Survivor: Redemption Island

Last season was one of the worst seasons of Survivor ever. It was almost painful to watch. For one thing, playing old vs young was a fairly ridiculous idea and really limited the types of challenges they could use. Not that no older people can compete physically, but as a whole…not so much. They learned their lesson on that one. This season the Survivor team has decided to try to shake things up a bit with two big surprises/changes:

  • The first was redemption island. From now on, when a contestant gets voted out of the show, it does not mean they are gone. Instead, they are sent to an island where they must live alone and compete against another voted out contestant to remain. At some point in the game they will have the opportunity/possibility to reenter the game. To be honest this could work for or against a contestant. On the one hand, it would be impressive that they managed to live so long by themselves and come back (depending how long they are there). On the other, they also missed all the changes in alliance and dynamics and likely won’t have the connections the others have. Plus, the others won’t have ever been voted off, which seems to mean they played better.
  • The other thing about this season is the return of Rob and Russell who are instantly separated. They obviously couldn’t be on the same team because that would be ridiculous, but at the same time, we don’t get to enjoy the rivalry without them interacting (I suppose that will come with the merge, assuming both remain). Being the only returners makes them both powerhouses and targets, both of which are interesting. Rob seems to have a solid hold on his team and basic determines every vote. Russell, meanwhile, is as polarizing as ever. People suspect him more than they want to work with him and this is the first time he’s ever playing with everyone truly knowing how he works.

Despite promises to make immunity idols harder to find, two have been discovered without clues. (One was even discovered by accident!) The shock, however, was the fact that Russell has neither of those idols. Better get looking Russ!

So far this season is miles ahead of last season. It may not be like Heroes vs Villains, but we have already seen one blindside (less surprising for the viewers but certainly surprising for the one voted out) and Russell has already been in an argument or two.

Off the Map

Not everyone was particularly pleased with this show when it first aired. Some people felt it was too similar to Grey’s. Other people just felt like it didn’t hit the right tone. Personally I was fine with the pilot. It wasn’t groundbreaking but it was enjoyable. Now, seven minutes in, I think the show has really hit its stride.

Like with Grey’s, I find the “main character” (the gifted doctor with a sad past) to be the blandest and least interesting of all the characters. It feels like there is something missing with her, which may be that 95% of her stories seem to always involve romance. I like romance in shows, but I don’t like when that’s all there is with a character. Mina, by contrast, who I didn’t particularly care about at first, has really developed. She tries to be so tough but we’ve seen a more compassionate, caring person underneath who cares fiercely about her patients and being a good doctor. (She also seems to bond well with Otis in a non-romantic way that has been particularly solid.) Ryan also grew on me, since we have gotten to know more about her missionary upbringing and a condition that no one knows about. Otis, it turns out, had/has a drug problem. Zee is still neither here nor there. Keeton, like Lily, is pretty dull and mostly is just sad. Tommy has also become more than just a girl-chaser. He has a nice side (channeling some Matt from FNL?), but he still has a way to go before he is really great.

For people who were willing to just let it go before, it’s worth giving a second chance.

American Idol: The Season So Far…

Because I recap American Idol for HaveUHeard.net, I have not written anything here about it, but I decided to just write a little about the overall season thus far.

After all the drama with the judges (Paula, Ellen, Kara, and Simon leaving, the search for the new judges, Steve Tyler and Jennifer Lopez being chosen) we have now had a chance to see the new trio work together. Whether it will be different once we start the live shows is anyone’s guess, but until then, there is something to be said about this new panel. Gone is the mean judge persona perfected by Simon (which was at least partly affectation) as well as his later indifference as he clearly got bored with doing the same project and not being able to run it completely. In its place is…NICENESS. It’s a bizarre feeling after all the snark, which was enjoyable in its own right. Luckily, the producers decided to go for dynamic over recreation because this group is fantastic together (though I am still will to lose Randy, is that just me?). They clearly get along well and enjoy each other’s company. Tyler is the craziest person ever, which is exactly as expected. I’m over his high-pitched sing along thing but I’ll take it. JLo is surprisingly nurturing and gentle, and seems much more genuine than I would ever have expected. Randy is still Randy so whatev (there has been less dawg which is for the better). In last night’s episode, we saw just how well the judges mesh and get along. Jennifer broke down after telling a contestant with an emotional story that he had not made it to the Top 24. She didn’t know if she had told him the right way, it was too hard. But Steven and especially Randy, who could easily have said “Man up! That’s how the game is played and everyone knew what they were getting into!” instead chose to comfort and reassure her. That moment was the moment that solidified the new judging panel in my mind.

On to the contestants. The show has touted this crop of kids as the most talented group ever. I don’t know if any individual contestant is the strongest contestant ever (I’m telling you, they NEED to do an All Star season!), but as a whole there is a ridiculous amount of talent. Partly, they’ve moved away from all the guitar-toting singer-songwriters who have more creativity and “personal style” than they have amazing diva-ish range. I don’t know if lowering the age limit made that much of a difference (there are some great fifteen year olds and it gave us two years’ worth of new contestants as compared to only the new sixteen year olds, which probably helps a little too), but I’m certainly not complaining about it.

Audition time was much too long, but once we got to Hollywood week the show picked up again with powerful performances and ridiculous drama (maybe having some super young people did make a difference there). I particularly like that they had a consultation with Jimmy Iovine who went as far as telling one group to change their Beatles song. I hope they get more vocal coaching and consultations because I’d rather have many good performances over a number of ones that could have been better if they had been given some guidance. (No more “you picked the wrong song!”)

Overall, this season is really looking great and I can’t wait for performances to start. I do wish we could have an episode where we saw the contestants perform without the stress of elimination so we could properly meet and hear each one first, but oh well.

American Idol: Top 24 Part 1

Parenthood

Now that we are well into the second season of this show, I need to take the time to show it the appreciation it is due but sorely lacking. (EW seems to think the show is too realistic and therefore not “happy” enough, but I love its realism and find it has a great deal of hope and joy, even if it has more serious parts too.)

If you haven’t been watching, the show follows the Braverman clan (the parents and four siblings who are now grown up with kids of their own) as they navigate through life’s struggles. The families:

  • Zeek and Camillle– the heads of the Braverman clan. Zeek is the kind of guy who likes to “toughen up” his kids, doesn’t really listen to other people’s opinions, and always has to do things his way (the way he’s always been doing it). Camille tends to be caught in the middle, trying to give her opinion but invariably upsetting people and trying to appease them or make peace with them.
  • Adam and Kristina-Adam is the eldest of the four Braverman siblings. This family’s challenges generally revolve around their teenage daughter Haddie’s boyfriend troubles (and teenage angst), Max’s aspberger’s, and Adam’s work. Adam is the person everyone comes to for support and advice. He’s high strung and has a particularly difficult time dealing with Max’s issues because he wants the traditional father-son experience. Kristina is the kind, supportive wife who keeps things together but is sometimes overwhelmed with the Braverman clan as a whole.
  • Sarah-the next sibling in line, Sarah has always been one of the freer spirits in the group. She divorces her rocker husband Seth (an alcoholic) and moves her kids Amber and Drew into her parents’ home. Her troubles tend to be with Drew’s lack of a father figure, Amber’s rebelliousness, and her own financial/employment issues.
  • Crosby (and Jasmine)– Crosby is the consummate irresponsible bachelor who is forced to grow up when he learns that his ex, Jasmine, had his child and never told him. He decides he wants to be a part of Jabbar’s life. Crosby’s troubles tend to be about his fear of commitment and his troubles with raising a son he only just found out about. At current, Crosby and Jasmine are having particular issues with Jasmine being to bossy; she is used to raising Jabbar on her own and therefore considers her opinion to be above Crosby’s when it comes to deciding what is best for Jabbar.
  • Julia and Joel– Julia is a working lawyer while Joel is a stay at home dad for Sydney. Julia is driven and competitive and strongly opinionated while believing that Sydney should be allowed to express herself (so long as they don’t go against Julia’s strong feminist ideals). Joel is a solid father and generally loves being a stay at home dad but he occasionally misses working and being with adults.
  • For me, the most compelling performances in the show revolve around Max’s aspberger’s and Sarah and family’s dealing with Seth’s alcoholism and dead beat dad behavior. Crosby’s current issues with Jasmine are interesting in their own right (it is frustrating to watch them so poorly communicate their sides but completely believable anyway). This show is so full of talented cast and has clever writing.

    I’m hoping that Gaby (Minka Kelly), Max’s therapist, isn’t gone for good. I know Minka Kelly is going to be on Charlie’s Angels, assuming the show gets an order, but I really like her occasional appearances on the show. She’s such a quiet but grounding force. I like seeing how much Max’s situation impacts her as the person who works with him.

    It looks like considering how poorly the rest of NBC shows are doing, Parenthood will likely be back next season, but not because its ratings are fantastic. (In fact, last year it had higher ratings and was even less of a lock for renewal.) If you can handle a show that isn’t happy-go-lucky but moving, this is the show you should start watching.

Mad Love

This new comedy by CBS follows four New Yorkers looking for love in New York City. Kate Swanson, played by Scrubs actress Sarah Chalke, is best friends with Connie (Judy Greer) and falls for Ben (Jason Biggs) who is best friends with Larry (Tyler Labine). Connie and Larry, meanwhile, absolutely can’t stand each other.

There is something about this show that I am finding incredibly enjoyable. It isn’t that the writing or jokes are amazing, because they aren’t. It certainly isn’t a unique or groundbreaking theme. It’s the extremely talented cast:

  • Jason Biggs is a lot like Ted from How I Met Your Mother–lovable, accident prone, not the most interesting of all the characters but the show’s center. Not quite as good, but perhaps only because he has come second.
  • Tyler Labine feels like a Jack Black character–obnoxious, ridiculous, but less disgusting and oddly enjoyable.
  • Judy Greer’s Connie reminds me of Beth from Newradio–sarcastic, indifferent, but also competitive and a little more responsible.
  • Sarah Chalke as Kate is not very different from her character on Scrubs but that’s okay, I like the kind of clumsy, goofy, sweetly fun personality.

My one other complaint of the show is the voiceover (told by Larry) because it doesn’t serve any purpose. It doesn’t move the plot forward, frame the episode cleverly, or reveal something new.

So far ratings are pretty solid and I am hoping the writing will pick up. Comedy pilots (and even their first few episodes) tend to be weaker than the series as a whole (partially because of the in jokes that take time to develop). I have high hopes for this series.

America’s Next Top Model: Cycle 16

For some reason the show has decided to completely cut out the casting episode (the one where we meet like 30 girls and watch them get whittled down to the actual number of girls) and jumped straight to the Top 14. But first, we get a fantastically crazy Tyra segment (where her hair looks super cute, which gives me hope because some of her outfits…) where she discussed the types of contestants:

  1. The shrieky girl obsessed with Hello Kitty who won’t cut her hair (who doesn’t know what she’s doing)
  2. The super attitude girl who isn’t there to make friends (named Angora Nylandra Taffetia Michaels)
  3. The goth/emo/awkward one who doesn’t know what she’s doing there but is super good at posing anyway

Before the girls move in they are going to be tricked into thinking they have been cut from the competition because modeling is all about rejection. Tyra was rejected by six agencies! (Bet they’re hating themselves now.) She still gets rejected sometimes. (Really?)

The girls:

  • Brittani has panic attacks and grew up in a trailer.
  • Jaclyn has zero confidence because of her “baby face.”
  • Alexandria is tough and tough to deal with.
  • Monique is too sexy.
  • Kasia is plus-sized and fiercly real (she’s been in V Magazine).
  • Androgynous Sarah has a weird rattail thing. She also is apparently “really good at high fives.”
  • Dominique is freckle-faced.
  • Ondrei is petite.
  • Nicole is elegant.
  • Hannah is a hippy.
  • Molly is a golden-haired athlete.
  • Dalya is regal.
  • Mikaela is edgy.
  • Angelia is sassy and an army brat.

The show pretended this was a real casting week and made them go through the pictures and runways. Out come the Jays with manilla envelopes. No panel this time around. The girls who have envelopes without a photo will be going home. This makes me more sorry for the girls who thought they were staying but won’t be. That’s more awful than the girls thinking they would be leaving. (Maybe they’re actresses?) The Jays take the photo-ed girls away and we watch the actual contestants cry and comfort each other. Their luggage has been thrown in a corner which made them feel worse. The casting producer tells them Tyra wants to come and say goodbye. Minus the weird jacket and huge bowtie, she looks cute. They have to go home now, but not far, BECAUSE THEY’RE HOME! Sheets drop and they are shown their house. More crying and screaming. Because it’s cycle 16, the loft is filled with pictures of Tyra at age 16.

Dominique figures out that there are two more people than beds so it must be that two people are about to go home. Or they missed a room or some beds are bigger and meant to be shared? But we aren’t shown those so it seems unlikely.

First Tyra Mail: “Let’s get the ball rolling, shall we?” The girls guess bowling. I guess that’s possible…

Model Erin Wasson is on the scene of their first runway show because she is also a stylist and jewelry designer. Busy girl. They will be modeling Alexander Wang dresses and her jewelry. The runway will be twelve inches wide, suspended over water, and they will be walking in a bubble (so they won’t ruin the dresses if they fall off I’m guessing–I really hope someone falls off). Jaclyn fears being trapped in the bubble for the rest of her life. But first they will do a photoshoot before they go out because that is how they do it. Russell James will be the photographer. (He shoots Victoria’s Secret.)

Backstage has become extremely important and Russell takes pictures of them as they get their makeup done. Alexandria tends to push her lower lip out but she has swag. Sara just looks terrified. Kasia thinks she has a leg up because of her experience. it actually looks like a number of them know how to take pictures.

The runway show is meant to be elegant and chic. (Is some guy adding water to the runway?) Erin will also be a judge at panel. Alexandria faulters but stays up. (PS in the bubble are confetti.) Ondrei has dress issues and keeps pulling it awkwardly. She is the first to fall and it sounds pretty hard. As expected, it was nearly impossible for her to get out of the water. Molly has no problems. Sarah stomps her way through and falls but is playful with it. Kasia is slightly awkward. Hannah reminds me of doe-eyed Hannah. Brittani is pretty excellent. Jaclyn makes a swimming motion? Angelia looks like she’s going to topple at any moment but manages. Dominique also stomps and thinks her bubble was defective. She too falls off and struggles to get out though she tries to keep up appearance with some poses and a smile. Dalya walks with her hands on her hips. (Sorry Wang, not a fan of these outfits.) Erin gives the girls some jewelry as a gift.

Skull and crossbones appears in place of Tyra Mail, warning of elimination. Only 13 will be moving on to become America’s Next Top Model.

Alexandria tries to give self-conscious Jaclyn some pointers (she has apparently done a couple fashion weeks) which gets annoying for some people. To quote Jaclyn: “I feel like you’re my mother.”

Tyra’s shirt of Andre is actually super cute. She looks better than I have seen her in at a judging in a long time. Cycle 16 is still all about high fashion. Good! I like it that way, the shoots are more interesting that way. (Does anyone else wonder why it’s Italian Vogue not regular Vogue?)

The Judging:

  • Up first is Alexandria who has an interesting and dramatic picture. If you didn’t see the makeup artists, you wouldn’t know it was behind the scenes.
  • Dalya’s picture is sweet and it shows off her natural beauty.
  • Nicole was found on Tyra’s website. Her picture is dramatic but it is difficult to find her. (She photographs old.)
  • Sarah hasn’t figured out what to do with herself.
  • Ondrei splits the panel. The nerves come through.
  • Angelia’s picture is mysterious. Tyra doesn’t see a model in it.
  • Hannah’s shot is from the group picture, which is even more impressive. She looks like a young Jennifer Aniston (you know you’re getting old when people say someone looks like a young version of you).
  • Kasia’s personality does not come across in her photo but she has an Eastern European look.
  • Monique’s is a real moment.
  • Mikaela looks like a star. (I hate her eyebrows though Nigel thinks they’re amazing.)
  • Dominique is just there in the picture. Erin points out that again the personality isn’t there.
  • Jaclyn’s picture looks cinematic. This was her only good shot though. She needs to use the muscles in her face more. She is “drink a sweet tea on the porch in Texas.”
  • Molly gets critiqued for her midriff bearing outfit but Nigel thinks her shot is one of the best.
  • Brittani also gets critiqued for her outfit. Her picture is unique because of the moment it captured. It’s sort of creepy cool.
  • I still wish the runway was a bigger deal than it is considered.

    The judges have reached a decision. Molly gets photo of the week. Brittani is runner up. Down to the bottom two, which is Dominique and Angelia. Dominique fights tears, Angelia sort of fights a smirk. Angelia’s picture lacked emotion. Dominique’s picture lacked personality. So who stays? Dominique.