Yes: Sheen finally kills 2.5 Men, No: The Biggest Loser is still alive

There are very few shows that I actively go out of my way to watch bits of just so that I can hate on them in an educated fashion. Biggest Loser and Two and a Half Men.

One is finally dead. Charlie Sheen’s self-destructing antics were finally enough to kill it. Though I doubt that will stop Channel 9 showing endless reruns in Australia. He has these odd delusions of grandeur too – this quote, from the Time magazine story:

“”Last I checked, Chaim [the Jewish writer of his series he also said some anti-Semitic stuff about], I spent close to the last decade effortlessly and magically converting your tin cans into pure gold. And the gratitude I get is this charlatan chose not to do his job, which is to write…”

That’s one down.

The Biggest Loser used to be good. It’s a reality show with real promise, and real benefit, to its contestants and its viewers. But not anymore. Now it’s a cash cow that Channel 10 is milking, Master Chef style. With scant regard to its viewers. Never has the statement that the audience is not the customer, but the commodity, rung more true than when Channel 10, seeking to wring every last dollar out of its advertisers, featured a challenge last night that gratuitously featured contestants chucking 600mL Mount Franklin water bottles onto a cart that was then pulled across a field. This exercise didn’t look like exercise at all. I am not going to go and buy a tonne of water bottles and pull them around by rope on an oval to get fit. And the contestants shouldn’t have to lose their dignity in order to shift a few more units of water. I hope Mount Franklin paid a mint for that placement.

But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is how contrived and over-produced the show has become. The producers are trying to milk every little bit of emotion from the contestants with these bisarre, clearly set-up, monologues. And these contestants are dumb. You have to be a little on the less than intelligent side to grow to 200kg. Surely. But the Red team in this series can’t string a cohesive sentence together to save themselves. So last night, when one guy won a challenge that would see his morbidly obese brother re-enter the competition after they’d tactically put him up for elimination thinking nobody would vote for the fattest guy, walked into the middle of the room and said “I dedicate this win to my brother” – and it was just an odd bit of over dramatisation with no sense of timing. I challenge you to watch every statement those guys say and find something that isn’t repeated, at the behest of a producer, with some overly dramatic affection, or just bumblingly incoherent. It’s a train wreck.

Then, we had the cancer survivor saying that she had never been happier than she was now – and that she’d never really opened up about her cancer until she had the chance to talk to her personal trainer in front of a national audience. Dumb. Really dumb. It’s like the producers said to themselves. You know what. This contestant mentioned that she had cancer in her application to come on the show, so in weeks 3, 6 and 7 we’re going to ham that up a little and get her to film a vignette about what being a cancer survivor is like. We’ll get people to cry. And then they’ll watch more and we can roll around in piles of monies. New bills only. Crisp. Like lettuce. And we will eat caviar and drink sparkling Mount Franklin while our audience gets dumber.

The worst, and most cynical move, from the producers is, I think, new this season. They now end every episode on a cliffhanger. Mid challenge. So you don’t know who wins unless you tune in the next day. This flagrant disregard to viewers, and their decision to invest time watching the ads that companies have chosen to purchase in the scheduled timeslot, is just nasty. And it’s sure to backfire. They’ve jumped the shark. The only way they could jump the shark more obviously would be to take the fat contestants to Sea World. Ostensibly because of the joke about always taking a fat person swimming. And then to, in a slow montage, get each contestant to waterski in a shark infested pool and take them over a jump to show them how far they’ve come. That they’re no longer fatties, but that they can fly. The saddest part is that these contestants are losing their beef while becoming pieces of meat for the populace to enjoy in snack sized bites.

The West Wing v The Wire

Nothing gets media studies students salivating like The West Wing. Except The Wire. They’re a bit polarising – it’s like the Canon v Nikon, or Mac v PC debate. Two products of similar qualities targetting similar demographics with slightly differently nuanced tastes.

It’s about user experience. Do you want to watch TV to feel smart? Then watch the West Wing, do you want to watch TV to feel superior to the dirty criminals running the streets and the beat-cops paid to curb the uncurbable? Then watch the Wire. Do you want wit or grit? Macroeconomics or microeconomics? Barksdale or Bartlett? McNulty or Ziegler?

A couple of people dialoguing a review of the new Facebook movie The Social Network described the difference nicely, I’ve edited out the swearing for those for whom that sort of thing is an issue:

“SFJ: Let’s compare “The West Wing” and “The Wire.”

NVC: I’d love to!

SFJ: Sorkin talk makes everybody feel smart and makes the s***y world look OK because making money and being an a*****e is fine as long as a deserving nerd wins. This appeals to nerds and anybody who fancies themselves as SMARTS. Further, he goes in hard on lexis—the act of delivering words—and lets the characters walk you through everything that would either be the job of a) acting or b) the audience using their heads. It is a way to load middlebrow content into totally fun speed talk that saves many people some hard work while feeling highbrow, because only smart people can talk that quickly. It’s like associating athletic skill with height, de jure.

SFJ: Think of how many Sorkin characters are sort of Flat Erics who talk, rapidly describing every idea that could have been acted out. The advantage is you can cram a lot of action into one episode. The downside is a weird, Aspergersy sameness to every project. Actors become court stenographers in reverse, spitting out Sorkinese and then stepping aside to let the next block of text barrel through.

NVC: Agreed.

SFJ: “The Wire,” on the other hand, doesn’t mind alienating you. It eliminates spoken exposition (lexis) in favor of mimesis. This is an entire world, it is full, and you had better take notes if you want to keep up. You have to WORK. People who don’t look like you may be in charge for a minute, maybe for a long time, and nobody has the moral high ground.


SFJ: Sorkin loves the abasement that is a by-product of believing in the high ground. It’s in everything Sorkin does.”

Fish Punching

Having just watched Bear Grylls behead a skunk (after smothering it in his jacket), bash a snake to death with a plank of wood, confront killer bees to steal their honey and finally drink his own urine while incredibly close to the end of the episode (surely he could’ve made it), I’ve been looking for a new television high. Can it get any better?

The answer is yes. It can.

Fish Punchers

I’m not sure I’ve said this before – but the explorer/travel writer character in Black Books in the episode with the cat – has to be based on Bear right? Did you know he was the youngest person to climb Everest? I didn’t.

Wipeout – it’s no knockout

Novelty Australian game shows probably hit their peak with It’s a Knockout.

If not then maybe the original Australian Gladiators. 

They hit new, unimaginable, lows with the Australian version of Wipeout. Watching stupid Americans hurt themselves was pretty compelling. Watching Australian trailer trash stand up and say “I’m representing all the female bus drivers in Australia while carrying my son’s first tooth” is less compelling. 

Also painful was seeing the personal trainer who was “the fat kid at school” yell some stupid catch phrase, and the horribly unattractive 38 year old single IT consultant in rainbow socks pitch herself to prospective suitors was just nasty. Ouch. Watching her crawl through mud saying “this isn’t what I had planned. This isn’t how it was supposed to turn out” made me wonder just what she was expecting.

I guess the pierced forehead was meant to be a turn on too?

7.51pm – Where did they get these people from? Angus Tandy “the Human Cannonball” seemed like the most normal one of the bunch. And he was wearing a white jump suit with racing stripes.

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