Fall Premieres 2015: Cable (Reality & Variety)

September 15, 2015
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Monica the Medium (premiered ABC Family, August 25 @ 8/7) trailer here

ABC Family is aggressively pursuing the lucrative demographic of Penn State student-mediums who have never played Flip Cup by featuring their very own Monica Ten-Kate with this reality show.


This show is trolling anyone who has ever said that “kids these days” are self-obsessed, spoiled, and narcissistic. Monica, in case you hadn’t guessed, is a medium. She claims she’s also just a normal girl trying to find a job and a boyfriend. Her search for the job in the pilot is comical, inasmuch as it’s dominated by her concern over whether she should come clean that she is a medium, when everything else in the pilot suggests she’s incapable of not telling people she’s a medium (‘cause, you know, when I meet someone, this is the first thing about them that I want to know). Cutaways to the people to whom she gives “readings” are all sympathetic and glowing, meanwhile (as when a young woman expresses amazement at the fact that Monica knew her mother’s cancer had metastasized, a detail she didn’t share with anyone, but, erm, if you die of cancer, doesn’t that kind of require metastasization?).

Indeed, not once are we treated to someone who is skeptical of her abilities, motives, or mental health. Instead, the show seems intent to use her being a medium, and her friends’ and potential suitors’ acceptance of it, as a parable for how we should all be more accepting and understanding. Monica the Medium should just be allowed to be Monica the Medium, it seems to be saying … even when that involves accosting strangers with manipulative, trite sentiment about dead loved ones. Admittedly, reality television’s bread and butter lays in offering us people to judge, and boy do I judge her, but the pilot’s unwillingness to cast even an iota of doubt on her claim to talk to dead people, or on her insistence that she must pass on messages from these dead people whenever she feels like it, had me wondering whether to despise the show or Monica the Medium more. Bad joke, real sentiment: this show is now dead to me.

Jonathan Gray (University of Wisconsin-Madison) is author of Television Entertainment and Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts, and is currently studying media dislike, while disliking this show.


“It’s really hard trying to find a guy while you’re a medium and you’re a college student. It’s next to impossible, actually.”

It would be easy to write a derisive review of ABC Family’s new foray into reality TV, Monica the Medium. I could say that Monica the Medium is certainly no Buffy the Vampire Slayer, despite Monica’s repeated uttering of bastardized versions of the core themes of that beloved series. Where Buffy intertwined humor and depth, here the sense of lightness and loving parody is missing. (I mean, there are some pretty funny lines in this series, but I’m guessing that their humor isn’t intentional…) I could also say that despite sharing a network and arguably a target demographic, Monica the Medium is no Pretty Little Liars—that ABC Family juggernaut that has managed its mix of multiple filles fatales, whiplash plot, and questionable fashion for six seasons and counting.

What Monica the Medium does offer is a somewhat awkwardly constructed glimpse into the lives of a group of college students not marked clearly upper class (a la The Hills) nor lower class (a la Jersey Shore) who cringe as their friend Monica goes into regular situations—parties, workplaces, a fashion boutique, a nail salon—and brings her emotional conversations with dead people (talking with “the spirit” as she calls it). She inserts the inappropriately emotional and the “spiritual” into each space, rupturing expected norms of behavior and replacing pleasantries with tears and cherished or (supposedly) suppressed memories. Somehow she seems to know the intimate and private and makes it public before returning to the closure of a sequence; (she does indeed finally buy an outfit and get a manicure, after in both situations speaking to multiple dead people related to the various staff).

Look, I’m not saying this is great TV; (it’s certainly no Unreal, nor even Everlasting, the fake reality show on Unreal) and I don’t know if it will find an audience, be that an audience that laughs at it or with it. But for its insistence on bringing emotion and “spirit” into the everyday (and not via horror movie tropes or destructive femme fatales), combined with its seemingly unintentional ridiculousness, it might see viewers sticking with. I for one will give it a few more episodes and will be keeping an eye on the reviews to see what pleasures it offers its viewers.

Louisa Stein (Middlebury College) is author of Millennial Fandom and studies gender, media, and audience culture.



Todrick (premiered MTV, August 31 @ 10/9) trailer here

We’re just gonna quote MTV on this one: “quadruple-threat Todrick Hall lets fans into his creative factory and introduces them to the passionate troupe of creative collaborators who pour heart and soul into his weekly videos. Unwilling to wait for Hollywood to make them stars, Todrick and his faithful crew write, choreograph, style, and direct full-scale productions weekly – all while balancing side jobs to pay the bills – to try to make their dreams come true on their own terms.”


Todrick’s title theme song gets one point clear: this is a show about Todrick being Todrick in “Toddywood.” Todrick even assures himself in his own theme song that the show is, in fact, about him: “Just making sure!” Todrick tells Todrick. And this makes it confusing because I’m not sure how meta the first episode is meant to be. Todrick has a video idea of critiquing celebrities who will do anything “crazy” or “freaky” to extend their 15 minutes of fame. But is this a critique of himself—a castoff of American Idol Season 9 who desires fame—as he goes around town doing self-defined crazy and freaky things for attention? Perhaps he knows this, but the show and his crew don’t really seem to even be aware of this point.

Even when Todrick isn’t about Todrick, it is about Todrick. A subplot involves the upcoming birthday of his makeup artist, Nicole, but the show is less concerned about her and more focused on Todrick’s benevolence in planning a surprise birthday video (and downplaying the issue that he is forcing her to work on her birthday). Also, Todrick manages to track down one of Nicole’s (supposedly) favorite music artists, Kelly Rowland, but in Todrick fashion, he films himself with Rowland giving a shout-out to Nicole. You know, instead of giving Nicole the day off to actually meet Kelly Rowland.

However, the subplot is probably needed because the show is literally a behind-the-scenes look at Todrick’s YouTube channel, and sometimes feels it would be better just as a YouTube video. With that said, Todrick is undeniably talented and it does give a sometimes interesting, if slightly fabricated, look at the frantic and DIY nature of producing YouTube videos. Yet, as someone indifferent to Todrick, I would prefer the condensed YouTube version.

Tony Tran (University of Wisconsin-Madison) researches Vietnamese diaspora and new media in urban spaces.


Early into the pilot, Todrick’s star writes a song as a gift for his make-up artist, Nicole Faulkner. With clipboard in hand, Todrick Hall enumerates his vision for “The Birthday Dance,” which producer Jean-yves “Jeeve” Ducornet quickly assembles by a wall of monitors and synthesizers. Hall then records his vocals, “the easy part” of the song’s compressed (and unreliably plotted) journey to becoming YouTube ephemera. Hall and his team also record a video, find costumes and develop choreography for it, and integrate fan-made clips and singer Kelly Rowland’s birthday message into it. Faulkner also sacrifices her birthday for the production, which overlaps with the shoot for Hall’s riff on tabloid culture “Who Let the Freaks Out.”

Hall’s studio visit takes two minutes of screen time, but it’s a formative moment. When MTV launched in 1981, it would have been more interested in putting “The Birthday Dance” into rotation than in crafting a narrative around its creation. Of course, Todrick benefits from a post- political climate supposedly removed from MTV’s original, racist “rock videos only” mandate (a lie Nicki Minaj challenged by asking “Miley what’s good” the night before Todrick premiered). But MTV has always commodified pop stardom as a lifestyle, with music functioning as part of an artist’s brand. In that regard, Todrick honors a programming tradition that stretches back to Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes (1985-1987). It also reveals the chipper resourcefulness and pathological entrepreneurialism often required to “put on a show,” whether the performer is a vaudevillian entertainer or a YouTube celebrity with an army of telegenic industry hopefuls, Toddlerz (Hall’s term for his fanbase), and the off-screen hand of manager Scooter Braun to raise him up. The music is incidental, but Todrick’s half-open window into pop celebrity’s psychology and invisible labor is nonetheless compelling and ripe for critique.

Alyxandra Vesey (University of Wisconsin-Madison) studies the relationship between identity politics, music culture, and media labor and her dissertation analyzes recording artists’ contributions to post-network television.



Suddenly Royal (premiered TLC, September 9 @ 10/9) trailer here

An American auto repair advisor researches his ancestry online, only to find out that he’s actually royalty, heir to the British Isle of Man. So he and his family pack up and move to their kingdom. A Princess Diaries whose star will likely never end up playing Catwoman, this seems so much like it’s faux, yet it seems it’s for real (well, as real as reality shows are), and that dude honestly thinks he’s a royal, and has done so since 2007, though he only recently moved there.


Hey, if Donald Trump or Scott Walker could become President, why can’t David Drew Howe become King of the Isle of Man? The premise for this show is pretty amazing, as Howe finds he likes his ancestral line better than Ben Affleck likes his. This situation doesn’t exactly occur every day, which produces a fascinating generic hybrid – there’s an “outsider in bucolic England” angle that feels a lot like one of the BBC’s favorite genres (except that many of those involve murders, so oddly I was watching very closely to see who would have a motive to kill, say, the royal secretary), mixed with a bit of House Hunters International and its ilk, as middle America deals with smaller beds, horses next door, and insufficient numbers of local takeaway restaurants. Yet undergirding it all is run-of-the-mill reality television being run-of-the-mill reality television: the cutaway counterpoints, the closeups on smirks, etc. And thus watching Suddenly Royal produced an interesting experience that was both utterly familiar and fresh.

Howe may need grooming into royal material, but he’s absolutely ready for television, as I found his sense of humor a lovely mix of homey Dad-joke and dry, delicately edgy (when his daughter expresses concern about how they’ll make money on the Isle of Man, for instance, he dryly offers the possibility of plunder and pillage). Howe’s wife Pam plays his straight (wo)man well, so there’s some comic schtick on offer. And all three family members’ attitudes to their circumstance is amusing, even refreshing. This is TV being TV really well, and an engaging hour. I expected to dislike or be bored by this, but instead I will definitely watch more, and encourage you to give it a shot, even if only to experience the odd genre hybrid for an episode.

Jonathan Gray (University of Wisconsin-Madison) is author of Television Entertainment and Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts, and evidently prefers would-be-king narratives to entitled teen medium narratives.



Uncommon Grounds (premiered Travel, September 14 @ 11/10) no trailer available at this time

After having searched the world for rare coffee in Dangerous Grounds, host Todd Carmichael obviously still has more high-flying international coffee man of intrigue business to conduct in this new show that will explore various countries’ culture through their coffee.


There is nothing particularly uncommon about this documentary-style reality program. The premiere’s flimsy narrative sees the La Colombe founder immersing himself in Japanese culture so as to secure an agreement with the company UCC to mass-produce his new coffeemaker, ‘The Dragon’ (a hybrid between a siphon and pour-over device). Along the way, Carmichael and his cameraman ‘Hollywood’ experience a night out in Tokyo with Japanese businessmen, a visit to a Sake plantation, and an Aikido lesson.

One of the program’s persistent themes involves Carmichael’s fish-out-of-water status – “I’m the loudest person in Japan, even when I’m using my indoor voice” – and its partial resolution through the identification of common cultural touchstones with respect to life and business. This is where the series is most interesting – and most revealing with respect to the current cultural moment. In Carmichael’s admiration for Japanese obsessiveness, efficiency, and precision, we see the basis for a common ground between Japanese culture and the relentlessly-driven entrepreneurialism of contemporary US culture. With Carmichael’s background as an extreme endurance athlete and risk-taking businessman, he finds a lot to admire in the Japanese work ethic and obsession with perfection. All he needs is a basic understanding of the conventions of Japanese business culture to secure the deal.

The final scene before the climactic business meeting encapsulates the banality of this instrumental approach to cultural immersion. As Carmichael meditates in a traditional temple, a voice-over relates his thoughts about the upcoming meeting. An activity that is ostensibly devoted to peace and wholeness becomes the final step in preparing to seal a business deal. This dynamic is emblematic of a program that might have offered earnest cultural exploration and exchange, but which ultimately functions primarily as an extended commercial for American entrepreneurialism, Carmichael’s company, and his new brewing device.

Christopher Cwynar (University of Wisconsin-Madison) researches public media, digital culture, and consumer-citizenship.


According to Uncommon Grounds’ host Todd Carmichael, “Japan is the third-largest coffee importer in the world. They’re known to spend upwards of $1,000 a pound for the best beans.” On his previous show, this piece of information would initiate a trans-Pacific boondoggle for the daredevil co-founder of Philadelphia’s coffee roaster and café La Colombe Torrefaction to find the best coffee the country has to offer. But for the premiere of his new Travel Channel show, Carmichael sets his sights on Japan to find a manufacturer for his new glass brewer, the Dragon.

Carmichael anticipates that his maverick businessman posturing will create friction with Japanese commerce’s supposed “penchant for precision and detail” (though, conveniently, he forgot to pack a suit). To prepare for his presentation for Ueshima Coffee Co.’s executives, Carmichael and his cameraman Hollywood spend a week in Tokyo and Kyoto drinking with businessmen, eating sushi on the Shinkansen, visiting the Chikurin Sake Brewery, taking in a fish-cutting presentation and a multi-course meal with its owner Niichiro Marumoto, learning Aikido’s basic principles, and meditating (!) on the Travel Channel’s dime. Unsurprisingly, Carmichael hoists a box of UCC-produced Dragon brewers during the end credits–the price of doing business on basic cable.

The Travel Channel likes to cast middle-aged white male gourmands as rock stars whose escapades viewers can enjoy from safe distances. It’s a branding strategy that reeks of chauvinism, regardless of how many Uzbekistani weddings Anthony Bourdain attended on No Reservations. Uncommon Grounds doesn’t challenge this, in part because it presents culture’s commodification as international currency without problematizing the U.S.’s position in this exchange. But when the product is a coffee maker—an appliance that processes an ecologically and politically fraught consumer good—there needs to be a deeper discussion than the one Uncommon Grounds is willing to engage.

Alyxandra Vesey (University of Wisconsin-Madison) studies the relationship between identity politics, music culture, and media labor and her dissertation analyzes recording artists’ contributions to post-network television.



The Bazillion Dollar Club (premiered Syfy, September 22 @ 10/9) trailer here

A six episode docu-series that follows two startup incubator founders in Silicon Valley as they try to advise companies towards, well, a “bazillion” dollars by offering such gems like “if you’re not willing to risk everything, you’re going to fail.” Rinse and repeat with HBO’s Silicon Valley afterwards.


This is a formulaic documentary-style program based on a 16-week startup accelerator ‘boot camp’ offered by the angel investors and startup gurus Dave McClure (of 500 Startups) and Brady Forrest (HighwayOne). Over the course of the season, these two will endeavor to help six different startups to ‘accelerate’ their growth in terms of revenue, customer, base, and, most importantly, fundraising.

The first episode sees the duo dispensing tough love and hard-bitten wisdom to Ethan Appleby of Vango, which seeks to be ‘iTunes for art’. The Fassbender-esque CEO is feeling the pressure of trying to keep his dream alive while following through on behalf of the other core workers who have sacrificed time, money, and energy to contribute to the project. This becomes a plot point as Monique, the effervescent and industrious client relations specialist, requests a raise. Appleby cannot afford to lose ‘Mo,’ but he also can’t afford to ‘give her the raise she deserves.’ The only solution is to find some more money – somehow.

The fate of the company – and Mo’s raise – ultimately seem to come down to a 3-minute talk that Ethan is to give to potential investors on a 500 Startups ‘Demo Day.’ Will Ethan be able to distill his message down to its essence and deliver it with confidence, charisma, and enthusiasm? In effect, the question is whether Ethan can effectively sell himself and embody the promise of the idea he represents. In this respect, BDC provides a straightforward reflection of a society in which many believe that the path to freedom and fulfillment involves the marketing of the self and the building of something that can be validated in the marketplace. It is an unexceptional reality program, but its portrayal of startup life is likely to appeal to those viewers who themselves dream of beating the odds to achieve exceptional success on America’s tech frontier.

Christopher Cwynar (University of Wisconsin-Madison) studies public media, digital culture, and consumer-citizenship.


My experience of watching of this show is a testament to the power of flow, not simply in the all-on-television form famously explicated by Raymond Williams, but including the ebbs and flows of social and cultural context. I watched this while waiting to see billionaire bigot Donald Trump interviewed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, hoping that Stephen’s satirical fangs were still in tact. And I watched on a week in which the news was dominated by three stories: (1) young CEO Martin Shkreli deciding that his company Turing would increase the price of Daraprim – a drug used to treat patients with AIDS – from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill, (2) young-ish former Boy Wonder of the GOP, Scott Walker, announcing the suspension of his campaign to become President, in the wake of failing to secure enough investment in either cold hard cash or likely voters, and (3) British Prime Minister David Cameron being allegedly revealed to be, quite literally, a rich pig-fucker. And thus I was so very primed to dislike the young white entrepreneurs of this show. As Vango’s head expressed regret that he “couldn’t” pay a valued staff-member what she’s worth, I wondered how much his shirt cost. As the coaches told him how to present himself, so that people will give him their money, my mind drifted to thinking about Walker boring live audiences, unable to get yet more donor money. And as the show marched its way through a tour of how wonderfully awesome, smart, and able young white CEOs can be, I thought of Shkreli, Walker, Cameron and their egos. I’ve seen too many instances of the corporate world’s excesses this week, and of “the art of the deal” hubris. Admittedly, if the show was actually gripping, I might have stayed in the here and now, instead of floating away on a current of flow, but it isn’t: it’s just yet another celebration of the uncelebratable.

Jonathan Gray (University of Wisconsin-Madison) is author of Television Entertainment and Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts.



Road Spill (premiered truTV, September 23 @ 10.30/9.30) trailer here

Focusing on what people really talk about in the privacy (or, nationally televised, reality television “privacy”) of their own cars. Also promised by truTV are hilarity, road rage, and moral dilemmas.


People Other Than Comedians In Unremarkable Cars Being Unremarkable. So, here’s how it works: regular people get in their cars and drive around, then answer tepid questions pitched at them, such as “is it too intimate to share the same toothbrush?”, “how far out of your comfort zone have you gone to please a loved one?”, “who is grosser in the bathroom? Men or women?”, or “what do you think about men in Speedos?”. I’d spare the judgment if this was something that someone did with a cheap camera and put on YouTube, but it’s so weird to see this on non-public-access, commercial television in 2015 – and a whole half hour of it – especially when some people are saying there’s “too much good television.” It might work as a radio show, albeit a boring one, but the visuals are entirely irrelevant here. Then the commentary is like something you’d overhear on a bus, in a restaurant, or at the mall. You might chortle a little and note it to someone you’re sitting next to, but you’d then go back to your conversation and zone out. So here’s my suggestion, to round out the review: next time a student wants extra credit, tell them to watch a season of this and write a 20 page paper. Make em work for it. Harder than anyone involved with this show seems to be working.

Jonathan Gray (University of Wisconsin-Madison) already has too many bios on this page.



Fashionably Late with Rachel Zoe (premiered Lifetime, September 24 @ 10.30/9.30) trailer here

Stylist and designer Rachel Zoe hosts this talk show focused on fashion, “beauty,” and pop culture.


It was only three minutes into the premiere of Fashionably Late with Rachel Zoe that I was thinking about Watch What Happens Live!, the Bravo late night chat show hosted by Andy Cohen. That’s not surprising given that Zoe stepped out of the shadows of her celebrity styling clients for her Bravo series The Rachel Zoe Project. It’s also not surprising given that WWHL! has been an incredible success for Bravo, and Lifetime is clearly patterning Fashionably Late in its mold, positioning it after Project Runway, which they directly nabbed from Bravo. But Fashionably Late doesn’t only carry vestiges of WWHL!—it’s also obviously attempting to mimic E!’s Fashion Police following its dramatic fall from grace this year following Joan Rivers’ death, Giuliana Rancic’s racist comments at the Oscars, and Kelly Osbourne’s departure. In fact, the segment “#whatwereyouthinking,” in which Alba was asked to reflect on some style choices from her past is a direct steal from Fashion Police.

It’s probably telling that I spent the majority of the episode thinking about all the things it cribbed from other cable channel weekly chat shows—the show itself was not terribly compelling, feeling mostly like a rehash of concepts I’d seen before. As someone who really enjoys Rachel Zoe, who has always appreciated her quirks, her unapologetic style, and her catchphrases, I felt like this venue muted her. Maybe she was so busy being crammed into different existing boxes that she wasn’t allowed to be Rachel Zoe. In truth, I enjoyed the teaser segments that aired in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the premiere much better. (See here for one example) Here’s hoping the format loosens, Lifetime stops trying to steal its competitors’ ideas, and Zoe finds her groove. I’m not sure I’m going to hang around to find out, though.

Erin Copple Smith (Austin College) studies media industries, focusing specifically on product placement and conglomerate cross-promotion.



The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (CC, September 28 @ 11/10) promo here

Noah faces the daunting task of winning over would-be audiences likely divided into those who regard Jon Stewart as amazing and likely irreplaceable, and those whose lack of interest in Stewart or active disdain for him likely overflows to the show and the format in general. But with Trump and Walker still in the GOP race, at least the jokes and criticism will come easy.


Note that we will post a separate discussion of The Daily Show after it’s been on for one week



I’ll Have What Phil’s Having (PBS, September 28 @ 10/9) trailer here

Media scholars may best know Phil Rosenthal as the protagonist telling Russians why they suck in Exporting Raymond, the documentary about his attempts to translate Everybody Loves Raymond to Russia. Apparently, he’ll now be telling other people of the world why they suck (even if their food doesn’t always) in this food and travel show.


I was worried that the appeal of I’ll Have What Phil’s Having would hinge entirely on how easily one could digest an hour of Phil Rosenthal’s mugging. Thankfully, that’s not really the case. For the most part, the program realizes that the food and the city (here, Tokyo) are the true stars of the show. On the surface, there’s not a whole lot that distinguishes this from No Reservations beyond the hosts’ very different personae (Rosenthal’s vacillation between wide-eyed excitement and wider-eyed incredulity vs. Anthony Bourdain’s labored, hypermasculine cool). Like Bourdain, Rosenthal cracks wise through a tour of local food that covers street grub, haute cuisine, and little in between.

Although the program follows American food TV’s disappointingly traditional convention of ensuring that the viewer has a compatriot tour guide/avatar to lead our way through the unfamiliar terrain, it’s reasonably light on the Othering that winds up insulting the host city and the audience’s intelligence in equal measure. Which is not to say that it’s absent—there are a few groan-inducing references to a “Blade Runnerish” collection of bars and some exaggerated, bug-eyed reactions to still-living sashimi, but Rosenthal’s approach to cross-cultural encounters is somewhat more earnest and playful than one might expect.

But again, I’m really here for the lovingly shot food and cityscapes. On that front, the show more-or-less delivers. I’ll Have What Phil’s Having doesn’t quite reach the heights of what food television can achieve (for my money, that would be Netflix’s recent Chef’s Table, a beautifully shot, warts-and-all exploration of the equal measures of genius and madness required to be one of the world’s greatest chefs). But it’s a decent-enough food travelogue, even if it’s not adding a whole lot that connoisseurs of the genre haven’t already seen.

Evan Elkins (Miami University) researches and teaches issues pertaining to the media industries, media criticism, globalization, and digital technologies.


PBS’s new program “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” suggests in its title an equivalence between its host, Phil Rosenthal (Hollywood showrunner, creator of Everybody Loves Raymond) and the audience, but you can only be a peer of Rosenthal’s if you have quite a bit of money—or fancy friends. In the premiere episode, Phil eats at a range of restaurants in Tokyo, Japan, but the majority of them are super, duper fancy (molecular gastronomy fancy). In my less generous moments, I viewed Rosenthal as a dilettante. Yet his manner is what makes him more of an “everyman,” for he balks at the most exotic fare, including eel (bones and all), ants (they taste like lemon), and freshly killed (and uncooked) shrimp.

This program is aiming for the niche covered so well on basic cable by fellow travel food hosts Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) and Anthony Bourdain (Parts Unknown). What this program has not yet figured out, though, is that Zimmern and Bourdain thrive, in part, based on the personality of their hosts. Zimmern is childlike and bold in his enthusiasm for all things gross; Bourdain is all sharp edges, but he is also an incredibly knowledgeable chef with noble aspirations. Rosenthal lacks expertise, but what he can offer is humor and a deeper look into his personal life. In particular, the show is missing its biggest possible appeal in the fact that Rosenthal’s brother is the producer! When Phil skypes with his parents from Tokyo, his father repeatedly asks for the unseen brother, Richard, much to Phil’s chagrin (“here is the son you actually love,” he complains as the camera turns towards Richard). The entire show came alive in this moment of relatable family joshing. With so much food TV out there, this show needs Rosenthal to let us see him as a father, son, husband, and brother, because those are the things to which his audience can relate.

Karen Petruska (Gonzaga University) studies the media industries, television history, and media policy.



Adam Ruins Everything (truTV, September 29 @ 10/9)

Adam Conover moves his show from a College Humor web series to the big time (if truTV counts as the big time). You can see an example of his College Humor show here, and quickly get the idea: brief explorations of a wide variety of issues, trying to uncover things and go against the current of popular belief, with comedy and irreverence.


Adam Ruins Everything has bold ambitions. Its first episode sees the host tackle a series of beliefs around “giving.” He notes that diamonds as emblems of romance are completely a product of De Beers’ advertising, he explores the silliness of Tom’s Shoes promising to give a free pair of shoes to a random African kid for every pair you buy, he interrogates the (il)logic of canned food drives, donating blood after natural disasters, and saving ring tabs for charity. It’s visually interesting, too: Daily Prophet-style, authors’ dust jacket photos come alive and talk to him, plenty of animation and CGI are used, and there’s a pace to it. He even gets bonus points for having professors on and (!) for using footnotes on screen to show his sources. It’s trying to be edutainment for adults, and I appreciate the attempt to debunk that which needs debunking.

But holy moly is this a big stinking pile of mansplaining. The pilot consisted mostly of host Adam Conover telling an oh-so-naïve young white woman how dumb and ill-informed she is. She was set up as one half of a couple, but somehow her fiancé didn’t need the lessons like she does. Even worse, she’s a teacher, so Conover’s performance is predicated on telling a woman who thinks she’s smart that, no honeycakes, actually you’re not. Then, when she’s disappeared, as a coda to the show, he accosts another wrong-but-pretty white woman at a bus stop. Admittedly, he embraces and owns the fact that he’s annoying, but never that he’s a sexist jerk. The show reminds us he’s “ruining” things for people too often, virtually suggesting that he’s (a very, very white) Morpheus come to give the women and schoolgirls of the world the red pill. Indeed, the CGI and animation set him up as some omniscient, omnipresent being. As much as the show seems to want to be educational, it’s draped with the ickery of talking to a male audience who are presumed to have had the blue pill, and who just need a few more factoids as arsenal in their mission to fix all the pretty little heads of the universe. Maybe future episodes will see him lecture dudes too, but it’s utterly tone deaf for a pilot to be this full of mansplaining, so I’ll just put the show down over here and not come back to it.

Jonathan Gray (University of Wisconsin-Madison) has numerous bios up this page.



The Brain with David Eagleman (PBS, October 14 @ 10/9) trailer here

A six-part study of the brain, how we think, how we feel, and how it all works, hosted by neuroscientist and best-selling author Eagleman.


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