Faking It

I don’t tend to watch most of what is put forth as “reality series” on the networks these days. It’s not that I have anything against reality; I live there sometimes myself. However, it seems to me that many of these shows are about creating victims, whether it be an American Idol judge berating those he perceives as less talented or the deception involved an encouraged in the Joe Millionaire-type show. This isn’t just looking into people’s lives, it’s trying to make people’s lives worse in the name of entertainment.
But there are things that can be legitimately described as “reality series” that I do watch. The creative home decorating show Trading Spaces is a clear example (although admittedly there is some cruelty in allowing Hildy to decorate anyone’s home.) Another is Junkyard Wars, which is at heart about what people can achieve with a little creative engineering and an admittedly carefully-seeded junkyard.
Another series has popped up that I’m adding to that list: Faking It, a British series airing on BBC America. In it, they take a person and spend four weeks training them in a career that they are an unlikely fit for. A ballet dancer becomes a professional wrestler. A country vicar becomes a used car dealer. Because the challenge is not only to be effective in their craft but also to seem the part, they are given training both by professionals in the field and by voice coaches. Ultimately, success of the transformation is judged by having a set of experts in the field at hand see if they can select the fake from among a series of experienced professionals.
As interesting as the show is, it also has a strong message implicit in it. At least in the ones that I’ve seen, the transformation is successful. It’s not just a matter of it being a ruse; by the end of the best episode, the genteel homosexual country school student had truly become a tough city nightclub bouncer. And if such a thing can be done, then how truly different are any of us?
An American version of the show is in the works, and participants are being solicited here. Seeing how they ask participants not only what they do but what profession they should fake, I can’t help but to consider what I would apply for. As a writer with a background in computer work, I tend to live a life of the mind, so my first instinct is for something very physical and very real-time: a fireman.
What would you sign up for? For your responses, I’ve turned on the “comments” feature of the blog for this one entry. I’m not ready to turn it on for every post, because maintaining the discussions and keeping the shmucks out seems like too much work. But if you want to post a comment about whether you want me to open up the blog for comments, feel free!

Published in: on June 29, 2003 at 10:38 am  Leave a Comment  


Just realized that the key guys behind the lackluster Gary the Rat are also the key guys behind the stylish and generally interesting Lucky: Mark and Rob Cullen. Clearly they are capable but not consistent.

Gary started life as a webtoon, apparently. It’s not the first webtoon to break out beyond the small screen (we saw it happen when Undercover Brother hit the theaters), But I hate to think of how many fine Flash cartoons there are out there that look better on the computer screen than this one did on the big screen, and from a writing standpoint it was not well designed for its very limited animation.

Usually, I’m not surprised when someone disagrees with my taste, but sometimes, I’m just left wondering what they saw.

Published in: on June 28, 2003 at 2:33 am  Leave a Comment  


It doesn’t mean much to say that Stan Lee’s Stripperella exceeded my expectations, particularly since my expectations had been largely set by Gary the Rat. However, Stripperella is clear not the sort of cheap production that Gary is. There is more than one respectable name attached, ranging from the octogeneric Stan The Man to the more youthfully named Kid Rock, who provides the theme song. The animation and writing are of respectable commercial quality.

This is a show that delivers largely what you expect, and does a respectable job of it. If a mix of busty animated babes and Pinky-and-the-Brain-flavored superhero satire sounds like a good idea to you, then you’ll probably like this show. If it doesn’t sound like a good idea, then you probably won’t. It’s a show that clearly makes sense on Spike-not-Lee-TV.

Published in: on June 27, 2003 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gary the Rat

As the publisher of the comic book Stewart the Rat about a walking, talking, suit-wearing rat in a world of humans, I had to watch last night’s premiere of Gary the Rat to see if I could count on a surge of consumer interest anytime soon.

Trust me, I’m not rushing to go back to press.

Gary (voiced by Kelsey Grammer) is a lawyer who has turned into a giant rat, apparently solely for karmic reasons. In the premiere, he is faced with a make-or-break-his-career case in which he must represent the manufacturers of a harmful product.

(The product is, of course, tobacco. TV shows are glad to use tobacco as the villain, because tobacco companies can’t advertise and thus can’t pull their advertisements. Not that I’m a fan of tobacco companies, but in terms of daring maneuvers it’s about as bold as picking on the Amish.)

Unbeknownst to him, Gary is also being hunted by an obsessed exterminator who seems to be a purposeful reconstruction of the obsessed, ever-losing antagonists of 1970s Saturday morning cartoons, Wile E. Coyote stripped of his style, grace, and pathos.

The show isn’t funny, though I think it’s makers think it is. I think they think it’s crude humor, but it doesn’t even have that much crudity in it; some disrespect of the elderly and some random violent moments, but nothing that has an impact. The animation is cheap and shoddy. I’m not sure who this is aimed for; I’ll be surprised if it builds up a sizable loyal following. But I’ve been surprised before.

Yes, the show looks cheap, but that doesn’t mean it has to be bad. Smart writing can win out over cheap animation easily. If SpikeTV (or whatever they end up calling it in the wake of ludicrous lawsuits) needs something cheap, funny, and male, then they should look to the web for the self-style macho of
StrongBad E-Mail, which would make a fine series of shorts interspersed in some anthology show.

Published in: on June 27, 2003 at 8:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Gilmore Girls Unspunoff

I suspect I’m not the only Gilmore Girls viewer who is disappointed that the planned spin-off for Jess has been scrapped. What I wonder is whether the others are disappointed for the same reason that I am.

It is not, you see, that I wished to view a Jess-oriented series. That had no appeal for me. Rather, I was looking forward to Gilmore Girls being once more a largely Jess-free zone. I found the character actively annoying, in the midst of a largely pleasant show. Yes, I understand that he was supposed to be the bad boy and thus be attractive to both Rory and the viewers, but the romance in the show never worked for me, and not being a teenage girl the lure of the bad (or, let’s face it, merely impolite) boy eludes me as well.

I realize that any relationship that Rory is in needs to set up some sort of conflict. I just hope that they find ways to do it with characters who are more interesting.

Published in: on June 26, 2003 at 10:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Other mistakes

As long as I’m fessing up to naming the wrong network for Lucky, I should confess to purveying some other information.

  • One does not make peanut butter my mixing peanuts and butter. That was some misinformation spread to me via Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and by that time, I should have known better. In fact, I think I did know better, having already read a bio of George Washington Carver by that time. But I trusted Mister Rogers to know what he was speaking about. Being earnest should not be confused with being informed. (Even if I did know the truth about peanut butter, however, this did lead me to experiment with tasty mixtures of peanut butter and real butter. Does it come as any surprise that 3 decades later I needed diet, exercise, and medication to shape up my heart?)
  • The capital of Papua New Guinea is not three dollars and fifty-seven cents. Actually, Papua New Guinea has three capitals, P, N, and G.
  • Despite my boastful claims to the contrary, I did not put the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong.

    I shall strive to be more accurate in the future.

  • Published in: on June 26, 2003 at 4:25 am  Leave a Comment  

    Whoops, a mistake!

    Tom Heald of TVBarn.com caught a silly error on my part and properly brought it to my attention. I had said that Lucky and Monk were on the same channel. Actually, while Monk is on USA Networks, Lucky is on FX.

    And this just goes to show how freeing having the TV recorder can be. I’m not tuning in to watch either of those shows, don’t have to remember which station everything is on. It’s not like having a VCR, where I missed Buffy a couple of weeks by forgetting it had switched from the WB to UPN. With ReplayTV, I can use its “search” function to find the show, set up the recording function once, and can then forget about where or when it appears. Which is a fine thing if you’re trying to watch TV in comfort, and obviously problematic when you’re writing about TV.

    And by the way, if you’re interested in trying living the TV recorder life, keep your eyes pointed toward the ReplayTV site. For a while there, they were offering refurbished 40 hour units for $350, including the lifetime service subscription (normally $250 itself, and needed for the unit to work), and such a deal could surface again. After rebates, we had paid $450 for our non-refurbed unit, and while it was for us an extravagence, it has proven a worthwhile investment.

    Published in: on June 26, 2003 at 4:08 am  Leave a Comment  

    Less TV than normal

    I picked an odd time to start this blog, since this week I’m watching less TV than I normally would. This is not any statement on the current state of TV, but merely a statement that the new Harry Potter book is out. Had it been just me, I would’ve finished the book by sometime Sunday and ready to get back to the real world of TV.

    That’s not how Harry is done in this house, however. Instead, I read the entire thing aloud to the Lovely Lara, supplying all of the voices. It’s my one chance to be a ham.

    So forgive me if the place seems a little sparse at first. I have, of course, moved all of my reviews from the past two falls onto the site, so if you really care about what I thought about shows that you’ve already forgotten existed, it’s all there.

    Published in: on June 25, 2003 at 10:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

    The freedom of cancellation

    An interesting situation faces the folks behind The Drew Carey Show, a once-funny show that lost both humorous and ratings momentum over the years (and for all I know, regained the humor; it’s been years since I watched an episode.) The show appears to be cancelled, not on the fall schedule nor listed among the things that ABC is planning to bring back.

    One little problem: they have a contract to provide another whole season of the show, and quite a lucrative contract to boot. Eighty million for presumably 22 episodes.

    So maybe the episodes will be just thrown into the syndicated rerun package, or maybe they’ll pop up on some cable network, but they will be made and they almost certainly won’t air on broadcast network TV.

    As a creative soul, I see two ways of viewing this opportunity. On one hand, the producers can make a batch of bland episodes as cheaply as possible. On the other hand…

    No network interference. Lots of money. Time to go wild.

    I’ve spent some time considering just what I would do were I the producers. Certainly, it would be in the “go wild” state, but what does that mean? Making Bob Dole a regular character? Doing an entire episode in the nude? Doing both at once (eek!)? But then it hits me: throw money at writers.

    I don’t mean build up a respectable writing staff with a long list of writing credits. I mean, take $400,000 to a variety of writers and say “give us a half hour with this setting, don’t worry about comedy, don’t worry about continuity, just make sure the commercial breaks are there.” Parker&Stone? $400,000. Maya Angelou? $400,000. Carl Reiner. David Mamet. Mrs. McCormack’s 4th grade class. Stephen Hawking. There will be some horrible, horrible television along the way, either some horrible scripts or some horrible performances of unlikely scripts. (Drew, while a reasonable sitcom character actor, has shown no signs of dramatic talent, and he’s lousy at improv. Some of the others in the cast, however, have potential.)

    But it should be fascinating. And wherever it airs, people will turn in just to see how it’s horrible this time; it may always be a traffic accident, but done right it should be a very different traffic accident every time. And some of the time, just some of the time, we could get some bizarre gem.

    And this isn’t a pure artistic decision. If you get people talking about the show, interest in the rerun package goes up. A DVD set of the final season because worthy of consideration. It is quite possible that such a show could get respectable network-style ratings on a basic cable channel.

    As they say in the TV-edited version of Risky Business, sometimes you just gotta say “what the heck”.

    Published in: on June 25, 2003 at 11:55 am  Leave a Comment  

    Charlie, meet Barney

    The talented and blogacious Mark Evanier has pointed out a differing view on Charlie Lawrence, this one coming from openly gay Congresscritter Barney Frank.

    Published in: on June 23, 2003 at 3:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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