editing this show knew how to time comic effect out of nothing in a way that's almost uncanny. As scripted reality goes, this is really a pretty strong example.
5. Nip/Tuck: Ludicrous plotlines, deliberate shock tactics, and the ability to redefine bad taste in television, this is a highly addictive glossy primetime mix of soap opera and horror film. Heavy on sex and gore (which are of course the most delightful parts), this is one of those shows that will make you sound like a depraved nitwit if you dare to outline an episode for a person who has never seen the show. But really, it's campily brilliant and rather beautifully filmed if you can appreciate it. Morally ambiguous plastic surgeons, serial killers, affairs with little people, affairs with Rosie O'Donnell (with sex addict lead Christian Troy (Julian McMahon), no less), and more porn stars than you can shake a stick at, this is the closest you can get to premium cable without paying. Also, have i mentioned how great the photography for the ad campaigns is? I admittedly stopped watching after season 4, but have been considering resuming.
6. Yo Gabba Gabba: Let me state for the record: I don't have children. I have no friends who have children. I don't babysit or nanny or any of that jazz. Also, i'm not waking and baking. So how the hell did i fall into the Nick Jr. psychedelic kiddie trap of DJ Lance Rock and his imaginary friends? BECAUSE IT'S AWESOME. You don't even KNOW how awesome. The people behind this, like so many other children's shows, are on some serious hallucinogens. The cuts are frantic, the monsters are charmingly offbeat, there is no rhyme or reason, and every day is a dance party loaded with terrible songs and guest appearances by Elijah Wood and The Ting Tings and Biz Markie. It's a baby hipster show. And i totally have a Brobee keychain. Why? Because i have a deep appreciation for candy colored nonsense.

7. My Super Sweet 16: This show was like watching the fall of Rome in slow motion. The first season was a glorious display of greed and excess. As it continued, it became tedious, but oh, those first episodes. They were a solid block of time spent with a deep, festering loathing for the people on screen. Unbearable, and all-consuming.
8. Gilmore Girls: Realistically, this shouldn't have to be a guilty pleasure. It's a smartly written show with snappy Howard Hawks dialogue and well-rendered quirky characters. But...it totally becomes one by merit of the inescapable sort of sentimentality it holds. I mean, this is a show about the bonds between mothers and daughters, fundamentally, and if you strip away the quirkiness it's sort of like a quaint, rather whimsical Nicholas Sparks or Jodi Picoult novel. Both of whom i do not read. At its best, Gilmore Girls was filled with snark and so many allusions and cross references that it makes Family Guy look pop culturally unaware, at its worst, it was weighed down by heavy family drama and unfortunate romantic entanglements. My favorite story lines involved Rory's (Alexis Bledel) experiences in academia, my least favorite focused too heavily on fast-talking Lorelai (Lauren Graham).
10. VH1 Shows With "Love" In The Title: Flavor of Love, Rock of Love, or (the best one) I Love New York are pretty much the best shows for eating any sort of meal to. Particularly if that meal is ramen noodles cooked in your contraband dorm room microwave. You sit, eat slowly, and suddenly your food is gone and the show is over. Jam packed with the scum of the Earth and the creme de la creme of people with IQ numbers below 70, every moment puts cameramen at risk of contracting an STD and you're always one second away from a hair pulling fight prefaced by the most grammatically incorrect verbal sparring known to man. The prizes they battle for are the affections and tainted love juices of vile musical hasbeens (a shrunken head, and a balding afghan hound) or the leftovers of the affections of vile musical hasbeens (tranny mess New York, silicone inflated Daisy, etc.). Oh, the price people will pay for their 15 minutes. For some, it's worth public humiliation and a scorching case of herpes. Totally gross. I should also note that post-graduation, my consumption of this programming has been in almost total decline.
11. A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila: Speaking of scorching cases of herpes, MTV one-upped VH1 when they gave us a dating competition that swung both ways and established itself as wholeheartedly idiotic. Starring Myspace non-celebrity pin-up and chihuahua doppelganger Tila Tequila, each episode was a battle of the sexes which (for some reason) always seemed to involve nudity, mud wrestling, lots of liquor, and light S&M. And, of course, Tila managed to find a skankier looking bikini with each passing day. Yeah, it pushed the envelope, but in a way that made you feel icky all over. But admit it: you're totally intrigued.

12. The Girls Next Door: Another favorite of the "Simple Life" lovin' roomie, I know that you have watched these girls too. Please, everyone has. Guys like it for the obvious reasons, girls enjoy it because at heart its a frouffy little show about friends living a sort of fairy tale life of elaborate parties, road trips, and multiple pets. Bridget, Holly, and Kendra seem like legitimately nice, frequently ditzy normal girls who just enjoy happen to look like male fantasies and enjoy spending time in the nude. I'm not going to judge them on it if that's what they want to do. They're fun to watch, and startlingly innocent and non-threatening perhaps in spite of the industry they work within. For all my rampant feminism, i can honestly say i'm pretty sure these girls enjoy the lives they lead and rarely feel objectified. There's something rather comforting about watching them plan a birthday party or brainstorm for their group photo shoot. I have no idea what that is.
12. Blind Date: Remember when UPN existed and all they did every afternoon and late evening was air cheaply made dating shows filled with the scum of the Earth? Those were good times. Apparently, though, all the awful human beings of the world have opted for extended durations of VH1 and MTV shows, because Blind Date and its kin (Extreme Dating, Elimidate, and Shipmates) all bit the dust only to be seen on rare days when Spike TV decided to fill some time up. Another contender for wonderful use of stock sound effects, this show is complete and utter trash. It's poorly produced and has no pretensions. It's just crap. Crap to the Extreme. And i always wondered...where do these people find so many hot tubs?

13. Desperate Housewives: This show should have died somewhere around the conclusion of its 3rd season. Then again, there are those that say it never should have existed in the first place. It's predictable, repetitive, over the top, and its characters never seem to learn. This is the ultimate primetime soap opera for this decade. In the beginning, it was a joy to watch, i won't lie. There was a reason it was a gigantic phenomenon. It mainstreamed pastel colored camp and was an effective comedic satire on suburban America. But once you pass over that first season of murder, intrigue, and homemade apple pie, it all goes downhill from there. That doesn't mean i don't still find myself watching it on Sunday nights. Ahem. For the record: I can't stand Susan.

14. The OC: And before "Gossip Girl" we had its west coast cousin. I stuck with this show until its final episodes, and oh, it was dramatic. Ben McKenzie and Mischa Barton were terribly cast as the show's leads, but it's ok, because Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson were there to steal the show and make everything alright. This was the show that exposed dozens of indie bands to messenger bag toting teenagers everywhere while simultaneously getting deep into all sorts of sudsy antics like alcohol addiction and what happens when your mom sleeps with your boyfriend. Fun stuff. Really, this was a pretty great show. If you watched it you know. If you only watched it once it probably took major will power not to return again. Summer, i hear, is the perfect time to pick up the DVDs.

15. Sabrina the Teenage Witch: I was young. Young and easily swayed by 90's clothes and magical spells. It was great fun. Particularly in the high school years. Remember Harvey and Libby? They were pretty great. Then Sabrina went to college, and it got a little worse. Then she entered the real world. And that was just absurd. Yet, i believe i found myself continuing to watch it. How, i don't know, because Melissa Joan Hart is one of the most irritatingly perky and upbeat people on the planet. Oh, also, Salem the talking cat. Enough said.


And now, the one show that I probably should consider a guilty pleasure but really just love without shame...
Skins: Take your Degrassi and shove it. Hard. UK teen drama Skins is, without a doubt in my mind, the best show about teenagers since Freaks and Geeks. It's also one of the most effectively surprising shows i've ever seen. Where Gossip Girl and others promise a shock value they can't deliver, Skins goes above and beyond anything you've ever seen on American television. This show is raw, intense, insane, scandalous, undeniably fun, and compulsively addictive. Drug-fueled, oversexed, filthy mouthed, and then some, it's heavily amplified, frequently campy, prone to postmodernist, jumpy leaps of faith. It is every parent's nightmare. Each episode one ups the last. Each plot twist is delivered in the most brutal way imaginable. And no stone is left unturned. I'm serious. No stone. You've never seen depraved youth like this. I. Am. Obsessed.

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