Best of The Rest:
Best Guilty Pleasure: "The Surreal Life"
I know I go around panning reality shows, oh, every half hour, but I must admit, "The Surreal Life" has a certain train-wreck fascination that I just can't resist, not even when I pretend that I don't like it and lie to my friends so I can run home and watch it. This little VH1 concoction wasn't supposed to be fun or savvy - it was supposed to be a (rather cruel) tongue-in-cheek joke about the ails of fame lost, and the parade of C- and D-stars who were too oblivious, self-involved, or delusional to realize it. The cast of 2004 (2003, if you have VH1, which I don't, so excuse the time lag) included TV evangelist wife Tammy Faye Baker (neé Messner), "ChiPs" star Erik Estrada, porn man extraordinaire Ron Jeremy, one-hit wonder Vanilla Ice, bubbly Baywatch cast-off Tracy Bingham, and "The Real World" Season Whatever's Trishelle. And then the strangest thing happened. These people were actually interesting, dynamic, and for the most part, kind of nice. They knew what they were there to do, and admired each other for the way that their fifteen minutes of fame (some clocked in at five) left them with a self-awareness that did not involve alcoholic binges or cocaine-induced hallucinations (except maybe for Trishelle, but she probably had those problems well before appearing on "The Real World"). When Vanilla Ice - who goes by Rob Van Winkle now, thank you very much - enters the house for the first time, takes a look at his larger-than-life Warholian poster on the wall and draws a giant X over it, you can feel his pain and anger, although why he decided to appear on a show that capitalized on his fleeting flame, and never once tried to hide it, is beyond the audience. On a later show, Bingham embarrasses Van Winkle by requesting "Ice, Ice Baby" at a karaoke bar and having a big ol' sing-along. Instead of shooting her, as one might suspect he might, he eventually sucks it up and joins in. Not bad for growth, and not bad for a show produced by VH1.
Best Musical-Nostalgia Show: "American Bandstand"
There's no show on television where you can see Kelly Clarkson as Brenda Lee, Nick Lachey as Tom Jones, Alicia Keys as Fontella Bass, and Hilary and Haylie Duff as The Shangri-Las, unless you've already discovered "American Dreams." Admittedly, the show's premise, set around two high school girls vying for a spot on "American Bandstand," seems saccharine at best, but once you get past those black and white Dick Clark introductions - no doubt scrounged up from the pits of a huge, dusty vault - the show blossoms. In its first season, the cast dealt with Kennedy's assassination, segregation, and teen angst. Now in its third season, the show continues to tackle heavy issues like the repercussions of war, first loves, and birth control. The music on "American Bandstand" serves as a backdrop to the show's central themes, and a groovy, trippy flash to the past. The show invites current singers to pay homage to some of the best of the era (not that all the singers that appear on this show are the best of anything, ahem, Lachey). In addition to the aforementioned, Michelle Branch, Lil' Kim, Monica, Vanessa Carlton, and B2K have also done their duty on "American Bandstand."
Best Reality Show: "The Amazing Race"
With dwindling ratings for "The Apprentice: Season 2," and only "Survivor: Vanuatu" managing to crack the top ten in ratings, it seems like the reality craze is starting to even itself. But if there's a reality series that you must get addicted to, make it "The Amazing Race." The show uses human drama to propel its story forward, and how good the stories are. Set up as a giant scavenger hunt that takes its teams across the world (the beautiful location shots alone are worth viewing), "The Amazing Race" has its couples racing against time with little money, and lots of challenges, to get to their final destination. The most compelling thing about "The Amazing Race" is that, unlike other reality show, the partners in each group have a deep and often complicated history together (for some reason, the show heavily favours internet/long distance relationship couples, and if you can get an ex to sign up with you, you're as good as gold). Watch as the model couple finally realizes the other is shallow and lazy. Cry as a married couple renews their love for each other in the face of adversity. And laugh as the two crazy cousins wheel and deal to get the last tickets flying out to Moscow, Russia. If you want compelling, but still need your reality fix, then this is it.
Best Place to Harbour Violent Tendencies: The Vibe Awards
If you're Jimmy James Johnson, then the Vibe Awards seems like a natural answer. In this year's broadcast, Dr. Dre was slated to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award when Johnson stepped up to his table and punched Dre in the face. A fight ensued, while Snoop Dogg and Quincy Jones looked on from the podium, thanking their lucky stars they were out of harm's way. After much publicity over the incident, Young Buck (also known as David Darnell Brown, and also known in our parts as Stupid Lackey #20) had a warrant issued for his arrest, and eventually turned himself in. This is why Young Buck gets the award for Worst Place to Stab Someone: if you're looking to avenge the wrongful punching of your mentor, an award show with, you know, cameras and tapes that can be replayed over and over again would not be the best place.
Best Way To Stick It to Alex Trebek: Be Ken Jennings
If you're Ken Jennings, the longest-running winner on "Jeopardy!" (since they changed the rules, of course, to allow a returning winner to play as long as he can), then you play for 74 consecutive games, earn a total of $2,522,700, single-handedly boost the show's ratings, and unintentionally become a spokesperson for all game show geeks everywhere. Jennings' streak of wins was reported all over the media, and he became a household name - surprisingly, not based on his looks or crazy behaviour, but because of his intelligence. The streak began on July 2 and aired until November 30, when he missed a question in Final Jeopardy! and was unseated by contestant Nancy Zerg (surprisingly, Zerg only lasted two games after that). Nevertheless, H&R Block (the answer to the trivia question that Jennings missed) has offered to do Jenning's taxes for free for the rest of his life. Microsoft also stepped in and offered Jennings an endorsement with their Encarta Encyclopedia series. A board game called "Can You Beat Ken Jennings?" is also in the works.
Best Way to Show National Pride: "The Greatest Canadian"
When you think of the greatest people in history, Freud, Einstein, Socrates, and others would probably come to mind. And while they're all swell people, they're not exactly Canadian. That's when CBC stepped in and started their "Greatest Canadian" campaign, a six-week television special that had national celebrities fighting for their nominee. Not only was the campaign a success, but also brought to light a slew of notable contributors who made this country what it is today. Advocates included Melissa Auf Der Maur (formerly of Hole), George Stroumboulopoulos (CBC's "The Hour"), Sook-Yin Lee (formerly of Much Music), Bret Hart (former WWE wrestler), and Paul Gross ("Due South"). The winner beat out other notable Canadians like hockey great Wayne Gretzky, environmental advocate David Suzuki, and former wild-child Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. And the award for Greatest Canadian goes to…Tommy Douglas, National Democratic Party (NDP) leader and father of our free healthcare system. Unless you're well-versed in Canadian History, this name may not sound familiar, but with Stroumboulopoulos' charismatic backing, Douglas took the title home.
Best Way to Kill An Hour or Four: Award Shows
Watch award shows. And lots of them. In 2004, the little statuettes made their rounds yet once again, and yet again, audiences were bored beyond tears. These telecasts became painfully long, painfully corny, and painfully predictable. Why not just hand over the awards to Usher and call it a night? Right, so there would be time to watch Gwen Stefani do her weird, Japanese-fetish thing on stage, and gaze upon Jessica Simpson, who really seems to like feeling herself up. And how can we forget Anna Nicole-Smith, the darling spokesperson of getting high? And think of Usher, who has to sit through all of this just to get his damn awards.
Man of the Hour: Jon Stewart
In a presidential election year, no one had a greater field day than Jon Stewart, the precocious host of "The Daily Show." It's not real, but when it came down to political affairs, Stewart was the last one laughing. Not only did he manage to infuse his political views into his hilarious commentaries, but he also made Americans more conscious of what was going on around them. His book, America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, went on to hit the best-selling lists in its first week. Then (and I'm loving this part) he went on CNN's "Crossfire" and told everyone off (or, as MTV liked to call it in a headline, "bitchslapped" the heck out of it). "What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery. You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably," Stewart said (and this is the part where my heart swelled a little). Say what you will about him, but Stewart's not a man of little words. And we should all be thankful for that.
Worse Than The FCC: The Parents' Television Council
When a website likes to put "7th Heaven" and "Wife Swap" in their best category, and "CSI" and "Girlfriends" in their worst, it's time to sit up and take notice. The website in question is The Parents' Television Council, and it rates the best and worst in family-friendly television. Says the website of "Everwood": "Amy Abbott, the teenaged daughter of Dr. Brown's competitor Harold Abbott, goes to Dr. Brown for some birth control. Dr. Brown gives it to her without ever informing Dr. Abbott of what he did." Of "Girlfriends," the council poo-poohs its sexually-charged jokes: "Joan's friend Sharon recommends classes at Mama Gina's School of Womanly Arts, saying, "Oh Joan, those classes are wonderful. I highly recommend 'Owning Your Orgasm.' And it's a prerequisite for 'Finding Your Vagina.'" Perhaps this isn't suitable for young children, but when an organization starts zapping television shows for being frank (by the way - doctors are not supposed to be waiving doctor/patient privileges, so if you want birth control, it's not your parents' business), and praising such unrealistic and primitive-valued shows like "7th Heaven," it's time to call the censorship police. Or perhaps check a calendar or two.
Worst. Christmas. Ever.
And this was because of the abundance of "Christmas specials" aired this year. It seemed like everyone who could remotely read some lines was offered an hour special. The biggest offenders were Ruben, Fantasia, and Kelly of "American Idol" non-fame, and Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, wife and husband team of eye-rolling cheesiness. "The American Idol Christmas" consisted of Kelly and Fantasia trying to out-"sing" each other by yelling into their microphones, while Ruben stood in the back and reminded himself that he was getting paid for this gig. And "The Newlyweds Christmas" was a jumble of strangely unamusing skits that led to the butchering of traditional Christmas carols. When Ashlee and Jessica did their duet on "The Little Drummer Boy," you could almost see his ghost rise from the floor, ready to knock their heads together.
Worst Trend. Ever.: Purse Dogs
Words cannot describe how much I don't find Chihuahuas cute. I am a dog person (cats tend to jump out and attack me out of the blue, and then they rub their furry bodies all over my face because they know I'm allergic), but even these little novelty dogs are not my cup of tea. Perhaps that's why I'm not a celebrity. Because, as everyone who's left their house in the last twelve months can attest, Chihuahuas are the way of the wealthy and bored. Am I the only one who finds it strange that people actually think that these dogs can somehow talk to them? And that Britney Spears actually thinks that people care to read about her damn dogs on her official website? Hmm.
Worst Way to Waste Andy Richter's Talents: "Quintuplets"
If you're a network executive and have no soul, but a nifty contract from FOX, then writing a sitcom called "Quintuplets," with Richter as the titular father is probably the best way to waste talent all around. In addition to "Method & Red," it's probably one of the worst sitcoms to come out of FOX in a long time (and by "long time," I mean about three months). ¤ C.Ho.